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Metal Box - Public Image Ltd.
Member Name: mo79
Metal Box - Public Image Ltd.
Date: 15/12/02, updated on 15/12/02 (511 review reads)
Advantages: A creative and inspired album, thoroughly sense-tickling, comes in a metal film canister style case
Disadvantages: Slightly more expensive than 'Second Edition', not an album you could probably listen to too frequently
PiL's second album (also available under the re-release title 'Second Edition', minus the metal case), the aptly titled 'Metal Box', for it comes encased in a film canister style metal box with a small inlay card and CD cushions, is often referred to as the band's finest hour in terms of creativity, inspiration and general history. The two (well, 3) tracks that feature on PiL's greatest hits album made me very curious to listen to this album, and I'm glad I got it!
After the one-hit wonder of the punk-ending 'Public Image' single, 'Metal Box' as an album takes a fast curved turn into the avant-garde. Reggae bass grooves, sparse drums, synthesiser squeals, itchy riffed guitars and listless vocals fidget and repeat throughout the 12 tracks of this album. Though this album could easily be dismissed as near tuneless, only un-lazy ears will find that this lovingly crafed record is pure listening pleasure. The sounds, textures and themes transport you around your unconsciousness, alternating and then often melding between colours and black and white. 'Metal Box' would be an ideal OST for a psychological horror flick with attempts at comedy.
'Metal Box' was initially an expensive limited edition version of the album, hence the cheaper re-release under a different name, but Virgin Records in 1990 neatly picked up on the fact that PiL fans may like to have this version which is only a little more expensive than the different sequenced 'Second Edition', and a bit more obscure to store on your CD shelves.
This 1979 album is self-produced and features John Lydon (formerly of The Sex Pistols) on vox, Keith Levene (formerly of The Clash) on guitars and synth, Jah Wobble (who once drove tube trains) on truly great bass, with Dave Crowe on drums. The inlay also credits a Jeanette Lee; maybe she provides the intro girlish scream on 'Careering'?.
10-minute opener 'Albatr
oss' rolls in with a menacing drum 'n' bass groove, over which guitar stabs enter that sound like a robot is getting stabbed in the chest. The music repeats and ever so slightly mutates here and there while a far-off vocal pokes in now and again stating amongst other things: "getting rid of the albatross".
'Memories' kicks off with another repeating rhythmic groove with itchy and quivery guitars that seem to want to give way at any minute, while Lydon tries to shake off a crippling lethargy. "This person's had enough of useless memories" Hi-hats on helium rise during the choruses.
'Swan Lake' (which also features on PiL's 'The Greatest Hits, So Far' as 'Death Disco' - though not the same recording, infact 'Swan Lake' sounds slightly better) creeps in with dark guitar harmonics and yet another memorable bass lead groove. Lydon's haunted wails are observations of the passing of his mother: "final in a fade", "seeing in your eyes", "choking on a bed, flowers rotting dead" and "words cannot express". The melding of an upbeat groove with vocal wails and skewed textures make this a charged piece of artistic expression.
'Poptones' (a name nicked by ex-Creation Records boss Alan McGee for his new label?) slots in after with jangly guitars and a groove led by the drums with gallons of cymbal swishes. Lydon narrates to us the story of a man getting murdered with a cassette playing pop tones in the background. Or is it a man getting murdered by pop tones? The vocals cease after a while and much of what follows is subtle engrossing variations in repetition.
'Careering' lands with a descending synth tone that morphs into grating squeals, a girlish scream and metallic hits along to an archetype reggae groove. Stream of consciousness type vocals run over the track of their own accord talking of such things l
ike "a face is raining across the border". This track is beautifully nerving and ends with the sound of mechanical teeth chomping.
'No Birds' shows some subtle change in direction with tom-heavy drumming, a slow punk bass riff. The constants being the fidgety guitar and Lydon's lethargic wail.
After a little bubbly synth squeal, 'Graveyard' opens with another simple but groovy rhythm foundation toyed with by an abused grating guitar. This track is entirely instrumental.
'The Suit' creeps in with far-off drums and a shivery bassline. Lydon delivers a queasy nasal narration of 'the suit' character, while here and there little decorative noises pepper the rhythm and raise the tension of the dense atmosphere before creeping out like a limp mouse.
'Bad Baby' features a slightly, intentionally, stuttered drum 'n' bass line lasered by the odd lost synth note with more Lydon energy-searching. It fizzes out like a powering down car with it's cascading bass and beat.
'Socialist' is another instrumental with Beta Band/Cuban beat sounding drums, another punk groove and bubble language synthesiser textures. If you listen carefully you can hear the sound of things shifting and closing in, eventually falling off as a whole.
'Chant' features a marching rhythm, dishevelled guitar rhythm pokes and turns, and the voice of an English army sargeant chanting with Lydon's voice slightly lower in volume under it; by the end he's chanting "chant" over and over again.
Ending instrumental 'Radio 4' breaks away from the flow of the rest of the album with almost calm swathes of synth and strings alongside some playful bass.
'Metal Box' is one of those albums that you'll either understand or you won't, and in both cases you may or may not like it. But what cannot be questioned is the originality of this
album and the emotion put into it, and that can be derived from it.
It maybe a 23yr old album but it sounds as fresh and relevant today as it probably did back then. If you're willing to let go of tunes, singing and proper strong structure for some passionate open-minded listening, this album is for you. I highly recommend it, you won't be dissapointed!
Grab the 'Metal Box' special edition to get this album in the reverential packaging it deserves, and place it alongside the rest of your finest music. Also, fans of Radiohead's 'Kid A/Amnesiac' period may enjoy this album too, probably more so.