Feast your eyes on the beautiful re-release of Metal Box/Album before they fill with tears at the enormous price tag. John Earls reports…
Seven years and two albums after reviving Public Image Ltd with a new line-up, it’s become possible to take John Lydon as a live draw for granted. Those new albums are excellent, rattling with the same fury as Lydon ever had and PiL’s return deserves to be treated with more respect than the small venues they played on their most recent tour for last year’s album What The World Needs Now. It’s perhaps with that lull in PiL’s fortunes in mind that Universal give their most famous albums the super deluxe treatment.
Released in the wake of The Sex Pistols’ demise, PiL’s debut was First Issue. Low Life and Public Image apart, it wasn’t convincing as an album, but it laid the groundwork for Metal Box, which arrived a year later.
A wonderful sprawl of dub, prog and Krautrock, Metal Box is as ‘post’ as post-punk can be, yet it shared one ingredient with Never Mind The Bollocks: in amongst the howl of Memories and Poptones, and in the nightmarish conclusion of Socialist/Chant/Radio 4, this is a band who knew that melody should be to the fore. There’s a reason the intro of Death Disco remains guaranteed to get fans of all generations instantly moshing.
John goes pop
That love of melody reached its peak on Lydon’s best pop record. By the time of Album in 1986, Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene had gone. Lydon gathered the best session musicians he could afford: guitarist Steve Vai, Ryuichi Sakamoto on synths, even Cream’s Ginger Baker drumming on half the album. Taken together with Lydon, you’d expect more experimentation, yet the shimmering Rise was a daytime radio staple and even This Is Not A Love Song was built on a hummable chorus.
In many ways, Universal’s packaging for these reissues is exemplary. Metal Box might now be in an embossed square tin rather than the original’s round film canister, but that makes it easier to remove the contents. The four vinyl discs comprise the original album, a live album from Manchester five months before Metal Box’s release, a Peel Session and two alternative mixes. Album adds demos, remixes and a Whistle Test performance.
Pleasingly, both albums’ download cards add the 20 extra songs from the accompanying CD reissue not included on vinyl for length reasons. The vinyl boxes also feature full-size art prints and a poster, as well as 72-page books documenting each album. It all looks terrific, and is how these things should be done. Except: Album costs £106 and Metal Box is £166. That’s ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY SIX QUID. Make up your own ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ gags. We’re too busy forming a lynch mob and finding pitchforks before heading off to Universal’s HQ.