Back in the wild days of 2007, Iggy Pop decided to take his Stooges out for another spin. Their comeback album, The Weirdness, was hotly anticipated, and was well received by the music press of the time, despite being a bit, whisper it, underwhelming. It seemed like everyone was too caught up in the hype, glad that the forefathers of all things rock and roll were back doing their thing to really listen to the rather weak sounding comeback.
Another Godfather of Punk, John Lydon, followed much the same path with Public Image Ltd. After reforming the group in 2011 he released the underwater dub album This Is PiL. As was the case with the Stooges record, This Is PiL was raved about in all of the heritage rock magazines (Christ, that's such an awful word isn't it, 'heritage'. But you know what I mean). However, like The Weirdness, This Is PiL was a bit of a stinker, for want to a better term. As admirable as it was to release such a strange record it just didn't really work, sounding like an echo of the group's past rather than a vision of their future.
While The Stooges never released another record, PiL have decided to give it another go. What The World Needs Now... , their tenth album, sees the group having to come to terms with the deflation of a comeback. The band had two options after their last album, go further into the dub abyss, or attempt to come at everything from a different angle. Thankfully, the group decided on option B, releasing a record with much more bite than its predecessor.
Opener, 'Double Trouble' snaps and snarls menacingly, reminiscent of Sleaford Mods' early output. In fact, it steals everything good about the Nottingham punks' disparate sound and pours a boiling pot of urine all over it, just for good measure. It's a punk rock song, there's no getting away from it. However, as good as it sounds it seems like a strange move for Lydon and company, who have been so hell bent on demolishing punk rock one bass wobble at a time for the past 30-odd years.
Rather than being a red herring, 'Double Trouble' sets the tone for the whole record. 'Bettie Page' follows soon after, sounding suspiciously like Lucifer Sam for Punk Dads. It creeps and crawls all over the shop, but doesn't frighten the listener one bit, which is a shame because PiL can certainly 'do' scary.
As the album progresses it is clear that PiL have descended into normality, and it's really bloody weird. 'The One' and 'Big Blue Sky' could have been made by any half decent beat combo. On the one hand it's extremely disappointing that the band have chucked away their unique formula of wailing vocals, rumbling bass, wire thin guitars and tub thumping drums. And this change in direction is actually really weird. When you think about it, what's more weird than a bunch of weirdos making normal music?
By the time 'I'm Not Satisfied' comes along the whole normal thing has been set in stone. There are disco pumps aplenty and post punk farts that smell like Gang of Four disasters. While at first the every day nature of the record seemed like a masterstroke after a while it just becomes dreary.
What The World Needs Now... is solid proof that reformations never sound good on record. Try something new, or old, are more than likely you will fall flat on your face. The myth created by time overshadows any attempt at breaking away from the then, to the now.
Maybe PiL should have followed The Stooges and cut their losses after one final goodbye. There's still time.
4Jack Doherty's Score