Who woulda thought? More than two decades after its fade from relevance and with a lengthy hiatus and several Sex Pistols reunions sandwiched between, the other groundbreaking band fronted by John Lydon has slipped out an album. Hold the presses: It actually sounds relevant.


PiL went close to tearing the world a new rear orifice in 1979 with their second album (called "Metal Box" or "Second Issue" - depending on what packaging it came in.) Masterfully melding dub, punk and Krautrock, PiL sounded like nothing else on earth. Next cab off the rank, "The Flowers Of Romance" stripped out all but the drums to be an even more challenging listen. In that nstance, challenging didn't equate to great. Successive releases after "This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get" lessened the impact - by which time Public Image Limited was only Lydon accompanied by a floating crew.

Put his flirtations with dance floors and 12-inch remixes to one side (and you can shove "Rise" where the sun doesn't), Lydon's always been the sort of musician (if that's not too strong a word) who refuses to be constrained. So it goes with "This Is PiL", which delves into reggae, jagged folk rock and electro-pop without any need to justify itself.

The first thing you notice is that Lydon's vocal is mixed right up high in the mix - disconcertingly so. But isn't that the point? His voice has been his weapon for so many years and it's probably one of the most distinctive in "rock" (that's a term not used mockingly – this is a "rock" album) that it's the way it had to be.

The next thing is that Lydon might be the front-thing but PiL is very much a band. As with just about any line-up he's put into play, the drummer (long-time associate Bruce Smith) is top shelf. Here's the heart of PiL's songs. Scott Firth plays exemplary four-string and upright bass while ex-Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds is also back on deck and brings a psychedelic tinge to the sound. Much of "This is PiL" has an acoustic bedrock but it's mostly about sonic colouring.

"This is PiL" doesn't dwell on past glories but stands as re-invention. The weakest point is the songs. The opening "This is PiL" swaggers rather than plods while lead single, the self-referencing "One Drop", is solid enough. On the flipside, "Lollipop Opera" is the silliest thing Lydon's done since the butter commercial that funded the band's reformation. The balance of the tunes isn't memorable enough to stick in the memory bank.

If this was a debut album from a "new" band, you'd rate it as a bit better than just OK and hope the next would eclipse it. Which is pretty well what, and how, it is.

I bought my copy because I was sent a CD-R burn. The Real Deal came in a digipak that's chunkier than a school tuckshop lady's arms. The bonus is a DVD of a "legendary" night club show from London in April 2012 that's well shot and at times sonically revelatory. Anti-fashion get-up and all, Lydon remains one of music's most compelling on-stage presences. Older material like "Death Disco" and "Albatross", however, overshadows more recent songs.