Mutant disco horrors make for a car crash of an experience, and only John Lydon, the man who boomed with the Sex Pistols and continued on with Public Image Ltd, can make this work. End of World, the latest record from the reunion-ready PiL, is a tonal mess without much grasp on what it wants from itself. From Celtic rock opener Penge to heartfelt closer Hawaii, dedicated to Lydon’s late wife, Nora Foster, Public Image may be back but they return with no resemblance to the glory days. Those two singles did not grow on the mind, nor did they linger on for good or ill, they are just present. On reflection, that was a warning sign, as Public Image Ltd rehash their best days without the corruptible, rebellious nature they once had for it.
Little flickers of Rise can be heard in the title track End Of World. Repetitive but enjoyable defiance on this track tees up a wild and loud guitar working, probably the best PiL has offered in some time. Credible those instrumentals may be, they are the backwash to bad lyricisms which come and go. Enjoy the heavier guitar moments to it, that mutant disco bleed over comes clear as the sirens wail and the chord progressions get sharper, intense with fever not found in the vocals. Lydon still has a presence as a vocalist, and a lyricist too, but he is edged out by the qualities of Lu Edmonds. End of World may sound as though an alt-rock or post-punk indie group could cobble it together but holding it firm is the shock of hearing old-school hands hit out with something fiery, something which could rival those new thoughts.
Similarly reliant on the bass and drums, percussion prevails on Car Chase, the stomping, colloquial triumphs of the weekend springing to life. A sinister energy broods under the surface of Being Stupid Again, a feeling that spreads itself across the rest of the album, infecting all those near to it aside from the blissfully earnest and open Hawaii. One constant of the mid-section is the dense lyricism, which comes to a head as Lydon moans of racist mathematics and paid education. He hits out with the same spirit as his heyday but with the disgruntled tut familiar to artists who were at the forefront of the cultural revolution. When End of World pops out with culturally prevalent moments or moments of tongue-in-cheek excellence, as it does on Pretty Awful, it is a thrill to listen to PiL.
Patchy moments on Strange can be forgiven if levelling the title as a descriptor for the result. PiL are in a fluid state, and End of World showcases this. Infusing his vocal presence with some electronic misery there, Lydon is at least expressing a desire to toy with bits and pieces. Rough, patchy and never hitting a pace that benefits the listener or the band, End of World is a classic PiL collection. Duds like Down On The Clown are too frequent. It oversteps what it can achieve, and Lydon finds himself in the murky waters of expectant innovation, never truly bringing it about though. At least the emotional clarity and turn of form there is reasoned and well-maintained throughout, even if there are dips in his charisma. Wise work on guitar makes up for this, thankfully.