After nearly 20 year since the last PiL record, John Lydon was criticized by punks the world over as a sell out for appearing in celebrity shows and TV commercials. Shortly afterwords, these same critics were forced to shut their mouths as Lydon proceeded to use the money earned to revive Public Image Ltd for the well received This Is PiL. Three years later, they’ve returned with the surprisingly strong What the World Needs Now…
For a band fronted by one of punk’s living legends and partially responsible for Post-Punk as a whole, listeners could very easily expect a bloated and laborious, out of touch record attempting to relive glory days, relying on big names and old tricks to move units. With What the World Needs Now…, this is most certainly not the case.
Instead we get a record that is varied, engaging and most of all, fun. Yes, we still have the dubby grooves, experimental guitar work and the caustic ramblings of an aging English firebrand, but it’s all done with a joyous, playful approach, making the jester on the cover oddly appropriate. Lydon’s deliveries are confident and comical, opening the record with “Wot, you fucking nagging again?” and his creative vocal performances remind us that almost 40 years later, he is still the unmistakable king of brash, snot-nosed punk.
The music throughout the record is tight and varied, ranging from aggressive guitar punk obviously reminiscent of Sex Pistols (“Double Trouble” and “Know Now”) to the dark spy grooves of “Bettie Page” (which features a surprisingly gorgeous pop bridge) murky, atmospheric dirges (“C’est La Vie”) and even elements of modern dance (“Whole Life Time,” “Shoom”) Despite the comical, sarcastic approach, What the World Needs… never gets silly, with songs like the brilliant “Corporate” explicitly displaying the state of the planet before telling us exactly “what the world needs now,” which according to Lydon, is “another fuck off,” giving a pained and throbbing middle finger to money, sex, age and success.
While it doesn’t exactly break new ground or reshape the world of music, it does exactly what it needs to and has a great time while doing it, which is all we can ask for from Lydon and PiL who have done enough to push music for two lifetimes. It is reminiscent of the latest record from Wire, also released this year, in that it spends its time enjoying the present rather than desperately scraping at past glories to please their audience. Granted, What the World Needs Now… is still unmistakably PiL, with many moments pleasingly reminiscent of previous work, it seems to stem from a far more genuine place than many of the other classic bands that reconvene for recordings only to sound like a watered down cover versions of themselves.
All in all, What the World Needs Now… is smart, funny and abrasive in all the right ways without being over-polished, sounding fresh, not forced. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it required listening for people unfamiliar with the band, but it would make a great starting point for folks that are interested and it’s doubtful that fans will have much to complain about with this one.