Friday, 12 June 2015

Public Image Limited - Commercial Zone (1983)

I was never quite able to work out what happened with the fourth studio album by Public Image Limited, and having just attempted to refresh my memory with a rummage around on the internet, I'm not significantly any wiser. Commercial Zone was put out by Keith Levene himself following his either leaving the group or else being booted out, only to have some sort of record company ASBO slapped on the disc due to its having been re-recorded and given an official release as This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get; so some take to the view of Commercial Zone being a bootleg comprising demo versions of songs which turned up on the other record, whilst others regard it as what the album should have sounded like. As for myself, mainly I'm still reeling at actually having found a copy and not having had to sell a kidney in order to make my purchase - all thanks to the magic of this thing we call internet - but it has to be said, Commercial Zone really is one fuck of a better album.

Technically this was the last album prior to Public Image Limited's rebirth as a stadium rock outfit - albeit a very wonderful stadium rock outfit - and you can sort of see the progression from Metal Box to The Flowers of Romance to this one in terms of continuing a tradition of experimentation and a certain mood, as opposed to - for example - scraping the leftovers onto a bit of bread, sticking it in the oven and calling it a fucking pizza. Unlike This Wasn't Actually What We Wanted... But It's What We Got, this album sounds like the work of people who were still talking to each other, with most of the work done during recording rather than after the event with a horn section brought in to see if they can stop it all sounding quite so shit.

To be honest, I've always been highly suspicious of anything involving Martin Atkins given his long history of working with the already famous like some sort of post-punk industrial music autograph hunter, and This Was The Wank That Was seemed to support my conviction of his being about as interesting as whoever he's stood next to at the time, and so with his being stood next to John Lydon who - God bless him - similarly tends to work better in the company of decent collaborators, the album was never going to be amazing. The material was fine, but they blew it, and then tried to detract from it having turned out crap with a sardonic title and cover photographs of Lydon doing the face by which he denounces the dim view we take of his disappointing record as oh so interesting...

The funny thing is Commercial Zone doesn't actually sound significantly different. It's less-cluttered, and there are tracks which didn't make it onto the karaoke version but wouldn't have sounded out of place had they done; but it holds together better, punches in the right places, defying expectation rather than just inspiring you to wonder what the fuck they're trying to do now; and ultimately Commercial Zone is ten times the album that You Pays Your Money... You Takes Your Chance was, or half-heartedly purported to be whilst sneering at its own shoes. Having another rummage around on the internet, I learn that Keith Levene was somewhat pissed off by this whole business and continues to be pissed off by it to this day, and comparing that which was to that which could have been, it's not difficult to see why.

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