Picks and Pans Review: Happy?

Public Image Limited

Though the very idea would probably seem anathema to leader Johnny Lydon, his group has shown a definite tendency on its recent albums to straighten up and fly right. Not that the former Sex Pistol is ever going to be regarded as the Perry Como of his generation. But the song structures, instrumentation and vocals on 1985’s Album and now Happy? are certainly more cohesive and accessible than PIL albums in the past. You don’t even have to have chromatically dyed hair to enjoy the stinging guitar rumble of Rules and Regulations. Seattle, which kicks off the album, even has the melodic elements of a folk rondeau. Then again it’s unlikely that the New Christy Minstrels would sing, as Lydon does, “Get out, get out, get out, get out of my world.” He is, after all, still capable of a few of his old cranky, punky tricks, especially on Side Two. Only Lydon could create the whirling muddles of Save Me and Angry, with their vague Middle Eastern influences. There are still moments, as on Hard Times, when Lydon’s over-dubbed vocals make him sound like a raging pack of wolves pursuing game across the Russian steppes. On Fat Chance Hotel, one of the album’s most delightfully addled songs, Lydon whines/chants the lyrics while fractured mariachi horns spice up a springy guitar riff that seems to spoof Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run. Still if his group hasn’t completely done the countercultural equivalent of a backslide, it is more conventional. At this rate they should re-enter earth’s musical atmosphere in about six more albums. (Virgin)

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