PIL and the great Album

Public Image Ltd - John Lydon 1986 (esquire.com)

John Lydon 1986


In 1986 Public Image Limited (PIL) released studio album number 5. Entitled Album, John Lydon worked with session musicians like Tony Williams, Steve Vai, Ginger Baker, Bernie Worrell en Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Public Image Limited / Public Image Ltd. / PIL

As described in the story on Public Image Limited’s debut album, Public Image Limited: life after The Sex Pistols, the band was one of the first exponents of the post-punk music genre. Following the highly improbable success of the song Fodderstompf in the New York discotheque Studio 54, PIL released the single Death Disco in 1979, preceding the second album Metal Box which was released later that year. Initially the album came with an actual metal box, consisting of three 12-inches. Sometime later the album received a more conventional release under the title Second Edition. The album expanded upon the post-punk of its predecessor, but was even more distinct.

Public Image Ltd - The first four studio albums (discogs.com)

Public Image Ltd – The first four studio albums (First Issue, Metal Box, The Flowers Of Romance, This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get)

In 1980 the live album Paris Au Printemps was released, after which Jah Wobble left the band. In 1981 the successor The Flowers Of Romance appeared, a difficult album consisting of nothing more than drums, vocals, musique concrète, tape loops and keyboards, bass was nowhere to be found. In 1983 the second PIL live album was released, Live In Tokyo, later in the year followed by the single This Is Not A Love Song, aimed at the press and (former) fans who felt PIL was selling out to commercialism. It turned into the biggest band for the band in the UK and The Netherlands. A re-recorded version was part of the next studio album, 1984’s This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get, on which the band seemed to have completely surrendered to ‘the other side’ (i.e. commercial and dance music).

In 1985 John Lydon participated on the fantastic World Destruction by Afrika Bambaataa’s band Time Zone. The song was produced by the quirky Bill Laswell. Lydon was enthused by working with Laswell, extending their cooperation for the next PIL studio album.

Public Image Ltd - Album (pilofficial.com)

Public Image Ltd – Album


Album (also known as Compact Disc or Cassette, depending on the format) is the fifth PIL studio album. It was released on January 27th, 1986. Laswell encouraged Lydon to use session musicians, and not the lesser ones, like Tony Williams, Steve Vai, Ginger Baker, Bernie Worrell en Ryuichi Sakamoto.

I make records for myself. I want them to be completely precise. Accuracy is very important to me. Otherwise it’s bad work and a waste of my time, and I really don’t want to waste my time. There must be a conclusion to what you do, no vagueness. There must be a sense of completeness. Every song is an emotion and it has to succeed as that, otherwise you’ve failed. It’s bad work. That annoys me. Bad work from anyone just annoys me. I just don’t need it.

John Lydon

The album was recorded at the end of 1985 in New York. The drums were recorded at The Power Station. Steve Vai recorded his (lead) guitar at Electric Lady Studios. The rest of the album was recorded at the RPM Studios and Quad Recording Studios. After three weeks the album was mixed at The Power Station. Within four weeks the album was finished. Steve Vai clearly remembers that Lydon was very pleased with the recording and his contributions. Vai: “To this day that’s one of the projects I’m most proud of”.

Public Image Ltd - Rise - Video (hq-music-videos.com)

Public Image Ltd – Rise – Video


Album is not a sequel to the preceding This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get album. The music on Album doesn’t resemble the dance music of its predecessor at all. Tight rock, hardrock, metal. The original PIL fans were perplexed (once again). Musicians of Cream, Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, YMO and Mahavishnu Orchestra on a PIL album? What was happening here?

Such questions didn’t sit well with Lydon:

I don’t give a damn if the musicians I’m working with are old and got beards and long hair. That’s nothing to do with it and never has been. It just goes to show how narrow-minded people can be. I don’t give a damn. It works.

John Lydon, 1986

And rightfully so, Album is a great album, preceded by the superb single Rise, a song inspired by survivors of the inhumane interrogation techniques by the South African Apartheid regime. The lyrics contains quotes of those very survivors. That particular fact makes the song even more impressive than it already is. “Anger is an energy”, indeed!

I love the album, the sound and the adversarial stance Lydon took again by making this album, specifically with that all star line-up. Averse to public opinion he created a distinct album that has stood the test of time pretty well. I highly recommend Album!

Public Image Ltd - Album - Singles (discogs.com)

Public Image Ltd – Album – Singles


Two singles were culled from Album:

  • Rise
    (released on January 21st, 1986)
  • Home
    (released on April 21st, 1986)


Songs (called “Ingredients”) written by John Lydon and Bill Laswell, unless stated otherwise.

  • F.F.F.
  • Rise
  • Fishing (*)
  • Round (#)
  • Bags (*)
  • Home
  • Ease (^)

* Written by John Lydon, Jebin Bruni, Mark Schulz
# Written by John Lydon, Mark Schulz
^ Written by John Lydon, Jebin Bruni

Public Image Ltd - Album - Ad (pilofficial.com)

Public Image Ltd – Album – Ad


  • John Lydon – vocals
  • Bill Laswell – bass, except on Ease
  • Steve Vai – guitar
  • Nicky Skopelitis – guitar, except on Bags and Ease
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto – Fairlight CMI on Rise, Fishing, Bags and Ease
  • Bernie Worrell – organ on F.F.F., Round and Home, Yamaha DX7 on Fishing
  • Ginger Baker – drums on Fishing, Round, Bags and Ease
  • Tony Williams – drums on F.F.F., Rise and Home
  • Bernard Fowler – background vocals
  • Jonas Hellborg – bass on Round
  • Shankar – violin on Rise and Round
  • Malachi Favors – acoustic bass on Fishing, Bags and Ease
  • Steve Turre – didgeridoo on Ease
  • Aïyb Dieng – chatan pot drums on Round
Public Image Ltd - Studio albums 6, 7 & 8 (discogs.com)

Public Image Ltd – Happy?, 9, That What Is Not

After Album

In 1987 PIL released the album Happy?, in 1989 followed by 9. In 1990 the compilation The Greatest Hits, So Far was released, followed by the album That What Is Not in 1992. A year later PIL disbanded. Exit PIL.

Biography and Sex Pistols reunion

In 1993 Lydon worked on his memoirs, which were published in 1994 as Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, a very read-worthy book. In 1996 the unbelievable happened: The Sex Pistols reunited and went on tour, called the Filthy Lucre Tour.

After the release of John Lydon’s first solo album (Psycho’s Path) in 1997, 1999 saw the release of the 4 disc PIL compilation Plastic Box, containing a hopeful message in the liner notes:

This collection represents a comma not a full stop, I fully intend to carry on with PIL, and there will be more in the future.

John Lydon 1999

Public Image Ltd - Studio albums post reunion (discogs.com)

Public Image Ltd – This Is PIL, What The World Needs Now…

PIL reunion

In 2009 PIL reconvened for a tour, which was received very well and was documented on the ALiFE 2009 live album. In April 2012 the EP One Drop appeared, the first release containing new PIL music in over 20 years. In May of that same year a new album was released, This Is PIL. In 2015 What The World Needs Now… followed. In 2018 the documentary The Public Image Is Rotten was released, followed by the compilation CD/DCD box The Public Image Is Rotten – Songs From The Heart.

In closing

What’s your take on Album? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: PIL and the great Album. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!