A fuzzy drum and bass track booms out as a man bellows over the top, "What, you f--king nagging again? About what? What what? The toilet's f---ing broken again?!?" Is it a new single from the Sleaford Mods? No, not quite -- it's the opening tune from What the World Needs Now, the second album from John Lydon's 21st century edition of Public Image Ltd. While Jason Williamson may be upholding the great tradition of world-class ranters in pop music, the artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten is still the undisputed champion, and even as he's pushing 60, Lydon's eccentric speechifying about domestic discord, destructive lifestyles, man's relationship with danger, America's obsession with sex, and a rich variety of other things that get under his skin, continue to signify and give this music its backbone. Lydon's pronouncements here sound more grandly operatic than he did in the '70s and '80s, but the vitriol that made him the most loved and hated man in the United Kingdom is still in ready supply, and his lyrics -- sometimes carefully composed, other times consisting of dubwise chanting that seems to have emerged from his imagination while the band jammed -- are, by themselves, strong enough to give this album a reason to be. As for Lydon's bandmates, this edition of PiL lacks the vision and chaos that made First Issue, Second Edition/Metal Box, and The Flowers of Romance post-punk touchstones, but this is still the best and most sympathetic backing group Lydon has had since the studio crew that helped him make Album in 1986, with Lu Edmonds sending sharp waves of guitar floating over the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Bruce Smith and bassist Scott Firth, providing a melodic and rhythmic foundation that serves the vocalist well (and is honestly intriguing in itself). If Lydon's decision to revive Public Image Ltd. seemed curious at first, with What the World Needs Now, the group has a firmly established new personality that suits its leader well, and finds him making strong and engaging music again after many fans wrote him off as a spent force.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming