Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Public Image Limited—
The Flowers Of Romance


Released 1981 on Virgin
The Seth Man, August 2000ce
P.I.L.’s severest album of all, “The Flowers Of Romance” was an impeccably timed bowl of deconstructed and maniacally charged gruel flung into the dandified lace and serge lap of the ever-preening, self-absorbed lap of the Blitz/New Romantic movement that was reaching its short-lived pinnacle at this time. The title was also the name of a pre-Slits band that included Sid Vicious in its lineup, making the album as undeniably anti-fashion victim as it was a highly expressionistic album at once spare, unforgiving and relentless in its embrace of a non-derivative exploration of sound. Everything is ruthlessly stripped and nailed to a bare floor with DRUMS: a direction taken to the extreme after the departure of Jah Wobble left a huge, bass-less hole in P.I.L. So the trio that now comprised Public Image Limited (John Lydon, Keith Levene and Jeanette Lee) directed this most primal instrument to fill that gap in an overblown, dominating manner. Drums as melody, as rhythm, as sound effects; drums treated and processed like Joe Meek producing “Psychedelic Underground” by Amon Düül. Drums in the attic, drums in the basement, drums as sheer murderous excess, all clothed in scant but effectively sinister electronics with an underlying sense of pervading darkness.

“Four Enclosed Walls” sees Lydon’s voice return as a more prominent and projected element than on their previous studio effort, “Metal Box.” And when I say prominent, I mean his unique singing style is now projected through the dead soul of an assassinated mad muezzin high atop a middle-eastern minaret at nightfall, reeling and writhing in an increasingly enlarging pool of his own spilt blood reflects crescents from the full moon above. His vocalising is carried downstream by a drum pattern about as loud as it is persistent in it’s small and repeated boom-boom-booming while ghostly strands of backwards masking disappear like forgotten memories of psychedelia coming home to mate uneasily within the advanced technology of the early eighties. Another darkened room opens with “Track 8” as randomly hit bass and an off beat drum pattern all surround a late night encounter of a distinctly non-romantic nature. “Phenagen” opens with a buzzing sitar/guitar intro like “I Feel Fine”, except no one’s feeling fine here. In fact, it’s a funereal, leper death cart wheeled through a foggy outpost by the hunched Lydon as an out of kilter piano crazily rocks back and forth of its own accord in the background. In fact, all others instruments save the ever-flattening drums seem to be playing themselves in a knowing, eerie manner. “Flowers of Romance” follows, here a briefer and stripped of the resoundingly echoed drum and stick beat out that was such a violation of percussive politeness on the 12” version, but Levene’s violin playing again evokes Two Thousand And One Arabian Nightmares with rococo, sliding into dementia swirls over Lydon’s barely audible cries for help. The three piece group forsakes all other instruments save three sets of drums over pre-recorded synthesizer and brief guitar noise relays as the thunderous “Under The House” erupts until the side’s end. It’s a crazed buffalo stampede of multiple drum sets playing the same rhythm over and over, punctuated by exorcising snare cracks and Lydon’s palpitating vocals.

Side two careens into the half-filled well of stagnant water as “Hymie’s Him” bangs out several drums -- all treated through (and thoroughly with) studio gear boxes and signal processors into cracks of thunder, hollowed out logs being beaten with rocks or sticks scraping against prison walls. Threading this near-percussive instrumental are Levene’s 3-chord synthesizer nimbus clouds that invade and vanish at will. By this point, “Banging The Door” enters with a “hello” from Lydon and an even darker electronic drone that assembles and never leaves. And the drum pattern is exactly like someone pounding the floor or ceiling in an effort to get you to cease and desist with all ba-boom crashing of tom toms, snares, bass drums they’ve been experiencing secondhand for the past odd-25 minutes. But the album gets odder and madder. “Go Back” features Lydon intoning martially against a lurching and NOT RIGHT treated keyboard theme about as spindly as it is creeped-out, reminiscent as it is of early seventies psychedelic horrorshow and haunted house themes. The image from the back cover of their “Memories” 12 inch comes to mind: the P.I.L. logo reflected in an antique mirror with a huge stylised cobweb over it. During this song (and the whole album, for that matter) figures pass by almost unnoticed in the deserted hallway, and you’re grateful for Levene’s buzzsaw guitar when it finally makes an appearance, bringing with it at least some sense of familiarity, despite its abrasive qualities. But when a final door creaks opens to spill forth with “Francis Massacre” the creepy, locust tape loop that opened the album up way back on side one reappears and all hell breaks loose: The whole P.I.L. crew is tripping madly around a deserted and cobwebbed Victorian drawing room, dancing madly in circles as Lydon shrieks and skitters mad runs off the grand piano, Jeanette’s senselessly pounding mad tom-toms with Levene until a lit candelabra is snatched by somebody and is set to the thick velvet curtains. Flames swirl in and out of the screaming fits and the whoops and hollers are soon swamped by a churning audio horror that signals all is not well, an evil roar of swirling NOISE starts to thickly descend in the background. It unevenly fades out, returns, then all freezes to a dead halt.

No goodbyes this time, either.