Public Image Limited—

Released 1979 on Virgin
The Seth Man, October 2001ce
This was the second 12” single PIL issued in the wake of their monolithic double LP (known alternatively as “Metal Box” or “Second Edition”), seeing both sides re-worked into tracks that compare and contrast wildly to their album counterparts. They are (as ALL of PIL’s first four albums and singles between 1978 and 1981) are substantial in their crucial connections between punk, dub, krautrock and UA-era Hawkwind. Here “Memories” and the instrumental “Graveyard” (retitled with vocals as “Another”) get a treatment as austere as the black and white collage sleeve itself. A series of staged wedding photos show John Lydon posed in tie, trench coat and moustache with (I believe) his real wife Nora by his side as ominous fingers appear from above, poised to either peruse this page of a altogether grim and cobwebbed photo album or moments away from tearing them apart and discarding them forever. And just as the music of Public Image Limited constantly threatens to split off from itself in a rage, it also manages to holds itself together by a thin yet unbreakable thread of underscoring, bloodline bass lines and rhythm. And because of this near-magnetic force field, all instruments hold together in a simple, abrasive and ever-corroding atmosphere where no matter how much of the music falls away (or off the sonic map altogether), the bonds of the simple, forcefully played rhythms yoke all elements unswervingly together under conditions of severe austerity.

“Memories” is altered from its original setting on “Metal Box”: not only in the manner of its extended length and additional Leslie-amplified guitar line from Keith Levene’s barbed wire straddling guitar parts, but the mix is also significantly different: the album version sees Lydon’s vocals crammed behind the massive backing track, only surfacing noticeably for a middle stanza or two (most noticeably on the “I could be wrong / It could be hate” passage) but here on the single his hair-on-fire vocals are thrown up so high in the mix, it even blares over the metallic cog constructions of the over-phased hi-hat and drums. The dub pendulum ballast of Jah Wobble’s bass, while not always present, is so hypnotically strong it’s not readily apparent when it vanishes from time to time in the mix. And of course, the vocals and music proceed far beyond the boundaries of the LP fade out; even after Lydon’s utterance, “The end.” The coda is guided by Levene’s piano-like guitar stitching, only to be rudely interrupted by a contemptuous cut off mid-rhythm.

What Lydon seems to be decrying here is not ‘memories,’ per se (because face it, memory is the foundation upon which all knowledge is built, and Lydon was and is hardly a dummy) but the clinging and empty desperation people attach to them: preferring to remain ashen-faced from constant groveling in the long-dead embers of yesterday rather than remaining on course onward and upwards into the future. And at this point in time, Lydon was being swamped by the life-altering changes of death and marriage while simultaneously trying to force the unwieldy albatross of being an Ex-Pistol from his shoulders, all the while looking and pointing within his music into the future.

What surfaces on the B-side as “Another” is in reality the instrumental track “Graveyard” from “Metal Box.” In comparison to the in-your-face-ness of the instrumentation of the original, the music here wafts in the background, joined by alien electronic formlessness as Lydon baptizes the track with a double belch and an added, late-night vocal at once bloody but unbowed and echoed to basement perfection. It’s fairly doomed sounding, but shored up with a robust rhythm that in lesser hands would render it merely plodding. Lydon’s off the cuff improvised words fall back into the title, repeated and rerun for longer than a mere token chorus. But they fall away, Levene continues to pick the remaining scabs off his guitar abrasions in a dark and distant corner: perhaps the one featured on the back sleeve of the single, reflected through an ancient mirror scrawled with cobwebs rendered in black magic marker. A PIL logo looms in the background while a mysterious figure lurks out of focus in the foreground, an image that would be revisited two years later on the sleeve of their next single -- whose production would be as ultra-boosted and just plain fucking loud as this one.