Rotten no more
Exactly a year ago, John Lydon donned his punk costume and Rotten persona and toured with the rest of the beer-bellied Sex Pistols for big bucks--cash from chaos, indeed. He admitted it, and people still bought; audiences flocked to witness what punk rock was all about. Lydon gave them the cartoon version, with a sneer that translated something like this: "If you think the Pistols can come back 20 years later and mean anything, then there's one of you born every minute."
Yet the man could be king. In true Jacko fashion, he could appoint himself "king of punk" and make a fortune in the nostalgia circus. Hell, he could even have a multimillion-selling catch o' the day like Offspring opening for him. He chose not to. Maybe it's that old-fashioned affliction called integrity.
The truth is that Lydon is the kind of musician who likes to experiment, break down boundaries. The man grew up with reggae and Can; how long could he stay happy with one-chord songs while punk rock was turning into an industry all around him? As early as 1978, he was already challenging people's misconceptions with PiL. Since then, his stance--the absolute opinions, the seemingly cynical outlook, his hyperbolic sarcasm--has often been more interesting than some of his recent recorded output.
Psycho's Path is his first solo album, and it is not much different from his earlier work with PiL. Brewed in his home studio in Los Angeles, it is all Lydon: Parts of it share the spooky ambience of Metal Box, the awkward rhythmic thrust of Flowers of Romance, and the haphazard melodies of Album. All the songs are bathed with a thin glow of electronica, with Lydon more concerned with getting under your skin than on your nerves. He even expresses the desire to be loved in "Take Me." On his own terms, of course. Elsewhere, the idiosyncratic pulse of "Dog," the polyrhythmic "Another Way," and the stark humanity of "Grave Ride"--inspired by the madness in Bosnia--make this a compelling album by a man who supposedly doesn't give a damn.
Rarely--if ever--has a man been so disgusted with his own myth. A myth that he has bloody-mindedly been trying to destroy for 20 years now, without much effect. Maybe the sheer musicality of Psycho's Path will take a chunk out of it; a giant step away from his legend. Bet your now-too-small Pistols T-shirt, however, that his new, low-key tour will end up a disaster: Half of the audience will be hoping for crumbs of a Pistols song, and Lydon will do his best to irritate and agitate them.
John Lydon performs August 8 at Trees.
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