You know what? Fuck the Sex Pistols. For all the endless praise that history has heaped upon them, for all the undoubted cultural and musical relevance they collectively had, individually they were - all but one of'em - idiots. Forget Steve Jones, a thuggish guitarist who would have been just as happy as part of the all-drinking, all-shagging, all-twiddly-soloing bands such as The Faces that he was supposed to be destroying; forget Glen Matlock, bassist and architect of these songs that changed so much, yet a man who abhorred the sentiments of 'God Save The Queen’, but is happy, in safe hindsight, to take credit for them. We'll let Paul Cook off, an archetypal drummer, in as much as he communicated in grunts and went along with anything.
But forget especially Sid Vicious and Malcolm McLaren; the former's sole achievement turning a potent force into a caricature; the latter, the money-grabbing manager who laughably still thinks he is “an artist", and that the ultimate punk band were “his sculpture". These people are revolutionaries? Forget it -there was only ever one Sex Pistol and his name is John Lydon.
Always a million miles ahead of the game, in 1978 while every other safety-pinned goon was palely imitating his old routine, the former Mr Rotten formed Public image Ltd. and by the time the year was out had released a debut album that would be as much a cornerstone of postpunk as his old band's debut was to its more famous father-scene.
Yet, stunning though 'First Issue' was (and still is), it pales into comparison with the follow-up that was released 12 months later - a quantum leap of a record, on which Lydon's collaborators were every bit his creative match (despite hating each other) and segued the most disparate of influences into a sometimes frightening, always engaging masterpiece. That record is 'Metal Box'.
Really, 'forward-thinking’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. The range of styles, not just on display but invented here, is ridiculous; even the most inventive bands since have yet to catch up. Just listen to the speaker-blowing dub-bass of 10-minute opener 'Albatross’; listen to the way ‘Memories’ mutates without warning from lo-fi into acid-drenched techno; listen to Keith Levene - easily one of the greatest guitarists ever - filling ‘Careering"s machine disco with unsettling atmospherics; listen to the nine-to-five-mocking The Suit’; the stripped-bare-for-all-to-see pain of 'Swan Lake’ (inspired, like many of the lyrics here, by the death of Lydon's mother); and 'Poptones' - one of the most abrasive songs ever recorded. If all that gets too much, just look at the bloody packaging - that had the record company quivering at the thought of how much money would need to be spent and which the band subsidised.
I’m not disputing the - yawn - importance of ’Never Mind The Bollocks’. Yes. it came along and changed the world at a time when the world was in dire need of change, blah, blah, blah. But just go and play it back to back with 'Metal Box’, and tell me which one, stripped of any historical context, sounds more like a menace to society.
Don't get me wrong. I love the Sex Pistols really. Well, one of ’em. anyway.
Track Listings :
3. Swan Lake
6. No Birds
8. The Suit
9. Bad Baby
12. Radio 4