PUBLIC IMAGE LTD – “Death Disco” / “No Birds Do Sing” (Virgin VS 274) June 1979
In the face of the unstoppable Sex Pistols Swindle industry, John Lydon perversely stretches himself to the near impossible limits to not only disassociate himself from his previous incarnation, but to alienate, to the point of hate, those who still resolutely cling to his former image. Even Bowie didn’t go to such extremities to lay Ziggy to rest.
So what is one to make of “Death Disco”? Is it just another con-game? A gigantic piss-take to test the public’s tolerance level? A way of relieving the boredom between bouts of television until the pubs open? A display of contempt? Another attempt at commercial suicide? Or, as some people insist, are PIL incapable of writing songs?
As intended, such questions remain unanswered and the controversy continues unabated. The enigma that surrounds PIL persists in making many upright and uneasy. But then, isn’t that the whole purpose? It’s always much more fun working without a safety net.
What we have here is aural action painting: the spontaneous slapping of sound on a magnetic tape canvas. what probably started out in the studio as a dog-eared disco-reggae fusion emerges as a lethal dose of psychedelic eclecticism which makes the Plastic Ono Band’s doodlings sound positively singalong by comparison.
As the bass blackjacks the beat, drums keep strict mechanical time whilst multi-layered guitars scratch away like rats at the pantry door, the tortured melody line of “Swan Lake” occasionally clawing its way to the surface.
And Lydon? His lyric is incomprehensible as his voice alternates between a demented bray and a Bolanesque vibrato. Whether it is a hoax or a signpost for the future is open to interpretation. It exists, it irritates, it intrigues. You just have to keep on playing it. Mission accomplished. (NME)