It's been a long time since Johnny has been Rotten and if he keeps putting out records like this one John Lydon may just have to take on a nickname like Johnny Amazing. Lydon's fairly recent work with the Sex Pistols was undoubtedly performed just for the money but here, with the first PiL release in 20 years, Lydon demonstrates that he's still an artistic force to be reckoned with. The album starts with "This is PiL" which lyrically features nothing more than Lydon shouting out the song title and a few self-congratulatory welcome backs but the name-checking is set to a languid bass line and vaguely Middle Eastern melody that gives the song an immense hook. "One Drop" is a vibrantly-performed example of the one-drop style of reggae but the song, with its lyric referring to individuals as but "one drop in the ocean" hints at the feeling of worthlessness found in Lydon's Sex Pistols output. "Deeper Water" sounds like a Clash/Police mash-up and the rhythm of "Human" also echoes the Police. But nothing here is blatantly derivative and Lydon's singing, delightfully littered with elongated syllables and rolling R's, waxes both familiar and fresh. "Lollipop Opera" is the album's obligatory nonsensical offering but even it is infused with the funky grooves that PiL thrives on. This is PiL is the kind of album that gives the phrase "worth the wait" real gravitas and there's little room for argument that it represents Lydon's finest work ever.
The songs that Hoffs took lead vocals on for last year's Bangles comeback album Sweetheart of the Sun were among the most interesting on that offering even though they failed to generate the excitement of early Bangles hits. This solo set, produced by jangle pop specialist Mitchell Froom, unfortunately continues that trend. Concentrating on airy melodies with '60s-style arrangements Froom and Hoffs have definitely come up with a nice showcase for her sweet voice and if that's all you're interested in then this album is for you. If you want to hear Bangles-style power pop, something Hoffs is clearly still capable of should she choose, then look elsewhere.
Fun on Saturday Night
The musicianship of the highly-respected Blasters has never been in doubt and the band's Phil Alvin has indicated that this record was cut primarily so that the guys have something to sell while on tour. In that sense, with no expectation of placing singles on the charts or such, Fun on Saturday Night is not a comeback album in the true sense. It is, however, the band's first studio effort in seven years and full of strong cuts like an extra-sassy cover of the Johnny Cash classic "Jackson" with Exene Cervenka of X handling the female vocals, the Elvis-echoing "Breath of My Love" and the straight-up blues of "No More Nights by Myself." He's no longer in the band but the Blasters honor original member Dave Alvin here with an updated version of his "Maria Maria." Definitely good fun, Saturday or any other night.