Venerated sound architect peeks under full metal jacket of his own creation to uncover its gist and construct the famous edifice afresh.
Released in 1979 and considered a solid gem almost immediately upon its arrival, PIL’s “Metal Box” has not aged as well as it deserved to, although not all of its sonic elements seemed dated today. In a strangely logical way, the in-you-face imagery of John Lydon’s pipes and Keith Levene’s axe somewhat lost their impact as the years went passing by, but not Jah Wobble’s bass – the almost-guttural, yet finely textured, rumble of his bass that propelled the pair of punks to the serious musicians’ ranks. So, feeling there was a chance to remedy the record without changing the past, the musician-cum-producer distils it all to dub essentials now and, thus, solidifies his vision of the album.
Still, the veteran’s fresh approach to reinventing the classic is manifested not only in removing gloomy vocals from familiar melodies and leaving radio-like snippets as a means of retaining the context. Playing around with various pieces, Jah enhances their punch by either shortening or, rather often, extending a track, so while “Albatross” is cut almost in two to bring its powerful riffs, infectious groove and funky clang to the fore, the boisterous jive of “The Suit” and “Swan Lake” are blown up, the latter’s Tchaikovsky quote too frontal now for Wobble to try and reclaim the number’s original morbid title despite the tune’s accentuated disco drive. More so, the latter and the sparkling, multidimensional, reggae-tinged “Poptones” come augmented, in symphonic manner, with violin and new ivories passages – courtesy of Katy and George King – whereas the swirl of “Memories” smells of flamenco, as Jon Klein’s six-string licks, submerged in a bass sea, spice up the increasingly metallic song’s cinematic development.
But if, previously, “Careering” was relentless enough as to be lacking nuance, Wobble’s solemn, albeit danceable, delivery of it, his singing and drumming included, is infused with plethora of little details and provided with plexus-hitting bottom-end, and “Graveyard” is given a glimmering stereo pulse for a Latin-tinctured rhythm and progressive soundscape for arrangement. Further on, “Socialist” – bristling with comical beat and featuring a funny voice and a nifty synthesizer hook – could top a K-pop chart were it not for the brief surge of a hard-rock assault. However, there’s ancient punk defiance in the veteran’s magnificently streamlined refining of “Public Image” and a tribal sway to “Fodderstomp” – that finally allow Jah to go on four-stringed rampage – added here as bonuses to round off this nugget of an album.
One can’t rewrite history, of course, yet its witnesses, let alone shakers and movers are entitled to create their own version of it.