metal box – public image limited

Out of the waving wheat that sure smells sweet comes Ignacious with another great review–this time his focus is on PiL and their opus Metal Box.

Public Image Limited Concept Albums

(1 of 3) – “METAL BOX”


Metal Box’s overrunning importance today, when issues as to the health of Mother Nature and planet Earth are smothered by interested money about Healthcare and Retirement, urges us to return to simplicity, to be conscious of the garbage, but not to abandon hope outright.


This album is important now, and it will be in the future, after the adjustment of immortality.


ALBATROSS:  A First Image


Albatross (the first symbol in which are contained all of the ensuing symbols) – The matter is set out for us of the reality of perdition, injurious to itself, the albatross, first symbol in the sequence, converging into the no-concept concept, and as I can show, the concept for this and the following 3 albums is effluent and rife.  Doom is unfriendly to us – the constituents of form interpenetrate each other, and if you listen to any cunning recording, over and over again, such as Metal Box, the repetitious chords hammered out by Levine will offset the inflection, and often comedic cadence of Lydon/Rotten.

“If I wanted to, if, I run away…..”


The fact that we all experience death while alive, but that only a tiny fraction are able to transcend it ad hoc by way of the satanic attunement, is quite plain to me as I listen to Albatross, the first track on metal box that we must have a basis, a starting point, call it the albatross twinkling in the eyes of Satan, of God and all his angels.

“You make me feel ashamed at acting attitudes” Obviously it is a reference to his mother’s death.  Death is elusive until we stop looking for it, and if an artist or musician is lucky, he can position himself by returning to the origin of the theme, and create a sequence, a cipher signature; and this is the soul of memory caught in the twinkle of the eye.


“Slow Motion”, the first words of the sequence.  Caught in the Grinding wheel, Satan is entrapped in his accoutrements.  Paul the Apostle said, that “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, – in the twinkling of an eye – when the last trump is played, —this sets the groundwork to dismantle the Metal Box for what it has been shown for.

Some get caught in the twinkle of the eye, and are lost forever like the Albatross, and that twinkling is an eternity.  But to some, it is merely a particular instant, a nothing, not the end at all, but, as it is here, a beginning.  (The burdensome, heavy breathing.)   “I know you very well, you are unbearable.  Whatever his religious views, Lydon typifies the albatross with it’s languid pioneering, asleep “on the crest of the wave, sowing the seeds of discontent”.


The three albums (Metal Box, Flowers, and Commercial Zone/This is what you want…) I believe, aside from being some of the most ingenious creations in music history, are made all the more conceptual and vivid through poetic cadence and use of natural imagery.  Lydon perhaps was not a skilled singer, but his poetic genius made me a fan of the genre for life.

Now, I have only a smattering of knowledge when it comes to what shaped the ideal of the ancient Greek and Roman mind, but using what little I possess, I intend by way of this writ to show the rivers of Hades that thread the album with myth and legend that I attune from listening to the album Metal Box, by Public Image Limited.

I am using, for point of reference, the Metal Box track sequence, and not the one used in the Second Edition.


The Rest of the Story


Memories – The psychic recognition of death and immortality we come into possession of as we grow through adulthood into maturity – Here we see our utter dread of it all.  The joy and newness of love is turned into the pointed finger of blasphemy.

And the Albatross is our satanic recognition of the damage we have done to our world and the potential for terminal upset by way of our own technology threatening the very life of the planet itself.


Swan Lake – Swan Lake is obviously about my old neighborhood, just south of Cherry Street, and not the famous Ballet.  But the understanding is of the appearance of what the song suggests, being the death of John Lydon’s mother.  Like the instance where the Emperor reminded Anakin Skywalker in “Revenge of the Sith”, of his mothers death at the hands of the sand people.  No one should ever have to see their mother die in a satanic vision.


“The silence in your eyes, words cannot express”……. Again, the horror of our precognition of death during the waking moments, the firebrand that is satan (our hopeless feeling of helplessness about reconciling anything whatever), approaching closer and closer as time continues, and we come to the Final Things.

“Seen it in her eyes, silence was a way, flowers rotting dead.”  Why, then, do the flowers rot?  We will have to approach that in our essay about the Flowers of Romance, which is also quite conceptual as I will show in the next post.


Poptones – This song is about the cult behind gaining confidence in ourselves and our own ability to create through the satanic medium, which this album seethes with throughout.

“Hindsight does me no good, standing naked in the back of the woods”  Obviously “He is naked and he is not ashamed”, a total reversal of the sin in the garden of eden. (Hindsight does me no good).  The return to the garden approaches.  Behind is the wake of everything since the fall 7200 years ago – ahead we have no expectations, only a dread and a horror for the sins of the past, and a trillion broken machines laying in heaps everywhere about.


(Fear Of Transition) – The four-song picture


  1. The Wounded Birds of Prey (a portrayal of the emblems of war and the splitting of the evil atom.)

And so socialist follows.  No one knows more about it than I do, but the band gives this one a heck of a chalking up.  “It’s wet, and I’m losing my body heat.”  Nice depiction of scenery from time to time, to give us a good picture to resort our attention to from time to time as the conversation about death and immortality goes on.  The war is going on somewhere, but not here.  Here, all is serendipity and calm as we drive along to music about insanity.


And then, the mockery of the conformist!  Yes, yes, the will of god at work!  Death and Immortality considered, what is implied?  Well, we must make that money, get hired and bought so we can be famous.  Although the name of the band could have a whole essay written on it throughout the albums from the first issue, I will leave that album to rest, and just address starting with this album because it is conceptual.  So, I believe, are all the rest of the albums with Levene.  And the Concept, being Gloom, is delicately played with by that rascal Icarus we have in Lydon, from time to time.  However, Lydon’s rhythm in this song is far from optimistic.  (“Armored Machinery” sic.) – Look at what capitalism and socialism have done in wake of the war, and the splitting of the earth in two!


Careering – What this song implies about livelihood is immense.  “Is this Living?”

Looking for work?  (Geiger-counters click-clicking); The river is the Cocytus. “Both sides of the river there is bacteria.”  So the insanity of immortality resurfaces- I see Lydon with his Meningitis stare, cold, bleak – suggestive of irreparable damage. “Trigger machinery” (The water supply) 


“Is this living”?  and so on, on the banks of the river………..


And No Birds Do Sing – a continuation of Lydon’s imagery of the post apocalyptic river.  This is Cocytus,  The river of wailing.  In the myth, the river is hostile to all life, being one of the rivers of Hades.  Apparently it is so polluted that there are no birds near, because they cannot fly over the river, it is radioactive / poisonous.

(I like the illusion of privacy!)


The picture is one of well ordered and mowed lawns, and pruned trees, a little suburb perhaps, but the title, “No Birds”!  Indeed!  No Birds because the water is contaminated and factories line it on both sides, well, maybe.  Maybe in a different aeon. 


Socialist – And so is Socialist next.  No one knows more about selfish abuse of natural resources and the endangerment of the earth better than the Russians.  All I can concede from the song, because it is an instrumental, is that it is a kind of taunting of the “enemy” by reminding him of his own mortality alongside the strangeness that he will be doomed forever to a world not unlike that described in “No Birds”.


The Suit – A grim depiction of thoughtless consumption.  “It is your character, deep in your nature”.  This is what prepares man for the suit, the next track.  Does the suit bring out the natural capability of the wearer – the good and bad capacity of a man, who is forced into the suit as a condition of his employ once the job is secured, a compromise because of an appointment to the office – the loss of a certain amount of freedom in exchange for an illusory happiness that isn’t even pleasurable all the time?

All these visions of The quasi-future, the machines, the factories, yet, in this series of songs, No Birds, Socialist, The suit, and Bad Baby – there is also the wife taking the kids to school in the station wagon, and the local gossip; People living it up, without paying one flick of interest as to what’s going on, and what is (the quasi-future) about to happen.


Bad Baby – “Someone let the baby in the car part never any reason, don’t you listen, don’t interfere”.

This is sooth certainly – Abuse, again the theme – innocence and complacent neglect of humanity at atrocities – citizens bent on vain glamour and the pomp of fame, Lydon knew all too well.  (Don’t interfere!)  Never Never Never Never – Ignore it and it will go away-someone is calling, don’t you listen…..The Baby in the car part is our crumbling and dying earth.


Graveyard – This is an instrumental.  We consider that the theme of the album is death and immortality- what better segue way than to flash the action of the scene to a cemetery.  It has a definite quality of being upbeat and hopeful – being in a cemetery we are bound to think about the soon-approaching catastrophe we are all too well aware of but know not how to commune with it or integrate, instead being left to offer myths and legends – Where are the suburbanites now? Surely they are off constructing idols to assure themelves of some greater purpose to it all.


Chant/Radio 4.  These two songs are placed together and there is no section.  One fades into the other, as life is assimilated into the afterlife, and the satanic attunement is full of regret, and even a concept of a suididal tendancy coming from (All you ever get is all you steal) a disgust born out of the idiotic duality of (success/failure) well apt to the regeneration of the suit earlier, and the career search that is only fraught with fear and loathing – the dirty scum of urban London – The side of London that the tourists never see.  Apparently Lydon wanted to see all this, a kind of Gautama Buddha experience (every librarian has his theory), and not the pleasant attractions of the city in sin and the trappings of personal aggrandizement.

So it flows then, into Radio 4, the last song on Metal Box and the last instrumental as well.  The myth behind radio 4 is the eventual reconciliation of death – placid, serene, like the wash of the ocean and the receeding waters of the tsunami.


Now give it a listen, and imagine a quasi-satanic construct sometime in the future.


Oklahoman by birth. Angeleno by fate. I've been in half a dozen bands and own 25 cubic feet of old records. Thank God for Ikea shelves.

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