John Lydon, the anarchic frontman of Public Image Ltd. and—of course—the Sex Pistols, approaches old age the way many other rockers are just now learning to: with noise, and lots of it. PiL’s latest, What the World Needs Now…, compiles 11 silly songs, written with no apparent interest in satisfying any audience but themselves. (The first song is literally about a broken toilet). Instead of showing any signs of self-consciousness, Lydon comes across only as maniacally self-satisfied. But maybe that’s how older musicians should play out the latter halves of their careers—putting full trust in one’s muse and chasing it to whatever ridiculous end.
Though the record is certainly absurd, it’s undeniably fun to listen to, so long as one enjoys the clanging, relatively upbeat pseudo-punk PiL have settled into since their 2009 reunion. While the record may have limited appeal, fans of the group should give What the World Needs Now… a listen (particularly those who appreciated the band’s 2012 come-back album This is PiL). Still, even long-time listeners may find this latest offering to be significantly cheekier than prior releases. With the addition of a some goofy synth-tones, slinky melodies, and what can some fairly hilarious lyrics, What the World Needs Now… represents the more positive side of Lydon’s persona. (Which isn’t to say he’s fully given up on howling at “the man,” as evidenced by “Shoom”).
Bookended by a broken toilet and a broken society, a sort of beautiful chaos emerges from the remaining 9 songs. “Bettie Page” saunters along; the over-produced “C’est La Vie” winks as it passes by. Elsewhere, “The One” could almost be mistaken for late-era Beach Boys.
PiL have truly outdone themselves. Like their best material, What The World Needs Now… offers a sophisticated interpretation of “fun,” as complicated as it is ecstatic. Whether listeners will appreciate this record on its creators’ terms seems inconsequential. Because as he ages, Lydon sounds more and more as though he’s only concerned with entertaining himself—just as it should be.