Some artists revere their own pasts, but John Lydon typically feels the strong creative connection to his most recent work. It's a tendency that started with 1977's Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, continued with the jarring dissonance of early Public Image Ltd., and remains intact to this day.
"I always love my latest, I really do," he says in an irascible nasal drone only a few degrees off from his sneering singing voice. "But this one is very, very special — the relationship in the studio was just magnetic."
The vocalist — né Johnny Rotten in Pistols days — is referring to "What the World Needs Now..." his new 10th studio set from PiL. It's the follow-up to 2012's surprise comeback This Is PiL, which was the long-dormant band's first album in 17 years.
Lydon is justifiably proud. The disc bristles with PiL's Metal Box-era spark, from the snarling opener "Double Trouble" — based on an argument Lydon had with his wife over, of all things, home toilet repair — through the free-form musing of "C'est La Vie" and the military cadence of "Corporate." Backing him in the current lineup: ex-Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds, Pop Group drummer Bruce Smith, and Steve Winwood-backing bassist Scott Firth.
World was, in fact, recorded at Winwood's secluded private studio Wincraft in Britain's Cotswolds, which only added to the record's echo-chambered ambience.
"It's a barn on top of a hill, surrounded by acres and acres of nothing but sheep," Lydon recalls of the location. "And it has stone walls, which was fantastic for the natural reverb, and a very, very high, thick-beamed ceiling. The air just whistles through. It's magnificent, the atmosphere, and a brilliant place for us, because we're the kind of people that pick up on that."
Lydon has dabbled in many fields over the years. He's completed two autobiographies, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and the new Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored. He's also acted in TV commercials (touting, of all things, England's Country Life butter) and even hosted his own Discovery Channel nature programs.
Meanwhile, he continues to blend politics with his distinctly punk sensibility, which is what this 59-year-old does best on tracks like the epic "Big Blue Sky," whose overt intention was to capture the feeling of the American desert. The L.A.-based Brit is now officially an American citizen, and he felt like it was time to start singing about his adopted country.
"Within the vibe, of course, is the harrowing plight of the indigenous populations — the slaughter of the Indians, put briefly," he says. "Any culture that respected the land was murdered, driven out of it by the new immigrants, and it's something I had to come to grips with."
Ditto for the cover painting — a Lydon original — of a Hopi Kachina figure sporting giant oxfords, a signifier for the jester who masks cultural truths behind exaggerated humor. "Most people don't like to be reminded that they're being foolish," he snickers. "Now am I considering myself that character? Ehh... that's up to you. If you look at him on the cover, I've taken him from Hopi tradition, but he's wearing my shoes. So he's either stolen them, or... who knows? It's another unanswered question for ya!"