27 years after it was first released you can finally get 'Metal Box' in
the USA. As it was meant to be. Released via RUNT Distribution, and their
4 Men With Beards label, this limited edition vinyl re-issue is a replica
of the original 3 x 45rpm set; complete with its legendary metal canister.
Originally, I only planned to review the packaging, and not the music,
but this is Metal Box how can I NOT mention the music? As
Ive said many times before, its quite simply one of
the finest records ever made.
Recorded by founder members John Lydon, Keith Levene & Jah
Wobble along with an ever changing set of drummers Metal
Box was PiLs second album released in November 1979. Often
overlooked, less than a year after their debut Public Image: First
Issue. The booming sound remained, but Metal Box was
nothing like its predecessor. Things had changed, and so had PiL.
While outside pressures mounted PiL channelled their energies (negative
and positive) into a record that would set them apart back in 1979, and
indeed today in 2006. Recorded in night-time studio downtime, or locked
away at the Manor in Oxfordshire, Metal Box was largely conceived
in the studio. However, it was far from over-produced and cold. What you
are hearing is a live, fully functioning band, enhanced by studio techniques,
not engulfed in them.
The majority of tracks are improvised takes. From which PiL would make
different mixes. Often layering or splicing them together; building the
sound and adding to its power. Metal Box has so many strong
elements whether it be Keiths wailing guitar or melodic synths;
Wobbles sub-disco reggae basslines; Johns powerful and passionate
vocals; or the crashing rhythm that holds it all together that
on each listen you can focus on a different aspect. This is perhaps what
gives Metal Box its space. Despite its layers and depth, nothing
is buried. The sounds compete, and in turn, compliment each other.
Another of the records great strengths is that although each track
has a similar overall sound, they have almost completely separate
musical styles. Everything was looked upon as an individual piece of work.
An approach which suits this 3 x 12 single format perfectly. Even
then, you couldnt really get much further apart than Chant
& Radio 4. And they sit next to each other! Maybe thats
something for the Metal Box imitators to note: opposites attract
and diversity works.
Metal Box is often compared to a mixture of Krautrock and
Dub Reggae, and while it's true PiL were fans of these genres, it's a
VERY LAZY comparison. I can't think of a single record from those genres
that sounded like Metal Box, can you? Or have you just been
led to believe that? There may have been elements of that sound
in the mix, but Metal Box covered much more...
Take a track like Death Disco (aka Swan Lake)
John pouring his heart out on top of disco rhythm and inside-out
Tchaikovsky it's hardly "Can meets King Tubby" is
it Mr Music Journalist
? In fact, if PiL hadnt mentioned those
genres or bands, the press probably wouldnt have had the references
in the first place! Public Image had far too much respect for their influences
than to steal from them. And quite frankly, they didnt need to.
It wasnt only the music that was groundbreaking, Metal Box
was 3 x 45rpm 12 singles, housed in a metal film canister.
As made by The Metal Box Company in Londons East End;
hence the name. Today CDs (and even the occasional LP) released
in metal tins are common place, but this was an age long before
record companies played the format game. And it was far from a novelty.
PiL knew exactly what they were doing. They were all huge record fans,
and they understood packaging, image, and high sound quality were a vital
ingredient to what they wanted achieve. And lets be honest about it, it
was a great piece of mischief.
the time PiL had to fight Virgin Records all the way to ensure the record
was released in the metal box; and eventually had to put £35,000
of their advance back into the album. Metal Box' was never intended
to be limited edition, PiL wanted a full run, but Virgin would only press
50,000 (plus an extra 10,000 for export). Some of these 10,000 found their
way over the Atlantic, however, prices were always greatly inflated.
A full six months after the release of Metal Box Island Records
in the USA (licensed from PiLs then American label Warners Bros)
released a standard double LP edition of the album in a cardboard sleeve
as Second Edition, but it is only now in 2006 that the Metal
Box is officially available in the USA. And only because RUNT licensed
it from Warners/Rhino; and got John Lydon involved in the project.
This new re-issue is a replica, not an exact reproduction, but it would
take the most hardened of trainspotters to pick fault with it. Mr
Lydon has been overseeing the release and keeping a firm eye on the packaging
and sound. In fact, it wouldnt have got released in a metal canister
if it wasnt for him.
The only real difference between this and the original is that
they couldnt get the metal canister in a matt finish. Like virtually
everyone else, my original Metal Box rusted up years ago,
so its strange to see it in such a shiny metallic finish! Though
it has to be said, it does look good.
Youll be pleased to hear its still a pain in the arse to get
the records out, maybe slightly easier, but still a pain in the arse!
The running order not that its meant to have one
is exactly the same, and still as confusing as ever. The red one side
/ black the other PiL record labels are kept. Even the notoriously scrappy
track listing insert is still the same! So nothing has really changed
except for the record company info; plus a new barcode/licensing sticker
on the rear, and a small PiL logo sticker sealing the can.
More importantly it sounds great. Ill admit it, Im lazy, I
havent listened to Metal Box on record for years. It
was great to give the vinyl a blast. I dont know all the technical
ins and outs, and Im certainly not going to sit down and compare
it note for note with the original, but it sounds good to me. So that
will do for me! Its also been pressed on high quality 180gram vinyl,
so theres not a click or pop to be heard. Of course, it is all subjective
to ears, hi-fi equipment and what edition you are used to, but Im
certain I noticed little things that were lost on compact disc.
Also, the bass has a real warm glow; while the vocals and guitar have
an extra sheen and crunch thats just not there on CD.
Times have changed. Vinyl releases, let alone ones in a metal film canister,
ARE a novelty these days, and labels like 4 Men With Beards are clearly
taping into the collectors market with their series of vinyl re-issues.
But do yourself a favour, if you havent heard Metal Box
on vinyl, make a point of checking it out (old or new). Of course, if
you already own the original version there is little point buying this,
but Metal Box was made to be listened to on 12 vinyl,
and theres a whole generation out there that hasnt heard it.
Although the re-issue is only available in the USA, in a piece of ironic
role reversal, import copies have already appeared in the UK and Europe
at inflated prices! RUNT have only pressed 5,000 copies, but they seem
to be easy to locate at reasonable prices via US websites. So shop around.
Oh, and remember, despite what you read in the music press: There is far
more to Public Image Ltd than just Metal Box
Review by Scott
M of Fodderstompf.Com