John Lydon’s ultimate “fuck you” in the always contentious relationship held between audience and reformed punk.
Taking the title literally, This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get is John Lydon’s ultimate “fuck you” in the always contentious relationship held between audience and reformed punk. Where the band’s previous efforts helped push the boundaries of post-punk into new and different directions, 1984’s This Is What You Want feels and sounds like the work of an entirely different band. And as well it should, what with all original members but Lydon having long since abandoned ship. Only drummer Martin Atkins remains from any of the previous PiL albums, having made his debut on 1980’s Paris au Printemps.
Ever the cantankerous bastard, Lydon here seems to be giving listeners a perpetual two-finger salute. You can almost hear him gleefully prancing around the studio, employing his best crazed look, and taking the piss throughout the whole of the album. At this point, his shtick is beginning to wear a little thin, almost feeling obligatory more than genuine. And yet he keeps it up from opening track “Bad Life” to closer “The Order of Death,” both of which find the erstwhile Johnny Rotten intoning the album title over and over and over and over…
Making things worse, the production is incredibly thin even by early-‘80s standards, constantly sounding on the verge of shattering were Atkins to hit his already brittle sounding drums just slightly harder. The addition of tossed off horns compressed within an inch of their respective lives doesn’t help matters any, making the album sound more times than not like some sort of mutant funk in the worst possible sense. With the aid of his faceless session players, Lydon manages to create a series of equally faceless exercises in listener patience.
“The Pardon” is an atonal, rhythmically-driven track made up of an impossibly rubbery bassline, tribal drums and what sounds like a bandsaw somehow managing a series of oscillating pitches. By the time Lydon’s nasal whine enters the mix, the insufferably repetitious groove will have caused the majority of listeners to check out, making his brief presence all the more superfluous and, frankly, insulting. It’s another in a long line of piss takes that finds Lydon intoning indecipherable nonsense, occasionally punctuated by a clear recitation of a track’s title. “This Is Not a Love Song,” “Tie Me to the Length of That” and “Where Are You?” are the most egregious offenders, with Lydon relying on his sneer and utter contempt for the rest of humanity to carry the day.
“Where Are You?” in particular is a complete waste of tape, Lydon’s adenoidal yelp alternating between nonsense and chanting the title over and over while a faceless arrangement buzzes and whirrs behind him. Employing all of his most grating vocal tics and tricks, the track’s 4:19 run time is absolutely insufferable. But of course, given the album’s title, this appears to be the intent. Rather than creating an album he knows will appeal to his existing fan base, Lydon here pushes the patience and tolerance of even the most ardent supporter. Given his vacant glare on the album’s cover, it’s clear the album is meant as a challenge to listeners, weeding the chaff from the wheat so to speak. And if this is really and truly his intent with the album, he succeeds in spades.
This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get is a train wreck of half-baked ideas and anti-songs. There is nothing redeeming about the album within the broader context of the PiL oeuvre. That said, it’s a fairly brilliant and wildly successful steaming pile of shit from one of rock’s great provocateurs. Were it anyone else, This Is What You Want would’ve spelled the end for the band – not that he would necessarily let on that he cared in the slightest. And yet despite this, it serves as a transitional link between the band’s golden age of true artistic innovation and the more pop-leaning material that would a(rise) – pun intended – on their follow up release, 1986’s generically-titled Album. For completists only.