The album that changed everything, plus a lot more.
Ian Winwood 2012
When John Lydon wore a young man’s clothes, he was dispatched to the public toilet in London’s Finsbury Park to dispose of his mother’s miscarried pregnancy. Such a Dickensian-style recollection lay dormant in Lydon’s memory until he was able to put it to work, spewing the story with unprecedented ferocity on the song Bodies, the tale of a girl from Birmingham who found herself with “a package in a lavatory”, and who was both “an animal” and “a bloody disgrace”.
If the listener today wonders just why it was that this 12-song album more than shocked, frightening a nation half to death in 1977, the clues are still here. And the Sex Pistols still sound like a band you would never turn your back on.
This whistles-and-bells compilation comprises, in its most luxurious package, three CDs and one DVD, the latter disc featuring a selection of interviews confirming what an unpleasant group of people the Sex Pistols were, or least styled themselves as. Elsewhere there are demo sessions, B sides – particularly impressive is a run through The Stooges’ No Fun – studio outtakes and two live concerts, the best of which comes from the Ssamfundet Club in Trondheim.
For those whose taste for the Pistols runs to an epicurean degree, there is much here to savour. But in all truth, this band was only ever truly represented by the dozen songs they released on their only album proper. And even by that point the game was up, so in a sense the original release of Never Mind the Bollocks came with a sense of, if not nostalgia, at least of something that was no longer as real as it had been.
But while tales of packages in lavatories offer a view of England that is mercifully monochromatic, elsewhere snapshots of an England addicted to the spectacle of monarchy seem prescient. And it may well be that the reason time has failed to knock the edges off this most severe and forensic of bands is because, for the briefest time, the Pistols possessed the courage to say the things that decent people did not wish to hear.