The Great Rock & Roll Swindle (The Sex Pistols) – Album Review

by Emilio Pérez Miguel on August 15, 2009

No Wonder Why Johnny Rotten Badmouths McLaren At Every Turn

No Wonder Johnny Rotten Badmouths McLaren At Every Turn

When I bought this album I was in the middle of my punk heydays, and I don’t recall feeling as enraged ever in my life as when I first played it. I didn’t really get it. And any person who goes into it thinking only in terms of “Never Mind The Bollocks” will be but disappointed.

You see, this was the soundtrack to a widely-banned movie that manager Malcolm McLaren assembled after Johnny Rotten had left. Many were approached by McLaren with a view of becoming the Pistols’ new lead singer, including Ten Pole Tudor and the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs (one of the most celebrated criminals in history). In the end, everybody (including the original Pistols) handled vocals, and some early recordings featuring Johnny Rotten were thrown into the mix.

The movie (released in 1980) was basically a put down of the whole punk movement, and the soundtrack had an immensely farcical value to it. As long as you know you are buying that, you won’t feel cheated.

The album has some instrumentals passages that back McLaren’s monologues about punk music and the role he played in the movement. One such track opens the album, and there are also songs which are Pistols’ covers. The most bizarre is the accordion-led French rendition of “Anarchy In The UK”, which is actually counterbalanced by a fiery demo. This is sung by Rotten , who also handles the covers of “Substitute”, “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”, “Road Runner” and the Pistols’ original “I Wanna Be Me”. There is likewise a live take of “Belsen Was A Gas”, recorded at their final show at San Francisco.

For its part, Cook sings “Silly Thing”(about Johnny leaving the band), and Steve Jones handles “Lonely Boy”, with the vulgarity stakes set quite high… until their rearrangement of the traditional tune “Friggin’ In The Riggin'” comes as the disc is climaxing. There, every Pistol sings something (except for Rotten, obviously), and I recall how much the song would make my brother and I laugh. We would make random quotations from it at all times of day.

Sid Vicious has many leads too, and some did quite well on the charts – even better than some singles from “Nevermind The Bollocks”, actually (and surprisingly). These include his version of “My Way”, and the rock and roll classics “C’Mon Everybody” and “Something Else”.

The result of all of the above thrown into the same disc? Musical chaos. A space where you can not tell what ends up being honest from a put on. Hey, wait a second… isn’t that what happened to punk music once the initial rush died? Isn’t that what contemporary punk bands are known for?

Ultimately, the album has little to no replay value. It resembles a movie like “Titanic” – something to sit through once, twice at best. Only it is not that engaging the first time around. The “surprises” it has are more disconcerting than surprising, and the album echoes the confusion during the Pistols’ disintegration – a band with no leader that was to bear a flag that it never really intended to carry but rather burn to the last cinder.

Rating: 6/10

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