John Wardle – aka Jah Wobble – has a different sense of what dub is to reggae bass heads but he’s earnt it. His dub isn’t a deconstruction of an existing track, adding echo and sounds, while removing other parts. His is more a massive emphasis on the bass and exclusion of anything that doesn’t decorate or add to that bass. John’s bass has always been a monolithic presence, never fancy, often repeating the same figures into perfection through persistent performance.
Christened Jah Wobble by a very drunk Sid Vicious being unable to hear and say his name properly, Jah was on the first two Public Image albums before forging his own path through many many albums and lots of touring, creating anything from collaborations with Japanese mask-changers to settings for William Blake poems. What, I wondered, was he thinking of when he put this concept together? He’s played a couple of PIL tracks in his live sets but surely Metal Box is a sacrosanct work of art? It turns out it isn’t….
I remember having my head turned around in late 1979 by the double punch of The Clash’s London Calling and PIL’s Metal Box. Metal Box was a cold, alienated post-punk interpretation of Krautrock with spikey guitar, deep deep bass and the ever-edgy presence of John Lydon. Remembered for its difficult presentation as a set of 12” singles in a round metal box as well as the genuinely new sonic inventions, Wobble was an equal partner in the creation. This set is in no way a cover version or copy; instead it is less dissociated, more playful and a genuinely satisfying listen, even for those who have every moment of the original burnt into their aural synapses.
Some songs have their lyrics, some don’t and not everything is here, whist other tracks are appended. John has done things how he wants. ‘Poptones’ is awesome, as the original was. John messes with the intonation, as he has done in concert, and the guitar doesn’t copy Keith Levene, even dropping in a little metal solo. A bit of Chinese instrumentation pops in, as it does in ‘Graveyard’. John’s family aren’t credited but I wonder if this is from a son. ‘Socialist’ is reinvented as a beat chasing itself in an almost filmic scene of action. ‘Careering’, by contrast, is almost straight ahead. I enjoy John’s East End accent, not sneery like John Lydon. He has played about with ‘Public Image’ (from the first PIL album) for years and can’t resist including it here. He has messed about with plummy voices but now fiddles with the structure, adding electro-pop into the mix. He can do this because we know and revere the original, yet he still let it full throttle at times – just to show he can. The same goes for ‘Fodderstompf’ (from the same source) – it gets thoroughly turned around but the bass always stays on, heavy and foundational.
John featured four PIL tracks on his Usual Suspects double album from 2017 but only George King from that band is here, on keys on Poptones and Swan Lake. Those two tracks have violin and cello from Katy King. Elsewhere, it is almost a two-man show, with John on bass, keys and drums and Jon Klein on guitar and beats. John says: “It’s as mesmerizing as the original, but with a deeper broader scope. I put my heart and soul into this.” I think he really did – this is far more than a remake; it is the same material played with a different spirit and results in a very different feel. Less a cold art installation and more of a loving embrace of memories combined with the playfulness of a creative spirit. One for lovers of the bassiest of bass sounds.
Check out our review of Jah Wobble’s Ocean Blue Waves: http://www.vanguard-online.co.uk/jah-wobble-ocean-blue-waves-post-punk-icon-is-still-changing-still-growing/