John Lydon stands out as a recording artist now more than ever. That’s so even though the provocateur is on the edge of his golden years. Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, conjures up an image that contemporary rock needs desperately.
Uncompromising, controversial and daring are just some of the adjectives to describe the colorful and clever Lydon throughout an acclaimed career, which commenced 40-years ago with the seminal Sex Pistols and continues with the consistently strong Public Image Ltd.
“I think I’ve done things differently,” Lydon said during a phone call from New Orleans.
There’s no question about that. Lydon has taken sonic chances. When the Sex Pistols embarked on their lone ill-fated U.S. tour in 1977, there was a palpable sense of danger and unpredictability.
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated,” Lydon said after playing one song in San Francisco during the band’s last show. That was the end of the Sex Pistols. Lydon walked off the stage and into the Northern California night. It is arguably the greatest exit line in rock history.
Lydon’s wit remained with the much more sonically adventurous Public Image, which will perform tonight at the State Theatre. The post-punk band reformed in 2009 after a 17-year hiatus. The group’s 2012 tour featured hits such as “Rise” and “This Is Not a Love Song,” as well as some deep cuts.
Lydon, 59, was at his charismatic best three-years ago. “I think a lot has to do with the fact that I love being onstage now more than ever,” Lydon said. “In the early days, I had some fears of screwing up.”
But there was reason for concern since it was an edgier time. Bands were booed during Public Image’s salad days.
“Things have changed,” Lydon said. “Nobody takes chances. Danger has always been my way by design or by fault. I look at bands today and most seem the same. But I’m speaking as an outcast with no record label. Do you want me to slash my wrists now or later?”
Don’t expect Lydon to check out voluntarily. The pop culture icon came of age in a hardscrabble environment in London, which is detailed among many other things in his second entertaining memoir, “Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored.”
When the Sex Pistols abruptly splintered, Lydon had to scramble to finance a flight from California to England. Lydon is at his best when he’s left to his own devices.
“I’ll figure things out,” Lydon said. “I’ve always been able to do that. and then I’ll make music.”
“What the World Needs Now,” which dropped in September, is the best PIL album since 1987’s “Happy?” The latest collection is full of irreverent, angst-ridden and snide cuts penned by Lydon and his bandmates guitarist Lu Edmond, bassist Scott Firth and drummer Bruce Smith. The rhythm section is solid and Edmond delivers melodic waves, while Lydon hits with the vitriol.
“We still have something to say,” Lydon said. “I’m here to tell the truth and I’ll do that until the day I die.”
Lydon doesn’t understand the state of the music world, but he believes that the pendulum will swing back.
“It’s got to change,” Lydon said. “We’re in this awful world of political correctness. The humor content is reduced to zero.”
But not in Public Image’s world. Lydon continues to score with his self-deprecating humor on “What the World Needs Now.” “I love to mock my own afflictions,” Lydon said. “I do what I want. I look out and see that young people follow the rules. I hope that changes or we’ll all be bored to tears. But it helps us stand out since we continue to do what we want to do but that’s how you make music or at least the kind of music I make.”