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Metal Box is the second album by Public Image Ltd., released in 1979 by Virgin Records.

The title refers to the album's original packaging, which consists of a metal 16mm film canister embossed with the band's logo and containing three 12" records. The album was reissued in 1980 as a double album titled Second Edition.

A radical departure from Pil's relatively conventional debut, the avant garde, abstract Metal Box was characterised by singer John Lydon's cryptic vocals, Jah Wobble's propulsive dub reggae-inspired basslines, and a unique, "metallic" guitar sound (guitarist Keith Levene played Travis Bean guitars which have aluminium necks). Metal Box is widely regarded as a landmark of post punk and experimental rock: In 2002, Pitchfork Media ranked Metal Box at #19 on their "Top 100 Albums of the 1980s", while In 2003, the album was ranked number 469 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Recording Sessions

Metal Box was recorded in several sessions with several different drummers, none of whom was credited on the original release.

  • March-May 1979: "Albatross" and "Death Disco" were recorded with new drummer Dave Humphrey at The Manor Studiomarker in Shipton-on-Cherwellmarker. During this time, additional tracks were recorded at Townhouse Studios in London, namely "Beat the Drum for Me" (which later turned up on Wobble's first solo album), and a new version of "Fodderstompf" (which became the b-side of PIL's "Death disco" 12" single). Drummer Dave Humphrey left the band around mid-May 1979.
  • May-June 1979: "Memories", "No Birds", "Socialist" and "Chant" were recorded with new drummer Richard Dudanski at Townhouse Studios in London.
  • Summer 1979: the instrumental "Graveyard" was recorded at Rollerball Rehearsal Studios in Bermondseymarker, PIL's rehearsal studio, with Dudanski. For the b-side of PIL's "Memories" single vocals were added at The Manormarker and the track re-titled to "Another". Dudanski left the band around mid-September 1979.
  • Summer(?) 1979: "The Suit" was recorded as a solo track by Jah Wobble at Gooseberry Sound Studios in London, vocals and some overdubs were added at The Manor.
  • September-October 1979: "Poptones" and "Careering" were recorded without a drummer at The Manormarker and Townhouse Studios, with Levene playing drums on "Poptones" and Wobble on "Careering".
  • October 1979: "Bad Baby" was recorded with new drummer Martin Atkins at Townhouse Studios.
  • October or November 1979: "Radio 4" was recorded as a solo piece by Keith Levene at Advision Studios and an unknown second studio. According to Levene, this was the last recorded track.


The Metal Box packaging was innovative and surprisingly inexpensive, costing little more to the label than the cost of standard printed sleeves for equivalent 12" releases (although Virgin did ask for a refund of 1/3 of the band's advance due to the cost). After an initial release of 60,000 units, the album was re-released in 1980 as Second Edition, a double LP with a gatefold sleeve. Before the metal tin was finalised, there was discussion of the album being released in a sandpaper package that would effectively ruin any albums/artwork of surrounding records. That idea would later be realised by The Durutti Column for their 1980 Factory Records debut, The Return of the Durutti Column.

The original metal canister idea caught on a few years later during the compact disc era. By the late 1980s a number of CDs were packaged in metal canisters, including Prince's special edition of the Batman soundtrack. In 1990 the concept came full circle, with the compact disc release of Metal Box employing a smaller version of the original metal canister, containing a single disc and a small paper insert.

The Second Edition sleeve art consists of distorted photographs of the band members, achieving a funhouse mirror effect. (The front cover is a photo of Keith Levene.) The lyrics are provided on the rear cover; these were originally printed in a magazine advertisement and not included with Metal Box. The band initially wanted the album released with a lyric sheet but no track titles; the United Kingdommarker version of Second Edition appears as the band intended, with lyrics on the back cover, but no titles, and "PiL" logo labels on all four sides of the vinyl. The American edition of Second Edition has track titles both on the back cover and the labels.

A unique anomaly exists on the American vinyl LP of Second Edition. Although PiL were signed to Warner Bros. Records in the US, the album was released with the Island Records logo on the sleeve and labels, albeit with a Warner Bros. catalogue number (2WX 3288). The American 8-track tape and cassette versions of Second Edition carry only the Warner Bros. logo, with no mention of Island.

Noise rock band Big Black would later release some copies of their Bulldozer EP in metal boxes, as a tribute to this album.


A paper insert lists PiL's members as "John Lydon - Keith Levene - Wobble - Jeanette Lee - Dave Crowe," though the latter two individuals were the band's videographer (though only one video, "Death Disco", was produced for the album) and accountant, respectively. Lydon also talked about Public Image Ltd. as a company in interviews.

PiL didn't have a permanent drummer at the time of recording, so the drummers are uncredited. Later interviews with the people involved have established the drummers as David Humphrey (tracks 1 and 3), Richard Dudanski (2,6,7,10,11), Keith Levene (4,12), Jah Wobble (5,8), Martin Atkins (9).

Levene played all instruments on "Radio 4".

Track listing

The track listing for the original release is as follows:

Side one

  1. "Albatross" (10'32)

Side two

  1. "Memories" (5'05)
  2. "Swan Lake" (4'19)

Side three

  1. "Poptones" (7'45)
  2. "Careering" (4'32)

Side four

  1. "No Birds" (4'43)
  2. "Graveyard" (3'07)

Side five

  1. "The Suit" (3'29)
  2. "Bad Baby" (4'30)

Side six

  1. "Socialist"
  2. "Chant"
  3. "Radio 4"

"Swan Lake" is an alternate version of the earlier PiL single "Death Disco".

"Graveyard" is an instrumental version of "Another", the B-side of the "Memories" single.

Second Edition

All songs written by Public Image Ltd.

Side one

  1. "Albatross"
  2. "Memories"

Side two

  1. "Swan Lake"
  2. "Poptones"
  3. "Careering"

Side three

  1. "Socialist"
  2. "Graveyard"
  3. "The Suit"

Side four

  1. "Bad Baby"
  2. "No Birds"
  3. "Chant"
  4. "Radio 4"

The Second Edition configuration inserts pauses between some tracks, whereas Metal Box did not.


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