My theory goes: God—if she exists—hates Public Image Limited's First Issue. It's almost as if there's a conspiracy to keep its treasures from being better known in the US.

Originally released in 1978 in the UK by Virgin Records, First Issue stabbed the public ear with a new kind of venomous rock. Shrugging off the punk shackles of the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten morphed into John Lydon and decided to forge a more unconventional strain of music. He insisted that Public Image Limited (PiL henceforth) were not a band, but a communications company that would branch out into film and other modes of expression and subversion.

First Issue wasn't PiL's most radical break from rock orthodoxy; that would come with 1979's Metal Box (aka Second Edition) and 1981's The Flowers of Romance. But with their debut, Lydon, bassist Jah Wobble, drummer Jim Walker, and guitarist Keith Levene established themselves as one of the most distinctive and incisive forces in the burgeoning post-punk movement.

"Theme" immediately plunges you into a maddening miasma of dirgey dub, with Lydon in agony-whine mode ("I wish I could die!")—for nine minutes. Take that, punk! Levene's guitar scribbles way outside the rock lines with metallic aerosol causticity, and Wobble's bass loiters with malicious intent. "Religion I" finds Lydon eviscerating the titular subject's hypocrisy a cappella. When I heard it as an 18-year-old, it thrilled the hell out of me, and I memorized the entire (admittedly heavy-handed) screed. The rancorously monotonous "Religion II" adds sonic insult to lyrical injury. "Annalisa" weirdly high-steps into action with what sounds like a 9/8 time signature, while Levene and Wobble exchange guitar and bass riffs like jujitsu masters.

"Public Image" is simply one of the greatest songs ever, an antianthem so rousing, it realigns the premise of anthems. At the time of its creation, Lydon was one of the most notorious humans on earth; this was his way of venting the pressure and moving on from the toxic residue of Malcolm McLaren's Pistolian scheme/scam. Levene's guitar tone launched a hundred imitators with its wired alienation, prickling panic, and acrid animosity. "I call [my guitar sound] the Cold Shower Club," Levene told Simon Reynolds in a 2002 interview in the Wire. "It's so clean, so tingly. It could be really thin glass penetrating you, but you don't know until you start bleeding internally."

First Issue concludes with "Fodderstompf," one of history's most sarcastic songs, a sloppy disco jam that jabs at typical pop-song sentiments and is perfunctorily extended to fill out the minimum LP duration dictated by PiL's contract. Funnily enough, this aural middle finger possesses an odd sort of durability and infectiousness; plus, Wobble's supple and heavy bass line just slays.

Overall, First Issue was a baffling and brilliant counterpunch at punk fans' expectations. Still, the album carried enough residual, skew(er)ed post-punk motion to keep it classified within the rock realm—unlike Metal Box and The Flowers of Romance.

But PiL's US label, Warner Bros., felt that the record wasn't commercial enough, according to Pat Thomas, who coproduced Light in the Attic's reissue with Matt Sullivan (out June 18). That, says Thomas, "coupled with the fact that Lydon and company always look forward and never backward," kept First Issue out of circulation here.

Thomas had dealt with Lydon while working as an A&R man with 4 Men with Beards Records to rerelease Metal Box in its original steel-film-canister format. Even with that relationship established, it took Thomas and LITA more than two years to convince PiL and Lydon's manager Rambo Stevens to, in Thomas's words, "hit the 'rewind' button." Their diligence paid off with a deluxe package of First Issue that includes a bonus CD containing "The Cowboy Song," the long-lost B-side to PiL's debut single, "Public Image," and a nearly hour-long 1978 BBC interview with Lydon. The double-vinyl version will include a foldout poster and replica memorabilia excavated from PiL fan Scotty Murphy's archive.

To commemorate this momentous development, I hoped to interview PiL members Jah Wobble and Keith Levene (Lydon isn't doing press). Wobble never responded, but Levene quickly consented. He was in London, and our transatlantic connection was awful and his accent thick; Keith's voice sounded like it was coming from inside a ring-modulated toilet and then run through a flanger—one of the guitarist's favorite effects. He also seemed a bit scatterbrained. Further, my ancient analog tape recorder was going through its death throes. Still, about 20 percent of the interview was audible. I asked Levene to reveal the biggest misconception about PiL's early, best era. "That we were trying to have a joke with everyone. We were really serious about our music."

Even though Levene didn't find out about the reappearance of First Issue until recently, and then via Twitter, he's very "pleased it's being rereleased. I think the album still sounds good. Who knows what could happen, but I don't expect too much from this reissue."

How does Levene rate First Issue among the three PiL albums on which he played? "First Issue has elements of Metal Box; they're part of the same thing. Maybe we should release all of the outtakes from the first three LPs." Um, yes!

Toward the end of the Q&A, things took a sad turn, especially when the conversation touched on Levene's current relationship with Lydon. "I haven't said word one to him since 1983. I tried to contact him three times in LA pretty soon after I left PiL. It's not like he's tried to contact me, either. I don't give a fuck. I'm just saying it so everyone knows who's interested—he never tried to contact me for any PiL re- formations. It wasn't like I was being difficult and saying no. Which I would've done, but I was never asked."

Actually, the saddest part came after an innocuous query about Levene's current home. "I'm sort of based in Florida. I'm all over the place. But mostly in Florida. I don't know why. I'm everywhere at once at the moment. No, really, it's weird, it's really what's going on. It's all laptops and studios and that kind of stuff." Oh, dear.

At the end of our talk, Levene insisted that I tell readers to look out for his new album (Search4AbsoluteZero) and book (Diary of a Non-Punk Rocker), both of which you can learn more about at Anything for the guitar innovator who helped to make First Issue a post-punk revelation. recommended