Hawaii review, Public Image Ltd: John Lydon’s poignant love song for his wife is a worthy Eurovision entry

The artwork for PiL single ‘Hawaii’  (PiL )
The artwork for PiL single ‘Hawaii’ (PiL )

A Sex Pistol competing at Eurovision might make for one of the most bizarre crossovers in music history. Does he have a shot? Absolutely.

John Lydon’s bid with his band Public Image Ltd (PiL) to represent Ireland in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest raised eyebrows when it was first announced. It probably didn’t help that the former punk antagonist (who has an Irish passport thanks to his parents) himself dubbed the event “absolutely awful”. Yet it’s hard to accuse him of lacking sincerity.

Inspired by a trip to the US state with Lydon’s wife, former actor and music promoter Nora Forster, “Hawaii” is a swooning, poignant ballad awash with memories of happier times. Lydon has been vocal about Forster’s health struggles – she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018, and he is her full-time carer. In a recent interview, Lydon spoke of how her condition means he has to be attentive at all times “to live for the moment… [that] moment of recognition”, which he described as “a beautiful gift”.

Indeed, “Hawaii” is all about revelling in a perfect moment. It opens on lush twangs of Hawaiian steel guitar that lapse into gentle echoes. Lydon’s voice is redolent of The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, burnished with age and experience. He’s remarkably tender (certainly a far cry from his “God Save the Queen” days) as he croons: “Don’t fly too soon/ No need to cry, in pain/ You are loved.”

It’s the vulnerability that is most striking. Lydon’s love for his wife shines through like sunrays breaking through clouds, casting everything in a golden light: “I remember you,” he reassures her. He’s backed by harmonising chants of “aloha”, the Hawaiin term that is both a greeting and a farewell. It’s a message from the heart, overflowing with spirit and compassion. What better word for what Lydon is trying to convey here?

Ballads traditionally do well at Eurovision. Think of Duncan Laurence on 2020’s “Arcade (Loving You is a Losing Game)”, the rousing, cinematic song that carried the Netherlands to their first victory since 1975. Or Salvador Sobral’s gorgeous, romantic piano number “Amar Pelos Dois” for Portugal, which was written by his sister Luisa Sobral.

The Irish themselves also have an excellent track record at the contest. Irish singer Johnny Logan, known as “Mr Eurovision”, is the only artist to claim two winning performances – including with the self-written “Hold Me Now” in 1987 – and also wrote Linda Martin’s winning entry “Why Me” in 1992. Ireland is the only country to have won Eurovision three times in a row, and has a record total of seven wins. “Hawaii” would be a fine feather in its cap.