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John Lydon refreshes his 'Rotten' public image

John Lydon, best known as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, turns 60 in January.

But retirement isn't on the rock star's mind.

The punk rock legend is weaving his way across North America with the band Public Image Ltd., promoting its latest album "What the World Needs Now ..."

John Lydon performs with band Public Image Ltd. at the Playstation Theater in Times Square.
Qin Chen | CNBC
John Lydon performs with band Public Image Ltd. at the Playstation Theater in Times Square.

The tour, which ends Sunday in Los Angeles, marks a resurgence for Lydon and the band. Public Image Ltd., founded in 1978, had a nearly 20-year hiatus between the release of its eighth and ninth studio albums.

If anything, the lengthy break increased the singer's resolve to produce exactly the sort of music he wants, and how he wants it. Lydon describes the hiatus as a difficult period in which, for monetary reasons, he turned his attention from music to writing books and hosting TV programs.

"That's just the condition that I had to endure, and the result is that these last two albums we put out, I think are the best thing we have ever done musically," Lydon told CNBC in an interview at the PlayStation Theater in New York City.

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Now PiL is picking up the pace, and the punk rock singer is eager to announce that yet another album is in the works.

The years have also served to soften the musician. Mostly gone is the snarling and sarcastic ringleader of the Sex Pistols; the John Lydon of today is much more subdued.

He's still invoking change, but this time with a softer message.

"What the world needs now is transparency," Lydon said. "Empathy is another word that I'll throw in there. We've got to understand the needs of our fellow human beings."