No.9 The Only Ones
The Only Ones
(CBS Records, 1978)
Emerging in the early 1970's as a fledgling Dylan-soundalike out of north London, Peter Perrett, a promising young songwriter/drop-out, formed his first band, England's Glory. In 1973, they recorded an album's worth of demos and handed acetates of these to various record labels, all of whom said no thank you. England's Glory fell apart and Peter honed his songwriting ability, passing the next three years in a haze of drugs, folk clubs and thwarted ambition. Until the punk rock clarion-call came and everything changed. The time had finally arrived and Peter's bubbling talent was ready to explode. Recruiting three veteran musicians: John Perry on lead guitar, Mike Kellie (formerly of prog-rock group Spooky Tooth) on drums and Alan Mair (who had featured in umpteen Scottish pop bands down the years) on bass, Perrett called them The Only Ones, proudly announcing from the very start that this band would be a one-off.
During 1977 they issued their debut single, Lovers Of Today on their own DIY label, Vengeance Records. It quickly became a collectors item, receiving much critical acclaim and as a result, a bevy of major labels came swooning to their side. CBS emerged as the prize-winners. And so to June 1978 and the release of their amazing first album, titled simply The Only Ones. Stuffed full of very strong songs and curiously old-fashioned (for the most part), in the punk rock climate. It has worn very well and boasts at least four of the best songs Peter Perrett would ever write.
The Whole Of The Law starts us off. Perrett's agony-charged voice wearily intoning his lovelorn tale alongside an almost funereal bossa-nova backing. Saxophone supplements the otherwise threadbare instrumentation and in true New Wave tradition, it's finished after just over two minutes.
Another Girl, Another Planet follows - the most famous and successful song of his fractured and intermittent career, its reputation as a true classic, featured on all the Best Of Punk compilations, the critics fave rave etc., is quite genuine. Sexy, razor-like guitars stutter and pop, followed by a weird frightening sound which rushes up to the foreground like a demented monster, before settling down momentarily into the main rhythm, drums splashing an agreeable tom-tom-ride-cymbal wash and John Perrys fabulous guitar-lines. At which point, Peter Perrett's charismatic voice enters the fray with this stunning first line: 'I always flirt with death, I look ill but I dont care about it' double-tracked on the choruses. The gaunt wastrel proclaims his love: 'I think I'm on another world with you, I'm on another planet with you.' John Perrys elegant but powerful guitar solo will be talked about for as long as people enjoy music, a high-octane rush of pure joy. 'Space travel's in my blood, there aint nothin I can do about it, long journeys wear me out, but I know cant live without it' Is he singing about a galactic peregrination, or about his heroin addiction? Musically, the melody of Another Girl, Another Planet is very similar to a Vibrators single, We Vibrate, released on RAK records in 1977. Has anyone else noticed this? Whatever, Another Girl is one of the great tracks from the New Wave.
Laid-back bluesy bass noodles the introduction to Breaking Down, featuring a doom-laden lyric: 'It's the pains inside my head that worry me' The song has tempo changes that surprise, becoming a jazzy groovefest with tinkling electric piano and the female backing-vocals on the choruses that would become a regular item on Only Ones recordings.
Back to punk rock for the next track, a super-fast romp through a song left over from Perrett's Englands Glory days, City Of Fun.
Then we have The Beast, a track as monolithic as its title suggests. Beginning with gentle guitar strokes, ticking cow-bell and some dexterous bass-runs, it is the big confessional on the album, a warning to the kids: 'Dont touch heroin! Itll fuck you up!'
John Perry plays a memorable, melodramatic riff prior to Perret's devastating vocal: 'run from the beast, there's danger in his eyes. He's been looking for you for a long time, you might think this is funny, but I'm not laughing, I know that it couldn't happen to me.' The song is fantastic, a ghoulish, marauding epic, vividly relaying real feelings, real regret. 'Out in the street the modern vampire prowls, he's been spreading disease all around, theres an epidemic, if you dont believe me, you ought to take a look at the eyes of your friends, when someone tempts you, you cant refuse.' The instruments get louder, it builds and builds, than falls away to its previous ghostly calm, and Perrett's parting shot: 'I've tried to show you your whole life in print, you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink, think about it! All you gotta do is think about it, there's no cure.' Now the others take over with a powerhouse of ensemble playing, aided by an over-dubbed brass-section subtly placed in the mix. Drums and guitar fight it out in an explosion of excitement, with the incendiary guitar of John Perry emerging as the winner. Amazing. Right, It's okay, I've calmed down now, phew!
The sixth track is Creature Of Doom, which gets underway with four massive strokes of the guitar, interspersed with economical use of a synthesiser, before a choppy rhythm is set-up, allowing Peter Perrett to narrate his next contemporary horror story. 'I've heard your evil laugh, I wrote your epitaph in words youll never understand, but I know that I wont die by the same hand!' A sarcastic song with the nagging, childish jibe 'I know something that you dont know' cropping up repeatedly.
A female voice harmonises with Peter on It's The Truth, which contains some of his most heartfelt words on relationships and the battle to keep things on an even keel: 'I gotta talk to you, that's all I know' he pleads.
Suddenly we're grabbed by the scruff of the neck by a manic punk rock din, because Language Problem is up and running. 'I love my mother but I wouldnt wanna have sex with her!' yelps Perrett in a broad cockney sneer with what is certainly the most deranged vocal he ever recorded. The band play it tight, loud and rapidly, the guitars blazing away.
Guitars in reggae-stylee and rattling rimshot percussion introduce No Peace For the Wicked, another very telling whinge-fest. The trouble is, they all ring true: 'Why do I go through these deep emotional traumas? Why cant I be like I always wanted to be carefree? Why cant I be happy like everybody else?' The answer to these questions, that there's no peace for the wicked, is a dead giveaway of the author's conceit and attention-seeking I'm unique! blubbing. Despite the tiresome bleating, theres no denying that the man with the rotten teeth and the debilitating smack habit can write a good song or two, and No Peace For The Wicked is another of them.
The final song is The Immortal Story, an upbeat romp which sounds the most sixties-inspired track on the album. Call-and-answer lyrics double-tracked by Perrett, a scrappy instrumental refrain and guitar histrionics from John Perry, develop into a riot of splashing cymbals, before nose-diving into a cloud of reverb. A suitably cacophonic finale to a superb debut album: dark, brooding, touchingly emotional and very exciting.
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