Monday, February 7, 2011
The Only Ones - The Only Ones
The Only Ones (1978) ****
Punk rock only by historical association, the Only Ones were trad-rockers heavily indebted to the Velvet Underground, performing conventional hard rock equal doses Crazy Horse and glam-Bowie era Lou Reed. One glance at the cover could have clued any punk kid in that these dudes didn't fit in with punk - lookit, these are old geezers! One of 'em's balding, and another looks like a 50 year old Ron Wood wandered into the photo session by mistake! In fact, drummer Mike Kellie was ex-Spooky Tooth, and the bass player was indeed as close to pushing 40 as he looked. Lead man Peter Perrett may have been a bit younger but he sounds like the oldest man in the band, his ragged Dylan-esque bleat (rock crit code for an off-key croak of a whine that's somehow all the more affecting for its frailties) essaying a cavalcade of ennui, boredom, alienation, laziness, resignation, pessissism, and drug-weariness. That last bit's important: "Doing drugs is one thing we have in common," he blurts in "Language Problem," which also contains the Freudianly fascinating lyrical tidbit, "I love my mother but I wouldn't want to have sex with her," as well as, "Mother said love shouldn't exist for pleasure / So I throw in some pain for good measure." Now you see why I mentioned the VU influence in the very first sentence of this review?
I also mentioned Neil Young, though, didn't I? That brings me to guitarist John Perry, who weaves ragged solos and crunchy riffs to serve as musical bedrocks that ground Perrett's lyrical songwriting in good old solid rock'n'roll reality. The ten songs are more or less evenly split between druggily drifting ballads chronicling clinical depression and punchily loping rockers that Perrett cynically spits out in his best dry Lou Reed monotone sneer. Not that he doesn't have an equally adept yearning romantic side, as the lovely opener (later covered by Yo La Tengo) "Whole of the Law," and the best-known tune, "Another Girl, Another Planet (later covered by the Replacements) make clear. Perrett proves himself an excellent songwriter and the band serve his songs well with the well-oiled warmth and instinctual grit of seasoned pub musicians. So this wasn't the most strikingly innovative and original release of 1978, but Perrett's puking-my-heart-out-on-my-shoes sincerity, as well as the band of veterans' honest enthusiasm for the traditional rock'n'roll they clearly love, ensure that it's held up as less dated and more timeless sounding than many flashy-in-the-pan New Wavers bopping in the late '70s. I mean, you'd rather listen to this for actual pleasure than Devo or Gary Numan, wouldn't you? Which goes to prove that good songwriting, a guitarist that knows how to kick a chord or three out of the ballpark, and a rhythm section that chugs along - that's all you need, innit? Well....sometimes, I guess. But you better have good songs most important of all. They do, they do, they weren't the only ones, but they did.