Monday, March 7, 2011

The Only Ones - Even Serpents Shine

Even Serpents Shine (1979) ****

Without a standout "hit" like "Another Girl, Another Planet," the second Only Ones album doesn't catch you with a hook that's going to blow you away, but if anything it's more consistently good than the debut and that means it's pretty great - ten solidly rocking, emotionally wreaked tunes plus one instrumental that is titled, appropriately "Instrumental".  Peter Perrett reminds me of Steve Harley (remember him?  Anyone?  Anyone?) in the way that he combines several bog-standard mid-'70s elements and just does his job by delivering some good music:  nothing special, nothing fancy, just some great rock'n'roll.  A slapdash of Dylan in the croaky vocals, a bit of Ray Davies nonchalance Englishness, slubby NY Dolls/Crazy Horse garage hard rock, a Lou Reed-ish attraction to the seamy side of drugs & sleaze, some Who-ish power pop and Television-esque guitar soloing - if you're going to whip up a formula, get the derivatives right.  Anyway, Perrett's tortured romantic whiner personality is entirely his own, and that's what matters.  The highlight for me is "Out There In The Night," an emotionally devastated slab of melodically uplifting/anthemic power-pop bliss that on first listen appears to be about a one night stand that Perrett wishes had blossomed into a relationship, but on closer listen turns out to be about his lost pet cat.  Well, hey, haven't we all been emotionally devastated by the disappearance of a beloved pet running away?  It's about damn time somebody wrote a deeply heartbroken lyric about the subject.  "Miles From Nowhere," inexplicably buried on side two near the end, might be even better and is even more emotionally pained.  As someone born in the provincial hinterlands, to say that I can identify with the lyric, "I want to die in the same place I was born / Miles from nowhere / I used to reach for the stars but now I've reformed," is understatement.  And it contains some of John Perry's most expressive soloing.  I find "Curtains For You," a bit plodding in its hard rock paces and "In Betweens," is a rewrite of the first album's "The Beast," and that's it for the low-ish points; elsewhere Perrett issues ballads bitter ("You've Got to Pay") and tender ("Someone Who Cares"), the band gets mildly punky ("No Solution," "Programme"), and shine their brightest in mid-tempo ("From Here To Eternity," "Flaming Torch").  Don't judge a band by its hideous cover, listen to the music inside, it's great, it's brill, it's pleasing to the ear, it stands the test of time.

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