The Only Ones - The Only Ones - Review
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critics' view

Take one Syd Barrett-alike singer in eyeliner and with a voice like an infinitely weary Larry the lamb (Peter Perrett), a balding, portly guitarist (John Perry) and add a rhythm section composed of two aging veterans (Alan Mair, ex-bass player with Scotland's Beatstalkers and Mike Kellie, drummer with Spooky Tooth). On paper it seems bizarre that The Only Ones were once counted amongst punk's vanguard. But this debut contains all the nihilistic thrills you'd expect from men half their age, while adding an extra layer of expertise.

And talk about setting out your stall: the debut single, 1976's Lovers Of Today, had outlined their manifesto of guitar-heavy parables of narcotically damaged, doomed affairs (''If we ever touched it would disturb the calm") and is included here along with its b-side, Peter And The Pets. But naming the first track on your debut after Aleister Crowley's most famous bon mot really showed that here was a bunch of elegantly wasted, but entirely literate, scoundrels.

Of course it was the second single, Another Girl Another Planet, that sealed their reputations. Coming on like the musical equivalent of a drug rush, its semi-autobiographical taunt of "I look ill, but I don't care about it'' was a suitably ecstatic accompaniment to their mission : ie being seemingly hellbent on becoming as epicly destroyed as heroes like Barrett or Keith Richards.

But the music - while able to emulate the scene growing up around them on speedier numbers like City Of Fun and Language Problem (''taking drugs is one thing we've got in common, it helps us overcome the language problem'') - could just as easily slip into jazz (Breaking Down), ooze out as medium-paced, lovelorn ballads (It's The Truth) or summon up epic statements describing the pitfalls of the lifestyle that they were dallying with (The Beast). It's this last track that first demonstrated how versatile a player John Perry was; his licks setting fire to the coda.

It's tempting to see all this as somewhat self-parodic: a kind of evolutionary dead-end for rock. And it's unfortunate that if there's a modern equivalent - without an ounce of the talent - it's Pete Doherty (with whom Perrett guested a few years back), yet surely Morrissey, too, must have cottoned on to the hilarious self-pity of No Peace For the Wicked ('Why must I go through these deep emotional traumas?'').

At this point the band were experienced and together enough to know that the best people to produce them was themselves, and this remaster shows what a great job they did too. Luckily they had one more great album in them (Even Serpents Shine), but stars this bright always burn out quickly.

Chris Jones
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading. external-link.png

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