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The Only One's "Even Serpent Shine" Reviewed

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Even Serpents Shine

The Only Ones were the most misunderstood rock band of the entire new Wave. A hard rock band with a taste for hard drugs, they were mistaken as a part of the New Wave because rock critics forgot about The Beatles and thought the fade in was a new concept, fans mistook a junkies lament for Pete Shelly like romanticism and the band themselves were happy to trade in bell bottoms for thin ties and dayglo shirts.

The result was that they could never get out of their own way and at the heart of the matter, The Only Ones, Even Serpents Shine and Baby’s Got  A Gun, they were considered great pretenders and not simply great. The UK thought they were pretenders and the US never got past “Another Girl, Another Planet”.

Of the three albums, Even Serpents Shine was the best and really, it is first among equals. One melodic wonder after another as lead singer and sole songwriter, a scrawny, tired eyed tousled head disaster area, Peter Perrett dissolved under the weight of love and other addictions so the electrifying Alan Muir (who co-produced Even Serpent’s Shine) could push him up or sideways any way with  hard bass riffs that break down into melodic squalor.

The song goes from height to height, movie imageries mix with hallucinations and  dreams till it all comes crashing down with the most nihilistic song I’ve ever heard, the penultimate track “Miles From Nowhere” as “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…”. It closes the lid on an album that opened with a searching down riff and the first line: “I see a woman with death in her eyes”.

Easy to miss, because maybe Perrett was missing it himself (though on a song not on this album he would note “drugs are one thing we have in common”) , love drugs and death make a triumvirate and Peter moves from one to the other . True love is like a flaming torch because the flames distort the emotions the way hard drugs distance him from everything as he nods out.

The one time I saw the Only Ones on stage, aptly enough Johnny Thunders came out to join him. This was maybe 1980. It was a terrible set. Perrett was a complete mess and the Ritz, half empty , didn’t take to him at all.

The problem is what made Perrett great made him suck; the earnestness of romance and tragedy which he mapped out with dark and lovely melody also stymied his attempts to move.

The follow up album, Baby’s Got A Gun was also pretty terrific by the way. Perrett tried to embrace the mainstream but never quite manages it.

A huge cult band in the UK, he stay plays sold out shows. But man did he pay and pay and pay.

2 Comments

  1. SP james on September 15, 2021 at 11:14 am

    .. in 1979 I was 15 years old & at one point ‘Even Serpents Shine’ was all I ever listened to (except maybe Horses & LA Woman* & All Mod Cons & Look Sharp & New Values & Can’t Stand the Rezillos & & & !!) .. *endured well!

  2. Simon P James on September 15, 2021 at 11:18 am

    .. forgot ‘New Boots & Panties’ (.. & about a few dozen others !) – what a great era for sounds !

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