The Only Ones Even Serpents Shine Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Makes it all sound as fresh as it did 30 years ago.

Chris Jones 2009

Following the positive critical reception afforded to their first album, the Only Ones, led by elegantly wasted Peter Perrett, again opted to produce their second album themselves. It was a wise move. Many still regard this as the defining statement from a band which cleverly trod the line between punk and older genres.

Even Serpents Shine seems slightly more coherent than their eponymous debut which had had toyed with jazz, jerky reggae and new wave while nodding towards both Dylan and the Stones. It's impossible to separate the band from the myths that grew up around them and their particular pastimes. With this in mind the languidity of most of the material seems to reflect the increasing reliance on things illegal. Perrett's whine is perfect at conveying a tragic dissociation while still pining for love. This streak of romanticism (in the true sense of the word) seals his place as possibly the last doomed poet of the 20th century.

If it all sounds a little tragicomic it's leavened by enough lyrical self-mockery to make you realise that they're having fun. Songs filled with femme fatales (''I see a woman with death in her eyes, but I don't have the time to prey...'' - From Here To Eternity), fallen women (''Indecision, lack of conviction, slurred diction. Baby, what you trying to say?'' - You've Got To Pay) or the sheer hopelessness of love (''Some Girls tell ya they're loving ya, but love is just destruction disguised under another name'' - No Solution) all evoke the torpor of indulgence while raising a smile.

Musically the band were always a step ahead of the pack. Mike Kellie and Alan Mair - both seasoned pros on drums and bass - never falter, allowing John Perry's guitar to fly; while John 'Rabbit' Bundrick's organ adds just the right dollop of Al Kooper-isms. At the centre of it all is In Betweens (again, the call of a man... ''caught between right and wrong...tell me is there no escaping?''). On this track Perry really showed the full range of his pallette; progressing from Floydian seagull cries to fluttering runs at its end. It's far too eloquent to be mere punk.

Unfortunately such 'fun' couldn't last, and hanging out with the likes of Johnny Thunders (the band played on his first solo album) was never going to be good for anyone's health. By album number three they'd lost the energy to produce themselves and had pushed the self-parody button too many times. Addiction and financial troubles saw them gone by the next decade. But this sparkling remastering job, adding great b-sides like Special View (a skanky tale of voyeurism) makes it all sound as fresh as it did 30 years ago. And how often can you say that?

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