(originally written 1989)
If The Only Ones had released nothing other than “Another Girl, Another Planet,”—conceivably the best rock song ever—their prominent place in the annals of rock would have been assured. The band, fronted by the enormously talented and almost equally self-destructive Peter Perrett, thus can hardly be faulted for breaking the impossible promise of that, their second single. Still, their three CBS-funded records—uneven as they are—are filled with some truly great rock songs.
Largely ignored by both fans and critics, “Remains,” the band’s quietly released (French-only) posthumous demos collection, is dismissed as a mere odds and ends afterthought, and is rarely if ever regarded as part of the core Only Ones oeuvre. But despite the cold shoulder the album has suffered, it is quite simply the most consistently excellent of all The Only Ones’ longplayers, and possesses an across-the-boards no frills production that adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings, jeopardized by the time of the band’s previous longplayer, the compressed-sounding, Colin Thurston-produced “Baby’s Got A Gun.” Despite having been recorded over several years at various studios and under various conditions, Robert Ash’s and Peter Perrett’s reliance on stellar instrumentation (due in no small part to the intermittent presence of Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook [misspelled “Tillbrook” on both the original LP as well as the CD-reissue], whose guitar gets a technical workout he has been able to display in only one of his own band’s songs, “Yap. Yap. Yap.”), allows for a natural echo and thus provides a relaxed spaciousness to the recording.
Missing on Remains are the ultimately humorous lyrical histrionics that kept listeners ever-guessing Perrett’s true intent. Previously, Perrett could keep a straight face while following a line as cruel and dismissive as “I see a woman with death in her eyes/And I don’t have the time to pray/For her salvation or for her soul/She goes her chosen way” with the inexplicable turnabout of “I got us into this I gotta get us out/It’s you and me all the way/From here to eternity/It's you and me all the way” Were we laughing with him or at him? If it was all a joke, he wasn’t telling.
Such ambiguities, however, are no where to be found on Remains, opening as it does with a trio of ever-gloom-and-doomier songs: “Prisoners,” a laid-back piano-bolstered rocker which was given an incongruous country accent on the Peel Sessions record; the blues-inflected “Watch You Drown,” in which Perrett’s lament on the hopelessness of love is reinforced by Tilbrook’s one-string, teary-eyed workout; and “Flowers Die,” a funereal dirge in which Perrett moans, “I feel so helplessly alone/alone/alone/alone,” as John Perry’s solo answers this dying whimper with a ferocious roar. The first side closes with, “My Rejection,” another highlight, complete with a rousing (and uncredited) gospel choir.
Side Two opens with “Baby’s Got a Gun,” the missing title track from the band’s third studio outing. On that uneven album, the song might very well have been a high point. Here, it just sounds like jokey filler. Side Two continues with three more Perrett originals, as well as a cover of the Small Faces’ “My Way of Giving” (excised from the CD release). “Hope Valley Blues” and “Counterfeit Woman” are especially successful here, both further exploring Perrett’s unrelenting, almost unbelievable despair. It’s no surprise then, to hear reports of his sordid tenure with heroin addiction, which plagued him during The Only One’s existence, and reportedly persisted into the present.
The original album came with a bonus EP, three of whose compositions survived the transition to the CD format, "Don’t Hold Your Breath,” “I Only Wanna Be Your Friend,” and the early-era rocker, “Oh No.” The fourth track, “Broken Arrows,” harkens back to the pre-Only Ones England’s Glory, and is available on that CD re-issue.
Finally, the CD appends a take of the Christmas chestnut “Silent Night,” as well as the excellent, previously unreleased “Don’t Feel Too Good.”
After a decade-plus hibernation, Perrett finally returned to the studio in 1996, releasing the stupendous “Woke Up Sticky” record, a remarkably fresh and vital collection that belies Perrett's ongoing personal (and interpersonal) troubles.
A new Only Ones album was planned for 2010, but has thus far not come to fruition.