PETER PERRETT (of THE ONLY ONES)
In the hands of certain songwriters, a story of resurrection and redemption might ring a little hollow. Worse, it might sound like pseudo-messianic psychobabble. But when the songwriter is Peter Perrett, the usual rules have never applied. Perrett, whose incisive songcraft and sardonic drawl made him one of the most distinctive voices of the Seventies (and briefly, the Nineties), has indeed got a tale of resurrection and redemption to tell. And even if he’s telling it with copious doses of his trademark deadpan wit, the miracle is that he’s telling it at all.
Perrett made his reputation in The Only Ones (1976–1981) by writing about – and living – a life of the utmost decadence without worrying too much about the consequences. “I always flirt with death,” began his most famous song (‘Another Girl, Another Planet’), “I look ill but I don’t care about it.” It was an exotic universe full of strange creatures, but an incredibly dangerous one to inhabit. Not once but twice, Perrett retreated into a hermetic haze and transmitted nothing but radio silence for ten years. The two decades of his life that were surrendered to drug addiction were his own business, of course, but they were music’s loss as well.
What a fantastic surprise it is, then, to hear an older, wiser Perrett singing of having music back in his bloodstream again. Take a listen to ‘Something In My Brain’, a song towards the end of his debut solo album HOW THE WEST WAS WON: it’s about making good choices, bad choices and ultimately the only choices that will guarantee survival. All too conscious of his mortality in 2017, Perrett no longer views illness as an occupational hazard or death as a source of amusement, like that swaggering young existentialist of 1978. When he gets to the line about being “just about capable of one last defiant breath,” he’s not exaggerating. But if his lung power is depleted, his other powers – his intuitive feel for words; his flair for idiosyncratic metaphors; his mordant wit – are still as sharp as razors. The image of the laboratory rat being forced to choose between food and crack is as darkly comical as anything Perrett ever wrote for The Only Ones. By the time he steps aside to allow his son Jamie to play an emotional guitar solo, ‘Something In My Brain’ (“an allegorical tale”) has become a double-sided epiphany. Peter Perrett has rediscovered the importance of rock’n’roll, and rock’n’roll has rediscovered the importance of Peter Perrett. It will surely be hailed as one of the standout tracks on HOW THE WEST WAS WON, his new album on Domino, the comeback that nobody saw coming.