Sunday, November 26, 2017

Album Review: Peter Perrett - How The West Was Won (2017)

The miracle isn’t that Peter Perrett has made a comeback album. The miracle isn’t that he’s making music. The miracle is that Peter Perrett is still alive. And functioning.

Nearly four decades on from ‘Another Girl Another Planet’, the minor hit record that defined his career as the frontman for the Only Ones, Perrett returns with How The West Was Won, a rather fascinating album that defies all odds.

I say ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ was a “minor” hit, only because that’s how it started out, in the relative infancy of its first couple of years. But as the decades passed, long after Perrett disappeared from public view, the track grew legs, and it is now universally recognised as one of its era’s seminal “new wave” tunes. 

The Only Ones made just three albums, over three years, from 1978 to 1980, before Perrett slid into a pit of serious drug addiction and self-imposed isolation. He briefly emerged from seclusion in the mid Nineties to make a new album with a band called The One (see what he did there?), which mostly went unnoticed, before he again disappeared from view.

Somewhere along that journey, Perrett managed to become a father, and it’s with the help of two sons – Jamie (guitar, keys) and Peter junior (bass, ex-Babyshambles) – that the now 65-year-old rocker has returned with this debut “solo” release.

So it’s probably fair to say that How The West Was Won is one of this year’s biggest surprises. For all of the reasons noted above, and because it’s actually a bloody good album.

Perrett possesses a voice that could be best described as “lived-in”. Unspectacular, overly nasal, cracked, and somewhat grizzled. But it works. It works because – aside from the obvious Lou Reed comparison – it’s perfect for the songs he’s written. Songs about his struggle with addiction, songs about celebrity and fame (or infamy), songs that veer into the realm of politics, and songs about his relationship with long-time partner, Zena … just look at some of the song titles: ‘An Epic Story’, ‘Hard To Say No’, ‘Living In My Head’, ‘Man of Extremes’, and ‘Something In My Brain’ … you get the picture.

And the album works because, first and foremost, Perrett is completely honest about his journey. Which is a sure sign he’s getting beyond the addiction issues that have plagued his story. The song-writing is raw and at times, quite brutal. There is also the odd morsel of humour, most of it self-deprecating, but some of it at the expense of Kim Kardashian (who he mock-claims to be in love with, without ever wanting to see her from the front).

Musically, Perrett keeps things simple and relatively uncomplicated – two guitars (he plays rhythm himself), bass, keyboards, and drums (courtesy of Jake Woodward). It’s an ethos completely aligned with the production. The message seems to be that, often, the most precious diamonds are those left unpolished.

Flaws and all, this feels like a very complete album, one that only Perrett could have made, and I for one, am thankful that he did.

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