[ROCK 'N' ROLL] I've heard the Ones described as both the best band in town and the worst. Which leads me to wonder: What could be so heinously awful or unbelievably awesome about a band whose music lies somewhere between Cheap Trick and Bruce Springsteen? Going into the Ones' self-titled debut, I had yet to see the band live, and its first single (while only a taste) was a song I already knew. All of these factors led to a similar ambivalence. So why has this straightforward four-piece elicited such extreme reactions from Portland music fans?
Well, the Ones' first full-length actually makes some sense of these contradictory opinions. Though made up of seasoned rockers—members' past bands include Poison Idea, Religious War, the Procrastinators and the Weaklings—the Ones do make a brand of retro rock that's worthy of both praise and derision, often in the same song. Take "Sweet Little Bombers," for instance: The alternately ringing and choppy guitar chords during the chorus lend themselves perfectly to Pete Townshend-style air-guitar windmills, and the female vocals on the "Don't ya know/ Don't ya know?!" verses remind me of Toody Cole's off-key shouts on Dead Moon's "It's OK"—an all-time favorite.
But "Sweet Little Bombers" misses perfection thanks to several cheeseball moments like the line, "All the sweet little bombers/ Got their eyes on the mambas." Another lyric that'll make you cringe is "My head, my head/ Feels just like lead" (from "My Arms"), as does the hokey, awkwardly played guitar shuffle in "Dead on My Feet." Yet the sweet pre-chorus of "Dead" ("I remember your lips and a cigarette") is brilliant, the kind that gets perpetually stuck in your head.
So The Ones is a little flawed. But you know what? There are three factors that, for my money, redeem its downfalls: Vocalist Andrew Coursen has a unique and fantastic voice for rock 'n' roll that, in its earnestness and spirit, just begs to be yelled along with. Drummer Tim Slapper keeps it simple throughout, but he can really play when he needs to, as evidenced in his rare and stellar fills. And, finally, there simply could not be more energy packed into this record. Folks may love and hate the band in general, but anyone who doesn't find him- or herself occasionally moving to this record just hates fun, if you ask me.