Johnny Thunders

Que Sera, Sera

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Fame and promise come easy to some; others handle it about as well as Bill Buckner fielding a ground ball. Rock & roll is littered with the names of artists who've squandered their musical gifts, and few names are as infamous in this regard as Johnny Thunders. In 1978 the former New York Doll recorded his solo debut and one of the better albums of the punk era, So Alone. Reviews were favorable, and the future looked decent for the guitarist and full-time junkie. But, in a move that would come to define his solo career, rather than building on the success of So Alone, Thunders stumbled deeper into heroin addiction, spending the next seven years playing gig after gig and shooting most of the proceeds into his arm. By 1985, despite reuniting with the Heartbreakers for a legendary show at the London Lyceum, he had been written off by everyone but his most steadfast supporters -- and even they had to be shaking their heads at his relentless bid for oblivion. It was under these circumstances that Thunders and his band of the moment, the Black Cats (bassist Keith Yon and drummer Tony St. Helene), weaved into West 3 Studios in London to lay down tracks for his second solo album, Que Sera, Sera. Despite being plagued by a litany of chemically induced fits and starts, the album came together well. While not the end-to-end triumph of So Alone, Que Sera, Sera nonetheless had enough spark to convince those still listening that the weathered Doll wasn't about to go quietly into that good night. Bolstered by a revolving door of punk cronies -- including Patti Palladin, Glen Matlock, Stiv Bators, and Only Ones guitarist John Perry -- Thunders and band kick some New Yawk sneer into songs like the punk mission statement "Short Lives," "Little Bit of Whore," "Blame It on Mom," "Endless Party," and "Billy Boy," a searing instrumental ode to fallen original Dolls drummer Billy Murcia. The standout tracks, though, are "I Only Wrote This Song for You," with its delicately strummed chords and funereal piano figure, and a hilarious demolition of the Doris Day standard "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)." Replete with accordion and choral support by London's St. Theresa School Choir, the song suggests a drunken 3 a.m. singalong down the streets of Little Italy. Though not included on the original LP, "Que Sera, Sera" has been added here as a bonus track. Like most Johnny Thunders albums, there are a few snags: the interminable "Cool Operator" is a failed reggae experiment redeemed only by the classic Johnny-ism "I can get Godzilla to give me head"; the bonus remixes of "Short Lives" and "Cool Operator" are completely extraneous; and the production, while clean and crisp, is a little antiseptic, robbing the music of the anarchic raunch that made Thunders' live shows so much fun. That said, though, Que Sera, Sera is a surprisingly solid effort, featuring tight playing and well-constructed melodies. With a little record-company backing and a fortuitous fall of the chips, it could've marked a new chapter in Thunders' career. Sadly, it stands as one of the last coherent gasps by a perennial contender.

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