PHOENIX — The Mission U.K. is a hot new band that subscribes to an old formula: sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
This makes the outspoken British quartet something of an oddity at a time when an increasing number of rock's most acclaimed groups are calling for a new responsibility among rock fans and are embracing uplifting, socially conscious themes.
A Melody Maker profile on the Mission U.K. last fall labeled the band the "new wild boys of rock" and devoted almost as much space to the group's drinking habits as its music. Lead singer Wayne Hussey speaks freely about dropping acid, and nothing he said here this week suggests he has anything against sex.
"We do what we do," Hussey, 27, said before a concert Tuesday on a tour that includes stops tonight at the Palace in Hollywood and Friday at Fender's in Long Beach.
"I know this is (an age) of anti-drug campaigns and people freak out when we say things like that, but it's the truth.
"But that doesn't mean we advocate anything for anybody else. I think drugs are evil in the hands of inexperienced or weak people. . . . You have to be very careful."
It might not be surprising to hear talk like that from a rampaging heavy-metal band with a macho posture and hedonistic themes.
But the Mission U.K.'s songs--while not exactly saintly--exhibit moments of sensitivity and occasional sophistication. They deal with such matters as inner conflict and romantic complexities. Hussey opens the group's debut album with these spoken remarks: "I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me," summarizing a sense of lost-soul Angst that is mirrored in some of his songs.
In "Wasteland," Hussey--who writes the lyrics--reflects on the tension between his strict religious upbringing and the band's reported fast-lane life style. "Love Me to Death" is a ballad that looks at romantic obsession with the nakedness--if not the poetic grace--of Leonard Cohen or Jim Morrison.
"There definitely are two sides to the band," Hussey said, lying on his hotel bed and talking about issues that seem rarely raised in British interviews. "A lot of the time a journalist is only interested in one aspect of us, so that's all that is presented in an article. But I think our fans pick up on the rest.
"I get letters from people that say, 'I'm really worried about you because you seem to be destroying yourself. . . .' "
While Hussey said he is fascinated by the "immortality" achieved by Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly and James Dean, who died at creative high points, he rejected the idea that he is living too close to the edge.
"Your body tells you when it's time to pull back," he said. "There are some days when I think I should give up drinking and taking drugs altogether. But then the next day comes and I'm (back) at it."
The Mission U.K. has developed a large, intensely loyal following in Britain since it was formed early last year as a spinoff from the Sisters of Mercy.
The lineup is Hussey and bassist Craig Adams--both from the Sisters, a favorite band of fans who favored funeral attire and ghoulish makeup--guitarist Simon Hinkler and drummer Mick Brown.
Though the Gothic crowd has dwindled to a precious few in Britain, some of its American cousins were on hand to welcome the Mission U.K. Tuesday night at Prism's, an 800-capacity club in a shopping center in nearby Chandler.
This fragment of the audience, however, had to compete for attention with a variety of striking haircuts, including the increasingly popular modified Mohawk, featuring shaved temples with the hair on top combed straight up.
About the crowd, Prism's owner Scott Hinkle, said, "These are the people who like to keep a year or two ahead of everybody else. They're especially into anything new from England. . . . Bands like the Cult."
The Mission U.K. is often mentioned in connection with the Cult, another band that came out of the Gothic movement in Britain. Both groups rely heavily on '60s and '70s rock tradition rather than innovative touches of their own.
A difference is that the Cult tends to virtually duplicate a raunchy, prancing Aerosmith and AC/DC approach, which gives it a strongly identifiable and commercial setting.
The Mission U.K. also has obvious influences. For instance, Hussey's vocals suggest the romantic huskiness of Iggy Pop and the abandon of Jim Morrison, but there's more of an effort to establish an individual sound. The problem is that the band has no distinctive musical presence at this point.
There is enough promise in the debut album, "God's Own Medicine," to give the band credibility, but Hussey--who only started writing songs recently--needs to define his vision better. At this point the vision is too vague and the music is too standard.