Acoustic Menopause - Honest John Plain (Action Recordz)
This is a simple and simply beguiling record, pared back rather than pared to the bone and impregnated with pop smarts. If the Johnny Cash take-off on the cover art didn't tell you already, it doesn't take itself too seriously either.
If you didn’t twig already, Honest John Plain is one of the survivors of the UK punk scene, recruited into the first line-up of the band that became The Boys way back in 1975. In-between re-appearances by The Boys, Plain has been surfacing in his own bands ever since.
The Boys were known as “The Beatles of punk” and if it was a tag that was too cute by half, it did reflect their high degree of musicality. The same applies in Honest John’s other work. The songs on this album are drawn mostly from The Boys’ back catalogue (which speaks to the strength of Plain’s co-writing with Matt Dangerfield and Casino Steel) and couple are covers. The album title is a play on that of The Boys’ “comeback” record, “Punk Rock Menopause”.
The Internet tells me that Honest John last did the acoustic thing on record back with “Honest John Untuned” (2009). That one passed me by but, as alluded earlier, this record’s not so much unplugged as turned down. There’s a band tracked behind Plain (it’s likely he played all the instruments as there are no credits) and the spare arrangements work very well. Plain’s guitar playing is nimble. “Acoustic Menopause” was recorded in France by Johnny Cat and the clean, lean but warm production brings out all the shiny bits.
Let’s face it, sometimes the words fall by the wayside when an angry punk rock band gets cranked up. While The Boys were as much rock as punk, they had lyrics worth listening to It’s good to hear a clever song like “Punk Rock Girl” dressed down:
She’s tougher than Siouxsie, cuter than Gaye
Weirder than Polly, takes my breath away
You really can’t go wrong covering the Stones unplugged unless you’re a real numpty and Plain’s “Out Of Time” is a keeper. The surprise though is the lesser-known Joey Ramone solo song “Waiting For That Railroad” which is rendered wonderfully.
Is it true that old punks don’t die, they just turn it down. This unplugged bandwagon got awfully crowded in the ‘90s, in no small part thanks to major label blandishments like Eric Crapped On and his like, but “Acoustic Menopause” shows it can also be done exceedingly well.