Vocal Remover Requested - Honest John Plain and The Beetle Trumpets (Action Recordz)
If you see the Action Recordz label on an album and you’re a regular at the I-94 Bar, pick it up with confidence. The French label doesn’t often miss and its in-house producer Johnny Cat has an impeccable touch.
If you didn’t know, Honest John Plain was/is a member of London’s The Boys, an under-appreciated and wonderfully melodic punk band that grew out of the rehearsals-only London SS. After stints with various outfits (including The Lurkers) he started cranking out records under his own name in 1996 and “Vocal Remover Requested” is his latest.
It’s a record full of Plain’s trademark buzzy guitars, unassuming hooks and meat-and-potatoes vocals. There’s nothing wrong with the latter - the album title is presumably ironic - and Honest John is in a long line of singers with a guitar player’s voice. You expected Aled Jones?
These are simple songs embedded in the two-guitar attack of Plain and Sergeant No Voice. There are no vocal harmonies - the Sergeant rejoices in the surname No Voice for a reason, it can be assumed - and only the odd lead guitar break. Johnny Cat’s full-throated production is its usual punchy and transparent self.
The Beetle Trumpets sometimes come across as dour Ramones without Joey’s warble, and a few cuts could do with more colour and less plodding. On balance, however, if you heard “Vocal Remover Requested” blaring out of a car radio on a sunny day, you’d think you’d died and gone to 1986 - or you’ll have taken one too many happy pills for breakfast.
“Apart From That” is one of the stand-outs - a stop-start grind about “things turning septic” that could have walked into a dive bar from a street on the Lower East Side. There’s a surprise cover of “He’ll Have To Go” that hangs in the air without a trace of anyone putting their meat lips to the phone. Wait. That’s not the lyric?
The lightest touch comes at the end - the amped-up but acoustic “Not That Important” which harks back tHonest John’s last record, the stripped down “Acoustic Menopause”.