The eye roll that inevitably comes with the release of a new album from a forty-year-old punk band is as much a valid reflex as that involuntary knee twinge when some sadistic doctor whacks it with one of those weird rubber hammers. The instinctive rumination picking at the cynical side of the brain cannot be silenced; “Oh here we go again, another crusty bunch of has-beens releasing a half-assed bunch of songs for the first time in decades just so they can earn enough dosh to buy a fucking sandwich because the internet has screwed them over. And what’s with that cartoon-style cover they all seem to do these days?” Many of these bands become parodies of themselves and well, isn’t that just sad?
Upon initial interpretation, the 2014 release of The Boys‘ first studio release since 1981’s Boys Only, may threaten to tickle the pleasure light of that throbbing cynical switch inside the cerebral cortex once more, but don’t worry, it’s only a flicker. Apart from the cartoonish album cover that serves no justice or comparison to The Boys‘ rocking, hook-laden tunage, ‘Punk Rock Menopause’ is all killer. Seems menopause doesn’t need to be such a downer after all.
Along with the big three of U.K. punk –Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned– The Boys were a part of the first wave of the incendiary mid-seventies punk explosion and were the first U.K. punk band to actually sign an album deal. Described at the time as The Beatles of punk, The Boys provided the template for power-pop punk well before bands like the Buzzcocks were even thinking about a record deal. Their debut self-titled album, released in September 1977, became an instant stone cold classic and helped pave the way for an entire new genre to take over from out-and-out mid-seventies punk. In 2018, that debut still sounds as fresh as ever.
Over the past four decades, The Boys have whittled their pop punk wizardry down to a concentrated slice of pure perfection. In 2014, in the menopause of their punkery, the band burst back onto the scene all hot-flushed and moody with the aptly-titled Punk Rock Menopause. To the avid Boys listener, it should come as no surprise that there are indeed zero surprises on this album. Why should there be? Once you’ve reached the pinnacle of three-chord heaven, why would you want to be anywhere else?
“With the opening chords of [Punk Rock Menopause opening track] ‘1976’ you recognise that distinctive guitar sound and when the vocals start, it takes you right back to the glory days of 1978. One catchy song after another, full of simple effective melodies, lovely harmony vocals, great chugging guitar and winning vocals” – Punky Gibbon
Featuring the original founding members and creative core of songwriting duo Matt Dangerfield and Casino Steel, and guitarist Honest John Plain, Punk Rock Menopause is 13 tracks of melodic, harmonised, punk rock dripping with pop sensibilities and more hooks than the walls of a ramshackle cabin belonging to an old lady hoarder who collects nothing but framed pictures of people she doesn’t even know. Along with album opener ‘1976’, the tracks ‘I’m a Believer’ and the anthemic ‘Keep Quiet’ are the stellar treasures in a chest of gold nugget supremos, but it’s the curious influence and subject matter of the equally anthemic ‘Organ Grinder’ that really gets the goosebumps lifting. The vibe throughout the track speaks sixties beat pop louder than some actual sixties beat pop bands, whilst maintaining a chugging riff and a chorus that makes the hairs on the back of the neck quiver with excitement. Casino Steel’s carnivalesque organ solo, wreaking of old-timey freak show haunt and fairy floss, is worth the price of admission alone.
When The Boys made their live debut at London’s Hope and Anchor way back in September 1976, I wonder if they ever thought that they would be blackballed from a menacing communist regime. Probably not. They’d have to have excruciatingly large egos to ever think that would ever happen. But it did.
On the back of the success of Punk Rock Menopause, The Boys took the songs on the road, eventually heading to the oriental east. Upon arriving in Shanghai in January of 2015, the band was promptly told that the tour had been cancelled by the Chinese Ministry of Culture. The reason? Crowd control concerns. Just days prior, a New Year celebration had gotten out of hand, climaxing in a 300,000 strong stampede in which thirty-six people were killed and forty-nine were injured. Now, unless the Chinese were expecting The Boys to draw crowds of similar numbers, it’s hard to believe that the sole issue was crowd control. But that’s for another day. What eventuated however, is something that will go down in punk rock folklore for many years to come.
Undeterred, the band remained in China and ultimately played three secret underground gigs promoted entirely by word of mouth and without the aid of social media. In a brash statement of punk rock if there ever was one, the band also gave several interviews, performed on a top rating TV station in Beijing and recorded a live album. Hiding in plain site from an oppressive communist regime… now that’s punk rock.
The live album that came from this potential disaster -2015’s Undercover: Live in China- is phenomenal. Featuring several tracks from Punk Rock Menopause as well as a selection of early classics, plus an intimate atmosphere of extremely grateful Chinese fans who are rarely afforded even a glimpse of their favourite bands, Undercover is a lesson in sheer determination and desire as well as a trip back to power-pop punk heaven. Coming in at a tad under forty-five raucous minutes, the live album is also the perfect accompaniment for the already spectacular Punk Rock Menopause. As fans of The Boys, we’ve been spoilt.
To an old cynic such as myself, scoffing and snooting at every latest Green Day release or at every quasi Sex Pistols reunion show, Punk Rock Menopause is an absolute breath of fresh air. This is one severely underrated band, completely overshadowed by the fawning gush of fans of Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols et al. Perhaps The Boys will never obtain the credit they so sorely deserve, but to them it probably doesn’t matter anyway. For they know damn well that the others, whilst great in their own rights, have waned and fizzled into modern day irrelevancy, while this fantastic pop punk juggernaut just keeps rolling along as cutting and as blissful as they ever have done. The kings have returned.
Thu 2 Aug 2018 – Rebellion Festival (Blackpool) – Unplugged
Fri 3 Aug 2018 – Rebellion Festival (Blackpool) – Electric
Main photo credit: Lothar Felkel