BEEN IN THE PEN TOO LONG 1972


AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson


Recorded shortly before Paul King broke away from Mungo Jerry, the jug band superstars he formed in 1970, Been in the Pen Too Long was the singer/songwriter's attempt to prove there was more to his life than washboards, kazoos, and "In the Summertime" sound-alikes -- which, of course, there was, although it was sometimes hard to believe it.

Rounding up songs that -- he was now forced to admit -- had no place alongside the rest of that band's repertoire, it represented a more or less complete break from the Mungo Jerry jangle, with the opening "Grey-Eyed Athena," in particular, lining King closer to the then-barely known likes of Roy Harper and David Bowie, as they, too, plonked and strummed their way round the acoustic singer/songwriter circuit. Yet this beautiful ballad, awash with classical imagery and swept by acoustic guitar, is simply one of a multitude of faces on show.

The near-anthemic "Sugarcane" is as simplistic and unaffected as "Athena" is, if you wish, a mite pretentious, a love song that soars so triumphantly above its moon-in-June lyrics that they themselves become pure poetry. No sooner is it over, though, than it's time for "Three Dog Night," a ribald account of a three-girls-and-a-guy bedroom romp set to lewd violin and a puffing, panting rhythm that leaves even less to the imagination than the narrative.

Later, the almost Kinks-themed "Clockwork Machine," a helter-shelter indictment of the working week, is set to the autocratic rhythm of an alarm clock, while a pair of good-time Leadbelly covers, "Jean Harlow" and "Whoa Buck," leave you breathless whether you get up to dance or not. The first half of the album is strongest -- across side two of the original vinyl, neither "Candy Man" nor "I've Changed My Face" offer much that side one didn't do better, while the surreal "One Legged Man in a Goldfish Bowl" is little more than an exercise in Dylan-ish imagery, pinned to a succession of musical ideas and sequences that really deserved better.

Yet this falling off barely dents the album's status in the slightest -- six of the nine tracks are nothing short of brilliant, and the remainder suffers only by comparison.