Voices at the End of the Night:
The Fall, New Facts Emerge, Cherry Red Records, 2017
Mike Hudson & the Pagans, Hollywood High, Ruin Discos, 2014
The Fall’s previous studio album, Sub-Lingual Tablets, ends with guitar lashed diatribes against Facebook and iPhones, and the first cut on New Facts Emerge is “Segue”—so what’s the target this time? But brand names are gone. For thirty seconds a guy down the bar mumbles, syllables falling apart, and then the guitar, bass, and drums of Pete Greenway, Dave Spurr, and Kieron Melling kick in hard. Track two, “Fol de Rol,” takes off.
The visceral assault of the instruments is compelling enough to make up for Mark E. Smith’s often unintelligible lyrics, and when the words do come clear they’re arresting, from “Say a Hail Mary” to “Yellow chokes.” The mood is never less than declarative, and even the imperatives seem worth considering: “G-g-g-get out!” It’s not like you have to obey orders from The Fall. They’re not orders anyway, they’re part of an exchange and you’re hearing one side.
What are the new facts? Among the hints are that “G-g-g-get out,” and a couplet in which the last word of line two, “She tortures him in his big house,” rhymes with “spouse.” This is the first Fall record in fourteen years in which Smith’s former wife, keyboard player Elena Poulou, is absent, and on New Facts Emerge, synthesizer and Mellotron are played ably by guitarist Greenway and bassist Spurr respectively. The earlier influences of U.S. guitarists Cliff Gallup, Link Wray, and Ron Asheton, and of quintessentially British bands the Yardbirds, the Pretty Things, and the Kinks, are barely discernible, but starting with “Fol de Rol” there’s a new melodic squall reminiscent of Billy Mure’s flamenco inflected Supersonic Guitars in Hi-Fi and—coming a few years after that—the cable thick surf strings of Dick Dale.
“Brillo de Facto,” “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s,” and “Second House Now” are further experiments in extreme vocal and instrumental collage, but “Gibbus Gibson” proves that Smith can sing as transparently and innocently, almost, as he did forty years before. “Groundsboy” and “O! zztrrk Man” have four or five words each, repeated over and over as the music changes and alters the words. In “Groundsboy,” the title and the lyric “property, property” are guides to a detour through country and western, the hills of rockabilly if you like, complete with spoons and a “bah oom” background refrain. The last song on the LP is “Nine Out of Ten,” Smith’s own scoring of the record perhaps, a broken tale of starting at “one out of ten” and reaching the current level, and a return by guitar to the jet exhaust sound of “Fol de Rol.” The second half of the track, is four minutes’ worth of driving instrumental that might suggest the Fall’s next stop.
We’re not likely to find out. New Facts Emerge is more than the group’s latest record. They were coming to the States last September to promote it, but in August the dates in Brooklyn were postponed until February because of Smith’s poor health. In November, the February dates were canceled outright, and Smith died of cancer on January 24, sixty years old. There very well could be a cache of unreleased tracks, but New Facts Emerge is the last Fall album Mark E. Smith saw through from start to finish.
The same’s true of Mike Hudson and Hollywood High, a record almost four years old but the last new studio LP by the scorched cat singer, this time backed by a Los Angeles update of the Pagans, the Cleveland band he fronted in the late ’70s and, sporadically, throughout the ’80s. Hudson died suddenly from sepsis in L.A., where he’d lived five years, at the end of last October. At sixty-one, he didn’t leave behind nearly as much music or press as Smith, partly because he worked as a full time journalist for almost twenty-five years in western Pennsylvania, New York City, and Niagara Falls. But the Pagans and Hudson weren’t overlooked: the two basic Cleveland versions of the Pagans—the first with Hudson, his brother Brian on drums, Mike Metoff on guitar, and Tim Allee on bass, the second with his brother replaced by Bob Richey and with added keyboards from Chas Smith—have been in print here and in Europe almost continuously since the 45s from 1977 – 79 and the 1983 debut LP.
The miracle of Hollywood High, though, is that, despite his musical hiatus, Hudson is as unmistakable a presence as ever, with a band preternaturally attuned to the rawness of his voice at the end of the night. Little Caesar and The Dogs lead guitarist Loren Molinare, bassists Jimmy Bain and [Ronnie James] Dio (himself a casualty in 2016) from Rainbow and Mary Kay of The Dogs, and The Dogs drummer Tony Matteucci are stellar as L.A.’s latter day Pagans.
The record opens with “I Want a Date,” a tune from the same slum housing roofed by overdue rent that generated early Pagans songs such as “Street with No Name” and “I Juvenile.” However, the next track explodes any comfort zone listeners may have felt creeping up their ankles. “Hollywood High” is nearly a ballad, Argentine style, with slow, reverb drenched feedback complementing stiletto quick lyrics: “So cold in New York / Gotta get away / Had a nervous breakdown / Met a girl in L.A.”
According to interviews with the singer, the record chronicles Hudson’s affair with Los Angeles rock couturier Evita Corby. The title song nails the initial and always threatened euphoria; “Fame Whore,” a talking blues excerpted from Hudson’s novel of the same name, drifts in and out of the affair’s hallucinatory highlights. “I Just Got Up” plunges into the shock of its immediate aftermath, then “Dark Angel” closes the vein with a searing overview.
Grounding the story is a series of remarkable covers that begins with Son House’s “Death Letter,” continues with a slamming version of the Dead Boys’ “Detention Home,” and ends the record with a remake of one of the Cleveland Pagans’ last studio originals, “(Us and) All of Our Friends Are So Messed Up.” Faultless backup aside, this vocal is richer and sinks deeper than the original, which isn’t surprising except in the sense that anything good is surprising, no matter where it came from or how much it cost. Thirty years old in Cleveland, Hudson and Mike Metoff had asked themselves “Whatever happened to the world we knew last night?” Now Hudson’s alone in L.A. more than twenty-five years later, divorced from too many homes to count, his wives, brother, and son long gone, and he and Evie broken up at last.