Mick Farren — journalist, science fiction novelist, author, singer, founding member of the (Social) Deviants and Pink Fairies, Motörhead songwriter — cut his first solo album with a nascent version of the Fairies immediately upon leaving the Deviants in 1969. After spending some years writing about, rather than making, music, he returned to that side in ’77 with a four-song 7- inch on Stiff that has its moments but is hardly a milestone. The following year, however, the Englishman dived back into the deep end of rock with the harrowing Vampires Stole My Lunch Money, showing the junior nihilists just how grim, serious and personal music could be. Released at the height of the punk wave but springing from a much deeper creative well, Vampires Stole My Lunch Money is Farren’s solo masterwork. With musical assistance from Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, Chrissie Hynde and others, he dishes out a harrowingly honest collection of songs about drinking, dissolution, depression, self-destruction and desperation. About as powerful as rock gets, this nakedly painful LP is most definitely not recommended to sissies, moralists and born-again Christians.
After relocating to New York, Farren pursued a number of musical endeavors with ex-MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. In February 1984, joined by ex-Fairies Larry Wallis and Duncan Sanderson and a drummer, the pair (billed as the Deviants) did a loose-limbed London gig at Dingwalls that was recorded and released as Human Garbage. The material mixes selections from Farren’s Vampires (“I Want a Drink” and Frank Zappa’s “Trouble Coming Every Day”), Kramer’s solo work (“Ramblin’ Rose”), Wallis (“Police Car”) and similarly casual items like “Screwed Up,” “Takin’ L.S.D.” and “Outrageous Contagious.” No points for tightness or tuning, but a neat artifact nonetheless. Farren and Kramer then worked on an “R&B musical” based on the legendary death-bed ramblings of Prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz; three songs from the production were vinylized and released as Who Shot You Dutch?. The powerful title track (sung by Kramer and produced by Don Was) is clever funk-rock rendered giggly by a disco chorus repeating the phrase throughout the number; the others are more theatrical and modestly appealing.
Death Tongue, a sloppy transitional album made with Kramer, veteran New York singer/guitarist John Collins and drummer Ed Steinberg, was released under Kramer’s name even though it includes Who Shot You Dutch‘s title track and a dramatic Farren recitation called “Death Tongue” as well as collaborative originals. From there, Farren continued with Collins and fellow Dutch alumnus Henry Beck as Tijuana Bible. Gringo Madness proffers skeletal music — spare guitar diddles with the occasional infiltration of a mariachi cliché or sax for variety — over which Farren sings and recites his fervid day-of-the-dead poetry. Conflating pop culture iconography, hallucinatory alcohol visions, various minuets with Satan and the enervated desperation of a dying man sliding down the side of a mountain on his face, Farren upbeats the Beats and de-rocks the rockers. Between his bandmate’s rants, Collins sings some acoustic ballads; for reasons wholly unclear, the whole shooting match finishes with a dramatic reading of “Riot in Cell Block #9.” Not well suited for casual or multiple listenings, Gringo Madness would make an entertaining companion for that steamy dog-day night when sleep is out of the question.
Living in Hollywood in the ’90s, Farren corraled another expat — hornman Jack Lancaster, the Rahsaan Roland Kirk of British rock, best known for his twin-sax work in the late-’60s Jethro Tull jazz-blues spin-off Blodwyn Pig — into a partnership. The Deathray Tapes, recorded live in front of an invited Santa Monica club crowd, takes Farren further into the spoken-word realm, as he recites trenchant, engaging tales (one reclaimed from Gringo Madness) over a rumpled musical bed laid on by Lancaster’s treated horn flights, a rhythm section and guests. (Upping the oddity ante, actor Brad Dourif plays didgeridoo on one song; Wayne Kramer increases the release on three.) Bizarre, bracing, original and invigorating, The Deathray Tapes is reminiscent of ’60s acid-freak festival free-forming, but Farren’s sensibility — witness “Disgruntled Employee” and “Gunfire in the Night” — isn’t rooted in anything but his own gristly view of reality.