[From Veritas Vampirus #1,176] 


By “Mark S. Tucker


Though immediately taken with Paul Mark's work from the git-go, an affinity that hasn't diminished a whit over years, it took me forever and a day to realize the Van Dorens were composed of whomever the hell he decided they would be each time out. In his latest, the beautifully packaged Stowaways (with aquatinted waif-bedecked slip case, thick textile casing, 28-page booklet of lyrics 'n photos, and of course the disc itself; can't forget that part!), it swiftly becomes obvious that Mark himself is all of the Van Dorens now (didn't the Bible have some guy who was a 3-in-1 kinda cat as well?), at least for the time being, accompanied by string players, a drummer, and a co-vocalist, the latter two wafting through one cut only. Besides singing like a mannered maniac, alternatingly cynically fleering and then ready to slit a throat, Mark plays all the other instruments. He also wrote everything - well, except for a classic kindred inclusion.

As I've mentioned 'ere this release, the nightsiding raconteur's quite the intelligent feller, so all this not-so-silent mutability is likely the sort of quiet antic which amuses him no end and just as probably corn-fuses critics, which in turn tickles me, especially as I was once among the baffled. Stowaways, you may have guessed by now, is highly cabaretic - the inclusion of the sole non-Mark-composed "Mack the Knife" didn't hurt any - and quintessentially Waitsian-Weillian.

I caught Tom during his Nighthawks tour at the Troub (great stuff!), then in his Black Rider co-abortion (surely he, Burroughs, and Wilson are still embarrassed about that one, yes?), and later during a tour I think was in support of the Swordfishtrombones or thereabouts. Righteous, so much so that my girlfriend's mother, whom we'd taken along, was delighted with the dark presentation, which kinda unnerved me: the Benny Goodman generation isn't s'posed to like that kinda stuff, dammit! Waitaminnit, who was I originally talking about??? Oh yeah, Paul Mark.

This Nick Cavey cat's latest is definitely one you're going to have to sit down and listen to - no dancing, no hooch swozzling (well, okay, that'd be more than appropriate actually), and no messing about with the significant other as your stereo system's speakers pour forth dark stately sonics: ears only, in other words. Some musics demand that, aimed for the brain and heart rather than loins and feet, practically a dead form any more. Mark, however, revives it magnificently with letter perfect form and atmosphere, no overkill, no understatement (Threepenny Opera wasn't exactly genteel and bourgeois, now was it?), nothing but draughtsman-like precision in unsettling diction and stage dressing, cynical and sardonic to a fault, a withering exposition in tux and tails.

Though this review is ridiculously late - I've been an indecisive slacking motherfucker since FAME folded - consider Stowaways one of the best of 2015 (issued in late Oct.), 'cause it is. One listen, and you'll understand it's durability, even against the dismaying evanescence of such affairs and exposures, as well as the foreshadow of its likely eventual recognition, years from now, as a missed masterpiece, just as the Zombie's Odyssey and Oracle and a small handful of others suffered. Happens all the time. That needs to change.