Songwriters are often in pursuit of honesty. They want to express the contents of their souls with authenticity and truth. However, these expressions are often refracted through lenses of ambiguity which can leave the listener guessing as to the real truth at the source. It is perhaps less common, and maybe more courageous, for a songwriter to tell us what’s really going on in their day-to-day thoughts without hiding beneath the mystery of their poetry.
Savage Purge (Chopback) – the second full-length release from Huddersfield, UK-based singer-songwriter Carol Hodge – does not hide what it has to say, and what it does say comes across as deeply honest and sincere. Hodge has worked alongside such giants as Crass’s Steve Ignorant (in his Slice of Life and Last Supper bands) and Ginger Wildheart, but here she nails the colours of her own truth to the mast of this 41-minute set of 10 songs. Although Hodge does of course use metaphor and other such devices, some of these lyrics could have been taken straight from her diary. “I need this for my own brain” she sings at one point, and that seems to sum up the ethos of the record. This is self-expression as therapy; a transmutation of demons and frustrations into something often gleeful but still threaded through with the melancholy of the everyday struggle. It feels like Hodge made this record for herself, but when she sings lines like “I fear I’ll never find / The key to satisfaction in my life”, daring in its simple clarity, we can all probably relate.
As well as baring her soul lyrically, Hodge also seems to work with whatever musical style or instrumentation she wants to from song to song. In addition to singing and playing piano (her primary instrument) Hodge adds various synthesised instruments including electronic drums and Mellotron. She is also very ably assisted by Dave Draper, who plays guitar, bass, and drums as well as handling the production and mastering. The freedom to use more or fewer instruments is used to full effect – some songs have a full rock band whilst others are backed with little more than stark piano There is upbeat Punk-Pop (‘I Still Love Me’, ‘Magic Bullet’, ‘Virtue Signals’), there is classic tearjerking piano-driven balladry (‘In Case of Emergency’, Send Me Someone’, ‘Semi-Colon’, ‘Waving Not Drowning’), and there is even dark electro-dance (‘Stopped Believing In You’).
It could be argued that the stylistic variation we hear over the course of Savage Purge means that it lacks cohesion or focus; that people won’t understand how to categorise it. Indeed, fitting it into one genre’ is difficult. However, there is consistency, coherence, and flow. Every song is a little window into Carol Hodge’s existence, and we walk along beside her, getting to know her mind gradually as the setting shifts with each song. Her distinctive and commanding voice is always present – as defiant as it is vulnerable. It also helps that the songs are packed with ultra-catchy hooks and singalong choruses.
The overriding message of Savage Purge appears to be one of personal empowerment; of taking back control of one’s life in the wake of difficult experiences and the stifling drabness of normality. Hodge’s sings “I don’t mean to moan about my mental state’, but this is more than a mere moan”. There is bleakness and struggle: for example, “The terror of another wasted year / Well it leavesme with no doubt” (from ‘Stop Worrying Baby’). But there is also redemption and acceptance: the line that follows the latter is “But if I’ve just one life to live /And I know I’ll die alone / Then just stop worrying baby”. With these lyrics and with others such as “And there’s a million reasons why / My brain will fuck me dry / But I see the light / And it’s still there for me” Hodge seems to be reminding herself – and us – that, in spite of personal hardships and bleak political outlooks, there is still hope if we can remember to find it.
Listeners to Savage Purge wanting a “heavy” or “punk” record will need to adjust those expectations and open up to something which on the surface is a little less abrasive and more accessible. On the other hand, those who can accept that Tom Petty’s ethos of don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ doesn’t necessitate a diminishment of realness will find a lot to connect with here. Savage Purge is full of exemplary songwriting and, above all, is about as honest an album as you’re likely to hear. For this, Carol Hodge should be applauded.
Savage Purge is released on 30th June 2020 and will be available in digital, CD, and red vinyl formats.