For The Record #5 – Hitsville U.K. / Watching The Detectives / The Head On The Door LP

Strangely, my Dad has bought another old stereo stack (as he did in my first For The Record article) which my Mum rightly declared his ‘new toy’ having played, after only owning the stack for a few hours, half of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope and introducing me to Basement 5, who weren’t too shabby at all…

This is, of course, another opportunity for me to annex the living room and play my records. As I write this introduction, ‘New Big Prinz’ by The Fall is being thumped out the speakers, killing all Christmas sterility and calm that is always lovingly embraced by my parents.

This article features three bands I have only ever made passing references to. I consider myself (in no particular order) to adore one, very much like another and have an appreciation for the third.

Hitsville U.K. B/W Radio One – The Clash & Mikey Dread

I love The Clash immensely; they were my favourite band until I got into The Fall and offer just about every genre you could possibly ask for across their existence. ‘Straight To Hell’ is one of my favourite songs of all time, and there is never a time when they’re excluded from regular listening.

However, I’ve refrained from writing about The Clash for the entirety of the blog for a number of reasons. One being that talking too much about traditional punk left me stumbling over myself in terms of vocabulary, another is the fact that I own very little Clash vinyl, but the main one being that it’s so easy to write about The Clash.

By this, I mean that I think just about everything that needs to be said has been said about them by practically everyone. The only way I could write about them was to write about (probably) their least mentioned and least favoured single by both their fan base and the generic media tributes that come their way, which usually feature ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ or ‘Rock The Casbah’, both of which do very little for me in terms of enjoyment.

What gives this single a twist is that the B-side is by reggae artist Mikey Dread, a longtime friend of The Clash who magnificently produced the album which ‘Hitsville’ features on, Sandinista!, which is perhaps my favourite Clash album, though this title does change on an hourly basis.

‘Hitsville’ has always been a song that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, both as an album track and a single. At a Strummerville benefit (previously mentioned in my Joe Strummer article) it seemed to me that I was the only one who enjoyed its showing, so much so that my singing-along earned a look of positive acknowledgment from the singer Catherine Popper.

On the album, it follows classic opener ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and offsets the intensity of its predecessor very nicely, led by a jaunty bassline combined with soft, female vocals, sang by Mick Jones’ then-girlfriend Ellen Foley.

The song is about the growing indie scene in the UK as the 1980s commenced – I’m not sure if it’s a criticism of it, or just an observation, but I’m fairly convinced it’s probably a satirical response to the disapproval they received after controversially signing with CBS.

It’s got a comfortable soul-pop-rock vibe, and runs its course very gently while backed by the piss-taking lyrics about using ‘stolen guitars’ or releasing records ‘without the slightest hope of one thousand sales’.

To me, it seems a little hypocritical of the left-leaning Clash to brag about the number of sales they make with their records, though this doesn’t bother me enough to spit out my tea and shout ‘Champagne London socialists!’, buy the latest issue of The Morning Star and start growing an unfashionably large beard.

The song doesn’t offer much in terms of variation, but, for what it is, is a solid offering of experimentation from The Clash. I understand why the punk purists wouldn’t like it – it’s a little bit clean and soft, but to depart from the critical acclaim of London Calling into an abyss of improvisation in Sandinista!, and for it to receive the praise it did, is remarkable in itself.

The B-side is interesting. I had a mini phase with Mikey Dread about a year ago, which coincided with a rediscovery of Junior Murvin. As I recall, I listened to one album of Dread’s, which I’m pretty sure I enjoyed.

His number ‘Radio One’ kicks off with some radio static before a soft, ascending riff and into a simple but effective reggae beat. The lyrics appear to centre around the idea that reggae doesn’t get the airtime it deserves as DJs ‘have no idea, not even a clue/Of how reggae was created by me and by you’.

In truth, it’s nothing special. It’s quite a tinny production as reggae goes – there’s a severe lack of heavy bass, though this judgement may be due to my preference for dub.

I can’t claim to know about reggae as a whole, and I’m probably one of those reviewers who doesn’t ‘get’ reggae, but I can imagine it got very little coverage in the British music media around 1981, so Dread probably has a point. However, this isn’t one his strongest moments, nor is it a particularly bad one. I see it as The Clash helping out a mate, more than anything.

As a whole, a mostly positive showing from the grooves, though The Clash ultimately triumph over their producer.

A-Side: 4/5   B-Side: 2.5/5   Sleeve: 3/5

Watching The Detectives B/W Blame It On Cain + Mystery Dance – Elvis Costello

‘Watching The Detectives’ was my introduction to Elvis Costello via my Spotify discover playlist. I generally approve of Costello, some of the 1980s stuff is a bit too 80s, but his first three albums are absolutely stunning. ‘Shipbuilding’, known more for its Robert Wyatt cover than anything else, is an absolute masterpiece in my eyes.

And so is ‘WTD’. It doesn’t get much better than this, does it? It probably doesn’t get much more misleading to an artist’s sound – as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t really play around with reggae at all after this release.

It’s a very moody, intense song, complimented by Costello’s almost scathing vocals. Every instrumental part is simply perfect. They’re all very sparse, the quiet scratchy guitar, the slow, nearly solitary drums, but it’s a showcase of expertise in musical texture and production.

I think what is great about this song is the way the angry, powerful parts feature in the first half of the song – the reluctant rage comes close to all-out anger, but is never fully recognised. The final minute and a half or so, meanwhile, becomes an instrumental conversation; it’s a gentle simmering of emotion compared to the brashness of the previous minutes.

‘Blame It On The Cain’ is a very pleasant song, fronted by a bluesy chord sequence and a swinging drum groove before entering a fairly powerful chorus. As a whole, you can definitely nod your head to it, and Costello’s vocals are very strong. It’s very easy listening that offers a nice introduction to the usual Costello offering without the burden of generic commercialism. One of the stronger B-sides I’ve reviewed so far.

‘Mystery Dance’ is much more blatant in its taking of the blues formula, and sounds a bit plastic-50s, in my opinion. It’s certainly strong, but perhaps veering away from blues on the B-sides would’ve been somewhat more satisfying. In fairness, it certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, clocking in at one minute thirty-six seconds. It’s decent, but nothing to shout about.

Overall, a very listenable single indeed.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side 1: 3.5/5   B-Side 2: 2/5   Sleeve: 3/5

The Head On The Door LP – The Cure 

For me, The Cure are one of those artists that can be so utterly fantastic yet, at times, so difficult. The ‘difficult’ bits for me are 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and post-Wish 1990s output, which I’ve found so forgettable and throwaway.

However, they still remain true innovators of their time, and also one of my favourite artists. I think they’re similar to the likes of The Fall, New Order or Public Image Ltd in continuously changing their sound and toying around with all ideas of genre and difference to generally high levels of success.

The Head On The Door, I feel, is a materialisation of a mostly consistent sound after the hit-and-miss experimentation seen in 1983’s Japanese Whispers and 1984’s somewhat forgettable The Top (which, incidentally, holds one of my favourite Cure songs of all time, ‘Dressing Up’). It also saw Smith become a much more romantically-driven lyricist, which is backed up by the more than melancholic instrumental accompaniments to the mournful croons and cries.

The most obvious feature of THOTD, however, is the singles. Never had The Cure been so accessible and commercial in their existence.

And it’s the lead single which gloriously kicks off the album with one of the most iconic drum fills and introductions of the 1980s. ‘Inbetween Days’ is an objective piece of total brilliance. The main hook, the pacey acoustic guitar and the longing lyrics are simply magnificent. It’s a thumping, timeless classic.

We receive the final ‘Without you’ from Smith, before being welcomed by one of the less iconic drum fills and introductions of the 1980s. ‘Kyoto Song’ is certainly creepy, but not particularly listenable or likeable. It really doesn’t do much for me at all, and I feel this effort was probably the result of a very odd jam-session. ‘The Blood’ is also quite weak, taking a leaf out of the opening track’s book with the speedy acoustic guitar , but it isn’t one of those songs that would ever be championed by any Cure fan, I imagine.

‘Six Different Ways’ is a dreamy, child-like song, the main hook sounding like a theme from a children’s TV show, but it’s very strangely gratifying – odd, but also very innocent, complimented fittingly by Smith’s angsty vocals. Very strong.

Side one closes with ‘Push’ which is a much more emphatic and effective hit of sorrow than its predecessors. The guitar line is strong, and the introduction develops nicely, but I don’t feel it merits the near two-and-a-half-minute showcasing it gets, though I think I’m just being a bit pedantic. Again, Smith’s vocals are performed brilliantly, which resurrects the song from the labouring introduction and gives it an extra edge. Not a bad finish to the first side at all.

Side two kicks off with ‘The Baby Screams’ which just isn’t for me. I’m usually more than welcoming to 80s electronic hand-claps, but not here, I’m afraid. There’s a little too much going on in the outro, and it all fades out quite limply.

No worry, however. It’s the second stunning single, ‘Close To Me’, that comes next. The album version is minus the saxophone solos, but this is of little concern. How anyone can deny the strength of this song is beyond me – from the bassline to the overall structure and infectious vocals, it’s another masterpiece from an era which saw The Cure release unbelievable single after single.

Following track ‘A Night Like This’ is also very sturdy. A very powerful hook with just a touch of distortion offers the motif of the song, and the backing as a whole is extremely satisfying. This, to me, with a tiny bit of gothic configuration, could slot seamlessly in 1989’s classic Disintegration, both in terms of sound and quality – it’s masterful.

‘Screw’ is nothing to shout about again – it’s quite discordant, which appeals to me, though the overall sound doesn’t sound very complete or sure in itself. There’s random additions of either edited vocals or dreamy rattling sounds which further pushes the dysfunction.

And then we come to the closer, ‘Sinking’. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I am a huge, huge fan of a good bassline with a gothic twang. This pretty much epitomises it for me.

Starting with a crash of untuneful piano, we are greeted by this absolutely wonderful, dancing bassline and dragged into a dreamy, dark and delirious Cure world. The discord in this song offers so much more than ‘Screw’ – every part is where it should be and always has something to offer to the ears. The best part for me are the drawn out notes on the keyboard, adding an extra atmospheric edge to the composition.

Smith’s previously romantic vocals become this eerily spoken admission of failure, ‘I am slowing down/As the years go by/I am sinking’, with ‘sinking’ darkly reverberated over and over. It’s a serious stab in the heart for those who’d got use to hopeless romantic Cure; it’s almost a final, deathly goodbye to the traditional goth sound they pioneered.

Suddenly, striking guitar chords fly in, and the song is given an extra hit of anxiety and intensity, Smith briefly moving into falsetto to combat the powerful hits, before all returns to an even more unsettling norm.

It continues on its usual course, with a new chilling and cutting guitar line overseeing the slow demise of the song, before crashing out with a final hit of the keyboard and a brief visit of an unnerving two-note riff.

‘Sinking’ is, with the singles, the realisation of the sound that was trying to be achieved on THOTD, and is simply marvellous. What a closer. 

All in all, it’s a consistently strong album. Where it suffers is in trying to hard to attain a certain sound. With a bit of tinkering and stripping back, ‘Screw’ and ‘Push’ could be greatly improved without compromising the overall sound of the album, and could subsequently improve the overall enjoyment of the record.

Nonetheless, it has many merits. Both sides offer some absolute scorchers, but also a couple of songs which let the respective parts down. I think I’m still being a little pedantic, though. It shows The Cure opening the door to the commercial adoration they rightly deserved with an album of immense quality and offering.

Side One: 3.5/5   Side Two: 4/5   Sleeve: 4/5

 

 

For The Record #4 – Making Plans For Nigel / Jerusalem / Plastic Surgery Disasters LP

Having come home from university over the Christmas period, the number of singles, albums and artists I have at my disposal to write about has practically quadrupled, giving me a bit more to think about before I write.

Unsurprisingly, however, this doesn’t dissuade me from including The Fall. Having neglected them for (I think) five articles, writing about them in my last piece has made me want to write about them some more (who doesn’t love talking about their favourite band?!). Also, like my first FTR article, the writing of this piece has coincided with another purchase of Fall vinyl, which will inevitably feature to some degree.

This article is also the first time I’ve written about an American group. I’ve always had a special appreciation for American hardcore punk, with the likes of Black Flag and, especially, Mission of Burma always taking my fancy. But Dead Kennedys are, in my opinion, the unchallenged kings of 1980s US punk, and a band who I haven’t listened to in any regularity for a long time.

Before we begin, a quick thanks to Shaun from The Mighty Fall group for the new purchases, and also Paul, who I forgot to mention previously, who provided one third of my first FTR article with the Telephone Thing single.

Making Plans For Nigel B/W Bushman President + Pulsing Pulsing – XTC

XTC have always been a mixed bag for me. Their debut album White Music and their third Drums and Wires are post-punk classics, but going into the 1980s I find them a tad cheesy. One track of theirs is one of my most disliked songs ever; I cannot stand ‘Senses Working Overtime’ – it’s an earworm in the worst way possible, I have never ever managed to last the whole song, and I find it so cringey and 80s pop-rock. Frankly, it’s one of the worst songs ever written by anyone, yet XTC have written some of my favourite songs of all time.

I never write negatively about bands, so this is quite liberating in some sense. I’ll save you the hassle and end the rant here.

Anyway! ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ is a joy, one of those where when it comes on in the car there’s a quiet rumble of appreciation from everybody as the drums gently kickstart into life. It’s another song that I first encountered through the Punk Britannia documentaries, where they played (mimed) this on Crackerjack. I was quick to ask my Mum what Crackerjack was, and was slightly confused as to why a post-punk band was on a children’s TV programme. Such was the 1970s, I can only imagine.

Colin Moulding (bassist) takes over from the sometimes beautiful and sometimes demonic vocals of Andy Partridge, offering a softer and more accessible side to XTC. The whole song is a bit more dreamy and slow than the usual XTC offering, but it’s still a stunner. I love the production on it, and the slow development into the final minute or so is brilliant – the repetition of ‘steel’ leading to the final few crashes of the cymbals and slightly sombre touches of keyboard make this song the wonderful serving of mellow-pop that it is.

I’d never listened to the B-sides before, much like some singles in previous FTR articles. ‘Bushman President’ has an early OMD aura to it, but is a bit weird. A kind of ominous eeriness juxtaposed by this deceivingly upbeat keyboard line – it’s discomforting and doesn’t offer much in terms of variation, but I think it achieves it’s aim in unnerving the listener.

‘Pulsing Pulsing’ certainly takes a leaf out of the Talking Heads’ book – Partridge’s vocals are undeniably Byrne-esque, and the descending guitar line is challenging with a very strange backing, not too dissimilar to Magazine’s ‘Twenty Years Ago’, just, unfortunately, not as good. It’s short, but not very sweet.

A timeless, classic A-side that’s not backed up strongly by the supporting acts.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side 1: 2.5/5   B-Side 2: 1.5/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Jerusalem B/W Acid Priest 2088

I Am Kurious Oranj is a standout point in The Fall’s discography. It averted the slow demise in quality of The Fall’s work after 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, completely trouncing the previous album The Frenz Experiment in terms of quality, innovation and musicality.

On the album, ‘Jerusalem’ is kicked off with a poetry reading by Mark E Smith entitled ‘Dog Is Life’, before descending into six minutes of ecstatic power. The single, which I imagine is a demo, meanwhile, is just under four minutes, with calmer and more controlled vocals and a little less instrumental power of the LP version. A safer, more accessible and less ‘Fall’ version designed for the market is probably the best way to put it.

Some of the vocals seem a bit more improvised on the single too – the number of times Smith says ‘government’ becomes a bit too many, and makes the usually illustrious lyricist stumble upon himself a little.

But still, this doesn’t tarnish my love for this song. I have to talk about the preferred LP version, where Hanley’s bass is kicked up a notch, Wolstencroft practically destroys the drumkit and the pace and power of each part is ramped up to unprecedented proportions. At the moment, I listen to it every day, and it still brings out this furious energy out of me when the song kicks back into full speed after the minute-long interlude. I love it.

‘Acid Priest 2088’ – the name is weird, the singing is weird, the music is weird, everything, you guessed it, is weird. I’m sure it was more designed for the theatrical performance that IAKO was accompaniment to, but it doesn’t do much for me. In fairness, I prefer this version to the album version titled ‘C.D. Win Fall 2088 AD’, it’s a bit more listenable and has a bit more bass to it, though this doesn’t mean I’d put it on out of choice.

A strong single when a strong single was desperately needed, especially after relying on ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ and ‘Victoria’ for the previous album to build publicity, and it shows The Fall in a resurrection of their slightly lost invention as the 1990s came ever closer.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side: 3/5   Sleeve: 2/5

Plastic Surgery Disasters – Dead Kennedys

I was given this LP by my Uncle for Christmas in 2016 along with John Cooper Clarke, Gang of Four and Laughing Clowns albums, in a kind of ‘here’s what you’re missing’ gesture. At the time, I was only aware of JCC and Gang of Four, and had no inkling of who Dead Kennedys were, nor what their name meant, though it became disconcertingly clear when I studied American politics at A level.

By the time I finally got around to listening to PSD, I had already listened to Dead Kennedys’ debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, which I utterly adored. One song that sticks out in my mind is ‘Forward To Death’, which, similarly to my first listening of The Cure’s Pornography, was a fitting snapshot of my adolescent moodiness and general overview on sixth-form life. Poor me!

The catalyst for listening to this album, however, was when I heard ‘Moon Over Marin’ on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. The hook was absolutely stunning. The sort of mock-anger of Biafra’s vocals were infectious, and the general disorderliness of the raucous four minutes was utterly captivating. I had it on repeat for a very long time.

The first thing which struck me about the album was the cover. The untidy handwritten ‘Dead Kennedys’ with the picture ‘Hands’ by Michael Wells. I’m sure the typical American consumer was most aghast by the cover indeed!

The album commences with ‘Advice From Christmas Past’, with a sort of static noise and scratches of guitar, before a female voice intrudes, and announces:

Why are such a stupid asshole? Would you really like to know?

Well, pay your fee, remove your clothes and Yvette will show you how. You went to school where you were taught to fear and to obey, be cheerful, fit in, or someone might think you’re weird.

Life can be perfect, people can be trusted. Someday, I will fall in love, a nice quiet home of my very own. Free from all pain, happy and having fun all the time

It never happened, did it?

Obviously, I was totally, totally struck by this. I loved it so much. I can’t really explain it. I had to enter the whole excerpt to show how frank and up front it was to the listener. Superb.

Then in cruises ‘Government Flu’ with this gloriously smug, swaggering chord sequence, before descending into traditional Dead Kens’ craziness and speed, Biafra practically rapping as the song erupts into full velocity. It’s a ridiculously brilliant start to an album, from this disgusting, hard-hitting announcement to a powerfully arrogant and simply brilliant anthem hounding everything they thought wrong with American life.

‘Terminal Preppie’ is a nice take on the absurdity and uniformity of college life and being ‘cool’, while ‘Trust Your Mechanic’ is an acerbic take on the US healthcare system, summed up by the shout ‘And the rich eat you!’. Sorry to any readers who don’t align with the political ideology, but I can’t help but shout along to that scream.

‘Forest Fire’. What a brilliantly satirical, piss-takey song. ‘I eat weird berries in the woods/Now I’m seeing colours/I think I’m getting higher/I think I’ll start a forest fire’. The backing to this is a sort of youthful, sterile surf-rock sound with a beautiful bassline, no matter how hard they tried to be ugly.

The album continues on a fast, destructive course. Admittedly, PSD doesn’t have the charm of Fresh Fruit, but I think that comes more from second-album-syndrome than anything else. The songs on PSD do, however, follow a similar, somewhat formulaic texture and sound, which I think is wonderfully liberated by the track mentioned earlier, and album closer, ‘Moon Over Marin’.

It’s triumphant, a sort of opiate from the whole darkness and pessimism of the preceding tracks that exudes life and vitality. It shows a bit more stylistic freedom; it doesn’t stick to the traditional hardcore protocol and is actually a very listenable song when compared to other tracks on the line up.

It slows and coughs into a gradual stop, before a strong final cry from the guitar. And then our friend from the first track is back!

There, wasn’t that a nice visit?

Don’t forget, a psychiatrist is on duty twenty-four hours a day in the blue room just up from the parking garage. Drink plenty of water when you take these. Now you can relax and return to your job!

How about that for a slap in the face of all routine and custom? Simply wonderful.

As a whole, the album is very strong indeed. You can tap your feet or nod your head to every song, and there’s enough variation and experimentation to keep a fresh twang to each track and the entire record. For a second album, especially in punk, where second albums can find themselves stumbling over the three-minute-thrash routine (see The Damned, for example), it doesn’t get much better than this.

A fantastic album, and one that shows their evolution into a more musically-sound act succeeding their influential EP In God We Trust Inc. and going into their third album Frankenchrist.

Side 1: 4.5/5   Side 2: 4/5   Sleeve: 5/5

 

Next: For The Record #5

Closing Tracks – The Fall

After writing my Opening Tracks piece about The Fall, I’ve decided to write an article about my favourite closing tracks of theirs. My selection of ‘Birmingham School of Business School’ as the best opener caused some controversy on The Mighty Fall Facebook group, which inevitably voted for ‘The Classical’ as their favourite by quite a margin (Birmingham finished joint 6th of 31, if I remember correctly, which in itself was a silver lining for me).

Writing this piece, much like the openers, made me trawl through The Fall discography listening to albums that I’ve given time to only once or twice previously – this list has two tracks from the 21st century, though it nearly had four before I began the sifting process. The openers piece only went so far as 1992. There were many pleasant surprises, and choosing a top five became a more demanding task than choosing my openers.

What made this selection more difficult, however, was the fact I consider none of the five to be perfect – I knew ‘Birmingham’ was my favourite album opener (and Fall track, to be honest) and I had a general idea of what I was going to put into the list – for this article, I had to listen to every closer in full length again, apart from those which I think aren’t up to scratch, such as the Shiftwork ending ‘Sinister Waltz’, a poor finish on an album I frankly adore.

This piece was also partially inspired by The Fall in Fives’ final set of five tracks, where ‘And This Day’ received a 10/10, a song I couldn’t even remember the tune to (if The Fall had such a thing as tunefulness) despite my total admiration of Hex Enduction Hour. Admittedly, it wasn’t my favourite song, a bit too challenging for me, but I can appreciate it enough. However, it helped me realise I could hardly name any closing tracks by The Fall or how they went, even when I knew their name.

So here’s my top five. There are a few songs which are a bit more ‘traditional’ Fall, something that I’ve always felt I’ve underappreciated at times, and there’s one song which took me by total surprise, which comes fifth on the list…

5. Loadstones – Re-Mit, 2013

Post-Your Future Our Clutter, I find The Fall sometimes unlistenable, unfortunately. This may be slightly blasphemous, but Smith’s voice slowly becomes an incorrigible, incomprehensible gargle and cough. Some people love it, but I think it can ruin very listenable musical accompaniments. Maybe I’m being pedantic, but it’s always put me off this era of Fall.

However, while perusing the discography (starting from the most recent albums), I came across ‘Loadstones’ when I was rudely interrupted by a screamed ‘Local! Loadstones!’ by Smith. Very nice. His voice seems a bit stronger than in albums surrounding Re-Mit, and the musical backing is extremely pleasing, a strong, danceable (The Fall? Danceable?Yes!) riff that grows into a keyboard-led cacophony of noise.

There’s a threatening friction in the song which I quite like, too. The two-note hit between ‘local’ and ‘loadstones’ has the instruments just a tad off one another in tunefulness, and, as ever with The Fall’s embrace of a lack of refinement, it’s ever more rewarding.

It’s oddly triumphant and almost anthemic for The Fall, and reminds (as if we needed reminding) that even nearly 40 years down the line, they’re more than capable in the song writing department.

4. Trust In Me – Fall Heads Roll, 2005

I mentioned blasphemy in the ‘Loadstones’, but how about putting a song with no MES at fourth?

This song has an atmosphere not dissimilar to Sonic Youth, which in itself appeals to me hugely. The lyrics are ridiculous – ‘If you need an x-ray/I will come to your house and do it for free’ is a standout line in a song that seems to never explode into any sort of frenzy, but seems erratically on the edge of all-out rage, despite what the hilariously meaningless lyrics may suggest.

The guitars are very chilling, like a backing to some sort of mental breakdown, particularly the high-pitched two-note repetition brilliantly provided by Pritchard, who for me is one of the best Fall guitarists post-Scanlon.

It’s quite difficult to write about, as nothing really changes throughout the three-and-a-half minutes, but this doesn’t mean it’s not a moreish listen. I think MES was right to leave this to the American vocalists (of which there are four, apparently). Their voices seem to rattle with insecurity, sliding into the apocalyptic unrest effortlessly.

Fall Heads Roll is one of my favourite 21st century Fall albums with The Unutterable and The Real New Fall LP. It’s heavy reliance on powerful bass or lead guitar enticed me into its dark universe, and throughout Smith is on stellar form, particularly in ‘Midnight In Aspen’ and, of course, ‘Blindness’.

‘Trust In Me’ is a fantastically unsettling closer that compliments the sound of FHR aptly, while allowing greater versatility of sound with Smith’s very temporary resignation from frontman.

3. The N.W.R.A. – Grotesque, 1980

This is a classic Fall-sounding track. Long, repetitive, lyrically free and utterly compelling. The Fall of the early 80s (much like the 2010s, to be fair) demanded your attention and devotion, but it’s always for your own good.

The descending four-note hook is masterfully maintained and distributed throughout the song, complimented by higher-octave licks, while, as usual, Hanley’s bass bounces around effortlessly in tandem with his brother’s repeated groove, leading the song in it’s nine-minute stint. Again, Hanley offers small doses of variation and flair to keep you interested throughout the development. Smith begins with his ingenious stream-of-consciousness (typical of early Fall) before ascending into anthemic chanting and announcements that the North will indeed rise again. Stunning.

It’s an assured and accomplished composition. You get the sense that Grotesque was the crucial turning point for The Fall. They left the dying punk movement in its wake and began to develop their sound with more care, awareness and longitude. ‘C ’n’ C-S Mithering’ and ‘New Face In Hell’ are the prime examples, along with ‘NWRA’, of a new experimentation with two-chord wonders, extreme prolonging of songs and lyrical liberty, which fully materialised in the following album Hex Enduction Hour.

The last minute or so is, for me, the best bit of the song. Everyone seems to start giving up on timing and delicacy. Hanley begins to start playing notes which are uncomfortably high-pitched and repeated untimely, the drums start to labour slightly, while Scanlon’s guitar gets more and more improvised and scruffy, until the song abruptly ends on a hit of the drums and a strange whistling sound. No other band would end an album so strong on such an odd note apart from The Fall. It’s so good.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Grotesque was the turning point for me as a Fall fan, having been underwhelmed by my first listens of Live at The Witch Trials and Dragnet. Though I found songs like ‘Pay Your Rates’ and ‘Container Drivers’ more powerful and other-worldly (musically speaking), ‘The NWRA’ is an undeniable Fall anthem, typifying their sound in nine-minutes of pure bliss.

2. Disney’s Dream Debased – The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, 1984

I had extreme difficulty ordering the top three, and I think it simply came to which one I listened to the most at the time of writing. I suppose you can consider them equals of sorts – they’re all undeniably brilliant.

‘Disney’ took the second spot. It’s a dreamy, almost gloriously ethereal track, a gift of weird eeriness that hides behind a façade of a strange, demented happiness. It sums up the general atmosphere of the album, a delirious reward for facing up to the harshness of ‘Copped It’, the anger of ‘Lay of The Land’ and the utter oddness of ‘Bug Day’ (not one of The Fall’s strongest moments, admittedly).

It begins with this wobbling high note riff, backed with probably the most ‘together’ the Fall’s sound has ever been. For once, everyone seems to have been told to not do some weird improvisation or discordant note – I’ve nothing against this sort of thing, but it is noticeably delicate for The Fall.

The bassline driving the song is simply divine, and the general order of the song is very pleasant on the ears. There are interludes of ominousness, but they’re swiftly killed off by the return of the wonderous, swaying guitars. Even more notable is the fact that Smith seems to be singing normally! Quite a feat for him. He must’ve known this was too good a song to mess around with.

Brix’s occasional backing vocals are gentle and caring but still sublime, while she’s given free rein to play around within the capacities of the song on the strings as the song progresses. Her influence on altering the band’s output from ten-minute destroyers to shorter, accessible melodic stunners took hold of the sound on this album, which matured into the near-perfect This Nation’s Saving Grace, and continued on relatively good form after 1985.

It’s a fitting ending to the near-apocalyptic vibe of the album, a false sense of relief and freedom from an album that can be so jarring and tough on the ears, yet so satisfying.

1. Hexen Definitive / Strife Knot – Perverted By Language, 1983

Unbelievable song. Utterly brilliant. What fills me with pain is that this was another song which I’d neglected throughout my Fall listening.

It’s a creepy start, guitar-led yet quiet, until the first hammerings of the snare drums. The song flows into life, and we’re introduced to a motif of the song – guitar solos composed completely of scratchings of the strings. It becomes a song that you can nod your head to in full movement, it’s indisputably infectious, and Smith’s vocal drones and drags are the perfect accompaniment to the total darkness.

All becomes quiet, and Hanley takes the lead with an echoey, brooding bassline that is so murky – ‘Strife Knot – Strife Ka-not!’ Smith half-arsedly slurs (I find ‘Ka-not’ absolutely brilliant for some reason) and the song is resurrected back into rhythm, though slightly less punchy and a bit more hazy, an otherworldly elongated musical slur that’s still driven meticulously by the bass of Hanley.

The end comes all too quickly, and is introduced by the oppressively scratchy guitars of the previous minutes. They’re out of time, tune and tenacity but they seem to fit so nicely, somehow. The bass rumbles lethargically a little longer, before ending on what I think is a stunning final note – I’m pretty sure it’s generally untouched throughout the song, and offers a final, precise touch of discordant goodness. Wonderful.

‘Hexen’ is archetypal of the sound I think The Fall tried to (and did) achieve throughout the early 80s. This was just before Brix stamped her mark on the sound, and I feel Perverted By Language was a further step into the abyss of inaccessibility that makes The Fall such a gratifying listen (if you enjoy this kind of stuff, obviously). I’ve always liked the name Perverted By Language too, it’s extremely sinister, as if listening to Smith’s obscure and gloomy murmurs are going to corrupt you in some way – some listens of The Fall can put this gloomy view on the world in full vibrancy and life, no matter how deathly it may be.

And as I sit in my university library preparing to publish this piece, I’m listening to PBL in full for the first time in a very long time. What a treat it is. I’ve finally discovered a newfound appreciation for ‘Eat Y’self Fitter’, while hearing ‘I Feel Voxish’ has made me feel this sense of injustice for my neglect of this album for so long.

The eight-track journey has this dark, repressive atmosphere which is simply stunning, particularly ‘Neighbourhood of Infinity’ or the absolute belter that is ‘Smile’. Hexen seems, to me, to be the final goodbye to the long, droning and tough Fall era of songs that Brix’s arrival saw the departure of.

What I was only made aware of on Twitter was that a couple of days before publishing this piece was PBL’s 35th birthday. What’s even more coincidental (yet largely unimportant for anyone with a life) is that PBL was Christmas number one on the Indie Album Chart back in 1983. And here I am, writing just 11 days (yes, you read right) before Christmas, giving PBL another list to sit atop for the winter period. A nice antithesis of anti-happy menace and doom to combat all this awful Christmas cheer, I feel.

‘Hexen’ takes the top spot in a list that I’m sure will stimulate a lot of debate. But for now, let’s appreciate its seven-minute offering of pure Fall genius.

Pete Shelley Obituary / For The Record #3 – Buzzcocks Edition

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left totally taken by the sudden news of Pete Shelley’s passing. After my first FTR article I was back listening to Buzzcocks on a regular occurrence, returning me to a time when I was around 13 years old, where all of Shelley’s lyrics seemed to describe every emotion of adolescence and teenage innocence so succinctly, humorously and, at times, in such brutal honesty.

I saw Buzzcocks in London during 2017 and they were on tremendous form. All the vitality and energy of the nearly forty-year-old songs was effortlessly maintained – Diggle interacted with the adoring audience for the entire show and Shelley sounded as if it were still 1978. I feel lucky to be able to say I have seen the Buzzcocks live, and lucky that I was able to indulge myself in classic after classic. It was a superb evening.

Any punk documentary, book or podcast will always mention the now legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, where The Sex Pistols stamped their authority onto the punk arena and punk was finally given an audience, no matter what size. What is often overlooked, however, is the role played by The Buzzcocks’ then frontman Howard Devoto and lead guitarist Pete Shelley’s role in organising the gig (amongst many others in Manchester) while the Buzzcocks were still a young, fledgling act, fighting their way into the Manchester scene and beyond.

Without that gig, that mythical array of musical power and fight, who knows whether punk would have ever gained the notoriety and standing it achieved. As many will be aware, members of the then unformed bands The Fall, Joy Division and The Smiths were present that night. Deprived of visionaries and believers such as Shelley, the musical world may not have been so joyous, raucous and utterly compelling for those looking for a voice to speak to them.

Shelley and co. were also archetypal of the new DIY protocol that punk was soon to follow after them, forming the New Hormones label in 1977 and releasing the seminal Spiral Scratch EP, which led a young Morrissey to declare them ‘only the best kick ass rock band in the country’ to NME in 1977.

What’s more, where would pop, and all its various avenues in rock, be without the craft and ingenuity of Buzzcocks? Every single, album track, A-side, B-side, bonus track, everything they did had such edge; every lyric sang, shouted or screamed reminisced with those playing with the strings of lust, youth or immaturity in ways that not many other bands could dream of. Even Devoto’s following band Magazine borrowed a Shelley riff (used in the single ‘Lipstick’) for their debut single ‘Shot By Both Sides’, which saw them sit at #41 on the charts and appear on Top of The Pops.

So, here’s to Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks for making the best pop songs ever, for making every insecure teenager’s coping with life’s little problems more bearable, and for helping a generation of musicians set the country, and the world, to Manchester’s groove.

Due to the monumental loss, I’ll be writing about all my Buzzcocks vinyl that hasn’t been reviewed. Overall, I am left with an extra single to the usual serving. I’ll start with the Spiral Scratch EP, onto ‘Ever Fallen In Love’, ‘Harmony In My Head’ and conclude with their debut LP Another Music in a Different Kitchen.

Spiral Scratch EP

I came into awareness of this EP after discovering Magazine and watching a So It Goes Devoto and Shelley documentary from 1978, where the theme tune was track three ‘Boredom’, the ad-break commencing on Devoto’s “B’dum b’dum”. I had listened to Buzzcocks’ debut album and Magazine’s first three, so this was a new avenue to explore – proper independent punk at its most raw and true.

For me, the EP opener ‘Breakdown’ is a rank above the rest of the tracks. Devoto’s near-rantings come out in high-pitched jaunty half-words, backed by a ridiculously powerful Shelley guitar and the signature fast-paced power drumming of John Maher. It’s punk. The rough recording, the audible mini-mishaps and Devoto’s strained, aggressive vocals. It’s infectious. Completely.

The descending and ascending chords of ‘Time’s Up’ come in instantly – there’s no rest on these grooves, so sit, listen, and shut up. Lyrically superb, ‘Time’s Up’ is a tiny bit instrumentally more refined than its predecessor and follows the same boisterous programme. What’s brilliant is the awful backing vocals on the ‘Time’s up/Me too’ choruses; Devoto and Shelley seem to fight over who can be the least tuneful and the most painful for the ears – simply stupid and simply stunning.

Here’s your ten second break – flip over to side two and sit back down. In flies ‘Boredom’, one of the most highly-held punk riffs and choruses, supported by lyrics such as ‘every ring-a-ring-a-ring-a fucking thing’. Oh so good. The further we go, the angrier Devoto gets – ‘GET YOUR HANDS OUT MY TROUSERS’ is violently thrown up as it explodes out, it’s just crazy. ‘Ah!’ he concludes. You can’t ask for much better.

Or can you? ‘Friends of Mine’ begins with a grinding single chord introduction, followed by Devoto nearly rapping to the cacophony behind him. The guitar solo rings of Fall level neglect for musical delicacy and aural-ease, as does the whole EP to be fair, but it seems to be ramped up for a disturbing final goodbye from the new kids on the ugly, distorted block.

This was their meticulous mark on the world, and it was perfect.

Side One: 5/5   Side Two: 5/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve) B/W Just Lust

The signature Buzzcocks ballad of decaying love and a dying relationship. Produced to create the perfect emotional backdrop to Shelley’s longing lyrics, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ is, and always will be, frankly the perfect pop song. This will probably be one of the shortest reviews I’ll ever write, as I feel no one needs me to tell them how ingenious and powerful this song is.

The words are decorated with despair and grief, while the guitars remain loaded with guts and power yet orchestrate the collapse of this entanglement so fittingly. I’m sure that everyone has felt exactly the way the words describe the feelings experienced, which is probably why this song remains so adored. It speaks to all it touches on some level, whether spiritual or emotional. A masterpiece. Plain and simple.

‘Just Lust’ is arguably even more sombre. Shelley sort of mumbles each word like a man who has given up on hope of attachment to anyone or anything. I remember first hearing this after I bought the single at a record fair, and I was instantly hooked on its sharp jab of sorrow and the descending riffs in the verse. It’s a wonderful B-side that compliments the headline act aptly.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side: 4/5   Sleeve: 5/5

Harmony In My Head B/W Something’s Gone Wrong Again

The same Buzzcocks protocol – a masterful pop riff, strong drumming and a punchy bassline. But no Shelley this time. Instead we’re welcomed by the rough and gristly barks of lead guitarist Steve Diggle. They really are quite cutting – he claims to have smoked twenty cigarettes before recording to attain the harsh sound, and I think it’s safe to say it paid off.

Even Diggle seems to hold his own emotional twang to his singing despite the gruff sound of his voice, and they’re brilliantly contrasted by the more controlled and soothing vocals sang by Shelley in the slightly more dreamy, less intense chorus. It’s an excellent tune, my Dad’s favourite Buzzcocks song, and a reminder that it wasn’t always a one man show in the song writing department.

The B-side makes me think that Diggle’s tobacco-induced yelps were perhaps more fitting for both songs. Instead, Shelley returns to business as usual. It’s a good song musically, but perhaps Diggle was more suitable for this tune. Still strong, however.

A-Side: 5/5   B-Side: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Another Music In A Different Kitchen LP

A spectacular album, and one of the first albums I bought on vinyl. It catches The Buzzcocks on the cusp of commercial and critical adoration, a sign of things to come with the singles and albums that took the baton afterwards.

Kicking off with a nice excerpt of ‘Boredom’, ‘Fast Cars’ gradually grows and crashes into life so grabbingly. It’s such a raucous opener, a hit in the face of musical apathy and dreariness. It’s as lively an opener can get.

This theme is inevitably continued throughout the album. Though lacking the extra emotional edge of successor Love Bites, AMIADK is still a fantastically explosive journey on a band that appears to be, more than anything, having fun in their minimalist freedom, every strum of the guitar or hit of the drum a slamming reaffirmation of their status in the punk arena, epitomised by the fantastic ‘You Tear Me Up’, a step up in anger and toughness to the opening two tracks.

‘Get On Your Own’ has this brilliantly pitched line by Shelley that kicks off each verse, and is probably one of the main competitors for the best track of side one with ‘Sixteen’. ‘Get On Your Own’ is also probably the most pop of the first side too, but it certainly holds more than enough punk punch to keep the energy levels at their usual high.

Side two is an absolute treat. It opens with lead single ‘I Don’t Mind’, which is indisputably superb and beautifully crafted, re-affirming the energy of side one while also upping the romantic theme of the Buzzcocks sound. Two tracks later we’re met by, for me, the best song on the album. Though the B-side to ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Autonomy’ has this brash uncaring guitar line, extremely rough but a class above the simplistic three chord thrash of their youthful punk contemporaries.

What’s excels the song further is Shelley. Though usually the hopeful romantic, the shaman or sham, is now angry, accessing Devoto levels of strength and audacity. I’m not entirely sure what he lyrics are about or what Shelley was so angry at, but I’m not complaining. I remember first hearing this, the exuberance and enthusiasm of the song struck me. They drag out the guitar line at the end for as long as possible. It’s a killer riff, produced perfectly. Stunning.

The album closes with the seven-minute thriller ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’. When I saw them live, they fittingly closed with this too. I’d never been much of a fan of this song, but that night changed everything. Shelley is even angrier. All his vocals seem to be a bit off-pitch because of the emotional strain, but it works fantastically. The Diggle solos are high-pitched, jarring, but ultimately so rewarding. The backing of the low-hits of Shelley’s guitar overlook this piece authoritatively, while Maher’s drums are of course the star of the show.

A stunning way to depart from your first full-length LP. Brave, frantic, and undeniably magnificent.

What an album.

Side One: 4/5   Side Two: 5/5   Sleeve: 4/5

And there we have it. Shelley’s death will probably bring about the conclusion of Buzzcocks, unless Devoto would be willing to step in (unlikely, however). What we are left with is one of the most influential collections of artistry ever achieved within the punk movement, and we owe it all to a man with such insight, grace and class. Cheers, Pete.

 

Next: For The Record #4

Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

Throughout my discoveries of punk, I found myself becoming more and more welcoming to atmospheric and ethereal plays on the traditionally abrasive aesthetic. Inevitably, I think this starts for everyone at Joy Division’s now infamously commercialised, though indisputably brilliant, Unknown Pleasures and its utterly soul-destroying successor Closer, which is probably even darker and arguably even better than Unknown Pleasures.

This is not to say they are particularly easy listens – I think Joy Division are a worryingly fitting soundtrack to general adolescent indifference and unjustified hormonal angst, but when I listen now it can sometimes be just too much to handle.

The same can be said for The Cure’s Pornography, which 16-year-old me automatically plunged into after learning the first line of the album was ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die’. This is symbolic of a sensationally disturbing and admittedly pathetic insight into my outlook on impending GCSE exams and unwarranted frustration at the world from which I had been served a grand total of zero injustices. Certainly, Pornography is a thumping serving of majestic misery, but still proves a growingly challenging listen as time goes by.

However, gothic rock has still always held an appeal to me, and two albums stick out in my mind as the most accomplished albums of the sort. Firstly, Faith by The Cure, which is so gloriously depressing and funereal, and then, the subject of the article, Juju by Siouxsie and The Banshees (hereby referred to as Siouxsie).

I was made conscious of Siouxsie’s presence from my parents, who believe they were at the same gig in Hammersmith sometime around 1980 before meeting each other formally in the 1990s. And they say romance is dead!

It’s clear Siouxsie weren’t of the traditional punk ilk. Even from their debut The Scream, much of what we consider goth had been seamlessly incorporated into a more intricate take on punk’s less sophisticated form.

Kaleidoscope was the turning point for me, from awareness to adoration. The song ‘Red Light’ was the oppressive hit of darkness that allowed me to fully enter the gloomy Siouxsie universe, while ‘Skin’ is just a barrage of pure unapologetic gore – wonderfully murderous.

My first encounter with Juju couldn’t have come at a better time, a time when I was embracing goth and all its offerings longingly. What was also more exciting for me was John McGeoch’s starring role as lead guitarist, his first full contribution to a Siouxsie album after minor credits on Kaleidoscope. Being a huge fan of Magazine, McGeoch’s previous group, this was music to my ears (quite literally).

The singles preceding the album were exceptional. Though not on the album, but mentioned simply for its brilliance, ‘Israel’ is a soft-goth anthem which is probably my favourite Siouxsie tune of all. Followed by the powerful ‘Spellbound’ and then the wonderous darkness that is ‘Arabian Knights’, it was clear that even before the album, Siouxsie were on the top of their game.

The latter singles mentioned make up two of the three opening tracks, fabulously interrupted by the expertly crafted ‘Into The Light’, which seems a bit more sombre than the other tracks on the album. The level of musicality is unparalleled for the rest of the tracks, however this is more due to the fact it becomes a punkier album when explored further.

And this is epitomised by the following songs ‘Halloween’ and its successor, the unbelievable ‘Monitor’, which is five minutes of rampant McGeoch-driven chaos. When Juju first came out, My Mum said she used to annoy my Grandad by playing ‘Monitor’ at full blast in her room, which I’ve been guilty of doing myself many times to her. It starts off relatively tame, if you can describe Siouxsie in such words. However, by the two-and-a-half-minute mark everything is ramped up a level, the guitar gets higher, the singing turns to and organised array of shouts, and the hits on the drums become a relentless onslaught on the ears. Sublime.

And what about ‘Night Shift’! I’d say this is the most gothic song on the track, taking a lesson from The Cure on low, droning guitars backed by frail, chilling vocals – very Faith-esque. The moment of silence between the verse and chorus is just utterly, utterly brilliant. Even ‘Sin in My Heart’, yet a simpler song, is equally as punchy, but with a tad more pace and zing.

The album closer, ‘Voodoo Dolly’ is as crazy goth as it can get. It’s a similar vibe to The Cure’s seminal Disintegration, but holds a higher degree of gloominess and a lesser degree of loveliness. It grows into a cacophonous frenzy, reeking with raucousness. A fitting ending track indeed.

Unsurprisingly, Juju is one of the most acclaimed albums both of the time and in the goth arena. I think the adjective ‘timeless’ is thrown around too much and sensationalises many an undeserving album. However, I think Juju, and most of the Siouxsie discography as a whole (apart from their quintessentially 80s cover of ‘The Passenger’), is timeless. There’s something strangely accessible about Juju, yet something still very idiosyncratic and independent from other records.

For me, it’s the perfect blend of post-punk and goth, and epitomises a band at their most artistically confident and powerful. McGeoch is vital to the skilful craft and creation of the album, while Severin’s bass is, as ever, a wonderfully subtle but essential support act. All in all, an album that must be listened to again and again – it is simply brilliant, and was another eye-opening discovery for me.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #5 – Public Image Ltd

For The Record #2 – It’s Obvious / Love Like Blood / The Flowers of Romance LP

As I look into my records that I’ve brought to university, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that after the next couple of articles I will be forced to detach myself from writing about punk and post-punk era releases, especially when writing about albums.

Admittedly, this is in a way somewhat liberating – I love punk, and always will, but I feel there’s so much more to explore, and I do find myself describing punk songs in a similar way repeatedly because of the songs’ similarity to one another.

I’ve got a couple of rap albums, a few American grunge albums and even Stone Roses’ debut album to contend with. There’s a more diverse mix still sitting at home, from Billy Bragg to The Orb, strangely enough, which I look forward to writing about at some point.

Anyway, I’m babbling. I went for three releases that offer something a bit different but still very much remain in the punk sphere. Quite independent in the sense that I could only name a couple of artists who parallel their sound, but records that I hold closely and still listen to today.

It’s Obvious B/W Diet – Au Pairs

I’ve always preferred female singing voices to male singing voices, my favourite voice of all-time being Cat Power’s, who I strongly recommend to anyone reading. In the punk-sphere, I first listened to and adored The Slits, and I later stumbled across Au Pairs on the Punk Britannia documentaries I’ve mentioned in previous articles – they played Set-Up, a wonderfully danceable tune fronted with beautifully calm vocals and a scintillating bassline.

For me, It’s Obvious, though a good song, isn’t on par with most of their debut album Playing With A Different Sex. It’s a decent single, good for the consumer, but it’s nothing special, in my opinion anyway. The bassline is still stunning, a classic for the era, while the development of the song into a guitar-driven whirring frenzy is strong, but it’s still not as good as it could be.

The B-side Diet is a different story. It seems to have an extra edge, a greater serving of angst, an additional anger. The post-verse chord sequence seems to grow more and more powerful as the song progresses, and the harsh cuts of the strings into the second half of the song are so tough but so gratifying. As ever with Au Pairs, this is all caringly looked after by an equally forceful and funky bassline.

I revisit Diet every now and then and give it a run out on my Spotify playlists, it’s one of those songs that I can’t ever forget – the first time I listened to it was actually on the 7” single I bought (I believe at Spitalfields Market in 2017) and it always remained a favourite – I think it’s the general Au Pairs sound that appeals to me.

A flaw I’ve only just encountered of this series of articles is that for some singles I don’t actually have the original sleeve, rather a paper substitute. So, I won’t be commenting on the sleeve!

A strong single for the sake of being a single, but there’s much more on offer outside of the headline act, I feel.

A-Side: 3/5   B-Side: 4/5

Love Like Blood B/W Blue Feather – Killing Joke

This is an interesting one for me. When I was 16 I think I easily spent about 6 months with Killing Joke’s album Night Time on repeat. I’m an absolute sucker for bass-driven post punk, and they ticked all the boxes for me, plus their gothic edge has always kept me listening.

However, there were two Killing Joke songs that I played the hell out of – Turn To Red, from their debut EP, and then, inevitably, their biggest hit Love Like Blood.

For what it is, I think Love Like Blood is a perfect blend of punk, goth and pop. I don’t think Coleman’s vocal tone can ever be considered ‘pop’ in any way, but the music that accommodates it certainly has a commercial twang to it. I used to play this song every single day, every walk to school, every walk home from school, every time I arrived home from school – you get the gist.

Though, I listen now and there’s always something that just isn’t quite there for me. It’s a severe case of overplaying a song and having it lose any meaningful effect on you. I can’t ever listen to it in full anymore. I can’t really explain it. I also would’ve easily named KJ in my top five favourite artists at the time, but now I can’t ever seem to be able to revisit them at all at the moment.

Contrarily, writing this article was actually the first time I’d listened to the B-side Blue Feather, and thankfully it’s a really nice song. It follows the usual KJ protocol, but is still a very pleasant listen. There’s a certain melancholy to it that compliments the sound of Love Like Blood fittingly, and the guitar line during the verse is also noteworthy. A suitable and effective B-side.

I find the sleeve quite throwaway. I don’t really have anything to say about it, to be honest. It’s just a necessity more than anything.

A single that I can fully appreciate, but can never listen to in the same way that I have in the past, though the B-side perhaps offers a new gateway to get back into KJ at last.

A-Side: 4/5   B-Side: 4/5   Sleeve: 2/5

The Flowers of Romance – Public Image Ltd

PiL will always be a favourite band of mine. Sex Pistols have never grabbed me in the way they should have – they have some brilliant songs, but I wouldn’t choose to listen to them. PiL, meanwhile, have always offered something a bit different, a bit more edgy and artistic.

The Flowers of Romance (TFOR) is no different. It came after the wonderous Metal Box/Second Edition LP, which for me holds PiL’s best three songs – Memories, Death Disco (aka Swan Lake) and the superbly ethereal Poptones. It was a radical departure from their debut LP, and Flowers of Romance is a further departure from their original sound.

It’s apparent the idea of melodic pleasure was a disgusting vision for Lydon at this stage. Any sort of catchy song was to be frowned upon and thrown away. TFOR came in a musical environment of growing industrial rock, a jarring and sometimes difficult listen that really does demand a lot from the listener.

And what better way to sum up this atmosphere by kicking off the album with a solitary drum line, occasionally backed by this crazed, psychopathic cry from Lydon? There’s nothing at all you can nod your head to. You have to sit and listen. There’s not really any other option, unless you’re able to time some sort of disturbingly jaunty dance to it, which in itself is not a particularly desirable image.

Track 8 (ironically placed as the second track, har-har) in itself is actually out of time. It’s a more layered than its predecessor but if you try to tap your foot to it you’ll end up losing your place. Now, I love this song. Completely. It’s so different to anything else I’ll ever hear. Lydon languishes with sneering vocals, ending with the line ‘right, I’m finished’ – I don’t think there’s a more shamelessly pessimistic way to end your contribution to a song.

Phenagen is another joy that follows. It’s so gloomy, so miserable. The transitions between parts are somewhat awkward and seem a bit improvised sometimes, but it’s still brilliant in its growth as it progresses.

I’ll say now that side one is much better and lot more memorable than side two. Banging The Door is by far the best track on the second side and probably the only real standout track.

As a whole though, it’s an engrossing listen – uncompromising but extremely rewarding once conquered. I can’t really think of anything quite like it, it’s an assembly of ominous anger that never quite erupts into a meaningful fury, but still reeks of incandescent rage that’s reluctantly restrained throughout. The sleeve is one of my favourites of all time. I believe the it’s a picture of the band’s photographer, and it looks like total gothic mayhem.

It’s an accomplished album with Lydon at his volatile best, while its minimalism and artistry is virtually incomparable.

Side One: 4.5/5   Side Two: 3/5   Sleeve: 5/5

 

Next: For The Record #3 – Buzzcocks Edition

Musical Epiphanies #3 – Wire – Pink Flag

My Dad has been complaining about the fact that rather than mentioning the influence he’s had on my musical taste in these articles, I talk about his automatic resignation from Strummer-induced mosh pits or how I annoy him by playing and talking about The Fall endlessly. Whatever the case may be, The Fall are the greatest band to ever bless the world with their sound and all should be in worship of them and all they’ve given us.

Anyway, it was 2014, and a month after discovering and exhausting Magazine’s first three albums I was running thin on new music, and having only dipped my toe in the ocean of punk I was eager for more. I headed downstairs to Dad, who was sitting at his work desk looking mildly bored and in need of a distraction; who else was better equipped to provide it than me?

I asked him to give me a new punk band to listen to, and after some brief deliberation with himself, he told me to listen to Pink Flag by a band called Wire. I thanked him for his never-sought-for wisdom and returned to my room intrigued as to what lay ahead. The name ‘Wire’ struck me as quite edgy, quite rough – I wanted to hear what they had to offer.

On came album-opener Reuters, slowly growing with powerful hits of strings before the ugly, frankly disgusting chords piledrive in. I liked it. Really liked it. It’s a slap in the face of all things sterile and serene, invading the room with the foulest spits and coughs through the speakers. Gloriously grim. Deliciously dark.

What would follow? What could top it? Field Day For The Sundays! It’s fast, it’s tough, it’s stop-start mayhem!

It’s over within twenty-eight seconds.

Okay, fair enough, I thought to myself. So much for prolonged enjoyment, eh? Three Girl Rhumba follows and it’s oh-so good, a very simply but very effectively layered tune with an infectious bassline. Easy.

Now, I would go on about every song individually – they all have infinite merits – however I risk the possibility of the article becoming an essay. There are twenty-one songs in thirty-five minutes. So, considering only three tracks are over three minutes long, the album is a punk lesson in making the most of practically nothing.

For me, the jewel in the crown finds itself in the middle of one-minute-wonders. The drums rumble intensely, and are met with firm hit of the strings. Another stirring of percussion follows, and in comes the eruption of a rough rolling E chord, each strum as sinister as the next. It’s the title song, Pink Flag, and it wants you to remember it. I remember first hearing this and thinking ‘What the hell is going on?’ – the chorus consisted of a two-second rise into a C chord, and predictably back down again to E. The structure was so alien. What happened to four chord verse-chorus-verse-chorus?

‘How many?’ asks vocalist Newman. And again. And again. Something’s growing, everything’s becoming red-hot, angry, aggressive. The drum rolls in and the growth continues still, the singing has become shouting in its most raucous form, every member joining in, every guitar getting more and more powerful. It’s frightening, it’s so unnerving. You can’t take yourself away.

Chaos hits. Absolute uncontrollable, unfathomable destruction. ‘I’m alive!’ screams Newman repeatedly, the guitars now a juggernaut of rampage and the drums sounding as if a sledgehammer has been taken to them. Newman lets out a prolonged cry one more time, before all seems to calm. But the storm is yet to pass. Drums clinically rumble into life again, sinisterly brooding. ‘Yeah!’ screams Newman. One more roll – ‘YEEEEAAHHH!’.

Honestly, I’d never been so fucked up by a song. It’s the only way I can describe the experience of listening to Pink Flag for the first time after nine songs that certainly aren’t too forceful, bar the opener. It’s the second longest song of the album at three minutes forty-five seconds, though it sits seemingly innocently within six songs all under eighty seconds long. Never had I been so lost for words or thought after a song.

Mannequin is a stunningly surreal and anthemic punk staple, an emphatic shot of joyous carelessness which sums up the general motif of the record – an uncaring, minimalist creation that challenges your ears at every turn yet maintains a rarely attained level of musicianship and skill which still remains unchallenged, even today.

I think it’s fair to say that Wire’s first three albums gained a level of critical appreciation that was unparalleled in the punk world – their second album, Chairs Missing, is probably my favourite of the three – it’s such a brave departure from the much-loved and fashionable punk sound, but followed in the footsteps of Magazine and Public Image Ltd in old punk figureheads (namely Devoto and Lydon) forming a new sound and freshness to a dying movement.

Pink Flag, however, is underappreciated and essential listening for all who want to ‘get’ what punk was truly about; musical freedom made with a sort of refined amateurism, accompanied by a blissful disregard of musical structure, form and snobbery.

With the short length of the songs Pink Flag does seem to fly by when listened to in full, but it’s hard to forget, especially with the aural ransacking that the title track so graciously provides. I remember instantly buying it on CD after listening, and quickly delving into Chairs Missing and its successor 154.

It was a fascinating musical discovery, and Wire remain one of my favourite bands of all time. Their sound is a well-blended mix of artfulness and punk that provides an autonomous and independent sounds in a time of growing sameness and repetition. Simply divine.

I suppose there are only two more words for me to say:
Cheers, Dad.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

For The Record #1 – Telephone Thing / What Do I Get? / Dazzle Ships LP

On a visit home from university last weekend, I came to find a turntable atop an old stacked stereo that my Dad had bought on eBay. I also came to discover my order of three Fall records (I Am Kurious Oranj, Couldn’t Get Ahead and Telephone Thing) waiting for me on the kitchen table, only my second acquisition of any Fall vinyl.

So, what else was I meant to do other than invade and occupy my living room for the next hour playing my records whilst annoying my Dad for not letting him watch TV in peace? He doesn’t even like The Fall that much, which gave me extra incentive to fully disrupt the harmony that he became so accustomed to in my absence.

Over the weekend I brought my vinyl down from my room to the living room to sit and listen, from Roxy Music to Harry J. All Stars to Au Pairs, to the extent that Dad offered me the turntable to take back to university – how could I refuse?

From there, a new series of prospective articles was formed – me going on about a couple of records an article, reviewing and rating them, and blabbering on about how authentic it is to put the needle on the groove, because no one has ever written about that. Very original from me indeed!

I’ll start with two singles and one album – The Fall’s (obviously) ‘Telephone Thing’, Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get?’, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark’s brilliant ‘Dazzle Ships’.

Telephone Thing B/W British People In Hot Weather

My first hearing of Telephone Thing was a four or five second interlude in an interview with Mark E. Smith, with Smith walking around in the video looking so bored with everything, as usual. Something about the song seemed very peculiar, quite a funky beat (originally written by electronic duo Coldcut) mixed with a discordant bassline that was surprisingly quite satisfying, as if any flirtation with commercial success must come with the price of barely tuned inaccessibility and a complete departure from the ‘sound’ of The Fall.

I listened in full quite a while later – I was heavily dedicated to listening to 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace before going further into the late 80s and early 90s in The Fall’s discography. I finally listened in full and was automatically in love with it. I loved the minimalism of it, there’s no real chorus, there’s no real verse, there’s no real anything structurally speaking – it’s so odd.

What’s even more odd, yet even more brilliant, is their performance on The Late Show in 1990. I always thought its as if the rhythm section has been told to simply do their usual thing, while Coldcut and Smith just improvise with whatever sounds they can make. Smith seems to laugh throughout the whole performance, and I’m one hundred percent sure he loses track of where he is in the song – about five seconds after every instrument has stopped, he loudly slurs one more “I’m tapped-ah!” – it’s all a bit ridiculous, but makes for essential viewing simply for its absurdity.

The B-side British People is okay – I find the synths very outdated, a bit cheesy to be frank, but it’s a satisfying enough song to listen to. Still, a bit forgettable compared to other Fall material of the time. But the headline act makes for essential Fall listening; definitely an accessible yet quintessential starting point for any first-time listener of The Fall.

The sleeve is beautiful – I love the Extricate period artwork, it’s quite abstract yet still minimalist, a perfect epitome of The Fall sound in vision.

A-Side: 4/5  –  B-Side: 2/5  –  Sleeve: 5/5

 

What Do I Get? B/W Oh Shit

I’ve always had a soft spot for Buzzcocks, both with and without Howard Devoto. I think everyone has heard ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ at some point, whether it’s the original recording or some horrible American teen film cover that loots every bit of punk sentimentality out of it. However, it’s comforting to know that they will definitely live on through the ages.

What Do I Get? is a real piece of pure joy. I bought the 7” single on my first ever trip to a record fair in 2014, and it hasn’t lost any of its rawness. The gentle fade into the explosion of the first chord is absolutely sublime – you can’t complain. It’s energy, much like many of Buzzcocks’ other singles, is totally incomparable. It’s prime punk.

It is a shame, however, that this classic was used in a McDonald’s advert advertising chicken wraps. Admittedly, however, I can’t deny the real sense of punk rock and coolness in the assemblage of mid-market ingredients within a tortilla by a stereotypical goth girl who flirts with male customers while squeezing barbeque sauce onto a piece of round bread. It’s what Iggy would’ve wanted.

The B-side is total carnage, a bit childish, but still indispensable Buzzcocks. I love the ending, the repeated shouting of ‘Admit! Admit! You’re shit! You’re shit! You’re shit!’ and so on. Very angsty, very listenable. The sleeve is minimal, it doesn’t really evoke anything emotionally. Nice enough, though.

A great single that has perhaps lost its way given its current re-emergence, but still a scintillating listen.

A-Side: 5/5  –  B-Side 3/5  –  Sleeve: 2/5

Dazzle Ships

Now then. I can categorically say that this album changed my outlook on music. Easily in my top five albums of all time. It’s truly astounding artistry.

What’s even better is that I bought this album in a record shop simply because of the sleeve – I knew Enola Gay by OMD, but that was about it. In fact, I’d never even listened to any 1980s synth outside of Enola Gay at all – I was totally unknowing of what the grooves would hold. But everything about the Peter Saville sleeve and the gatefold opening totally took me. I had to have it.

However, my first listen was one of bemusement to say the least. I was only 16 and had never really been exposed to music that wasn’t of a traditional verse-chorus structure. I didn’t understand the weird naval sounds, the slowness of it, its atmosphere was just too unsettling for me.

I shelved it for a year or so. It didn’t really cross my mind for a while until I started to listen to OMD’s earlier albums – I loved tracks such as ‘Messages’, ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Sealand’, the latter being the most similar in style to the songs of Dazzle Ships. Naturally, I returned to Dazzle Ships, this time with a more open mind, a greater eagerness to listen, even. And then it hit me.

It had this total other-worldliness which transported me to a realm of global tension and nuclear fear. It was still as unnerving and unsettling as the first listen, but one that challenges you, invites you to immerse yourself in this dark fantastical world.

Radio Prague kicks off the album, a cheery radio theme tune with eerie interludes of silence – it’s so chilling, so tense, an impending sense of something unsettlingly indescribable seems to wait around the corner. What follows is pure triumph – lead single Genetic Engineering comes in with solitary hi-hats, the tension of its predecessor still lurking in the surrounding silence. It crashes into euphoric life, McCluskey’s vocal rise and fall with electric elegance, a tribal roar leading a synth-induced fever of power.

There are weird moments, of course – ABC Auto-Industry is strange, ethereal yet also oddly innocent, while Dazzle Ships (II, III and VII) is so dark, the most chilling track of the album yet still as relevant and important as any other on the album. But the album closes with the beautiful, sorrowful Of All The Things We’ve Made – it’s Cure-esque in its mourning, yet maintains the synth influence of OMD brilliantly; a truly understated classic.

I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that the album was panned on first release in 1983 – it’s a total departure from the commercial melody-based OMD of its predecessors, but as time has passed it’s become a cult classic, a historical piece illustrating the anxiety of a nation in deep political turmoil.

All in all, a masterpiece. I don’t usually buy records simply for the sleeve, but I imagine my musical world wouldn’t have been as mythical without it.

Side One: 5/5  –  Side Two: 4/5  –  Sleeve: 5/5

 

Next: For The Record #2

Musical Epiphanies #2 – Real Life – Magazine

My real gateway into punk was a set of BBC documentaries aired in 2013 (I think) called Punk Britannia, with a compilation of old television performances called Punk Britannia at the BBC. This was how I discovered Gang of Four’s ‘To Hell With Poverty’ performance, my first musical epiphany article.

There are still many moments of this compilation which I hold closely. PiL playing ‘Death Disco’ on Top of the Pops, The Clash on Something Else and Dr Feelgood on OGWT were highlights of a stellar array of artistry.

However, I was strangely intrigued by a performance of ‘Shot By Both Sides’ by a band called Magazine on Top of the Pops. It was something I couldn’t really explain – I didn’t particularly love the song (and still don’t) though something about the singer’s aura, his manner (even his hairline) absolutely fascinated me. He looked so bored, so lethargic, as if this performance on national television was a habitual chore. Each vocal was delivered with this kind of dragging, a laboured mumble that for some reason utterly captivated me. He stood still for nearly all the performance, his eyes staring through the screen. I was totally perplexed.

I had to listen to more. I raced to Spotify and went straight to Real Life, their debut album from 1978. Even the album artwork was so fantastically odd, what would the music be like?

I’d heard punk throughout my childhood, Mum and Dad’s music in the back of the car kind of thing, and I had a fairly eclectic taste for a fourteen-year old, but this was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

I was taken into a mythical realm of fascinating punk experimentation; from the very first second of ‘Definitive Gaze’ I knew I’d discovered something totally out of this world, the whirring synth of Dave Formula in beautiful combat with the soaring guitar of John McGeoch, with Barry Adamson’s bass orchestrating the unfolding of what was, and will remain to be, one of my favourite songs of all time. I loved the instrumental moments, the flourishing of the guitar after the keyboard interlude is simply divine, a beautiful burst of life and vitality. It’s a truly excellent theme tune for an album that reeks with sinister creepiness but lavishes with artistic richness – simply stunning.

What I felt was also brilliant about this album was its total rejection of the original punk aesthetic in a time when punk was still only just holding its own in the musical arena. It offered a retreat from the three-chord thrash of its predecessors, Devoto’s goodbye to a movement that he shaped so meticulously with the Spiral Scratch EP, yet left decaying in its own repetition and depleting innovation.

More superb tracks follow – Motorcade broods with dormant intensity before erupting with a clinical punch, The Light Pours Out of Me is just stunning in its simplicity yet layered so expertly, while Recoil is an absolute frenzy, Devoto straining every vocal cord by the end with sheer power and commitment.

What gives me even greater pride for this album is that in October 2014 I was on the ‘Good Day Bad Day’ segment for Steve Lamacq’s show on BBC Radio 6, where I chose a song for a good day and a song for a bad day. On the bad day was Pink Flag by Wire (which I’m sure I will write about soon – it’s an all-time favourite of mine), while on the good day was, of course, Definitive Gaze. I’m pretty sure it was the first time Magazine had been played on BBC radio for at least six months, which gave me even greater pride.

I think the story of Magazine is an extremely frustrating one, showered with critical acclaim yet sheltered from commercial appreciation. They are easily one of the most underappreciated bands from the punk era – I still listen to Real Life in total awe, taken by its textural and structural complexity.

Real Life took me on an incredible path and helped me discover more avenues in post-punk and beyond. What has and always will stand out is Devoto’s shameless lyricism and voice – it’s a total departure from musical convention and a reinvention of what ‘good’ singing really is, at times a strained nasal bark, at others a collected and intellectual poetic commentary that still maintained the roughest of edges.

All in all, with the backing of some of post-punk’s most cultured and accomplished musicians, Real Life was a true masterpiece of its time, though seemingly forgotten by many. It was my first complete moment of musical euphoria, and will always remain a special album for me, and hopefully for the whole of the music world too.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #3 – Wire – Pink Flag

Opening Tracks #1 – The Fall

I originally intended this article to be five of my favourite opening tracks of the punk era; in the pipeline were Definitive Gaze by Magazine, Theme by Public Image Ltd and The Holy Hour by The Cure – a promising array of variety from bands I’m yet to write about and utterly adore.

However, it dawned on me that my list was becoming more and more dominated by Fall openers, until eight of the twelve openers I toyed with writing about were The Fall. Obsessed? Maybe. Narrow-minded? Probably. Ashamed? Never! Why should I be?! I’m the original big-shot blogger!

(That’s a Fall reference for those wondering – U.S. 80s-90s to be precise – and one that’s quite ignorant of the many Fall blogs and forums that have existed even before I was born; but I digress…)

Some of these Fall openers had strayed totally out of the punk and post punk era, rendering them unfit for purpose, but were simply too good to be ignored. So why not give them their own article? They made 31 albums, they must know a thing or two, surely?

Here’s five of my favourites, in order from the ones I love the least to the most.

(An honourary mention goes to R.O.D., Pay Your Rates and DIY Meat – three favourite Fall openers that only just missed the cut.)

  1. Sing! Harpy – Extricate, 1990.

On first listen, I was somewhat lost – had The Fall taken a radical turn after Brix’s departure, becoming an awful string quartet in one of Mark E. Smith’s more ill-advised changes of musical direction? A temporary Room To Live-esque departure from critical acclamation and adoration?

Fortunately, no. Instead, their power had been ramped up a level. As soon as the first thunderous chord smashes into life, you’re hooked. It’s so powerful, so contagious. I’ve always viewed Extricate as an album musically above nearly all Fall albums in terms of production and musicianship, feeling that the repeated-riff wonders of Brix’s time were somewhat wearing thin by The Frenz Experiment. Sing! Harpy is a triumphant return to the bassline-driven Fall, irresistible in its immensity and energy.

What makes Sing! so special are Smith’s lyrics – a totally childish ‘Fuck you!’ to ex-wife and former lead guitarist Brix, slagging off her, her father and her new partner classical violinist Nigel Kennedy. Smith violently slurs every line in utter disgust at his subject. It’s quite an explosive outburst after less than a year apart; certainly not Smith’s finest hour, though one more memorable than most.

It’s a brilliant start to a brilliant album, an album that showcases the ease at which they write such penetrating songs, yet with the delicacy and flair only so many will ever achieve.

  1. Frenz – The Frenz Experiment, 1988.

To me, TFE has always been a forgettable album. I’ve listened to it a lot, yet I could never tell you how ‘Carry Bag Man’ or ‘The Steak Place’ go. It sits as an idle part of The Fall’s discography, particularly as it was released only months before the superb I Am Kurious Oranj, a much-needed musical shake up of The Fall’s output.

However, Frenz is a stunning start to the album. A beautiful piece of musical craftwork that exudes an ominously calm atmosphere, cleverly combined with Smith’s mournful lyrics, confessing ‘My friends don’t amount to one hand’ – a much more reflective, sombre Smith than usual.

It’s songs like Frenz that make you wonder whether TFE could have been so much more. It’s so much more advanced and matured than TFE songs like Oswald Defence Lawyer, that frustratingly trudges along uninspiringly before finding an unnatural end to itself.

Instead, we find ourselves with an utterly compelling and elaborate piece that is an absolute cut above its successors that’s so apparent in both its simplicity and sophistication.

  1. Lay of The Land – The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, 1984.

Now, if we are to call Sing! Harpy a powerful song, then Lay of The Land is something else altogether.

A cataclysmic, chaotic and callous conglomeration of layer upon layer of noise and destruction, Lay of The Land defies all belief in how far absolute musical brute force can go. What starts as a commanding yet relatively harmless guitar track becomes an absolute monster of obliteration; it’s practically unthinkable that Smith’s vocal efforts remain so controlled throughout the tune.

As ever with The Fall, LOTL showcases another staggering Hanley bassline that waltzes in glorious carelessness to the pandemonium around it. I think it’s safe to say that this is the heaviest The Fall ever got in terms of texture and distortion, at a time when guitarists Scanlon and Brix were at a creative peak that maintained, if not improved, into 1985 album This Nation’s Saving Grace.

I love this song, its explosiveness, its hedonism, its total disregard for all around it. From its cult-like chant beginning to its final ‘BOOM’ line, it’s a victorious guitar track that stands unchallenged in its absolute anarchy and autonomy, an essential song for all first-time listeners of The Fall that kicks off one of the most influential and understated albums of the 1980s

  1. The Classical – Hex Enduction Hour, 1982.

Speaking of powerful basslines…

What an absolute belter this is. Sheer undeniable class. Hex was the second album I ever listened to by The Fall, and it has always stuck with me. There’s no greater lines than ‘Hey there, fuckface! Hey there, fuckface-ah!’ to try and win over an unknowing listener and grab their attention.

I think this song utilises the Hanley-Burns drum line up most effectively – the combination of Hanley’s infectious grooves with Burns’ almost tribal fills are a joy to listen to, while the force of Riley and Scanlon’s guitars continuously develop into complete bedlam. But the bassline. What more is there to say. It’s just so so good – the deserved headline act in an uncontrollable festival of disorder.

To be honest, this section could easily be how to start, maintain and finish an album. Everything about Hex is indisputable, every song as masterful as the next. Though, The Classical was the first Fall song I truly fell in love with and holds a special place in my appreciation for The Fall.

I don’t think there’s much else to say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It’s simply magnificent.

  1. The Birmingham School of Business School – Code: Selfish, 1992.

Being 19, I don’t really have any sort of nostalgic connection to growing up with a classic Fall album. Obviously, they released material after I was born, but I’ve never held a close attachment with a certain release or period that it was released in seeing as, on the most part, I wasn’t physically there, nor had I listened to The Fall in depth until 2016.

I say this because I think many 1980s Fall fans will question this choice and will point towards tracks like Eat Y’self Fitter in a sort of emotionally attached ‘you’re forgetting this’ gesture. In all honesty, I can’t say I’ve ever truly, truly enjoyed Eat Y’self Fitter; yes, it perfectly epitomises The Fall and their sound, but I much prefer tracks of the time like Smile or Tempo House.

Of course, the same can be said about Birmingham – I wasn’t there in 1992. But for me it is the most musically skilful and adventurous The Fall have gone with their sound. It’s pure quality. From first listen I couldn’t let go – literally. I still listen to it every day and automatically go into autopilot and put Free Range (the next track on the album) on queue to follow. In fact, while writing this segment I had to put it on again, just to relive it.

The church bell intro is genius, its sparsity and darkness always grabbing me instantly. In comes a classic Funky Si beat accompanied by this beautifully ascending and descending Scanlon guitar part, so contrarily groovy to the eeriness of the moment yet so fitting. The song sparks into life with a rough, cutting two-note Hanley bassline. How anyone can resist even tapping their feet is beyond me. What follows is simply ludicrous, totally minimalist bliss.

Wahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwah, wahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwah

I can’t describe how I felt when I heard this. It was just perfection. Absolute brilliance, absolute absurdity. The thrill of hearing the main hook of a song being the singer slurring ‘wah’ over one of the most intricately constructed beats I’d ever heard was just awe-inspiring. I’m still lost for words, it’s totally beyond me how brilliant I find this to be.

Better still, each Scanlon line is a lesson in how to make a guitar part more complex and dexterous with each verse, continuously pushing the boundaries of how discordant a guitar can sound, while Hanley’s grumbling bass is utterly exhilarating, matching Smith’s lyrics in the macabre of the moment.

I think what compliments the start of Code: Selfish is the transition between Birmingham and Free Range. The latter is my favourite Fall song of all time, and the way it crashes in is just pure ecstasy. You think the frantic, jarring beginning to the album is over, but in comes this raucous, no-holds-barred destroyer immediately after the final rumbles of Birmingham in the most powerful start to an album imaginable.

It’s a shame that Code: Selfish takes a moderate step down in quality after these two tracks, but what a way to explode out of the blocks. It’s an easily missed album with some of the most vital songs in an era that I feel goes unappreciated and easily dismissed by many Fall fans, and Birmingham is its shining light.

 

Next: Closing Tracks – The Fall