For The Record #9 – Offshore Banking Business / Hit The North / Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy

I’ve lately been trying to diversify the artists I’ve written about, and this article brings two who I’m yet to write about. These records were chosen while back at home in London and are some of my favourite in my collection.

Offshore Banking Business B/W Solitary Confinement – The Members

The Members have never been a band I’ve ever raves about or held any particular affinity to. I have found, however, that ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’ (introduced to me by Punk Britannia at the BBC) aptly summed up many parts of my time growing up in suburbia with ‘Heathrow jets crashing over our homes’ and sitting in a dark room playing guitar, separated from the world around me.

I also have a soft spot for Nicky Tesco after I found out he starred in one of my favourite films ‘I Hired A Contract Killer’, in which Joe Strummer played his stunning ‘Burning Lights’. It wasn’t the best dramatic performance, but it’s a nice bit of niche punk history for anyone as geeky as me!

Anyway, ‘Offshore’ is a swipe at tax havens in far away lands, with ‘international crime happening all the time’. It saddens me to say this song has aged very well, and will probably remain a strong piece of social commentary for years to come too.

I remember having a listen to this during the news of our beloved David Cameron revealing his profiting from his Father’s offshore tax fund after the release of the Panama Papers, and I haven’t touched it since. As nerdy as this sounds, I’m a politics student who doesn’t hold much love for Dave, so this was a moment of superficial punk redemption (he did remain in power, after all).

Starting with a solid reggae beat, we’re joined by a stunning bass and trumpet riff, before Tesco joins with some brilliantly sardonic lines about rich people who ‘do more than growing bananas / they got a tax dodge going on’. So great. About 30 seconds in and I’m already kicking myself for neglecting this classic for so long.

The beat is infectious, the vocal delivery impeccable and the whole composition is as intricate as it gets. To release this after the success of punk staple ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’ is such a brave move, but who can blame them if they’re bringing out songs as good as this?!

Tesco continues, taking aim at the ‘Newspaper barons and oil tycoons watching their money grow’ before a final return to the chorus. It pains me to say that on the final rounds of the repeated ‘Offshore Banking Business’ line, my single cracks and repeats infinitely, bringing a never ending that reminds me of all the activities of the rich and powerful, and how powerless I am to stop them. Such sadness!

All in all, a fantastic listen, and one that I’m probably going to be playing for a long time from here on.

‘Solitary Confinement’ is much more representative of the general Members sound. Kicking off with an abrupt ‘You! Are living in the suburbs’ backed with a chugging low guitar line, it grows in stature and powers into the bridge.

I love the spoken word part, a slightly stupid sounding shire boy who’s so simple in his perception of his life and life in the city, innocently losing all purpose and friends because of his move to the city. ‘The Members, are gonna tell ya / What it’s like to be / On your own, by yourself’, and they do. The subject of the song is actually quite sad and desperate, but the musical delivery makes it more of a danceable punk song than anything else. It’s an extremely strong song, ending with the line ‘Solitary confinement, you’re so lonely’. How about that then?

In all, a fantastic single by a band perhaps overlooked by many, including myself.

A Side: 4.5/5   B-Side: 4/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Hit The North Part 1 B/W Hit The North Part 2 – The Fall

A classic number from Manchester’s finest.

Charting at #57 (which, despite its modesty, was their then-highest charting self-penned single) it stemmed from, according to Steve Hanley’s The Big Midweek, Mark E. Smith’s dislike of Norwich, and his desire to, you guessed it, ‘hit the North’. And with a Simon Rodgers crafted instrumental, a masterpiece was born.

STarting with a low, cutting bass sound, Wolstencroft joins with a punchy groove, and in comes the iconic two note riff joined by the infectious chant of ‘Hit The North!’. What follows is probably not worth much anlysis, more just distant admiration and confusion. From my first listen of the song, I’ve always found Smith’s announcement that his ‘cat says eeeeeeeee-ack’ absolutely absurd and absolutely brilliant. I guarantee you wouldn’t find this anywhere else.

I also love the line ‘Cops can’t catch criminals’, the way it dreamily floats around the song with the powerful groove and synth-sax hits. And then the ascent back into the chorus is simply irresistible.

The star of the show for me is the high-pitched, triumphant guitar line that comes in during the closing verse. It’s absolutely stunning.

I love this song, though I never give it the time of day. Luckily, if you have the time of day, The Fall have managed to record six (!) versions of the song. And ‘Part Two’ is the b-side of the 7″ single.

It’s a lottle more stripped back, less effects and more power. It starts with a more complete drum groove and we rejoin the iconic riff again. The recording is a little bit sparse, but I must admit I quite enjoy the less-produced recording. It has a bit more toughness and edge.

However, I’m afraid I’ve never been a big fan of remixes making up B-sides unless there’s a clear and obvious variation on the song (like ‘Soldier and Police War’, B-side to ‘Police and Thieves’). I find placing a demo as the back up to a single a little bit lazy, and, as much as I like the song, it doesn’t really thrill me at all.

Still – the A-side is more than worthy of total acclaim and adoration, and it will forever be an era-defining single.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy – Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg has always been a massive favourite of mine, to such an extent that I’m toying around with the idea of writing a sociology essay on the role of the media about his fantastic ‘It Says Here’. And they say punk is dead!!

Of course, it’s a lot easier to like Billy Bragg if you align with him politically. Luckily, I find myself more than hospitable to his political commentary and his general disapproval of all things right of social democracy and all things coloured blue (in the British context, obviously).

His debut abum, Life’s A Riot is a lot less overt in its political messaging compared to the following releases Brewing Up With and Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, but is still quintessential Billy Bragg. Though, sociological and political punch still lies in tracks such as ‘To Have and Have Not’ and ‘The Busy Girl Buys Beauty’, which are both stunning, but we will visit them later.

The first point of discussion is the length of the album. Seven tracks, on the face of it, seems a little short, but we’ve seen shorter albums in terms of the number of tracks, take David Bowie’s six track (and best, in my opinion) album Station To Station, for example. However, the title track on Station To Station is over half the length of Bragg’s entire album.

The longest track is two minutes and fifty-one seconds, and the whole album clocks in at fifteen minutes and fifty-seven seconds. Bragg being Bragg, really.

The albums kicks off with an absolute stunner. In any other song the lyrics would be cheesy and cringey, but there’s something so endearing and innocent in the way Bragg sings the words of ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’. The guitar is excellent, urgent and fast but fittingly complimenting of the more drawn out, conservatively delivered lyrics. I think this song showcases the brilliance of the raw recording of Bragg and his guitar, and is an excellent preview into what is to come. A fantastic introduction to the LP.

Track two is the closest thing to a promotion of communism (rather than socialism) that Bragg has ever achieved, in my opinion. It is also one of my favourite political songs of all time. Starting with a jaunty, cutting chord sequence, Bragg joins in with a tirade of criticism towards the function of the education system, one of my favourite lines being ‘Qualifications what’s the golden rule? / Are now just pieces of pay-pah’.

I’ll have to bring up my degree again. The role of the education system is something I have always had a great passion in writing about and researching, so to hear one of my favourite artists slagging off the institution is simply magnificent. Again, enjoyment comes from the fact I agree with him too, which will always be a deciding factor in any Bragg listening.

‘All they taught you at school / Was how to be a good worker’ is another line that just fires me up so much (I’m a huge nerd, I know…), and overall the song is simply brilliant.

‘Richard’ has never been a song that’s ever stood out for me. Listening to it again, it is still a top quality song (as nearly every track on the album is) but it’s still not doing much for me. I think I’m a lot more sympathetic to Bragg songs which are either about politics or love (‘The Saturday Boy’ and ‘Between The Wars’ have always been favourites), so tracks like ‘Richard’ have never sat highly in my standings. Still, it’s a good enough track.

And then Side 2 opens with the classic, iconic and utterly brilliant ‘A New England’. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m going to say anything that hasn’t been said before – the lyrics are sublime, the angst of the guitar is so powerful, and the whole composition is a thing of sheer class. I’ll let you sample it for yourself here…

‘The Man In The Iron Mask’ just isn’t really my sort of thing. It’s one I’ve always skipped, and one where I’ve found Bragg’s voice actually hasn’t done any favours to the subtlety of the song. Apologies, Bragg lovers, this one will never be my cup of tea.

But, worry not, ‘The Busy Girl Buys Beauty’ is definitely one that appeals to me a lot more. It’s, in its simplest form, Bragg slagging off the idea of traditional gender roles (‘Where she can learn / Top tips for the gas cook’), the beauty and fashion industry and the idealistic perception of the always happy always smiling nuclear family. Admittedly, it’s a sociology student’s dream, and it’s an absolutely brilliant song that I feel doesn’t get enough praise.

And, after only fourteen minutes, we reach the closing track, ‘Lovers Town Revisited’. A nice, slightly slower song with Bragg sounding absolutely fantastic. It’s a bit more solemn too, and the eruption of the crackly guitar against Bragg’s voice is brilliant. It’s only one minute and eighteen seconds long, and it makes you want more from Bragg. As a closer though, it’s simply superb.

As a whole, it’s fifteen minutes of brilliance, of raw and untouched class. The innocence and vulnerability of both the recordings and Bragg’s voice are vital in the development and creation of one of the finest debut albums we will ever see. And, considering it’s short length, it should be held up as a lesson in minimalist bliss.

Side One: 4.5/5 Side Two: 4.5/5 Sleeve: 4/5

For The Record #8 – Straight To Hell / Police and Thieves / Ice Cream For Crow LP

The first ever review of reggae on the blog (if you discount Costello’s ‘Watching The Detectives’, which isn’t real reggae to me, but anyway). The Clash return, while we also have the first appearance of an artist who I’ve come to adore recently, having never listened to them in great depth at all.

Straight To Hell B/W Should I Stay Or Should I Go – The Clash

‘This really sounds like M.I.A!’ is the most frequent greeting this song receives from those who I share it with, which is fair enough to be honest.

‘Straight To Hell’ is one of The Clash’s lesser known singles by those who aren’t avid listeners, which is probably down to the fact it was released as a double A-side with ‘Should I Stay’, which obviously trumps it for accessibility and popularity.

Though I think this is an absolute shame. Since I was around 14 I’ve had a huge obsession with this song, resulting in the purchase and receipt of various ‘Straight To Hell’ themed items (which can be seen below).

A song lamenting the loss of British industry, anti-immigration rhetoric and the legacy of the Vietnam War, this is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever written, both lyrically and musically. Chris Salewicz (Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer) calls it an ‘epic ballad … one of the archetypal Clash tunes’, and probably one of the only songs ever to use an R-Whites lemonade bottle to play the bass drum with.

Starting with a quiet, descending chord sequence, it grows wonderfully before being led by a stunning Topper Headon groove. In comes Strummer – his voice is strained, mourning, sometimes running out of emotional energy to get through words properly. Each verse holds a different story, the first commentating on the bleak plight of British industry, the second on children born in Vietnam to now absent American fathers, and the third covers the dour remains of the American dream

‘There ain’t no need for ya’ is one of the most underrated lines in punk history, and its repetition just hits home the message in such a desperate tone. Who needs the subjects of these stories, those left voiceless by inhumane political and economic decisions?

The second verse holds another fantastic couple of lines:

Let me tell me ’bout your blood, bamboo kid / It ain’t Coca-Cola, it’s rice’ 

You don’t need me to explain the lines or the literary prowess of them, but it is so stark and miserable, particularly with the previous lines from the child’s perspective, seeing pictures of their now separated parents in search of where one has left without them.

Listening to it on repeat, it’s honestly making me feel quite sorry for the state of affairs that Strummer so vividly illustrates with his words. I think it’s a lot easier to empathise with the message of the song if you’re of the same political persuasion of The Clash (of which I generally am), but I think even this goliath of a song could win over anybody, whether left or right, active or apathetic.

There ain’t no asylum here’ announces Strummer slowly, before the final line alludes back to the fatherless child of the Vietnam war: ‘Oh papa-san, please take me home’.

I imagine those who listened to the other A-side in 1982 must’ve hoped for something as upbeat and punchy as ‘Should I Stay’, but to be welcomed by this must’ve been quite a sobering few minutes, a reminder that The Clash, no matter what some thought by 1982, hadn’t sold out their political principles.

This is a song of a hopeless man, angry at the injustices served to so many who are unable to take control of the situations they find themselves languishing in, as if any scattering of belief had been all but eradicated. For an even more sombre rendition, take a look at the live version below during Joe’s post-Clash years.

In all, a marvellous piece of work.

‘Should I Stay’ isn’t a song by The Clash which I’ve never particularly devoted much time to, mainly because of my preference to live in my hive of obscurity which has consistently featured, from The Clash, the whole of Sandinista! (which is basically untouched by many Clash fans my age). Total musical snobbery from me, really.

I think it’s been played so much that nothing really surprises me or jumps out as me as special or memorable. It’s a very good pop song, but doesn’t feel like The Clash sometimes. I don’t feel the need to run through it or particulalry review it. I’m just generally quite indifferent to it.

Still, as singles go, I don’t think there are many as influential as this. ‘Straight To Hell’ (the real A-side) stands high above its companion on the grooves, however.

A-Side: 5/5   A-Side 2: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

Police and Thieves B/W Soldier And Police War – Junior Murvin / Jah Lion

The king of falsetto dub in his most glorious outing.

I first listened to Junior Murvin a day or two after he passed away – I had no idea who he was, though my only point of reference was The Clash’s cover of his song which I hadn’t even listened to. My hearing of Murvin’s brand of dub was recevied with general indifference and a kind of ‘how can anyone seriously listen to this?’ appraisal.

Something must’ve grabbed my attention though, as within about a week I’d bought the Police And Thieves album on CD and was playing it on a daily basis. I now credit Junior Murvin with starting my love for dub; not many have ventured further into his discography, but his album Badman Posse is also a stunning record which I recommend to anyone reading.

Anyway, ‘Police And Thieves’ will forever be a timeless classic which I don’t feel needs much analysis. It’s one of Joe Strummer’s favourite records (and I’ll speculate many other punks rank it highly too) and is a take on police brutality that could be applied to practically every society at some point. Lee Perry’s production, as ever, is sublime, and Murvin’s voice is in a total league of its own.

I would have to concede, however, that repeated listens over the years have taken the pleasure of listening off somewhat, but it’s still a wonderful track nonetheless.

Now there are two releases with different B-sides, and I appear to not have the original version. This contained a song I know from the Grand Theft Auto games called ‘Grumblin’ Dub’, found on a reggae radio station called Blue Ark DJed by Lee Perry (I wish I’d discovered it some other way).

My single instead has another dub version of ‘Police And Thieves’, entitled ‘Soldier and Police War’, recorded by Jah Lion. I’ll admit, it is absolutely brilliant. A much more dreamy and hazy take musically, it features much louder and up front vocals with extra effects and sounds to create a fantastic rendition of Murvin’s classic.

Another brilliant discovery on the B-side (one to add to the multitude this series has brought) to go with a dub masterpiece.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side: 4.5/5

Ice Cream For Crow – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

This is an extremely recent discovery. I first heard Captain Beefheart on an Old Grey Whistle Test compilation, and I have to say that they blew my mind completely. Van Vliet (singer) looks totally, totally possessed by some invisible musical phantom, and it’s such an emphatic performance by all on stage.

However, I didn’t feel obliged to look any further, which I find a completely absurd decision on my half.

Then, around aged 15, I heard Magazine’s punchy cover of ‘I Love You, You Big Dummy’, B-side to ‘Give Me Everything’ (which I think is an absolutely perfect song). ‘I Love You’ appeared in several playlists of mine and was one of my favourite of Magazine’s songs. I knew it was a cover of Beefheart after a bit of research, so surely I was to look further into their discography?

Nope – instead I went into Magazine’s third album, and Beefheart was off the agenda.

So surely, surely, there’d be another encounter. And whaddya know? Watching a music documentary with Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order, the 1982 video for the ‘Ice Cream For Crow’ single comes on, with Morris explaining that for some Beefheart was utter rubbish, and for others a total genius. Watching this bouncy, bluesy beat played in the middle of a desert with Van Vliet letting out these croaky yelps was simply spellbinding. And that was the moment I finally got onto listening to the Ice Cream For Crow LP, and subsequently purchasing the 12″ album for myself.

(For those wondering, the white rectangle on the cover says the record had been property of Granada TV – does this mean that the album has been in the hands of one Tony Wilson? I like to think so…)

And the album kicks off with the same track, a jaunty tune which is in a total league of its own. The lyrics are so odd and can’t really be explained, but it’s what makes the listening so special. A fantastic song.

‘The Host The Ghost The Most Holy O’ is another brilliant, dark and sinister song, with great lines such as ‘The sky is dark in daytime / and still the black birds beauty lyrics clean’. I’m not big on the chanty closing lines, but a very strong song nonetheless.

Now, ‘Semi Multicoloured Caucasian’ is the standout track in my opinion. You can’t ask for more from an instrumental track. It’s one to nod your head to, an uplifting showcase of utter class which never outstays it’s welcome; if anything, it doesn’t stay for long enough. The guitar riffs are fantastic in their minimalism, and the choppy chords along side them compliment them fittingly. Even the drumming, which I’m sure is half improvised, is simply divine. Have a listen below…

‘Hey Garland I Dig Your Tweed Coat’ is by far the best song name I have ever seen, and it’s a perfectly decent song. Organised disjoint is the only way I can describe it, and Van Vliet’s voice compliments the backing beautifully. This is followed by ‘Evening Bell’, which is a less memorable instrumental, solely featuring the lead guitar. It’s nice enough, though nothing particularly to shout about.

Side one closes with ‘Cardboard Cutout Sundown’, which is an another excellent song name, and is a totally glorious mess – one of those ‘it’s either rubbish or amazing’ songs which characterises much of the album, to be honest. Side two then opens with ‘The Past Sure Is Tense’, which is actually quite a pleasant track as they go. Nicely crafted, classic absurdities from Van Vliet and an all round strong outing.

‘Ink Mathematics’ starts a little more traditional in terms of the structure and form of songwriting, but slowly descends into another typically Beefheart song thrown together by random sounds liberated from any idea of time signatures or rhythm. Vliet’s high-pitched belch of the song’s title is also oddly endearing too, and it’s just one of those tunes you can’t really explain to other people. A bit like trying to explain why The Fall are so good to others.

‘The Witch Doctor Life’ is a wonderful swinging song, an original take on the blues sound which matches perfectly with what are basically screams from Van Vliet at this stage of the album. The solos are soft, masterful and frankly quite beautiful. A top performance from all.

Now, I adore solo spoken word songs, particularly with a peculiar or distinct voice. ’81 Poop Hatch’ is utterly stunning. Van Vliet’s voice is brilliant, and his spoken word is even better. There are four standout lines for me:

Neighbours laugh through sandwiches / Harlem babies, their stomachs explode into roars / Their eyes shiny with starvation / Speckled hula dance on my phonograph’

It’s completely perfect, in my opinion, though I can see why a lot of people are turned off by the spoken word kind of stuff.

I will say that the last two songs suffer as the ideas for the organised mess sound become a little tired and a bit repetitive, especially as the tone of the instruments don’t seem to change too much. But for what they’re worth, they’re still good songs. I do prefer the closer ‘Skeleton Makes Good’, which just makes me laugh to be honest. I could never really put it on and seriously listen to it, however.

All in all however, this is certainly a discovery that I won’t forget for a while, and I can’t believe I put Beefheart off for so long having had so many chances to access their many wonders. And it’s also a shame I’ve managed to listen to their last studio album before any others, but I can’t wait to delve further.

A strong showing from Beefheart overall.

Side One: 4.5/5   Side Two: 3.5/5   Sleeve (minus Granada sticker!): 4.5/5

For The Record #7 – Pearly-Dewdrops Drops / Love Song / 154

Two bands I’ve never written about feature, and there’s a more eclectic mix of releases to review this week.

Pearly-Dewdrops Drops B/W Cocteau Twins

I bought this last week at a record fair in Victoria, which was by far the biggest fair I’ve ever been to. I bought 154 there too, along with ‘Living Too Late’ by The Fall.

Cocteau Twins have never been a big favourite of mine, nor do I dislike them at all. They’re a good band, and their big hits I absolutely adore, but I’ve never been truly taken by an album before. I will admit, however, I tend to hold the idea that they were in a total league of their own through the 1980s and 90s, so there’s a bit of artistic respect influencing my distant appreciation.

My mild ignorance to Cocteau Twins is showcased by the fact I thought this song was called ‘Pearly Pearly Pewdrops’, though I think I can be forgiven due to the fact that, as far as I’m aware, some vocals of theirs consisted solely of Elizabeth Fraser’s made-up language. One of the ‘league of their own’ aspects of their output. Another is Fraser’s vocals alone, one of my favourite singing voices of all time, lending itself perfectly to my preference to female vocalists over male.

‘Pearly’ is a truly stunning song of ethereal melancholy. There’s something about their sound that is so addictive and endearing, with Fraser’s soaring cries and the distorted fuzz of Guthrie’s guitar, backed by the most powerful yet emotional bass line. I’ve always been extremely fond of this song, getting into it at an age (consisting of A level pessimism and desperation) where I was more adolescently emotionally fragile than others.

As far as Cocteau Twins choruses go, it’s certainly not as strong as ‘Cherry-Coloured Funk’, which is probably my favourite song of theirs, but still very strong indeed. On the other hand, the performance of ‘Pearly’ on Old Grey Whistle Test is to die for – simple magnificence.

‘Pepper-Tree’ has a bit more of a dark, unnerving touch. Led by an ascending, Cure-like riff, Fraser’s vocals continue to hit new heights, and the controlled discord of the song works very convincingly. It is a little bit too 80s for me, but I absolutely love the chorus. Another fantastic b-side discovery.

A very strong introduction to the article.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side: 4/5   Sleeve: 3/5

Love Song B/W Noise Noise Noise / Suicide – The Damned

One of my first ever vinyl purchases. I’m a huge fan of the brilliantly named Machine Gun Etiquette which I discovered after watching their Old Grey Whistle Test performance, the main feature of that being the destruction of the entire set and the psychotic yet exhausted look of Rat Scabies at the end of the whole debacle.

As for my listening of The Damned, I had a huge phase with the previously mentioned album aged fifteen, and an even bigger phase with their era-defining Damned Damned Damned aged fourteen. Outside of these two releases however, I’m not an especially avid or passionate fan of theirs – the gothic stuff is okay, and I quite like the song ‘Life Goes On’, but there’s no album outside of the two mentioned that ever truly grabbed me.

‘Love Song’, quite simply, is just a huge slab of hedonistic punk mayhem and destruction, with one of the most effectively simple bass lines ever. The lyrics are hilariously awful and, as the meticulously informed Wikipedia page for the song expertly points out, it indeed is not a love song. It’s thumping, hard-hitting, and utterly addictive. This piece has brought a welcome return to a song which was one of the first in crafting my obsession with all things punk.

The B-sides don’t make for equally pleasurable listening, unfortunately. ‘Noise Noise Noise’ has quite an interesting riff, offering a bit of discordant imagination to proceedings, but all in all isn’t a  particularly memorable or essential listen. However, I will concede that the guitar solo is exceptional. It’s definitely improvised to some degree, but is quite frantic and extremely powerful, thanks to the rough distortion applied to the strings. As a whole piece though, a rather average showing that is a notable dip on Machine Gun Etiquette.

‘Suicide’ is a bit more punk with a touch more attitude and aggression. It starts with another very strong riff, if you can call it that – it appears more of a random conglomeration of uncomfortably mismatched notes, a bit reminiscent of ‘My War’ by Black Flag. I have to admit, the song is a little outdated – I feel that this brand of punk had worn quite tired by the release of the single, particularly with the chant-like chorus, which reminds me of some very average American punk.

However, the track is a lot stronger than ‘Noise Noise Noise’, offering a bit more abrasion and toughness, matching the vibe of ‘Love Song’ aptly.

In all, a strong display.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side 1: 2/5    B-Side 2: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

154 – Wire 

As one of my earlier Musical Epiphanies article has outlined quite sufficiently, I absolutely adore Wire. I haven’t really delved too far after 1979 (1987’s A Bell Is A Cup is the furthest I’ve ventured after their hiatus), but their first three albums are simply wonderful. Indisputably essential.

It’s probably fairer to say that, rather than the worst of the three, 154 is the least, well, fantastic. That’s probably the best way to put it, but even indirectly criticising the album seems somewhat disingenuous to its utter brilliance.

154 follows their (in my opinion) strongest album Chairs Missing, which saw their first dip into the pool of experimentation after their three-chord-thrash thriller debut album Pink FlagChairs Missing saw Wire take a huge turn to a much darker, more sinister sound, characterised by heavy, scratching distortion and the raging wails of vocalist Colin Newman. There were some points of punk tradition in ‘Too Late’ and ‘Sand In My Joints’, but nothing could defeat the classic ‘Outdoor Miner’, a short, stunning slice of pop which continues to stand as an underappreciated masterpiece of the era.

154 continued the avenue of darkness that Wire embarked on, but with an extra serving of eerie soundscapes and chilling effects. The album kicks off with ‘I Should Have Known Better’, which sees bassist Graham Lewis take the helm on vocals, a common theme for the record as a whole. It’s an urgent yet restrained number, which descends further and further into the abyss of cold, reluctant rage led by Gilbert’s deep croons.

Following this abruptly is ‘Two People In A Room’, which is one of my favourite tracks on the record. Newman returns on vocals – it seems like an angry reply to Lewis for taking the limelight from him for one song, given how powerfully livid the song and his voice are. It’s quite simply two minutes of intense punk with a bit of effects, but that’s understating it’s effectiveness. Just listen to the slam of the drums against Newman’s cries, how can you not nod your head?

What comes next is a song of total beauty and class. ‘The 15th’ is an ethereal, emotional and utterly masterful piece. I couldn’t possibly do it justice with my words, so simply listen to it below, in all its glory.

As sides to LPs go, it doesn’t get much better than side one of the album, the only dip, though a small one, can be found in ‘A Touching Display’, which, for me, becomes a bit unlistenable at times and outstays it’s welcome slightly. The dip is quickly avenged by the side closer ‘On Returning’, which is a track of moody gusto and a fantastic hook.

Side two kicks off with the creepy ‘A Mutual Friend’, which starts off extremely eerie lay, though picks up the positivity, if you could call it that, as the track progresses. It’s not a particularly standout moment on the record, admittedly, but still not a bad one at all.

‘Blessed State’ is simply brilliant – a catchy chord sequence backed by a danceable, understated drum groove, spearheaded this again led by Graham Lewis’ vocals. The chords are at first a bit too discordant, but as the song progresses into full vitality it becomes apparent they are simply brilliant.

‘Once Is Enough’ is just a bit weird, and probably the lowest point on the second side, yet, as ever with Wire, you could never claim it to be a bad song. There’s enough invention and experimentation for it to be appreciated, no matter how absurd it may be.

Then, the second standout moment of the album: ‘Map Ref 41 N 93 W’. A bit wordy, I think you’ll agree, and I think the actual coordinates lead you to a field in Canada. But still, an absolute pop classic from Wire, the chorus is simply divine, a dreamy soar that’s so utterly grabbing, announced by Newman’s simple statement of ‘chorus!’ – simply brilliant.

(Edit: I’ve been informed on Facebook that the coordinates in fact take you to a place in Iowa in the USA, not somewhere in Canada!)

Admittedly, the last two tracks aren’t particularly notable, though ’40 Versions’ does have a beautiful guitar line during its riff, and is still quite a strong showing. I do feel, however, that perhaps they could have had one more big, thumping classic on the album, which I feel their two previous efforts had in abundance.

I’m just being pedantic, however; it’s still an absolutely brilliant journey, fuelled by psychopathic effects and soundscapes in combat with Newman and Gilbert’s fantastic vocals. Again, it’s not as strong as their first two, but that simply means it’s not as brilliant.

Side One: 4.5/5 Side Two: 4/5 Sleeve: 5/5

 

 

The Fall Obituary – One Year On

Today marks a full year since the passing of Mark E Smith, and the subsequent end of the road for The Fall.

As some who read the blog may have seen, I wrote a piece in February (published in October on the blog, and available here) for a university magazine commemorating his death and expressing my adoration for The Fall.

Truth be told, yes, I was a Fall fan, but I could never have said they were my favourite band. I was still in a weird phase of adaptation to their sound, the slow but inevitable recognition that their music stood above and alone from all their contemporaries.

The Clash were my favourite band at the time, and my lack of Fall understanding and knowledge was epitomised by my novice references to the infamous ‘Granny on bongos’ quote and the ‘oh my god they had so many members!’ line, which was wheeled out by just about every tribute article that came their way.

When I wrote the article, I had listened to six albums: Witch Trials, Dragnet, Grotesque, Hex, Wonderful and Frightening World and The Infotainment Scan (I’d missed out Room To Live in the thought it was a live album). Within the piece I referenced only the latter four albums, trying to make out as if I was really down with the evolution and transformations of The Fall and I knew what I was talking about.

So, when MES passed away, and I started listening to The Fall in more depth, I set myself a target of listening to every Fall album within two months. This was probably motivated more by university procrastination than anything else, but I thought it was doable.

What I hadn’t realised however, was how irresistibly addictive nearly every album is. I started off with Wonderful and Frightening World again, one which took a very long time for me to finally appreciate, and continued from there. I wish I had the time to do album-by-album reviews, however this is already being done by the YMGTA blog, and this piece would turn into a novel if I even dared to commit to such a task.

What I found on this journey was utter, utter enchantment. In short, it took me 10 months to listen to every album as I would find myself stuck on each one for about three weeks due to a total refusal to move onto the next.

Even the albums generally considered beneath the towering Fall standard still hold essential tracks – ‘Rainmaster’ on Cerebral Caustic, ‘The Reckoning’ on Middle Class Revolt, and, my favourite track of all time, ‘The Birmingham School of Business School’ on Code: Selfish.

And then there are the albums which are swaggering showcases of utter delight. Every record, even those not held up as classic Fall, had a certain charm or appeal – the sinister gloominess of Perverted By Language, the glorious absurdity of Levitate or the simple brilliance of Sub-Lingual Tablet, which I’ve grown to more and more in the past few weeks.

But what I feel is the most overlooked aspect of The Fall is their determined prolificacy. For every era of music, every movement, every decade and every year, there’s The Fall, lurking in wonderful independence in the background. Forget the fads of Britpop, Madchester and 21st century indie, there’s a Fall record to match, or better, any other release of the time and serve a much-needed hit of variation.

And trust The Fall to offer variation. Though some consider it a bit of an experimental, finding-their-feet sort of record, I think The Fall would be the only band ever to open an album with a post-punk stunner, a blues cover and then a demented drum ‘n’ bass frenzy full of Smith’s signature snarls, as they did on 1999’s The Marshall Suite. Who else would dare do that?

What I feel I missed out on however, was the romance of being a Fall fan during their first ten years or so. I get the impression, from the replies I receive on the blog from Fall fans of the time, that there was something special about following this messiah-like figure of Mark E Smith through the multitude of lineup changes and releases. To be a Fall fan, I feel, was to be unlike the others, to spit on the idea of normality and tuneful accessibility.

What’s fantastic, in my opinion, is how dedication to The Fall means dedication. Every fan who I’ve interacted with, be it online or in person (the latter being extremely rare) has an A-Z knowledge of them. I could probably ask anyone on The Mighty Fall Facebook group, for example, what their opinion is on a b-side to a single released in 1995 only in Germany and limited to a thousand copies (a hypothetical, exaggerative though somewhat representative question on the group), and those who’d reply would be true, learned Fall experts and offer their opinion with utter assurance.

It became clear that The Fall were a mesmerising gateway into other-worldly poeticism, destructive aural combat and reward and, of course, the best bass lines ever. As I delved further and further through their discography, it became apparent that all I was listening and discovering was The Fall, all discovery outside of their offerings had ceased. New music, for me, was The Fall.

And with this discovery came the reading. I am yet to read Smith’s Renegade or Simon Wolstencroft’s You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide (which I’ve heard is exceptional), but Brix’s The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise and Steve Hanley’s The Big Midweek were simply magnificent. Hanley’s deadpan outlook on the constant conflicts within the band were simply hilarious, while Brix’s story of simply bumping into Mark at the bar, and subsequently becoming one of the coolest women in rock ‘n’ roll history, was brilliant.

The highlight of The Fall’s story, for me, was the 1988 I Am Kurious Oranj album and theatre production. As stated earlier, who else, but The Fall, would perform their music with ballet by the Michael Clark Dance Company while telling a story about a former pope AND wheel out Brix sitting on a cheeseburger playing guitar?

With this newfound love, I opted on seeing Brix and The Extricated in October to relive some old Fall staples. What I hadn’t imagined, however, was bumping into Brix and Steve Hanley outside the venue.

I think Brix was in pre-performance psyching up mode, so I let her be, and talked to Steve Hanley. I introduced myself, and he was quick to assure me that I was ‘too young to be at this gig’. We talked about the blog (which I think he was aware of at this stage), and he also told me about how ‘Birmingham’ was recorded. Surprised at my love for the track, he commented that everyone viewed that era as keeping up with Madchester. Upon reply from me that I thought the song was much more than that, he assuredly and humorously responded, ‘Yeah, I know’.

That was the closest I’ll ever get to seeing The Fall, and was all in all a brilliant night, the highlight being ‘Glam-Racket’, which was delivered superbly by the group.

However, all of this, the music, the productions, the albums, singles, b-sides, live albums, compilations, whatever else you can think of, would never have happened without a true visionary, a lyrical master and a man so committed to the fans and music.

There’s something completely alien and other-worldly about Mark E Smith which simply can’t be explained. There are many times when I feel we aren’t worthy of receiving the lines he conjures up, particularly between 1980-85; for those who may not be aware of MES’ poetry, refer to ‘New Face In Hell’, ‘The N.W.R.A’, ‘The Classical’ or ‘Paintwork’ for a sample of his genius.

I think the justified obsession with all things MES is summed up when, during a television performance of Extricate track ‘I’m Frank’, he pulls out a guitar for about 10 seconds and plays a quiet chord during the breakdown into the verse. I wasn’t alone in my complete feeling of ‘what’s going on!?’.

I’ve seen on various Fall groups on Facebook the ‘MES is on guitar!’ sort of comments, but the greatest commitment came from The Fall In Fives, who went so far as sampling the brief stint on strings and amping up the volume as much as possible, just so we could all experience this slightly muted jangling sound for ourselves.

I’m not sure it was done from love of the song, but still. It’s stuff like this that could never be replicated by fans of other bands, and goes so far to show how a commitment to consistent releases and output is rewarded by total admiration and adoration. The idea that a man simply picking up a guitar can garner such a response from followers is simply brilliant.

Even with every interview I’ve seen, Smith holds this sort of self-assured superiority, which is respected by himself, the viewer and interviewer. Every line is delivered with secure, acerbic wit and humour in combination with a complete outlook of total awareness to the social environments of everyday people.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think I could stop confessing my absolute love for MES and The Fall. With my friends, I’m known to only ever recommend The Fall to others, and am a constant listener of my career-spanning Fall playlist entitled ‘Fall For The Fall’, which, at the time of writing, has 143 songs. It’s ten hours long, chronologically arranged, and by far the best playlist I have made or will ever make.

Quite simply, The Fall, in any lineup or variation, are the greatest band to have ever existed. And it is abundantly clear that they were probably one of the most devoted bands to their fans and their music ever. And the spearhead of this, the supreme leader, was Mark E Smith.

And to any Fall fan reading: of course, this is a sombre day indeed, and I’ve seen many on Twitter are takings days off and going on pub crawls to commemorate this most sacred of days.

But I think it’s always important to remember what MES remarked on national TV, when the Fall had reached 54th in the charts with This Nation’s Saving Grace: “The followers of The Fall are the salt of the Earth”.

Keep the records spinning, keep the Fall playing, and never forget that fact. RIP Mark E Smith, and thank you for the music.

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

 

 

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.

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

Five of the Best: Joe Strummer

After the release of the career-spanning 32-song compilation Joe Strummer 001, this article looks at Strummer’s finest tracks, from his self-coined ‘Wilderness Years’ to his genre-bending work within The Mescaleros. Many of Strummer’s works have largely gone unnoticed up to this new compilation, with much of his work centring around independent movie soundtracks and album production, including Mick Jones’ second album with Big Audio Dynamite, No. 10 Upping St.

Strummer shares the throne with Mark E. Smith at the top of my musical Royal Family – his poetic prowess is virtually unparalleled, remaining untouched throughout his career, while his experimentation with rap, dub – every genre under the sun to be frank – opened fascinating unknown musical avenues to me, from The Clash’s seminal cover of Junior Murvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ to his fantastic acoustic rendition of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ with Johnny Cash.

Featuring my favourite five songs recorded after the fall of the classic Clash line up after Topper Headon’s firing in 1982, this article is my own tribute to a lifelong icon and hero who has held a mythical and legendary place in my life, and probably will for the rest of it too.

­­­­­­­     1. Czechoslovak Song/Where is England? – 1985

A demo version of The Clash’s final single ‘This is England’, this is, for me, The Clash in their essence. A classic Simonon bassline teamed with a rough and raw dub drum groove, backed by Strummer’s melancholic, merciful vocals – a never-fail recipe. The sparsity of the recording gives the song an extra edge, a lack of refinement that defined much of The Clash’s earlier sound that had been lost as the band became more of a commercial force after 1979’s London Calling.

Admittedly, Strummer’s vocals are somewhat laboured, the high notes in the chorus often seeming too high a peak to reach, though I feel that only the most nit-picking pedant could whole-heartedly criticise this effort. Though a somewhat simplistic song, CS/WIS offers a rhythm of subtle power, dragging dub grooves into the punk rock arena, resulting in a beautifully blue song of mourning for a nation in political turmoil and social decay, wondering if it will ever recover.

  1. Leopardskin Limousines – 1989

A good friend will explain to anyone how much I utterly adore this song – it is Strummer at his purest and most honest. By 1989, The Clash’s comeback album Cut The Crap was critically panned (leading to The Clash’s demise), both Strummer’s parents had passed away, and he was now relying on film soundtracks for musical output. Unfortunately, his solo effort Earthquake Weather was a failed attempt at redemption, reinvention and a re-release into the rock ‘n’ roll world.

Lifelong friend and biographer Chris Salewicz (Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer) believed at this stage of his life Strummer was increasingly sinking into a depressive state, noting after a fan told Strummer that Tower Records, a major record store in New York, didn’t stock Earthquake Weather during his US tour, Joe remarked,

“I just realised that if I couldn’t get my record into Tower Records (…) the very night the tour hit New York (…) I thought ‘Well, you better retire yourself boy!’”

Salewicz commented,

‘You can feel in those words the withdrawal from emotion, the setting in or freeze of the soul. When you live in a habitual state of depression, fighting to keep above it, (…) the smallest thing can send you slithering all the way down the snake.

‘It had been such a struggle to get even to this seemingly pointless point. Now again it seemed hopeless. Everything did.’

The commercial disaster of Earthquake Weather meant gems like Leopardskin Limousines were totally overlooked. It is a song of absolute agony, of endeavour, complete beauty. Joe mumbles a sombre semi-stream-of-consciousness littered with lines of lyrical bliss and tragedy, ultimately summing up his circumstances with the crushing line ‘Those firecrackers going down the hill/Signify the end of our dreams’. I’ll go as far as recommending that all first-time listeners should read the lyrics while they listen – many stunning lines are easily missed.

Even at his most despondent and desperate, he could still produce moments of magic – Earthquake Weather held many a diamond-in-the-rough, though this will forever shine the brightest.

  1. Burning Lights – 1990

Another song of total class and sorrow. Released after the critical indifference and commercial failure of Earthquake Weather, the lyrics document Strummer lost in a world where he is no longer wanted and no longer relevant, trying to find his purpose.

The single was written and recorded to feature in the Aki Kaurismaki art-house film I Hired A Contract Killer, with Strummer featuring in a classic scene playing the song in a run-down, half-empty bar – one of my favourite film scenes of all time.

There aren’t may more gut-wrenching lyrics to start a song than ‘Some dreams are made for children/But most grow old with us’ – a harrowing introduction to a tune that is contrarily so powerful and proud in musicality.

It glides between verse and chorus effortlessly, concluding with Strummer conceding ‘Sometimes I, I pull over/When I realise I’ve left no trace’. It doesn’t get much sadder than this, does it? Salewicz wrote that Joe took his commercial rejection personally, failing to accept he was the wrong man at the wrong time when releasing Earthquake Weather, and it shows.

  1. Rose of Erin – 1993

Finally, some happiness! Written for the film When Pigs Fly, this folk ballad flourishes gorgeously into an eruption of optimism with sheer textural beauty and sophistication.

The guitar lines are infectious, soaring freely across the musical skyline, while Joe’s voice sounds more matured and practiced, though somewhat buried under the backing. However, I expect with the recorder, flute and violin lines (to name a few) this was intended to be much more of a surreal instrumental with vocal support than anything else.

In its totality, it’s a work of utter divinity and complexity, reaffirming Strummer’s status as a brilliant producer and musical architect.

  1. Coma Girl – 2003

What else could I have ended this with? The Mescaleros had some brilliant songs over their four years together; X-Ray Style, Johnny Appleseed and Get Down Moses have always been favourites of mine, though this tops the lot.

At a Strummerville benefit show at Dingwalls earlier this year, I was totally taken when Coma Girl emphatically opened the set. I screamed every lyric, haphazardly threw myself across the mosh pit densely populated by sweaty 50-something year olds (my Dad resigned himself to the bar; probably a wise move) and completely drained all emotional energy by the time the song was over. It was the first Strummer song I’d ever seen properly performed live, and I was utterly hooked.

It’s a classic Strummer tune, a timeless rock frenzy exuding raw energy and emotion that grows in stature and power with every listen. He’s in his element, proudly reclaiming his once-ruled territory in the rock ‘n’ roll savannah, every vocal a lion-roar reminder to all where he stands.

Coma Girl was released as a single posthumously, preceding the brilliant Streetcore album which received acclaim from critics and commentators – a truly fitting send off for one of the most intricate, intelligent and influential rockers modern times has ever witnessed.

The Fall Obituary

My first true journalistic piece, I wrote this article in late February for my university magazine in a ‘Broken-Up Bands’ feature a few weeks after Mark E. Smith’s death.

Basically a print version of me parading the campus wearing an ‘I Love The Fall Even Though They Confuse Me Sometimes’ shirt, I aimed to get some innocent, anonymous reader to acknowledge who and what The Fall were, stick ‘Pay Your Rates’ or ‘Jawbone and the Air Rifle’ on, listen in mild confusion and swiftly leave, questioning what the hell they’d just heard – standard protocol for all first listens of The Fall, I believe.

I thought many articles on the feature had been somewhat self-indulgent and missed the point, focusing on the author’s love for the artist rather than the artists themselves and their impact as a whole. So I felt I had done their legacy justice to some extent – it’s difficulty to know if you comprehensively can with The Fall.

But anyway, nothing says artistic justice like an article about The Fall, written by a middle-class student from the South, for a middle-class university’s magazine about how great they were. Exactly what Mark would’ve wanted, right?

‘Hey student, You’re gonna get it through the head’

*

Mark E. Smith’s death in January gave us a timely reminder of what two things The Fall have taught us about musical endeavour over their spellbinding career: You can write critically acclaimed albums of songs consisting only of two guitar chords complimented by absurdly obscure vocals, and it is possible to maintain prolific commendation and musical output despite the coming and going of 66 different members over 42 years. On the topic, Smith famously jibed “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall”.

My first experience of The Fall was in 2016 when listening to their third album Grotesque (After The Gramme), released in 1980. A politically charged bleak outlook on Thatcherite Britain, it opened my eyes to how musical and lyrical creation could be so effortless, humorous and minimalist; the first track ‘Pay Your Rates’ sees Smith rhyme ‘rates’ with itself fourteen times, for example. The album took on themes such as conspiracy theories, the middle-class’ adoption of punk and the lack of career opportunities for the working-class, with Smith’s signature lyrical satirising of all he saw shining through time and time again; “The lower-class, want brass, bad chests, scrounge fags/The clever ones tend to emigrate” he quips in ‘English Scheme’.

Delving deeper into their goldmine discography, the brilliance of The Fall becomes clearer and clearer – Hex Enduction Hour (1982) is an astounding piece of artistry – commanding, jarring and utterly compelling; The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984) offers immense bassline driven headbangers, while The Infotainment Scan (1993) sees Smith and co. take on Madchester beats in an enthralling journey of indie-dance experimentation.

Admittedly, on first listening The Fall can be extremely difficult to follow. They are exceptionally idiosyncratic, reject the current trends of the day and demand great patience from the audience – Smith remarked in 1990 “We do make deliberate decisions to alienate people”, owing to their abrasive and repetitive song structure and production. Though with time you begin to welcome their sounds with open arms. It is impossible to resist the thundering chord sequence of ‘Mr Pharmacist’, the sheer speed and velocity of ‘Jawbone and the Air Rifle’ or the hectic, distorted mess that is ‘Lay of the Land’. I could go on, though I fear the list may be everlasting, perhaps never ending.

Smith’s death – bringing with it the end of The Fall – symbolises a growing disappearance of a vital era for musical creativity, both poetically and instrumentally. The post-punk breed has lost an extravagant yet solitary figure of anti-fashion that broke all rules of conformity and trend, offering up 31 albums of pure rejection and retreat, yet remaining as current, confrontational and up front as physically possible. They are one of a kind, though they’d probably reject that too.