The Best of The Fall [1978-83]

The return of the blog has led to the inevitable return of me writing about The Fall in more extensive devotion and detail than any other artist could dream of. Of course, The Fall in Fives/YMGTA blogs have somewhat rendered attempting to write about The Fall in any comprehension a task now obsolete, but still! I have the excuse of being the youngest Fall fan I know by a couple of decades, so there’s my USP :-).

This series is simply going to be a list of my favourite songs for every five years of The Fall. There will be some omissions as I’ve written plenty in the past about particular songs, but luckily the discography is so huge there’s another (approximately) 480 songs for me to choose from.

Early-age Fall is extremely hit-and-miss for me, particularly the first two records. Witch Trials and Dragnet, while holding some standout tracks, are a couple of the more forgettable releases of the repertoire and I don’t find myself going back to listen to them at all. This re-visit may spark a renewed interest, but I think this is an unlikely occurrence.

More likely is a warm re-welcoming of Grotesque and Hex, the first two Fall albums I listened to around three years ago, and I have neglected for quite a while. Other than the obligatory introduction to The Fall via ‘Mr Pharmacist’ or ‘Totally Wired’, ‘Pay Your Rates’ was my real entry into the Fall-o-sphere, opening a new realm of post-punk wonder to me.

For my previous Fall related ramblings, you can find all I’ve written via the Artist Index, and you can also follow my ‘Fall for The Fall’ playlist on Spotify here. 181 songs, chronologically arranged, and all wonderful. Eagle-eyed readeras will see that seven of the eight tracks on Perverted By Language make it onto the playlist, making this whittling down of tracks an even more difficult task for this post.

The songs listed are not exhaustive, but having had a relisten of the albums and related singles, these are the tunes that have always stood out to me. Notable omissions can be found at the end of the post.

Psycho Mafia

Is Mark actually saying any words? It’s hard to tell. But the force behind each shouted drawl is brilliantly urgent above the simple riff. Even better is the production of the vocals themselves, the echo encapsulating the song providing an extra hit of demented-ness. Minimal effort is given to the backing of the song – simply a recipe of grab a catchy hook and stick with it – and ‘Pyscho Mafia’ executes the formula wonderfully. The ‘outro’ (high pitched guitar strums lasting around 10 seconds) is a little bit lacking in extravagance of any sort, but I’m sure that’s the point. An excellent two-minute punk hit.

Rebellious Jukebox

This is, for me, probably the most ‘complete’ song on Witch Trials. I think Witch Trials suffers from two main flaws – firstly, the overdoing of the drums, and secondly, Mark trying a little to hard to stamp his authority on the ‘-ah’ sound ending on every word. ‘Jukebox’ seems to avoid these shortcomings, and Mark’s tone seems more emotional and more fitting than others on the album (I know this might not go down well with some of LATWT’s more ardent fans; I can only apologise). The result is a song that offers a sort of darkness that doesn’t overbear the listener while also maintaining a solid pace and bounce.

Psykick Dancehall

A brilliant track all round. There’s a greater assuredness compared to Witch Trials on Dragnet, and ‘Psykick’ is a central exhibit of this. Smith sounds more confident and a lot less gimmicky with his vocal tone, while the developments of song are more thought-through and inventive.

Printhead

One comment to make about Dragnet is that the quality of recording is, at times, extremely shoddy. While The Fall are grafted and heralded for their artistic carelessness and wilingness to leave rough edges rough, I feel that the songs do suffer. ‘Printhead’ is an excellent track – fast, powerful and pacey punk. This was a track that really, really grabbed me in my early listenings. It didn’t try too hard to be something, it was just genuine and shameless. I just wish the recording and production was less muffly and the sound of each instrument was a little more pronounced. Still though, an absolute stormer.

English Scheme

Better quality recording, better quality lyrics, better quality Fall. ‘English Scheme’ was the first Fall song I loved for it’s ‘Fall-ness’. I loved the line “The clever ones tend to emigrate / Like your psychotic big brother who left home“, the cheap sounding keyboard that Marc Riley insisted on being included, and the new speak-sing tone of Smith. In all honesty, I just thought it was a really funny song. Yet it’s still got enough urgency to it to nod your head along to, and is a truly memorable track.

The Container Drivers

A bouncing rockabilly beauty. The start of it is abrupt, swiftly following on from the more conservatively paced ‘C ‘n’ C-S Mithering’ (also a great track) without any prior warning with a machine-gun drum roll before entering into a rough 12-bar-blues number. It’s simple but effective, and holds enough idiosyncracy to detach itself from any inkling of being a standard blues track.

Prole Art Threat

Talking about machine gun drum rolls, have this one for two minutes straight. It shouldn’t work as a track, it should be utterly unlistenable (well, The Fall are to most), but this is such a powerful track. The descent into the main section midway into the song which sees all instrumental sections join fully is a triumphant moment of early Fall. I wish it went on for a tad longer, but that is not to take away from the sheer authroity of this track at all. A stupendous composition.

Jawbone and The Air-Rifle

I had a huge phase in my early Fall ventures of just listening to ‘The Classical’ and ‘Jawbone’ over and over and over, leaving the rest of Hex utterly neglected. The speed of this song is relentless, yet I find the more restrained singing from Smith and co. an excellent contradiction in sound between themselves and the instrumentation. Furthering my appreciation for this song was that, when playing this around 3 years ago, my Mum informed me that she, though not a Fall fan to any degree, loved this song and remembered my uncle listening to it a lot growing up. I had every excuse to play it however many times I liked after that. Play it I did, and play it I still do.

Hip Priest

As if my Mum wasn’t cool enough, upon hearing this track around the same period as ‘Jawbone’ she told me about ‘Hip Priest’ featuring in The Silence of the Lambs, and also regarded this as one of her favourite Fall tracks growing up. It took me a long time to appreicate this track – I think I found it discomforting and a little dreary. Like any Fall track you have an issue with, however, you realise that the inaccessibility is the reason why you’re listening in the first place and the reason why you’ll inevitably fall in love with the track, no matter how long it takes.

It’s a creeping, lurking number, invading the space with a sinister disregard for any innocence. When you think it’s going to get you with a ‘Hip, hip, hip, hip’ it quickly hides again. Once it does get going, however, it’s inescapably brilliant. The guitars are gloriously ramshackle, and Hanley’s bass dances freely in the chaos. A quintessential number.

Neighbourhood of Infinity

An all-time favourite of mine, ‘Neighbourhood’ is made by the two-drummer line up, utilised with devastating effect for the duration of the track. On top of this lies Smith’s emotionless rambling, which moves in and out of the backing seamlessly. My one and only criticism of this song is that it doesn’t go on long enough at all, even with ‘Eat Y’self’ and ‘Garden’ on either side of the track listing.

I Feel Voxish

For me, this song is the most clear evidence of The Fall as a crusing, confident and careless band. Perverted By Language seems like a crystallisation of five years’ work in the studio to achieve the ‘Fall Sound’ (if you will) before Brix’s steering to new domains, and ‘I Feel Voxish’ is the centrepiece. The guitar riff is weird and ill-fitting for normal ears, but the way it works itself into place alongside the grooving bassline is magnificent, while the insistence of the drum track to not change *a bit* adds to the aforementioned carelessness of ’83 Fall. Solid.

Notable Omissions

This section will exist on every article of this series. Obviously, a selection of 12 songs over five years will not cater to everyone’s needs (including my own), but having written about many before and also liking too many to be able to mention properly, this section is the natural compromise.

Witch Trials: Frightened, Industrial Estate, Two Steps Back, Music Scene.

Dragnet: Your Heart Out, Spectre vs Rector

Grotesque: Pay Your Rates, New Face In Hell, C ‘n’ C-S, In The Park, NWRA.

Slates: Middle Mass, Fit and Working Again, Leave The Capitol.

Hex: Every other track.

Perverted By Language: Every other track. Best Fall album.

Non-album: Bingo Master, Repetition, Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, Elastic Man, Totally Wired, Fantastic Life, Wings, Ludd Gang, Kicker Conspiracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerusalem B/W Acid Priest 2088

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Surgery Disasters – Dead Kennedys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never happened, did it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, wasn’t that a nice visit?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: For The Record #5