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.

Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #5 – Public Image Ltd

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Obvious B/W Diet – Au Pairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

A-Side: 3/5   B-Side: 4/5

Love Like Blood B/W Blue Feather – Killing Joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flowers of Romance – Public Image Ltd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: For The Record #3 – Buzzcocks Edition

Musical Epiphanies #1 – Gang of Four on The Old Grey Whistle Test

This series of blogs covers musical moments that have changed my perspective on music or have stayed with me since the first view or listen. We start with Gang of Four’s performance of ‘To Hell With Poverty’ on cult TV show ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ in 1981, which I first saw 6 years ago aged 13.

A lot can be said about this performance – its electricity, its power, perhaps its complete ridiculousness. But for me, this levels with Public Image Ltd and Au Pairs as one of the best Old Grey Whistle Test performances by a punk band – its sheer class is utterly undeniable, showing a band both at the peak of their powers and in total adoration with their art.

For those who haven’t seen this performance, I’d recommend following the link here and watching the video before reading further!

Andy Gill’s chords soar in an infectious mess of high-pitched screams, momentarily fall back to Earth and are resurrected with authoritative thrashes of the strings, with Gill slowly rocking with the rising intensity of the moment.

Then come the drums and bass. Now the chaos has a backing track, and it’s irresistible. The whole band are in full swing, with singer Jon King flying in from the side of the stage and performing what can only be described as a total insult to dance, though a spasm of complete euphoria, an ecstasy epidemic shared by all on stage.

All stops for a brief second, and crashes back into life. King and Gill move to the mics. ‘OOOOOH, AH AH AH!’. It’s music at its most hedonistic, its least caring. King sings the wrong words within three lines, but who the hell cares?  It’s a beat-driven frenzy that no one dare try to control.

The song describes giving up on political principle and social action, centring on the lines ‘To hell with poverty/We’ll get drunk on cheap wine’. No combination of lyrics and performance could epitomise this sense of stark realism more while being juxtaposed by the most hysterically danceable punk song ever – an anthem for the despairing anti-Thatcher freedom fighters, dancing high on their own downfall.

This will remain, to me, an understated highlight of punk. Though never a huge favourite of mine, Gang of Four grabbed me in a way not many artists could. They demand your attention, your enjoyment. They don’t care if you refuse. These are the dying embers of the revolution, so let’s shout about it while we can! Let’s sing about our futility and hopelessness with pride! Why not? What have we got to lose?

The next ten years showed we did have a lot to lose, unfortunately, but we’ll save that for the political blogs. For now, though, we can celebrate one of the greatest punk innovators at their best, shamelessly parading the OGWT stage with blissful ignorance to convention and musical normality.

We can all raise a cheap glass to that, surely?

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #2 – Magazine – Real Life