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.

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.