For The Record #6 – News Of The World / A Song From Under The Floorboards / The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…

Probably the longest title of the FTR series yet, and probably the whole blog…

The Jam make their debut appearance, while Magazine and (obviously) The Fall are back in. Before we begin, my last article about PiL was my second-most viewed piece since I started writing, so thanks to all those who read it for making my awful university exam and coursework period a bit less gloomy and for starting 2019 on a positive step!

Also, I’ve noticed, with my previous FTR articles, that I never talk about where or how I acquired the records I talk about. From here, I’ll give a bit of background to the origins of my collection, and hopefully offer some tips on buying vinyl in the future.

Let’s begin…

News Of The World B/W Aunties and Uncles + Innocent Man – The Jam

This was bought, if I remember correctly, at Spitalfields Market record fair in Liverpool Street for £4. A usual saturday for me was to travel into Central London to the record fair for a quick half-hour peruse of the stock before heading to watch the football (at which club I will not reveal!), so I got to know which stalls had the best punk selections. Other records featured in my articles that I’ve bought from Spitalfields include ‘Hitsville U.K.’, ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ and ‘Making Plans For Nigel’.

To put it simply, I like The Jam. I think the fact they were a trio made them a little more independent and noteworthy compared to their contemporaries, while its hard to deny the influence Paul Weller has had on practically all corners of the musical arena.

However, this, for me, has always proved to be a problem. Throughout secondary education, there were three people everyone into any alternative music wanted to be like, look like, sound like and so on. Considering I grew up in West London, a mighty barrier to achieving these feats had already been put in place.

Number one was Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. Number two was a mix of Liam/Noel Gallagher and Ian Brown, which meant putting on a generic Manc accent, constantly saying ‘madferit’ and wearing any form of overpriced vintage clothing in sight. I was also the only person who seemed to prefer Blur to Oasis too, which I don’t think particularly helped.

And number three, inevitably, was Paul Weller, or a near-enough incrnation of him, embracing some form of mod look, usually coming in the form of Doc Martens, skinny jeans, Fred Perry polo and Harrington jacket.

I understand this is extreme musical snobbery from me, but this completely turned me off from nearly all of the acts associated with these people. Hearing ‘Town Called Malice’ or ‘Going Underground’ at any gathering for the umpteenth time was a bit too much for me at times, and I could never convince anyone to let me have the music for a song or two (I don’t blame them at all, however).

Admittedly, singles-wise, I have no qualms with The Jam at all – they have some absolute scorchers, yet I could never do a full album. I can’t explain why, I just don’t think they were fully for me, and being insisted upon the same three songs repeatedly is probably why I chose to escape to my hive of obscurity.

Moving on from my adolescent indifference, ‘News Of The World’ is by far my favourite Jam song of all time. I think it’s absolutely stunning. For my generation, the Mock The Week theme tune (apologies, purists) was inevitably our first introduction to its raw energy, albeit in a thirty second snippet.

The full version starts with three-note arpeggios, before erupting into an angsty, punchy punk cruiser. Bruce Foxton (bassist) takes the lead on vocals, while Weller is given free-rein on guitar. Each chord is thumped out with real strength, oozing with glorious might.

To be honest, this is the first time I’ve listened to the song in a very, very long time – I must confess that I’ve missed it greatly – the brilliant ‘Canada-a-a’ line, the emphatic nature of every instrument in the raucous tirade on the ears. It’s simply magnificent.

The guitar solo is pure punk-rockabilly and utterly, utterly triumphant. I think what’s also great about the song is the way it doesn’t stick to verse-chorus structure – every thirty seconds offers a new hit of variation and unpredctability, something which I feel they could’ve played on more over their tenure.

There’s something quite nostalgic about this song, with the ‘read all about it’ line taking me back to the age when I used to watch Mock The Week every thursday night in bed (what was I thinking?). It holds an oddly significant place in my musical memory, particularly as I was an avid viewer of the show.

All in all, a fantastic piece of thumping punk artistry.

‘Aunties and Uncles’ is quite sterile in comparison to the A-side, offering a bit more of an emotional and melodic edge. It’s quite an innocent sounding song – from my ten second revision of the lyrics, I can’t really gather whether it’s a song of appreication or frustration, but it’s certainly pleasant enough. The guitar solo perhaps outstays its welcome a little, but it remains a very listenable number indeed.

Another Foxton-penned number follows with ‘Innocent Man’. It’s another safe song, and again is very pleasant, but I’m starting to feel the fatigue that I seem to always suffer when listening to a few Jam songs in a row that I experienced when I was trying to ‘get’ what everyone loved about them. It’s not as strong as ‘Aunties’, but still offers just about enough to keep you interested, though I think it’s fair to say it’s a tad repetitive and doesn’t offer many surprises.

A strong all-round performance.

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

 

A Song From Under The Floorboards B/W Twenty Years Ago – Magazine

This was one of my first ever purchases of vinyl, around 2015, I reckon. I had just started attending the monthly Soundbite record fair in Chiswick, and was quick to grab the record and run.

As mentioned in previous articles, whether they’re the subject or not, Magazine were my first musical obsession. I spent a good year repeatedly playing their first three albums, with each song always offering fantastic lyrical witticisms, utter other-worldliness and a perfect dose of discord to top it all off.

‘Floorboards’, contrarily, is lyrically crushing, extremely down-to-earth, and, frankly, quite beautiful.

As ever, McGeoch leads the pack with a soaring arpeggiated riff gently backed by Adamson on bass and Formula on keys, before bursting into life on the hit of Doyle’s drums. It’s a clinical shot of melancholic enchantment, grabbing you instantly. And if it wasn’t emotional enough, in comes Howard Devoto with two of the most gorgeously sombre opening lines in post-punk history:

I am angry, I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin/My irritability keeps me alive and kicking

Delivered in the most honest and confessional tone possible, the opening thirty seconds are gut-wrenchingly brilliant.

In typical Magazine fashion, the spotlight in the instrumentation moves from McGeoch to Adamson, the bassline waltzing gloriously behind Devoto’s vocals, each hammer-on and slide serving a wonderful touch of masterful expertise which is so commonplace in all of Magazine’s work.

The chorus, too, is gracefully delivered with care and delicacy, Devoto reaching greater levels of moodiness as the song progresses further.

The tune continues in the same vein before the stunning post-chorus eruption of destructive misery and elegance, led by the wonderful ascending riff of the keyboard.

Everything about this song, and I mean everything, is simply delightful. It’s a clear demonstration of the abilities of Devoto and co. in delivering a classy touch to the post-punk edge and composing a tune of absolute importance and strength.

Devoto is back again, this time in total despondency:

Used to make phantoms I could later chase/Images of all that could be desired

Then I got tired of counting all of these blessings/And then I just got tired

It’s such an admittance of defeat, of worthlessness, of complete and utter dejection. Simply stunning.

It concludes with a final chorus, before a notably upbeat outro compared to the offerings in the grooves prior to its departure. Another trick up Magazine’s sleeve, and it works, too.

After this, we’re greeted by a creature that couldn’t be further from the offerings on the other side of the vinyl.

A weird hit of keyboards descends, before pacey, urgent drums kick in with a combative, mostly single-note bassline. Devoto interrupts out of nowhere, and is succeeded by discordant improvisation on the strings by McGeoch.

I’m not sure what feeling, emotion or atmosphere is meant to be evoked from this piece other than that of bemused absurdity – a screeching saxophone makes some awkward appearances too, in a sort of drunken bust-up with Devoto’s high-pitched yelps.

Despite what the previous paragraphs may infer, I actually adore this song, but I could never explain this in any way other than ‘just listen to it!’, in a similar tone to when I attempt to justify the genius of The Fall. It’s a disruptive, raucous mess, but I will defend it with passion. It’s just so odd.

All in all, simple brilliance, featuring on an album that is equally as pleasing and rewarding.

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

 

The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… LP – The Fall 

Unlike the other records featured, I got this LP as a gift from my Fall-loving uncle in 2017. No stroy to be told here, I’m afraid.

After GrotesqueTWAFW was my next step in discovering The Fall around aged 16. I’d liked what I’d heard on Grotesque, partially because of its simplicity and messiness, but mostly because of the charmingly hilarious words of MES (refer to the first line of ‘New Face In Hell’, for anyone who doesn’t know what I’m on about…).

I don’t know why I took a 4 year step in their discography, particularly as ‘The Classical’ (from 1982’s iconic Hex Enduction Hour) was actually my first ever listening to The Fall from a Spotify discover playlist. I think I just went for the albums with the most eye-catching covers, to be honest.

Anyway, I listened once until the fourth track ‘Elves’, which is where I decided that this album was rubbish. I completely overdid ‘Lay Of The Land’ and gave everything else a half-hearted listen, which is the most I could give it at the time. I just thought it was completely awful.

Silly 16-year-old me.

On a more through venture through The Fall’s discography two years later, where I’d listened to every studio album before TWAFW (apart from Room To Live, which I wrongly construed as a live album), I had a greater appreciation and understanding of The Fall’s sound and background, and went into TWAFW with a bit more open-mindedness and optimism. And, luckily, I loved it. Completely.

I’ve mentioned ‘Lay Of The Land’ in my ‘Opening Tracks’ article, which is an absolutely gory, thumping mess of a song, but it is totally brilliant. Just mind-blowing. It has and always will be a favourite of the fanbase, and rightly so. It seems to know no limits on the levels of how uncaring and thunderous a song can be – it is quite simply magnificent.

TWAFW saw Mark’s first wife Brix enter the fray, bringing with her a more pop-oriented sound showcased by the preceding singles ‘C.R.E.E.P’ and ‘Oh! Brother’, which created contrasting opinions from fans due to the perceived selling-out of the group. No matter what the overall verdict of followers are, we know one of these songs has proven to provide an excellent name for a blog… (and it isn’t Creep, thankfully).

Brix’s key contribution to the album was ‘2×4’, which is a lovely hit of bluesy post-punk, giving Steve Hanley three ten-second gaps to showcase his vitality and presence to the world with an infectiously catchy riff on the bass. An accomplished track indeed.

Now, the next two songs are quite simply a punch in the face of orderliness. ‘Copped It’ appears out of no where, with a jarring, high-pitched guitar chord and a dancing bassline. Gavin Friday, who I hadn’t heard of before hearing this album, offers very eerie ‘Hey, hey, hey’ interludes between Smitth’s vocals, with an occasional ‘Sing that song!’ which sounds like a grotesquely ugly soul song trying to force it’s way into a Fall tune.

Admittedly, it works magnificently. The best moment of the song, for me, comes during the gradual ramp up in volume, before Smith erupts with a cry of ‘Taking out a policy on war and destruction!’, before the song concludes with some even stranger ‘Bawoo-bap-bap’ vocals from Brix. So odd.

As mentioned by just about any commentator of The Fall, ‘Elves’ is Brix’s inadvertent rip-off of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’, but despite the quite blatant plagiarism, it remains a treat. There’s a bit of an angst to the vocals which matches the gloominess of the instruments very aptly, while the weird (I’ll call it) ‘Oof’ noise is also very endearing.

Side Two kicks off with probably the most accomplished track on the album, ‘Slang King’, which is best summed up by The Fall In Fives as simply sounding like ‘music from another planet’. I don’t really feel I can do this song justice with any sort of theorising or gushing description, simply because a) there’s no words to aptly justify its brilliance, b) it’s so, so weird and c) it contains the lines ‘Three little girls with only 50 pence/Had to take, had to put/The Curly Wurly back’. What am I meant to say about it?

Annoyingly, I’ve also got little to say about its follower ‘Bug Day’, which is just quite lethargic, slow, and, to be honest, boring. In fairness, it’s the only real drop in quality for the whole album, so I think it can be forgiven.

‘Stephen Song’ is brilliant. A very addictive melody that sounds like an anthem of victory or triumph. Gavin Friday returns for some more ad-libbing and is all the more welcome for it. His voice is an ethereal offset for the brashness of MES’ rants, and on B-side ‘Clear Off!’, not featured on the album, I think his performance is sublime. Brix’s backing vocals fit wonderfully in with the jubilance of the song, and all in all it’s an assured piece of work. It was the song I remembered most from the brief listening I gave this album before moving onto This Nation’s, and one that I always welcome whenever it comes on.

‘Craigness’ is a bit more chilling and challenging, one that has never been a particularly memorable part of The Fall’s back catalogue for me. It’s alright, y’know. What follows is infinitely better, though.

‘Disney’s Dream Debased’ has always been an ethereal favourite of mine, ranking in second in my article on The Fall’s best closing tracks. To have such a grim background story to the song (have a look online if you’re interested) and yet create this juxtaposingly uplifting tune requires a level of musical awareness and understanding which is unparalelled. Wonderful. And frightening. (Apologies).

It really is a classic, understated album. The freshness of the songs and the imagination that went into to every note shows with the result of the album, and while it has a few shortcomings, it is still a vital and delightful record, and one that I feel completely chuffed to own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerusalem B/W Acid Priest 2088

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Surgery Disasters – Dead Kennedys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It never happened, did it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, wasn’t that a nice visit?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: For The Record #5