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

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

Offshore Banking Business B/W Solitary Confinement – The Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A classic number from Manchester’s finest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fall Obituary – One Year On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For The Record #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

The Fall Obituary

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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