Musical Epiphanies #7 – Faith – The Cure

The sun is shining (where I am anyway), everyone is t-shirt and shorts clad, and it’s been way too long since I’ve written an article. So, what better to do than write about one of the most depressing records of all time to bring everyone reading back down to earth and remind them of our nation’s slow demise into nothingness?

Whatever your view on Brexit, the EU or Boris Johnson’s ever-receding hairline, these are extremely unpredictable yet utterly dull times. Turn on the news, and you’ll get one headline, with the same commentary that’s been relentlessly supplied for the last three years. Did anyone notice the cyclone in Africa? Probably not*. We’re all too bored and fatigued in our own indifference to take notice of anything else anymore, nor are we allowed to take notice of other events.

*Donate to the aid effort here if you can

We are miserable and everything is glum. If only there were a record to aptly sum up the absolute mundanity of it all. If only!

Step back 38 years and enter 1981, the second full year of Thatcher’s reign. After the release of Seventeen Seconds the previous year, it seemed The Cure were no where near finished with their exploits in ethereal elegance, nor with their descent into gothic gloominess. While Seventeen was a dip in the pool of darkness, Faith would be one of the defining moments of goth.

I was 15 when I first listened to this record. A family friend had been pushing me to listen to it as I was on a bit of a Cure phase, though only the happy-sad-lovely hits of the late 1980s. I must admit I expected the same kind of vibes as Three Imaginary Boys, punk with a twist of pop which wasn’t a particular challenge to listen to.

First, I saw the cover of Faith. It’s quite literally 50 Shades of Grey without any of the eroticism (Disclaimer: I’m yet to see or read 50 Shades, and I think this will remain for a while). In terms of album covers that weren’t manufactured to catch your eye with colour and vibrancy, this ranks up there with the most monotonous of them all.

Yet it is a wonderfully fitting preview of what is to come. And the more you look at it, the more you’re kind of dragged into its utter misery. What looks to me like a vague outline of a church with a smattering of angular, dead-looking grass, it’s simply magnificent in its minimalism. Even the writing of ‘faith’ has an aura of total indifference.

Writing this article has made me listen to this album for the first time in ages, and there’s no sweeter welcome back than the throbbing bassline of album opener ‘The Holy Hour’. It ascends and descends wonderfully, before it’s joined by a simple drum groove and gloomy organ line. With a crash, Smith’s guitar enters the fray with crisp chords, and we’re in full motion.

‘I kneel / And wait in silence / As one by one more people slip away’. How’s that for opening lines? The lyrics become more and more gloomy, and Smith’s voice, as ever, is in an absolute league of its own.

Even the bridge, with the high pitched guitar line is simply brilliant. Following this comes the closing lines ‘I cannot hold what you devour / The sacrifice of penance / in The Holy Hour’. The bassline continues valiantly, carrying the tune along with total control and ease, rising and falling majestically before a final hit of the drums, and a weird cross between synth and church bells signals the end of the beginning of a classic record.

With a few dry cuts of strings, in races ‘Primary’, consisting solely of two bass guitars (one high, one low), drums and Smith’s urgent vocals. This has always been one I’ve continuously overlooked and dismissed as a duff track, even as the lead single. But this revisit is teaching me a lesson. The rumble of the battling basslines is irresistible, and the track is a whole is a fantastic doff-of-the-cap to the punk movement, yet made more eloquent, refined and experimental. In all, a stand out moment in the early years of The Cure.

The way the album flows between tracks is something I’ve just noticed, and is marvellous. The gentle fade into ‘Other Voices’ and the ever-powerful Simon Gallup bass introduces the song brilliantly, with Smith now basically shouting down the mic with gentle fuzzy fade outs after each line. As a track, this is one that’s pretty good. To me, as long as the track makes you nod your head along, it’ll do, and I think the nod-ability (if you will) is a motif of the album as a whole. One review states of the album that ‘you may not love it, but you’ll be addicted’, and I think ‘Other Voices’ fits this description nicely.

A few hits of the drums more, and an abrupt end brings the track to a close.

Now we have one of the defining moments of The Cure’s releases. A repeating drum groove (not dissimilar in style to ‘Atrocity Exhibition’) brings us into ‘All Cats Are Grey’, one of the most miserable and destitute songs ever made. Led by an organ riff that invades every corner of the room with overbearing yet gentle force, Smith gently serenades ‘I never thought that I would find myself / In bed amongst the stones’, blending into the onslaught of atmosphere wonderfully. As far as poeticism goes, I don’t think Smith reaches many heights greater than the ones he does on Faith, which is an unrelenting barrage of lyrical and expressive beauty.

A haunting, solo piano line brings it to a close, and what follows is one of my favourite tracks of all time.

The synth-o-meter is whacked up to a thousand, with a fuzzy and warm chord sequence leading the tune into full charge. The bassline is infectious, as is Smith:

‘Two pale figures ache in silence / Timeless in the quiet ground / Side by side in ancient sadness’

‘The Funeral Party’ is, as you may have guessed, so utterly funereal and so utterly stunning. If melancholy needed a theme tune, this would be it. When I first heard this song in my dimly-lit room, I just sat in total awe of what was emanating out of the speakers. Everything about this song is wonderful. Joyously brilliant.

Smith continues ‘Memories of children’s dreams / Lie lifeless, fading, lifeless’. I think the contradiction between the innocence and – dare I say – happiness of the instrumental compared to the sadness of the lyrics is utterly spellbinding. The song drifts gently, swaying without worry before gently disappearing into the distance. Wonderful.

‘Doubt’ bursts in out of no where, catching the complacently relaxed listener off guard. I’ve always hated the fact they put this slab of rough aural assault after such the beauty of ‘The Funeral Party’, and it’s another song I’ve always dismissed, but again I have to confess that I am loving it. It’s got something a bit more sinister and ominous compared to its similarly speedy contemporary ‘Primary’, and Smith’s voice seems to have a childish carelessness unseen on other tracks. Another stunner.

‘The Drowning Man’ starts absolutely brilliantly. Keyboard handclaps are extremely hit-and-miss with me, but combined with the creeping guitar line which grows louder and louder, it’s a brutish but brilliant combination. Smith’s vocals are basically one long, drawn-out drone at this stage, but still work with the backing effortlessly. God, it’s gloomy. This is a track I never ever listen to. Not out of dislike, just out of general ignorance and forgetfulness, but I never remember it being so deathly. It is glorious, mind you.

And after a slow, whirring fade out and four taps of the drumsticks, we are welcomed by the creeping, ever-growing and always wonderful closing track, ‘Faith’. The guitar line, despite revolving around about five notes, always seems to find a way to evolve and develop. Moving up an octave just before the two-minute mark, it continues this exploration of minimal bliss, before Smith joins in with eerie semi-croons, ‘Catch me if I fall / I’m losing hold / I can’t just carry on this way’.

Even this song is surprising me regarding its darkness. I can’t imagine recording this album being a fruitful adventure of emotions or a celebratory process, just a slow descent into complete misery. To close with this six minute stunner is undeniably apt, however. I love the constant repetition of the line ‘but nothing ever changed’, slowly disappearing in the haze of the bass and guitar lines, a mystifying final goodbye from Smith, which returns in the final minute of the song with more urgency and anger, and the single guitar line just after we reach six minutes is indisputably superb.

Heavy drums and ghostly Smith vocals bring the song to a slowing, lethargic end. Eight songs, thirty-six minutes and fifty-six seconds of absolute miserable joy.

Much like my exploits with Joy Division, I held many school friends hostage with this album. ‘Listen to the bassline!’ I’d say to them about ‘The Holy Hour’, but, as ever, worries for my mental state and happiness seemed paramount with others. I mean, I don’t at all blame them, but at least try the music!

Still, this was the moment when I realised goth was for me. I utterly adore the album as a whole – there are certainly tracks that aren’t as strong as others, but as a whole package it’s an absolute masterpiece, and another album which I feel is so overlooked by punk commentators. This record also led me on a journey into darker pastures; my discovery of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Juju and the fantastic Only Theatre of Pain by Christian Death.

What we have here is a defining record that altered my musical adventures forever, and began my exploration into avenues of melancholy, gloom and beauty.

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

Punks On Film #2 – Joy Division on Something Else

It surprised me to see that I hadn’t actually written about Joy Division in any length whatsoever throughout my twenty article run despite the total love I hold for all their material. I’ve read Peter Hook’s brilliant Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division and had them playing for practically all of my life.

Playing Joy Division to my friends overtime garnered a questionable array of responses, some good, some bad, however most of them usually revolved around concern for my happiness and wellbeing when listening to such macabre, haunting sounds. Overtime response has generally become more positive (as it would with greater musical maturity) but many seem somewhat reluctant to embrace the Joy Division repertoire in all its glory.

So, after my coming to grips with the aural aspect of proceedings, imagine people’s faces when I came to show them this performance! I remember various scenarios of me and someone held hostage to my music taste sitting in the school library watching the display, my eyes wide, my face a look of glorious wonder and dazzlement, and then my friends, confused, worried for Ian Curtis and mostly worried for me.

Like many other bands I’ve written about, this appearance was my introduction to Joy Division, featuring on the Punk Britannia At The BBC video compilation in around 2012 or 2013. The clip shown was only of ‘She’s Lost Control’, excluding its seminal predecessor ‘Transmission’, so there was even more for me to obsess over later in life.

Some context now – not being from the time my knowledge may be a tad patchy, but as far as I can gather Something Else was a music magazine show that had a short stint on BBC Two across the punk and post-punk era. It broadcast the only BBC appearance of The Clash (who played ‘Tommy Gun’ and ‘Clash City Rockers’) and, looking at it’s Wikipedia page (being the meticulous researcher I am) had a stunning array of artists perform throughout its innings – a punk’s dream, it seems.

Joy Division’s appearance came in only the second edition of the show which also featured performances from John Cooper Clarke and The Jam (you see what I mean by a punk’s dream?!), and came just four months after the release of debut album Unknown Pleasures, which charted at the extremely modest #71 on the U.K. albums chart.

As stated, the performance kicks off with the influential non-album single ‘Transmission’ and the infectious minimalism of Peter Hook’s bassline, the iconic aspect of the Joy Division sound. Quick to follow is a relentless, machine gun-like Morris groove and an admittedly cagey lead guitar line by a very controlled, perhaps slightly nervous Sumner. After one quick slip on a note, however, they’re in full swing.

Curtis comes in, a gentle half-croon of ‘Radio, live transmission…’. It’s just one of those songs, isn’t it? The pace, the power, the sheer energy put into every instrument and note to make the performance so brilliant.

What I always found was so good about this song is the simplicity to each part. There isn’t a high degree of difficulty in anything played, no real musical complexity, just a uniquely punk attitude and charisma into the layering and structuring of the song. It’s a song which builds and builds before turning into a warring, hard-hitting and oh-so powerful closing act.

Even a brief introduction of chords from Sumner brings out a fantastic moment of tension, a foreshadowing of the explosive ending coming soon which always grabs me, a warning of what is to come.

‘Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio’ Curtis announces, each time getting more aggressive, before the verse is just an absolutely tunelessly beautiful shout down the microphone, fulled by anger and an inability to control the velocity of the performance, summed up aptly by the fantastic ‘and we can DAAAAAAAAAANCE!’ which just about shreds every part of his throat to pieces.

A few more ‘Dance, dance, dance’ lines before a cataclysmic final few fills and a quietening groove from the workmanlike Morris, and the song seems over before it even begun. What a way to introduce yourself to the nation, and what a song.

Song number two, and the one which introduced me to Joy Division and one that many others were reluctantly introduced to by myself. Morris’ double hits of the drums are joined by the classic bassline of ‘She’s Lost Control’.

This version has a bit more pace and vigour compared to the more refined album take. The pitch of Hook’s bass is brilliant, and Curtis is, despite slurring practically every word, note perfect, slowly descending into what will become one of the moments of punk history. Summer joins in, giving an extra hit of buzz to the song. The engine is running, and the tune seems to grow and grow into a deadlier beast, Curtis shaking, swaying, before letting out a restrained yet utterly vicious growl of ‘She’s lost control’, which he has to stop himself from completely screaming.

And it begins, a quick cut to Sumner returns back to Curtis, dancing like a madman, completely taken by the sounds closing in on him, the chilling bassline, the thumping guitar and the unrelenting smashes of Morris’ drums. These are the first glimpses of the complete pandemonium waiting around the corner.

Curtis returns calmer, hardly able to open his eyes and observe his surroundings, but this facade is quickly removed by the return of the gradual buildup into the instrumental, Sumner’s distorted, crushing chords, and another incensed roar from Curtis signals that all hell has most certainly broken loose.

His eyes, his demeanour, everything about him looks utterly, utterly possessed. Uncontrollable. I love the brief cut to the camera view behind the audience who sit so innocently still, so passive, probably unable to fathom a justifiable or poignant reaction to what is taking place in front of them. They simply sit and observe while Joy Division take them on this macabre, dark but fascinating journey. I imagine their reactions were similar to those of my friends who had to sit through something that seemed to me so confusing but so intriguing; the sound, the dancing, everything.

Peter Hook’s continuously looks up from the bass to witness what’s unfolding in front of him while Sumner’s gaze is glued to to his guitar. I think the contrast between all four in terms of their body language is also something which adds an extra something to the performance – did Sumner see Curtis’ dance? Was Curtis ever in control of what he was doing?

The instruments slow, as does Curtis, and the song is brought to a gentle close by a slick line from Sumner and a gentle rumble of bass before Morris’ final two hits of the drums. Curtis leans over, some can call it a bow, some can call it getting his breath back, but it adds another layer to this iconic showing.

At the time of first viewing I wasn’t aware of Ian Curtis or his history with epilepsy, and I can’t confirm or deny whether it had a part to play here or whether he was simply intoxicated by the music itself. I think it’s safe to say, regardless of what was the key player, this performance is one of the greatest of all time. Meticulously backed by the band, Curtis leads the viewer down a path of unease, intrigue and pure musical beauty, and one that will never be forgotten.

For The Record #7 – Pearly-Dewdrops Drops / Love Song / 154

Two bands I’ve never written about feature, and there’s a more eclectic mix of releases to review this week.

Pearly-Dewdrops Drops B/W Cocteau Twins

I bought this last week at a record fair in Victoria, which was by far the biggest fair I’ve ever been to. I bought 154 there too, along with ‘Living Too Late’ by The Fall.

Cocteau Twins have never been a big favourite of mine, nor do I dislike them at all. They’re a good band, and their big hits I absolutely adore, but I’ve never been truly taken by an album before. I will admit, however, I tend to hold the idea that they were in a total league of their own through the 1980s and 90s, so there’s a bit of artistic respect influencing my distant appreciation.

My mild ignorance to Cocteau Twins is showcased by the fact I thought this song was called ‘Pearly Pearly Pewdrops’, though I think I can be forgiven due to the fact that, as far as I’m aware, some vocals of theirs consisted solely of Elizabeth Fraser’s made-up language. One of the ‘league of their own’ aspects of their output. Another is Fraser’s vocals alone, one of my favourite singing voices of all time, lending itself perfectly to my preference to female vocalists over male.

‘Pearly’ is a truly stunning song of ethereal melancholy. There’s something about their sound that is so addictive and endearing, with Fraser’s soaring cries and the distorted fuzz of Guthrie’s guitar, backed by the most powerful yet emotional bass line. I’ve always been extremely fond of this song, getting into it at an age (consisting of A level pessimism and desperation) where I was more adolescently emotionally fragile than others.

As far as Cocteau Twins choruses go, it’s certainly not as strong as ‘Cherry-Coloured Funk’, which is probably my favourite song of theirs, but still very strong indeed. On the other hand, the performance of ‘Pearly’ on Old Grey Whistle Test is to die for – simple magnificence.

‘Pepper-Tree’ has a bit more of a dark, unnerving touch. Led by an ascending, Cure-like riff, Fraser’s vocals continue to hit new heights, and the controlled discord of the song works very convincingly. It is a little bit too 80s for me, but I absolutely love the chorus. Another fantastic b-side discovery.

A very strong introduction to the article.

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

Love Song B/W Noise Noise Noise / Suicide – The Damned

One of my first ever vinyl purchases. I’m a huge fan of the brilliantly named Machine Gun Etiquette which I discovered after watching their Old Grey Whistle Test performance, the main feature of that being the destruction of the entire set and the psychotic yet exhausted look of Rat Scabies at the end of the whole debacle.

As for my listening of The Damned, I had a huge phase with the previously mentioned album aged fifteen, and an even bigger phase with their era-defining Damned Damned Damned aged fourteen. Outside of these two releases however, I’m not an especially avid or passionate fan of theirs – the gothic stuff is okay, and I quite like the song ‘Life Goes On’, but there’s no album outside of the two mentioned that ever truly grabbed me.

‘Love Song’, quite simply, is just a huge slab of hedonistic punk mayhem and destruction, with one of the most effectively simple bass lines ever. The lyrics are hilariously awful and, as the meticulously informed Wikipedia page for the song expertly points out, it indeed is not a love song. It’s thumping, hard-hitting, and utterly addictive. This piece has brought a welcome return to a song which was one of the first in crafting my obsession with all things punk.

The B-sides don’t make for equally pleasurable listening, unfortunately. ‘Noise Noise Noise’ has quite an interesting riff, offering a bit of discordant imagination to proceedings, but all in all isn’t a  particularly memorable or essential listen. However, I will concede that the guitar solo is exceptional. It’s definitely improvised to some degree, but is quite frantic and extremely powerful, thanks to the rough distortion applied to the strings. As a whole piece though, a rather average showing that is a notable dip on Machine Gun Etiquette.

‘Suicide’ is a bit more punk with a touch more attitude and aggression. It starts with another very strong riff, if you can call it that – it appears more of a random conglomeration of uncomfortably mismatched notes, a bit reminiscent of ‘My War’ by Black Flag. I have to admit, the song is a little outdated – I feel that this brand of punk had worn quite tired by the release of the single, particularly with the chant-like chorus, which reminds me of some very average American punk.

However, the track is a lot stronger than ‘Noise Noise Noise’, offering a bit more abrasion and toughness, matching the vibe of ‘Love Song’ aptly.

In all, a strong display.

A-Side: 4.5/5   B-Side 1: 2/5    B-Side 2: 3/5   Sleeve: 4/5

154 – Wire 

As one of my earlier Musical Epiphanies article has outlined quite sufficiently, I absolutely adore Wire. I haven’t really delved too far after 1979 (1987’s A Bell Is A Cup is the furthest I’ve ventured after their hiatus), but their first three albums are simply wonderful. Indisputably essential.

It’s probably fairer to say that, rather than the worst of the three, 154 is the least, well, fantastic. That’s probably the best way to put it, but even indirectly criticising the album seems somewhat disingenuous to its utter brilliance.

154 follows their (in my opinion) strongest album Chairs Missing, which saw their first dip into the pool of experimentation after their three-chord-thrash thriller debut album Pink FlagChairs Missing saw Wire take a huge turn to a much darker, more sinister sound, characterised by heavy, scratching distortion and the raging wails of vocalist Colin Newman. There were some points of punk tradition in ‘Too Late’ and ‘Sand In My Joints’, but nothing could defeat the classic ‘Outdoor Miner’, a short, stunning slice of pop which continues to stand as an underappreciated masterpiece of the era.

154 continued the avenue of darkness that Wire embarked on, but with an extra serving of eerie soundscapes and chilling effects. The album kicks off with ‘I Should Have Known Better’, which sees bassist Graham Lewis take the helm on vocals, a common theme for the record as a whole. It’s an urgent yet restrained number, which descends further and further into the abyss of cold, reluctant rage led by Gilbert’s deep croons.

Following this abruptly is ‘Two People In A Room’, which is one of my favourite tracks on the record. Newman returns on vocals – it seems like an angry reply to Lewis for taking the limelight from him for one song, given how powerfully livid the song and his voice are. It’s quite simply two minutes of intense punk with a bit of effects, but that’s understating it’s effectiveness. Just listen to the slam of the drums against Newman’s cries, how can you not nod your head?

What comes next is a song of total beauty and class. ‘The 15th’ is an ethereal, emotional and utterly masterful piece. I couldn’t possibly do it justice with my words, so simply listen to it below, in all its glory.

As sides to LPs go, it doesn’t get much better than side one of the album, the only dip, though a small one, can be found in ‘A Touching Display’, which, for me, becomes a bit unlistenable at times and outstays it’s welcome slightly. The dip is quickly avenged by the side closer ‘On Returning’, which is a track of moody gusto and a fantastic hook.

Side two kicks off with the creepy ‘A Mutual Friend’, which starts off extremely eerie lay, though picks up the positivity, if you could call it that, as the track progresses. It’s not a particularly standout moment on the record, admittedly, but still not a bad one at all.

‘Blessed State’ is simply brilliant – a catchy chord sequence backed by a danceable, understated drum groove, spearheaded this again led by Graham Lewis’ vocals. The chords are at first a bit too discordant, but as the song progresses into full vitality it becomes apparent they are simply brilliant.

‘Once Is Enough’ is just a bit weird, and probably the lowest point on the second side, yet, as ever with Wire, you could never claim it to be a bad song. There’s enough invention and experimentation for it to be appreciated, no matter how absurd it may be.

Then, the second standout moment of the album: ‘Map Ref 41 N 93 W’. A bit wordy, I think you’ll agree, and I think the actual coordinates lead you to a field in Canada. But still, an absolute pop classic from Wire, the chorus is simply divine, a dreamy soar that’s so utterly grabbing, announced by Newman’s simple statement of ‘chorus!’ – simply brilliant.

(Edit: I’ve been informed on Facebook that the coordinates in fact take you to a place in Iowa in the USA, not somewhere in Canada!)

Admittedly, the last two tracks aren’t particularly notable, though ’40 Versions’ does have a beautiful guitar line during its riff, and is still quite a strong showing. I do feel, however, that perhaps they could have had one more big, thumping classic on the album, which I feel their two previous efforts had in abundance.

I’m just being pedantic, however; it’s still an absolutely brilliant journey, fuelled by psychopathic effects and soundscapes in combat with Newman and Gilbert’s fantastic vocals. Again, it’s not as strong as their first two, but that simply means it’s not as brilliant.

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

 

 

Musical Epiphanies #5 – Public Image Ltd

This piece, much like the first Musical Epiphanies piece, doesn’t put the spotlight on a certain release or album; rather, it will focus on two television appearances by John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd, during the promotion of their seminal second album Metal Box (or Second Edition, whichever takes your fancy).

PiL, for me, epitomise what post-punk should sound like. Along with acts such as Wire, Magazine, The Slits and Killing Joke, there’s an undeniable bravery and courage in the music they meticulously mastered, which took ideas of genre and style to the absolute limits of anyone’s imagination and scope.

Take First Issue – the opening track ‘Theme’ was summed up aptly by the NQGRD blog as ‘worth the price of admission alone’, while it also, of course, featured the classic track ‘Public Image’, which I feel is an often overlooked and sometimes forgotten masterpiece of the movement.

The Flowers of Romance, subject of another article of mine, is probably one of the most outlandishly stunning records ever released. Traditional structure and form was thrown out the window and smashed to pieces as experimentation was given a new standard, and, without a bassist, one of the most gloomily surreal albums ever was distributed to the masses.

However, I think it’s almost universally accepted that their second effort Metal Box is the defining moment of their discography. Blending the sounds of dub, punk and goth (to name a few) PiL embarked on the creation of one of the most influential albums of all time.

With this album came the television appearances. I focus on two which have always remained strong favourites of mine. Though some enjoy the absurdity of their performance on Bandstand and the filthy anger of Jah Wobble after a performance of Chant (for which programme I can’t seem to figure out…), I’ve always preferred the moments of artistic brilliance. Firstly, I’ll look at their performance of ‘Death Disco’ on Top Of The Pops, before going onto the stunning OGWT performance of ‘Poptones’ and ‘Careering’.

‘Death Disco’ – Top Of The Pops – 1979

Now, credit has to go to TOTP for allowing this to broadcast. For even thinking about letting this go on air. For imagining for a second that PiL were the right band for the show. I’m convinced they hadn’t actually heard the song before they played it. And credit again, for TOTP, for letting Lydon sing it live, in all its glorious ugliness. Even the visual effects, often terribly wheeled-out on TOTP, were absolutely perfect for capturing the utter macabre of the moment.

Look at the state of it – Lydon, headphones on, swinging around on the mic, wailing and crying out disgusting, high-pitched gargles, placing his gaze on anywhere but the camera, and Jah Wobble with his teeth blacked out, grinning at the camera while sitting down playing the bass. It’s magnificent, isn’t it?

I’ve always loved this song, the thumping disco beat contradicted by the scratchy mess of strings offered by Levene, a reggae-esque bassline from Wobble and, of course, Lydon’s soaring yelps.

But what absolutely sticks with me is that families, children, mums and dads, sitting in their living rooms for a usual innocent serving of TOTP (mostly) tripe, were instead welcomed by this. The punk panto-villain, who they all thought they’d got rid of, on their TV screens yet again, screaming the least tuneful, most aggressive vocals they’d probably ever witnessed, and giving the biggest metaphorical middle finger to TOTP custom ever recorded.

A fantastic YouTube comment by ‘Sometimes I Talk’ just about sums up the whole dire affair:

And now, for all you cool, hip teens out there, here’s John Lydon singing about his dead mother.

Everything about this performance spits in the face of normality. A disco song about a dying Mother, Metal Box era PiL on Top of The Pops, Lydon’s near demented demeanour. It’s simply stunning. For the deluge of disgusted parents and pensioners, I imagine they were matched by an admiring army of post-punk puritans in total amazement at the performance, at their band, being shown on TV, on the BBC, to the frightened masses who just want their weekly hit of soft-boring-stupid-pop. I’m sure this gained them no fans whatsoever, but I’m also sure that was the point.

It’s a callous, uncaring mess. And it’s simply marvellous.

*There’s another version on YouTube which sounds cleaner than this one, but I thought the poor recording added to the debacle somehow..

‘Poptones’ and ‘Careering’ – Old Grey Whistle Test – 1980 

Now, OGWT is the kind of place where you’d expect to find PiL.

‘Poptones’, in my opinion, is the best song PiL ever made. Even at over seven-and-a-half-minutes on the album, it never outstays its welcome and is always such a brilliant listen. This version may just trump it, however.

The drums are slightly muted, a bit damp sounding, Levene’s guitar sounds even more ethereal and even more beautiful. As a song, the layering, the texture, it’s unarguably genius. Lydon’s vocals are slow, drawn-out and longing, offering the wonderful flavour of discord that epitomised PiL’s sound.

Looking at the musicians, I’d argue that there was a clear respect for this song which was a level above the others – it’s played with admiration for the composition, an understanding that this song demands more delicacy and appreciation than others. It’s absolutely beautiful. All of the band stand still for practically the whole performance, letting the elegance slowly ooze out onto the set, and embrace the living rooms of the viewers at home.

Every effort, whether it be on percussion, strings or voice, is executed so exquisitely, with such attention to every detail. Lydon looks genuinely effected by this song in some way, even his facial expression seems to match his mourning vocals, and make the experience that extra bit more emotional.

The three minute mark sees the start of the finest moment of the performance. The guitar and rhythm section grasp a higher level of volume, matched by Lydon, and reach a more urgent, almost desperate level of sorrow.

The song ends – Lydon poises, takes off his jacket, and throws it on the floor. Atkins slams the snare drum, and incomes a huge whining drone from the keyboard, matched by a classic Wobble bassline. ‘Careering’ kicks into life intently. Like ‘Death Disco’, it’s ugly, it’s grim, but it’s oh-so good.

Levene is blatantly loving his stint on the keyboard combined with the muted cuts of the guitar. The beat is fantastic, and Lydon is adopting his usual offering of croons and barks. He seems almost possessed by a potent rage that had been restrained during ‘Poptones’, shaking as he grabs the mic stand, letting out a manic scream after the line ‘is this living?’.

Everything about this shouldn’t work. Nothing should go together. There’s no tuneful agreement between the keyboard and bass, the drums are a more punky groove than usual, and Lydon is basically letting out a stream-of-consciousness revolving around the word ‘living’. And yet. Everything is so, so right. In it’s correct place, where it should all belong. Credit to OGWT this time – the visual effects do the song a huge favour too.

On the album, the song is much more of a challenge, and, again, the OGWT version is a class above the studio version. You have to put it down to raw, live energy, and the actual personification of the atmosphere both songs create. You can truly witness the unfolding of this strange, unexplainable rage that Lydon holds within and Levene’s utter disregard for aural-comfort with the sharp hits of keyboard.

And after a few more jumps on the pitch of the keyboard, the song slows, there’s a final restrained cough of guitar, before Lydon does this ape-like movement, growls ‘That’ll Do’ and gives off one final yell.

The camera returns to Annie Nightingale in the studio. She looks as if she’s witnessed a horrific crime, her eyes fixed on the camera. She announces urgently, yet softly, ‘That is the most powerful performance I’ve seen on Whistle Test’. I’m afraid I’d have to agree with her on that too.

Both performances sum up why they were such a force in their first few years. There was a proud separation from absolutely everything that characterised their sound and persona, from the PiL logo to the Metal Box album. It was always dark, always other-worldly and always like nothing you’d ever heard or seen before.

For The Record #5 – Hitsville U.K. / Watching The Detectives / The Head On The Door LP

Strangely, my Dad has bought another old stereo stack (as he did in my first For The Record article) which my Mum rightly declared his ‘new toy’ having played, after only owning the stack for a few hours, half of Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Kaleidoscope and introducing me to Basement 5, who weren’t too shabby at all…

This is, of course, another opportunity for me to annex the living room and play my records. As I write this introduction, ‘New Big Prinz’ by The Fall is being thumped out the speakers, killing all Christmas sterility and calm that is always lovingly embraced by my parents.

This article features three bands I have only ever made passing references to. I consider myself (in no particular order) to adore one, very much like another and have an appreciation for the third.

Hitsville U.K. B/W Radio One – The Clash & Mikey Dread

I love The Clash immensely; they were my favourite band until I got into The Fall and offer just about every genre you could possibly ask for across their existence. ‘Straight To Hell’ is one of my favourite songs of all time, and there is never a time when they’re excluded from regular listening.

However, I’ve refrained from writing about The Clash for the entirety of the blog for a number of reasons. One being that talking too much about traditional punk left me stumbling over myself in terms of vocabulary, another is the fact that I own very little Clash vinyl, but the main one being that it’s so easy to write about The Clash.

By this, I mean that I think just about everything that needs to be said has been said about them by practically everyone. The only way I could write about them was to write about (probably) their least mentioned and least favoured single by both their fan base and the generic media tributes that come their way, which usually feature ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ or ‘Rock The Casbah’, both of which do very little for me in terms of enjoyment.

What gives this single a twist is that the B-side is by reggae artist Mikey Dread, a longtime friend of The Clash who magnificently produced the album which ‘Hitsville’ features on, Sandinista!, which is perhaps my favourite Clash album, though this title does change on an hourly basis.

‘Hitsville’ has always been a song that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, both as an album track and a single. At a Strummerville benefit (previously mentioned in my Joe Strummer article) it seemed to me that I was the only one who enjoyed its showing, so much so that my singing-along earned a look of positive acknowledgment from the singer Catherine Popper.

On the album, it follows classic opener ‘The Magnificent Seven’, and offsets the intensity of its predecessor very nicely, led by a jaunty bassline combined with soft, female vocals, sang by Mick Jones’ then-girlfriend Ellen Foley.

The song is about the growing indie scene in the UK as the 1980s commenced – I’m not sure if it’s a criticism of it, or just an observation, but I’m fairly convinced it’s probably a satirical response to the disapproval they received after controversially signing with CBS.

It’s got a comfortable soul-pop-rock vibe, and runs its course very gently while backed by the piss-taking lyrics about using ‘stolen guitars’ or releasing records ‘without the slightest hope of one thousand sales’.

To me, it seems a little hypocritical of the left-leaning Clash to brag about the number of sales they make with their records, though this doesn’t bother me enough to spit out my tea and shout ‘Champagne London socialists!’, buy the latest issue of The Morning Star and start growing an unfashionably large beard.

The song doesn’t offer much in terms of variation, but, for what it is, is a solid offering of experimentation from The Clash. I understand why the punk purists wouldn’t like it – it’s a little bit clean and soft, but to depart from the critical acclaim of London Calling into an abyss of improvisation in Sandinista!, and for it to receive the praise it did, is remarkable in itself.

The B-side is interesting. I had a mini phase with Mikey Dread about a year ago, which coincided with a rediscovery of Junior Murvin. As I recall, I listened to one album of Dread’s, which I’m pretty sure I enjoyed.

His number ‘Radio One’ kicks off with some radio static before a soft, ascending riff and into a simple but effective reggae beat. The lyrics appear to centre around the idea that reggae doesn’t get the airtime it deserves as DJs ‘have no idea, not even a clue/Of how reggae was created by me and by you’.

In truth, it’s nothing special. It’s quite a tinny production as reggae goes – there’s a severe lack of heavy bass, though this judgement may be due to my preference for dub.

I can’t claim to know about reggae as a whole, and I’m probably one of those reviewers who doesn’t ‘get’ reggae, but I can imagine it got very little coverage in the British music media around 1981, so Dread probably has a point. However, this isn’t one his strongest moments, nor is it a particularly bad one. I see it as The Clash helping out a mate, more than anything.

As a whole, a mostly positive showing from the grooves, though The Clash ultimately triumph over their producer.

A-Side: 4/5   B-Side: 2.5/5   Sleeve: 3/5

Watching The Detectives B/W Blame It On Cain + Mystery Dance – Elvis Costello

‘Watching The Detectives’ was my introduction to Elvis Costello via my Spotify discover playlist. I generally approve of Costello, some of the 1980s stuff is a bit too 80s, but his first three albums are absolutely stunning. ‘Shipbuilding’, known more for its Robert Wyatt cover than anything else, is an absolute masterpiece in my eyes.

And so is ‘WTD’. It doesn’t get much better than this, does it? It probably doesn’t get much more misleading to an artist’s sound – as far as I’m aware, he doesn’t really play around with reggae at all after this release.

It’s a very moody, intense song, complimented by Costello’s almost scathing vocals. Every instrumental part is simply perfect. They’re all very sparse, the quiet scratchy guitar, the slow, nearly solitary drums, but it’s a showcase of expertise in musical texture and production.

I think what is great about this song is the way the angry, powerful parts feature in the first half of the song – the reluctant rage comes close to all-out anger, but is never fully recognised. The final minute and a half or so, meanwhile, becomes an instrumental conversation; it’s a gentle simmering of emotion compared to the brashness of the previous minutes.

‘Blame It On The Cain’ is a very pleasant song, fronted by a bluesy chord sequence and a swinging drum groove before entering a fairly powerful chorus. As a whole, you can definitely nod your head to it, and Costello’s vocals are very strong. It’s very easy listening that offers a nice introduction to the usual Costello offering without the burden of generic commercialism. One of the stronger B-sides I’ve reviewed so far.

‘Mystery Dance’ is much more blatant in its taking of the blues formula, and sounds a bit plastic-50s, in my opinion. It’s certainly strong, but perhaps veering away from blues on the B-sides would’ve been somewhat more satisfying. In fairness, it certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, clocking in at one minute thirty-six seconds. It’s decent, but nothing to shout about.

Overall, a very listenable single indeed.

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

The Head On The Door LP – The Cure 

For me, The Cure are one of those artists that can be so utterly fantastic yet, at times, so difficult. The ‘difficult’ bits for me are 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and post-Wish 1990s output, which I’ve found so forgettable and throwaway.

However, they still remain true innovators of their time, and also one of my favourite artists. I think they’re similar to the likes of The Fall, New Order or Public Image Ltd in continuously changing their sound and toying around with all ideas of genre and difference to generally high levels of success.

The Head On The Door, I feel, is a materialisation of a mostly consistent sound after the hit-and-miss experimentation seen in 1983’s Japanese Whispers and 1984’s somewhat forgettable The Top (which, incidentally, holds one of my favourite Cure songs of all time, ‘Dressing Up’). It also saw Smith become a much more romantically-driven lyricist, which is backed up by the more than melancholic instrumental accompaniments to the mournful croons and cries.

The most obvious feature of THOTD, however, is the singles. Never had The Cure been so accessible and commercial in their existence.

And it’s the lead single which gloriously kicks off the album with one of the most iconic drum fills and introductions of the 1980s. ‘Inbetween Days’ is an objective piece of total brilliance. The main hook, the pacey acoustic guitar and the longing lyrics are simply magnificent. It’s a thumping, timeless classic.

We receive the final ‘Without you’ from Smith, before being welcomed by one of the less iconic drum fills and introductions of the 1980s. ‘Kyoto Song’ is certainly creepy, but not particularly listenable or likeable. It really doesn’t do much for me at all, and I feel this effort was probably the result of a very odd jam-session. ‘The Blood’ is also quite weak, taking a leaf out of the opening track’s book with the speedy acoustic guitar , but it isn’t one of those songs that would ever be championed by any Cure fan, I imagine.

‘Six Different Ways’ is a dreamy, child-like song, the main hook sounding like a theme from a children’s TV show, but it’s very strangely gratifying – odd, but also very innocent, complimented fittingly by Smith’s angsty vocals. Very strong.

Side one closes with ‘Push’ which is a much more emphatic and effective hit of sorrow than its predecessors. The guitar line is strong, and the introduction develops nicely, but I don’t feel it merits the near two-and-a-half-minute showcasing it gets, though I think I’m just being a bit pedantic. Again, Smith’s vocals are performed brilliantly, which resurrects the song from the labouring introduction and gives it an extra edge. Not a bad finish to the first side at all.

Side two kicks off with ‘The Baby Screams’ which just isn’t for me. I’m usually more than welcoming to 80s electronic hand-claps, but not here, I’m afraid. There’s a little too much going on in the outro, and it all fades out quite limply.

No worry, however. It’s the second stunning single, ‘Close To Me’, that comes next. The album version is minus the saxophone solos, but this is of little concern. How anyone can deny the strength of this song is beyond me – from the bassline to the overall structure and infectious vocals, it’s another masterpiece from an era which saw The Cure release unbelievable single after single.

Following track ‘A Night Like This’ is also very sturdy. A very powerful hook with just a touch of distortion offers the motif of the song, and the backing as a whole is extremely satisfying. This, to me, with a tiny bit of gothic configuration, could slot seamlessly in 1989’s classic Disintegration, both in terms of sound and quality – it’s masterful.

‘Screw’ is nothing to shout about again – it’s quite discordant, which appeals to me, though the overall sound doesn’t sound very complete or sure in itself. There’s random additions of either edited vocals or dreamy rattling sounds which further pushes the dysfunction.

And then we come to the closer, ‘Sinking’. I’ve mentioned in previous articles that I am a huge, huge fan of a good bassline with a gothic twang. This pretty much epitomises it for me.

Starting with a crash of untuneful piano, we are greeted by this absolutely wonderful, dancing bassline and dragged into a dreamy, dark and delirious Cure world. The discord in this song offers so much more than ‘Screw’ – every part is where it should be and always has something to offer to the ears. The best part for me are the drawn out notes on the keyboard, adding an extra atmospheric edge to the composition.

Smith’s previously romantic vocals become this eerily spoken admission of failure, ‘I am slowing down/As the years go by/I am sinking’, with ‘sinking’ darkly reverberated over and over. It’s a serious stab in the heart for those who’d got use to hopeless romantic Cure; it’s almost a final, deathly goodbye to the traditional goth sound they pioneered.

Suddenly, striking guitar chords fly in, and the song is given an extra hit of anxiety and intensity, Smith briefly moving into falsetto to combat the powerful hits, before all returns to an even more unsettling norm.

It continues on its usual course, with a new chilling and cutting guitar line overseeing the slow demise of the song, before crashing out with a final hit of the keyboard and a brief visit of an unnerving two-note riff.

‘Sinking’ is, with the singles, the realisation of the sound that was trying to be achieved on THOTD, and is simply marvellous. What a closer. 

All in all, it’s a consistently strong album. Where it suffers is in trying to hard to attain a certain sound. With a bit of tinkering and stripping back, ‘Screw’ and ‘Push’ could be greatly improved without compromising the overall sound of the album, and could subsequently improve the overall enjoyment of the record.

Nonetheless, it has many merits. Both sides offer some absolute scorchers, but also a couple of songs which let the respective parts down. I think I’m still being a little pedantic, though. It shows The Cure opening the door to the commercial adoration they rightly deserved with an album of immense quality and offering.

Side One: 3.5/5   Side Two: 4/5   Sleeve: 4/5

 

 

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 #3 – Wire – Pink Flag

My Dad has been complaining about the fact that rather than mentioning the influence he’s had on my musical taste in these articles, I talk about his automatic resignation from Strummer-induced mosh pits or how I annoy him by playing and talking about The Fall endlessly. Whatever the case may be, The Fall are the greatest band to ever bless the world with their sound and all should be in worship of them and all they’ve given us.

Anyway, it was 2014, and a month after discovering and exhausting Magazine’s first three albums I was running thin on new music, and having only dipped my toe in the ocean of punk I was eager for more. I headed downstairs to Dad, who was sitting at his work desk looking mildly bored and in need of a distraction; who else was better equipped to provide it than me?

I asked him to give me a new punk band to listen to, and after some brief deliberation with himself, he told me to listen to Pink Flag by a band called Wire. I thanked him for his never-sought-for wisdom and returned to my room intrigued as to what lay ahead. The name ‘Wire’ struck me as quite edgy, quite rough – I wanted to hear what they had to offer.

On came album-opener Reuters, slowly growing with powerful hits of strings before the ugly, frankly disgusting chords piledrive in. I liked it. Really liked it. It’s a slap in the face of all things sterile and serene, invading the room with the foulest spits and coughs through the speakers. Gloriously grim. Deliciously dark.

What would follow? What could top it? Field Day For The Sundays! It’s fast, it’s tough, it’s stop-start mayhem!

It’s over within twenty-eight seconds.

Okay, fair enough, I thought to myself. So much for prolonged enjoyment, eh? Three Girl Rhumba follows and it’s oh-so good, a very simply but very effectively layered tune with an infectious bassline. Easy.

Now, I would go on about every song individually – they all have infinite merits – however I risk the possibility of the article becoming an essay. There are twenty-one songs in thirty-five minutes. So, considering only three tracks are over three minutes long, the album is a punk lesson in making the most of practically nothing.

For me, the jewel in the crown finds itself in the middle of one-minute-wonders. The drums rumble intensely, and are met with firm hit of the strings. Another stirring of percussion follows, and in comes the eruption of a rough rolling E chord, each strum as sinister as the next. It’s the title song, Pink Flag, and it wants you to remember it. I remember first hearing this and thinking ‘What the hell is going on?’ – the chorus consisted of a two-second rise into a C chord, and predictably back down again to E. The structure was so alien. What happened to four chord verse-chorus-verse-chorus?

‘How many?’ asks vocalist Newman. And again. And again. Something’s growing, everything’s becoming red-hot, angry, aggressive. The drum rolls in and the growth continues still, the singing has become shouting in its most raucous form, every member joining in, every guitar getting more and more powerful. It’s frightening, it’s so unnerving. You can’t take yourself away.

Chaos hits. Absolute uncontrollable, unfathomable destruction. ‘I’m alive!’ screams Newman repeatedly, the guitars now a juggernaut of rampage and the drums sounding as if a sledgehammer has been taken to them. Newman lets out a prolonged cry one more time, before all seems to calm. But the storm is yet to pass. Drums clinically rumble into life again, sinisterly brooding. ‘Yeah!’ screams Newman. One more roll – ‘YEEEEAAHHH!’.

Honestly, I’d never been so fucked up by a song. It’s the only way I can describe the experience of listening to Pink Flag for the first time after nine songs that certainly aren’t too forceful, bar the opener. It’s the second longest song of the album at three minutes forty-five seconds, though it sits seemingly innocently within six songs all under eighty seconds long. Never had I been so lost for words or thought after a song.

Mannequin is a stunningly surreal and anthemic punk staple, an emphatic shot of joyous carelessness which sums up the general motif of the record – an uncaring, minimalist creation that challenges your ears at every turn yet maintains a rarely attained level of musicianship and skill which still remains unchallenged, even today.

I think it’s fair to say that Wire’s first three albums gained a level of critical appreciation that was unparalleled in the punk world – their second album, Chairs Missing, is probably my favourite of the three – it’s such a brave departure from the much-loved and fashionable punk sound, but followed in the footsteps of Magazine and Public Image Ltd in old punk figureheads (namely Devoto and Lydon) forming a new sound and freshness to a dying movement.

Pink Flag, however, is underappreciated and essential listening for all who want to ‘get’ what punk was truly about; musical freedom made with a sort of refined amateurism, accompanied by a blissful disregard of musical structure, form and snobbery.

With the short length of the songs Pink Flag does seem to fly by when listened to in full, but it’s hard to forget, especially with the aural ransacking that the title track so graciously provides. I remember instantly buying it on CD after listening, and quickly delving into Chairs Missing and its successor 154.

It was a fascinating musical discovery, and Wire remain one of my favourite bands of all time. Their sound is a well-blended mix of artfulness and punk that provides an autonomous and independent sounds in a time of growing sameness and repetition. Simply divine.

I suppose there are only two more words for me to say:
Cheers, Dad.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

For The Record #1 – Telephone Thing / What Do I Get? / Dazzle Ships LP

On a visit home from university last weekend, I came to find a turntable atop an old stacked stereo that my Dad had bought on eBay. I also came to discover my order of three Fall records (I Am Kurious Oranj, Couldn’t Get Ahead and Telephone Thing) waiting for me on the kitchen table, only my second acquisition of any Fall vinyl.

So, what else was I meant to do other than invade and occupy my living room for the next hour playing my records whilst annoying my Dad for not letting him watch TV in peace? He doesn’t even like The Fall that much, which gave me extra incentive to fully disrupt the harmony that he became so accustomed to in my absence.

Over the weekend I brought my vinyl down from my room to the living room to sit and listen, from Roxy Music to Harry J. All Stars to Au Pairs, to the extent that Dad offered me the turntable to take back to university – how could I refuse?

From there, a new series of prospective articles was formed – me going on about a couple of records an article, reviewing and rating them, and blabbering on about how authentic it is to put the needle on the groove, because no one has ever written about that. Very original from me indeed!

I’ll start with two singles and one album – The Fall’s (obviously) ‘Telephone Thing’, Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get?’, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark’s brilliant ‘Dazzle Ships’.

Telephone Thing B/W British People In Hot Weather

My first hearing of Telephone Thing was a four or five second interlude in an interview with Mark E. Smith, with Smith walking around in the video looking so bored with everything, as usual. Something about the song seemed very peculiar, quite a funky beat (originally written by electronic duo Coldcut) mixed with a discordant bassline that was surprisingly quite satisfying, as if any flirtation with commercial success must come with the price of barely tuned inaccessibility and a complete departure from the ‘sound’ of The Fall.

I listened in full quite a while later – I was heavily dedicated to listening to 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace before going further into the late 80s and early 90s in The Fall’s discography. I finally listened in full and was automatically in love with it. I loved the minimalism of it, there’s no real chorus, there’s no real verse, there’s no real anything structurally speaking – it’s so odd.

What’s even more odd, yet even more brilliant, is their performance on The Late Show in 1990. I always thought its as if the rhythm section has been told to simply do their usual thing, while Coldcut and Smith just improvise with whatever sounds they can make. Smith seems to laugh throughout the whole performance, and I’m one hundred percent sure he loses track of where he is in the song – about five seconds after every instrument has stopped, he loudly slurs one more “I’m tapped-ah!” – it’s all a bit ridiculous, but makes for essential viewing simply for its absurdity.

The B-side British People is okay – I find the synths very outdated, a bit cheesy to be frank, but it’s a satisfying enough song to listen to. Still, a bit forgettable compared to other Fall material of the time. But the headline act makes for essential Fall listening; definitely an accessible yet quintessential starting point for any first-time listener of The Fall.

The sleeve is beautiful – I love the Extricate period artwork, it’s quite abstract yet still minimalist, a perfect epitome of The Fall sound in vision.

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

 

What Do I Get? B/W Oh Shit

I’ve always had a soft spot for Buzzcocks, both with and without Howard Devoto. I think everyone has heard ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ at some point, whether it’s the original recording or some horrible American teen film cover that loots every bit of punk sentimentality out of it. However, it’s comforting to know that they will definitely live on through the ages.

What Do I Get? is a real piece of pure joy. I bought the 7” single on my first ever trip to a record fair in 2014, and it hasn’t lost any of its rawness. The gentle fade into the explosion of the first chord is absolutely sublime – you can’t complain. It’s energy, much like many of Buzzcocks’ other singles, is totally incomparable. It’s prime punk.

It is a shame, however, that this classic was used in a McDonald’s advert advertising chicken wraps. Admittedly, however, I can’t deny the real sense of punk rock and coolness in the assemblage of mid-market ingredients within a tortilla by a stereotypical goth girl who flirts with male customers while squeezing barbeque sauce onto a piece of round bread. It’s what Iggy would’ve wanted.

The B-side is total carnage, a bit childish, but still indispensable Buzzcocks. I love the ending, the repeated shouting of ‘Admit! Admit! You’re shit! You’re shit! You’re shit!’ and so on. Very angsty, very listenable. The sleeve is minimal, it doesn’t really evoke anything emotionally. Nice enough, though.

A great single that has perhaps lost its way given its current re-emergence, but still a scintillating listen.

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

Dazzle Ships

Now then. I can categorically say that this album changed my outlook on music. Easily in my top five albums of all time. It’s truly astounding artistry.

What’s even better is that I bought this album in a record shop simply because of the sleeve – I knew Enola Gay by OMD, but that was about it. In fact, I’d never even listened to any 1980s synth outside of Enola Gay at all – I was totally unknowing of what the grooves would hold. But everything about the Peter Saville sleeve and the gatefold opening totally took me. I had to have it.

However, my first listen was one of bemusement to say the least. I was only 16 and had never really been exposed to music that wasn’t of a traditional verse-chorus structure. I didn’t understand the weird naval sounds, the slowness of it, its atmosphere was just too unsettling for me.

I shelved it for a year or so. It didn’t really cross my mind for a while until I started to listen to OMD’s earlier albums – I loved tracks such as ‘Messages’, ‘Souvenir’ and ‘Sealand’, the latter being the most similar in style to the songs of Dazzle Ships. Naturally, I returned to Dazzle Ships, this time with a more open mind, a greater eagerness to listen, even. And then it hit me.

It had this total other-worldliness which transported me to a realm of global tension and nuclear fear. It was still as unnerving and unsettling as the first listen, but one that challenges you, invites you to immerse yourself in this dark fantastical world.

Radio Prague kicks off the album, a cheery radio theme tune with eerie interludes of silence – it’s so chilling, so tense, an impending sense of something unsettlingly indescribable seems to wait around the corner. What follows is pure triumph – lead single Genetic Engineering comes in with solitary hi-hats, the tension of its predecessor still lurking in the surrounding silence. It crashes into euphoric life, McCluskey’s vocal rise and fall with electric elegance, a tribal roar leading a synth-induced fever of power.

There are weird moments, of course – ABC Auto-Industry is strange, ethereal yet also oddly innocent, while Dazzle Ships (II, III and VII) is so dark, the most chilling track of the album yet still as relevant and important as any other on the album. But the album closes with the beautiful, sorrowful Of All The Things We’ve Made – it’s Cure-esque in its mourning, yet maintains the synth influence of OMD brilliantly; a truly understated classic.

I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that the album was panned on first release in 1983 – it’s a total departure from the commercial melody-based OMD of its predecessors, but as time has passed it’s become a cult classic, a historical piece illustrating the anxiety of a nation in deep political turmoil.

All in all, a masterpiece. I don’t usually buy records simply for the sleeve, but I imagine my musical world wouldn’t have been as mythical without it.

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

 

Next: For The Record #2

Opening Tracks #1 – The Fall

I originally intended this article to be five of my favourite opening tracks of the punk era; in the pipeline were Definitive Gaze by Magazine, Theme by Public Image Ltd and The Holy Hour by The Cure – a promising array of variety from bands I’m yet to write about and utterly adore.

However, it dawned on me that my list was becoming more and more dominated by Fall openers, until eight of the twelve openers I toyed with writing about were The Fall. Obsessed? Maybe. Narrow-minded? Probably. Ashamed? Never! Why should I be?! I’m the original big-shot blogger!

(That’s a Fall reference for those wondering – U.S. 80s-90s to be precise – and one that’s quite ignorant of the many Fall blogs and forums that have existed even before I was born; but I digress…)

Some of these Fall openers had strayed totally out of the punk and post punk era, rendering them unfit for purpose, but were simply too good to be ignored. So why not give them their own article? They made 31 albums, they must know a thing or two, surely?

Here’s five of my favourites, in order from the ones I love the least to the most.

(An honourary mention goes to R.O.D., Pay Your Rates and DIY Meat – three favourite Fall openers that only just missed the cut.)

  1. Sing! Harpy – Extricate, 1990.

On first listen, I was somewhat lost – had The Fall taken a radical turn after Brix’s departure, becoming an awful string quartet in one of Mark E. Smith’s more ill-advised changes of musical direction? A temporary Room To Live-esque departure from critical acclamation and adoration?

Fortunately, no. Instead, their power had been ramped up a level. As soon as the first thunderous chord smashes into life, you’re hooked. It’s so powerful, so contagious. I’ve always viewed Extricate as an album musically above nearly all Fall albums in terms of production and musicianship, feeling that the repeated-riff wonders of Brix’s time were somewhat wearing thin by The Frenz Experiment. Sing! Harpy is a triumphant return to the bassline-driven Fall, irresistible in its immensity and energy.

What makes Sing! so special are Smith’s lyrics – a totally childish ‘Fuck you!’ to ex-wife and former lead guitarist Brix, slagging off her, her father and her new partner classical violinist Nigel Kennedy. Smith violently slurs every line in utter disgust at his subject. It’s quite an explosive outburst after less than a year apart; certainly not Smith’s finest hour, though one more memorable than most.

It’s a brilliant start to a brilliant album, an album that showcases the ease at which they write such penetrating songs, yet with the delicacy and flair only so many will ever achieve.

  1. Frenz – The Frenz Experiment, 1988.

To me, TFE has always been a forgettable album. I’ve listened to it a lot, yet I could never tell you how ‘Carry Bag Man’ or ‘The Steak Place’ go. It sits as an idle part of The Fall’s discography, particularly as it was released only months before the superb I Am Kurious Oranj, a much-needed musical shake up of The Fall’s output.

However, Frenz is a stunning start to the album. A beautiful piece of musical craftwork that exudes an ominously calm atmosphere, cleverly combined with Smith’s mournful lyrics, confessing ‘My friends don’t amount to one hand’ – a much more reflective, sombre Smith than usual.

It’s songs like Frenz that make you wonder whether TFE could have been so much more. It’s so much more advanced and matured than TFE songs like Oswald Defence Lawyer, that frustratingly trudges along uninspiringly before finding an unnatural end to itself.

Instead, we find ourselves with an utterly compelling and elaborate piece that is an absolute cut above its successors that’s so apparent in both its simplicity and sophistication.

  1. Lay of The Land – The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, 1984.

Now, if we are to call Sing! Harpy a powerful song, then Lay of The Land is something else altogether.

A cataclysmic, chaotic and callous conglomeration of layer upon layer of noise and destruction, Lay of The Land defies all belief in how far absolute musical brute force can go. What starts as a commanding yet relatively harmless guitar track becomes an absolute monster of obliteration; it’s practically unthinkable that Smith’s vocal efforts remain so controlled throughout the tune.

As ever with The Fall, LOTL showcases another staggering Hanley bassline that waltzes in glorious carelessness to the pandemonium around it. I think it’s safe to say that this is the heaviest The Fall ever got in terms of texture and distortion, at a time when guitarists Scanlon and Brix were at a creative peak that maintained, if not improved, into 1985 album This Nation’s Saving Grace.

I love this song, its explosiveness, its hedonism, its total disregard for all around it. From its cult-like chant beginning to its final ‘BOOM’ line, it’s a victorious guitar track that stands unchallenged in its absolute anarchy and autonomy, an essential song for all first-time listeners of The Fall that kicks off one of the most influential and understated albums of the 1980s

  1. The Classical – Hex Enduction Hour, 1982.

Speaking of powerful basslines…

What an absolute belter this is. Sheer undeniable class. Hex was the second album I ever listened to by The Fall, and it has always stuck with me. There’s no greater lines than ‘Hey there, fuckface! Hey there, fuckface-ah!’ to try and win over an unknowing listener and grab their attention.

I think this song utilises the Hanley-Burns drum line up most effectively – the combination of Hanley’s infectious grooves with Burns’ almost tribal fills are a joy to listen to, while the force of Riley and Scanlon’s guitars continuously develop into complete bedlam. But the bassline. What more is there to say. It’s just so so good – the deserved headline act in an uncontrollable festival of disorder.

To be honest, this section could easily be how to start, maintain and finish an album. Everything about Hex is indisputable, every song as masterful as the next. Though, The Classical was the first Fall song I truly fell in love with and holds a special place in my appreciation for The Fall.

I don’t think there’s much else to say about this song that hasn’t already been said. It’s simply magnificent.

  1. The Birmingham School of Business School – Code: Selfish, 1992.

Being 19, I don’t really have any sort of nostalgic connection to growing up with a classic Fall album. Obviously, they released material after I was born, but I’ve never held a close attachment with a certain release or period that it was released in seeing as, on the most part, I wasn’t physically there, nor had I listened to The Fall in depth until 2016.

I say this because I think many 1980s Fall fans will question this choice and will point towards tracks like Eat Y’self Fitter in a sort of emotionally attached ‘you’re forgetting this’ gesture. In all honesty, I can’t say I’ve ever truly, truly enjoyed Eat Y’self Fitter; yes, it perfectly epitomises The Fall and their sound, but I much prefer tracks of the time like Smile or Tempo House.

Of course, the same can be said about Birmingham – I wasn’t there in 1992. But for me it is the most musically skilful and adventurous The Fall have gone with their sound. It’s pure quality. From first listen I couldn’t let go – literally. I still listen to it every day and automatically go into autopilot and put Free Range (the next track on the album) on queue to follow. In fact, while writing this segment I had to put it on again, just to relive it.

The church bell intro is genius, its sparsity and darkness always grabbing me instantly. In comes a classic Funky Si beat accompanied by this beautifully ascending and descending Scanlon guitar part, so contrarily groovy to the eeriness of the moment yet so fitting. The song sparks into life with a rough, cutting two-note Hanley bassline. How anyone can resist even tapping their feet is beyond me. What follows is simply ludicrous, totally minimalist bliss.

Wahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwah, wahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwahwah

I can’t describe how I felt when I heard this. It was just perfection. Absolute brilliance, absolute absurdity. The thrill of hearing the main hook of a song being the singer slurring ‘wah’ over one of the most intricately constructed beats I’d ever heard was just awe-inspiring. I’m still lost for words, it’s totally beyond me how brilliant I find this to be.

Better still, each Scanlon line is a lesson in how to make a guitar part more complex and dexterous with each verse, continuously pushing the boundaries of how discordant a guitar can sound, while Hanley’s grumbling bass is utterly exhilarating, matching Smith’s lyrics in the macabre of the moment.

I think what compliments the start of Code: Selfish is the transition between Birmingham and Free Range. The latter is my favourite Fall song of all time, and the way it crashes in is just pure ecstasy. You think the frantic, jarring beginning to the album is over, but in comes this raucous, no-holds-barred destroyer immediately after the final rumbles of Birmingham in the most powerful start to an album imaginable.

It’s a shame that Code: Selfish takes a moderate step down in quality after these two tracks, but what a way to explode out of the blocks. It’s an easily missed album with some of the most vital songs in an era that I feel goes unappreciated and easily dismissed by many Fall fans, and Birmingham is its shining light.

 

Next: Closing Tracks – The Fall