Punks On Film #1 – The Fall on The Old Grey Whistle Test

In previous articles, I’ve found greater enjoyment in writing about television performances by punk groups; some are beautfiul, some are ugly, and some are just absolutely absurd. There’s something about the body language of the band and, of course, the cheap 1970s/80s television effects that make some outings so memorable and notable – with the visual component of the performances, a greater level of connection and understanding with the artists is established.

I’ve written about PiL and Gang of Four’s television performances, which ticked all three of the adjectives given above. So I thought I’d write about some more, because why not?

I have noted that the title of the series will become contentious, as the ‘are they punks?’ question is likely to come up at some point (I’m planning on writing about Captain Beefheart in the near future, for example) but I thought it was a half decent pun on ‘Girls On Film’, highlighting my creative laziness and indifference when it comes to naming my series.

Anyway – during the promotion of their then highest charting album release The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… which charted at a modest 62nd, The Fall were to grace the Old Grey Whistle Test stage – which was basically a dimly lit room – and play the stunning ‘Lay of the Land’ to the nation. They’d previously performed on The Tube courtesy of the generousity and obsessive fandom of John Peel, who was guest presenting the show and, if I remember correctly, would only come on in the first place if he could choose which band performs that week.

Who else was he meant to choose?

With a horribly high pitched, nasal and tuneless ‘The Fall!’ from the mouth of Jools Holland, they began. Perverted By Language track ‘Smile’ and the then-unreleased Brix-penned shuffle ‘2×4’ featured in a triumphant outing in which they, as Steve Hanley (The Big Midweek) so modestly claims, began ‘to melt the rent-a-crowd brains’. In fairness, we’ve all had our fair share of cerebral destructions in our innocent early listenings of The Fall, so I’ll forgive him for his confidence.

Songs played, brains melted, now for Old Grey Whiste Test. There’s so many parts of this performance which are noteworthy, I’m afraid I’ve no option but to list them.

Firstly, Andy Kershaw, who introduces The Fall’s performance, is donning a ‘Marc Riley and The Creepers’ shirt, which probably didn’t make our Mark E too happy at all (for those unaware, Marc Riley was the former guitarist of The Fall from 1978-83, who Mark didn’t really get on too well with). Four eerie notes start the song, and into the performance we go…

Secondly, I’ll let Brix (The Rise, The Fall, The Rise) sum it up aptly: ‘It was my second time on TV but, again, not that anyone would’ve noticed’. Far in the depths of the OGWT set stood The Fall in a darkened, gloomy backdrop, while Michael Clark and his band of ballet dancers take centre stage. You can only just make out Mark’s half silhouette lurking around the stage, but other than that, there isn’t much to be seen – imagine being Paul Hanley, hidden not only by darkness but by the drumkit too…

Thirdly, and obviously with any Fall performace, it’s musically mesmerising. ‘Lay Of The Land’ is just one of those Fall tracks, an instant classic that, as far as I’m aware, is adored by The Fall’s faithful and given a fantastic showcasing for national consumption.

And fourthly, of course, the headline act. Michael Clark and his bare-arsed army, flouncing aroud the stage to the raucous destruction of ‘Lay of the Land’ in the biggest oxymoron the prforming arts world will probably ever witness (and this was four years before I Am Kurious Oranj). It’s so crude, the standout moment being the moment when one of the dancers (I’m not sure if it’s Clark or not) bends over with arse to camera as the break in between the verse and ascending chord sequence. You can’t justify it, nor deny it’s sheer immature brilliance.

When I bumped into Steve Hanley outside an Extricated gig, he said the whole debacle was ‘absolutely brilliant’ or ‘absolutely fucking brilliant’; six of one and half a dozen of the other really. It is a ridiculously fantastic showing.

Fifth in the chaos comes the questionble last-minute guest appearance – I’ll let Steve describe this one for us:

At the end of ‘Lay of the Land’, for the comedy effect, they drag on a pantomime cow and start ramming cartons of milk down its neck, spilling most of it onto the floor and the cables. Brix looks terrified and even the technicians start to flap, thinking there’s going to be a mass electrocution. All those years of intense training at the Royal School of Ballet to end up as the back end of a pantomime cow on a late-night TV show. The dignity! The glamour!’ 

God it’s weird. So weird. What’s slightly disturbing is that the cow is clearly resisting its forced feeding so desperately but to no avail. I won’t try and explain it. What’s the point?

But there’s more. Sixth on the list of novelties is the fact that the young, fledgling act R.E.M. were backstage. In his book, Hanley states ‘they probably hadn’t quite bargained for this.’

In person, if I recall correctly, he said something along the lines of ‘they were looking around thinking ‘what the fuck is going on?”. I don’t blame them, to be fair. Though, I must admit, the image of a young and confused Michael Stipe sitting on the sidelines of a BBC studio, watching a bunch of ballet dancers attempt to follow the rhythm of half-tuned, barely-famous Mancunians is fantastic. Is this what all English people listen to?!

Around 33 minutes into ‘The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith’ documentary, which can be found on YouTube, Mark recalls his fellow band members ‘stayed up to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test … they stayed up to watch it with their parents [a brief interlude of one of the ugliest laughs I’ve ever heard] and all you can see is like Michael Clark baring his fucking arse on the screen, fucking great, it was dead funny’. A typical Smith critique of his subjects and outlook on The Fall’s tumultuous relationship with accessibility.

It’s a stark contradiction to their preceeding and succeeding sessions on The Tube, which actually do a job of promoting the band and their music – the performance of ‘Bombast’ in 1985 is absolutely breathtaking. Even ‘Cruiser’s Creek’, which is a strong song, but for me has nothing particularly special about it, seems to have a new energy and power which was left absent in the original recording.

Yet it seems the OGWT performance will always be the most memorable Fall TV performance, but mostly due to Clark and co.’s absurd appearance. I do have a sneaking suspicion, however, that this is probably what Mark wanted all along – why would The Fall want mainstream coverage for themselves anyway?

All in all, it’s something of totally absurd beauty, and certainly a contender for the best musical TV appearance ever. It’s a magnificent showing which probably flabbergasted every innocent viewer at home. Apart from actual, overt promotion of their material, it paid off in every way possible.

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

Closing Tracks – The Fall

After writing my Opening Tracks piece about The Fall, I’ve decided to write an article about my favourite closing tracks of theirs. My selection of ‘Birmingham School of Business School’ as the best opener caused some controversy on The Mighty Fall Facebook group, which inevitably voted for ‘The Classical’ as their favourite by quite a margin (Birmingham finished joint 6th of 31, if I remember correctly, which in itself was a silver lining for me).

Writing this piece, much like the openers, made me trawl through The Fall discography listening to albums that I’ve given time to only once or twice previously – this list has two tracks from the 21st century, though it nearly had four before I began the sifting process. The openers piece only went so far as 1992. There were many pleasant surprises, and choosing a top five became a more demanding task than choosing my openers.

What made this selection more difficult, however, was the fact I consider none of the five to be perfect – I knew ‘Birmingham’ was my favourite album opener (and Fall track, to be honest) and I had a general idea of what I was going to put into the list – for this article, I had to listen to every closer in full length again, apart from those which I think aren’t up to scratch, such as the Shiftwork ending ‘Sinister Waltz’, a poor finish on an album I frankly adore.

This piece was also partially inspired by The Fall in Fives’ final set of five tracks, where ‘And This Day’ received a 10/10, a song I couldn’t even remember the tune to (if The Fall had such a thing as tunefulness) despite my total admiration of Hex Enduction Hour. Admittedly, it wasn’t my favourite song, a bit too challenging for me, but I can appreciate it enough. However, it helped me realise I could hardly name any closing tracks by The Fall or how they went, even when I knew their name.

So here’s my top five. There are a few songs which are a bit more ‘traditional’ Fall, something that I’ve always felt I’ve underappreciated at times, and there’s one song which took me by total surprise, which comes fifth on the list…

5. Loadstones – Re-Mit, 2013

Post-Your Future Our Clutter, I find The Fall sometimes unlistenable, unfortunately. This may be slightly blasphemous, but Smith’s voice slowly becomes an incorrigible, incomprehensible gargle and cough. Some people love it, but I think it can ruin very listenable musical accompaniments. Maybe I’m being pedantic, but it’s always put me off this era of Fall.

However, while perusing the discography (starting from the most recent albums), I came across ‘Loadstones’ when I was rudely interrupted by a screamed ‘Local! Loadstones!’ by Smith. Very nice. His voice seems a bit stronger than in albums surrounding Re-Mit, and the musical backing is extremely pleasing, a strong, danceable (The Fall? Danceable?Yes!) riff that grows into a keyboard-led cacophony of noise.

There’s a threatening friction in the song which I quite like, too. The two-note hit between ‘local’ and ‘loadstones’ has the instruments just a tad off one another in tunefulness, and, as ever with The Fall’s embrace of a lack of refinement, it’s ever more rewarding.

It’s oddly triumphant and almost anthemic for The Fall, and reminds (as if we needed reminding) that even nearly 40 years down the line, they’re more than capable in the song writing department.

4. Trust In Me – Fall Heads Roll, 2005

I mentioned blasphemy in the ‘Loadstones’, but how about putting a song with no MES at fourth?

This song has an atmosphere not dissimilar to Sonic Youth, which in itself appeals to me hugely. The lyrics are ridiculous – ‘If you need an x-ray/I will come to your house and do it for free’ is a standout line in a song that seems to never explode into any sort of frenzy, but seems erratically on the edge of all-out rage, despite what the hilariously meaningless lyrics may suggest.

The guitars are very chilling, like a backing to some sort of mental breakdown, particularly the high-pitched two-note repetition brilliantly provided by Pritchard, who for me is one of the best Fall guitarists post-Scanlon.

It’s quite difficult to write about, as nothing really changes throughout the three-and-a-half minutes, but this doesn’t mean it’s not a moreish listen. I think MES was right to leave this to the American vocalists (of which there are four, apparently). Their voices seem to rattle with insecurity, sliding into the apocalyptic unrest effortlessly.

Fall Heads Roll is one of my favourite 21st century Fall albums with The Unutterable and The Real New Fall LP. It’s heavy reliance on powerful bass or lead guitar enticed me into its dark universe, and throughout Smith is on stellar form, particularly in ‘Midnight In Aspen’ and, of course, ‘Blindness’.

‘Trust In Me’ is a fantastically unsettling closer that compliments the sound of FHR aptly, while allowing greater versatility of sound with Smith’s very temporary resignation from frontman.

3. The N.W.R.A. – Grotesque, 1980

This is a classic Fall-sounding track. Long, repetitive, lyrically free and utterly compelling. The Fall of the early 80s (much like the 2010s, to be fair) demanded your attention and devotion, but it’s always for your own good.

The descending four-note hook is masterfully maintained and distributed throughout the song, complimented by higher-octave licks, while, as usual, Hanley’s bass bounces around effortlessly in tandem with his brother’s repeated groove, leading the song in it’s nine-minute stint. Again, Hanley offers small doses of variation and flair to keep you interested throughout the development. Smith begins with his ingenious stream-of-consciousness (typical of early Fall) before ascending into anthemic chanting and announcements that the North will indeed rise again. Stunning.

It’s an assured and accomplished composition. You get the sense that Grotesque was the crucial turning point for The Fall. They left the dying punk movement in its wake and began to develop their sound with more care, awareness and longitude. ‘C ’n’ C-S Mithering’ and ‘New Face In Hell’ are the prime examples, along with ‘NWRA’, of a new experimentation with two-chord wonders, extreme prolonging of songs and lyrical liberty, which fully materialised in the following album Hex Enduction Hour.

The last minute or so is, for me, the best bit of the song. Everyone seems to start giving up on timing and delicacy. Hanley begins to start playing notes which are uncomfortably high-pitched and repeated untimely, the drums start to labour slightly, while Scanlon’s guitar gets more and more improvised and scruffy, until the song abruptly ends on a hit of the drums and a strange whistling sound. No other band would end an album so strong on such an odd note apart from The Fall. It’s so good.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, Grotesque was the turning point for me as a Fall fan, having been underwhelmed by my first listens of Live at The Witch Trials and Dragnet. Though I found songs like ‘Pay Your Rates’ and ‘Container Drivers’ more powerful and other-worldly (musically speaking), ‘The NWRA’ is an undeniable Fall anthem, typifying their sound in nine-minutes of pure bliss.

2. Disney’s Dream Debased – The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, 1984

I had extreme difficulty ordering the top three, and I think it simply came to which one I listened to the most at the time of writing. I suppose you can consider them equals of sorts – they’re all undeniably brilliant.

‘Disney’ took the second spot. It’s a dreamy, almost gloriously ethereal track, a gift of weird eeriness that hides behind a façade of a strange, demented happiness. It sums up the general atmosphere of the album, a delirious reward for facing up to the harshness of ‘Copped It’, the anger of ‘Lay of The Land’ and the utter oddness of ‘Bug Day’ (not one of The Fall’s strongest moments, admittedly).

It begins with this wobbling high note riff, backed with probably the most ‘together’ the Fall’s sound has ever been. For once, everyone seems to have been told to not do some weird improvisation or discordant note – I’ve nothing against this sort of thing, but it is noticeably delicate for The Fall.

The bassline driving the song is simply divine, and the general order of the song is very pleasant on the ears. There are interludes of ominousness, but they’re swiftly killed off by the return of the wonderous, swaying guitars. Even more notable is the fact that Smith seems to be singing normally! Quite a feat for him. He must’ve known this was too good a song to mess around with.

Brix’s occasional backing vocals are gentle and caring but still sublime, while she’s given free rein to play around within the capacities of the song on the strings as the song progresses. Her influence on altering the band’s output from ten-minute destroyers to shorter, accessible melodic stunners took hold of the sound on this album, which matured into the near-perfect This Nation’s Saving Grace, and continued on relatively good form after 1985.

It’s a fitting ending to the near-apocalyptic vibe of the album, a false sense of relief and freedom from an album that can be so jarring and tough on the ears, yet so satisfying.

1. Hexen Definitive / Strife Knot – Perverted By Language, 1983

Unbelievable song. Utterly brilliant. What fills me with pain is that this was another song which I’d neglected throughout my Fall listening.

It’s a creepy start, guitar-led yet quiet, until the first hammerings of the snare drums. The song flows into life, and we’re introduced to a motif of the song – guitar solos composed completely of scratchings of the strings. It becomes a song that you can nod your head to in full movement, it’s indisputably infectious, and Smith’s vocal drones and drags are the perfect accompaniment to the total darkness.

All becomes quiet, and Hanley takes the lead with an echoey, brooding bassline that is so murky – ‘Strife Knot – Strife Ka-not!’ Smith half-arsedly slurs (I find ‘Ka-not’ absolutely brilliant for some reason) and the song is resurrected back into rhythm, though slightly less punchy and a bit more hazy, an otherworldly elongated musical slur that’s still driven meticulously by the bass of Hanley.

The end comes all too quickly, and is introduced by the oppressively scratchy guitars of the previous minutes. They’re out of time, tune and tenacity but they seem to fit so nicely, somehow. The bass rumbles lethargically a little longer, before ending on what I think is a stunning final note – I’m pretty sure it’s generally untouched throughout the song, and offers a final, precise touch of discordant goodness. Wonderful.

‘Hexen’ is archetypal of the sound I think The Fall tried to (and did) achieve throughout the early 80s. This was just before Brix stamped her mark on the sound, and I feel Perverted By Language was a further step into the abyss of inaccessibility that makes The Fall such a gratifying listen (if you enjoy this kind of stuff, obviously). I’ve always liked the name Perverted By Language too, it’s extremely sinister, as if listening to Smith’s obscure and gloomy murmurs are going to corrupt you in some way – some listens of The Fall can put this gloomy view on the world in full vibrancy and life, no matter how deathly it may be.

And as I sit in my university library preparing to publish this piece, I’m listening to PBL in full for the first time in a very long time. What a treat it is. I’ve finally discovered a newfound appreciation for ‘Eat Y’self Fitter’, while hearing ‘I Feel Voxish’ has made me feel this sense of injustice for my neglect of this album for so long.

The eight-track journey has this dark, repressive atmosphere which is simply stunning, particularly ‘Neighbourhood of Infinity’ or the absolute belter that is ‘Smile’. Hexen seems, to me, to be the final goodbye to the long, droning and tough Fall era of songs that Brix’s arrival saw the departure of.

What I was only made aware of on Twitter was that a couple of days before publishing this piece was PBL’s 35th birthday. What’s even more coincidental (yet largely unimportant for anyone with a life) is that PBL was Christmas number one on the Indie Album Chart back in 1983. And here I am, writing just 11 days (yes, you read right) before Christmas, giving PBL another list to sit atop for the winter period. A nice antithesis of anti-happy menace and doom to combat all this awful Christmas cheer, I feel.

‘Hexen’ takes the top spot in a list that I’m sure will stimulate a lot of debate. But for now, let’s appreciate its seven-minute offering of pure Fall genius.

Musical Epiphanies #4 – Juju – Siouxsie and The Banshees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #5 – Public Image Ltd

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

Musical Epiphanies #2 – Real Life – Magazine

My real gateway into punk was a set of BBC documentaries aired in 2013 (I think) called Punk Britannia, with a compilation of old television performances called Punk Britannia at the BBC. This was how I discovered Gang of Four’s ‘To Hell With Poverty’ performance, my first musical epiphany article.

There are still many moments of this compilation which I hold closely. PiL playing ‘Death Disco’ on Top of the Pops, The Clash on Something Else and Dr Feelgood on OGWT were highlights of a stellar array of artistry.

However, I was strangely intrigued by a performance of ‘Shot By Both Sides’ by a band called Magazine on Top of the Pops. It was something I couldn’t really explain – I didn’t particularly love the song (and still don’t) though something about the singer’s aura, his manner (even his hairline) absolutely fascinated me. He looked so bored, so lethargic, as if this performance on national television was a habitual chore. Each vocal was delivered with this kind of dragging, a laboured mumble that for some reason utterly captivated me. He stood still for nearly all the performance, his eyes staring through the screen. I was totally perplexed.

I had to listen to more. I raced to Spotify and went straight to Real Life, their debut album from 1978. Even the album artwork was so fantastically odd, what would the music be like?

I’d heard punk throughout my childhood, Mum and Dad’s music in the back of the car kind of thing, and I had a fairly eclectic taste for a fourteen-year old, but this was like nothing I’d ever heard before.

I was taken into a mythical realm of fascinating punk experimentation; from the very first second of ‘Definitive Gaze’ I knew I’d discovered something totally out of this world, the whirring synth of Dave Formula in beautiful combat with the soaring guitar of John McGeoch, with Barry Adamson’s bass orchestrating the unfolding of what was, and will remain to be, one of my favourite songs of all time. I loved the instrumental moments, the flourishing of the guitar after the keyboard interlude is simply divine, a beautiful burst of life and vitality. It’s a truly excellent theme tune for an album that reeks with sinister creepiness but lavishes with artistic richness – simply stunning.

What I felt was also brilliant about this album was its total rejection of the original punk aesthetic in a time when punk was still only just holding its own in the musical arena. It offered a retreat from the three-chord thrash of its predecessors, Devoto’s goodbye to a movement that he shaped so meticulously with the Spiral Scratch EP, yet left decaying in its own repetition and depleting innovation.

More superb tracks follow – Motorcade broods with dormant intensity before erupting with a clinical punch, The Light Pours Out of Me is just stunning in its simplicity yet layered so expertly, while Recoil is an absolute frenzy, Devoto straining every vocal cord by the end with sheer power and commitment.

What gives me even greater pride for this album is that in October 2014 I was on the ‘Good Day Bad Day’ segment for Steve Lamacq’s show on BBC Radio 6, where I chose a song for a good day and a song for a bad day. On the bad day was Pink Flag by Wire (which I’m sure I will write about soon – it’s an all-time favourite of mine), while on the good day was, of course, Definitive Gaze. I’m pretty sure it was the first time Magazine had been played on BBC radio for at least six months, which gave me even greater pride.

I think the story of Magazine is an extremely frustrating one, showered with critical acclaim yet sheltered from commercial appreciation. They are easily one of the most underappreciated bands from the punk era – I still listen to Real Life in total awe, taken by its textural and structural complexity.

Real Life took me on an incredible path and helped me discover more avenues in post-punk and beyond. What has and always will stand out is Devoto’s shameless lyricism and voice – it’s a total departure from musical convention and a reinvention of what ‘good’ singing really is, at times a strained nasal bark, at others a collected and intellectual poetic commentary that still maintained the roughest of edges.

All in all, with the backing of some of post-punk’s most cultured and accomplished musicians, Real Life was a true masterpiece of its time, though seemingly forgotten by many. It was my first complete moment of musical euphoria, and will always remain a special album for me, and hopefully for the whole of the music world too.

 

Next: Musical Epiphanies #3 – Wire – Pink Flag