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

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

Offshore Banking Business B/W Solitary Confinement – The Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A classic number from Manchester’s finest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Punks On Film #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.

 

 

 

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telephone Thing B/W British People In Hot Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What Do I Get? B/W Oh Shit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dazzle Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next: For The Record #2

The Fall Obituary

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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