The Fall in Fives – the last post

Naively, I thought that the previous post (the statistics one) would only be of interest to hardcore graph & spreadsheet geeks like myself. But then it got over 600 views in two days…

Of course I’d forgotten that many – even those who are not OCD/data-inclined – love a list, especially when it comes to ranking an artist’s albums. I did say that the graphs/lists I posted weren’t a proper ‘ranking’ of the albums: there’s more to evaluating an album than rating the individual songs. What I’ve done over the last ten months is to consider each individual song in isolation (or in the context of a random five-song playlist); the lists and graphs simply represented a crude average of each album’s songs.

Understandably, however, many people did see it as the albums being ranked (even if it wasn’t entirely that), and of course this encouraged a veritable barrage of comments on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I was told, for example, by two posts no more than five minutes apart that I’d rated AYAMW both far too high and for too low. In particular, the lower ratings for the early 90s albums caused a bit of angst amongst some. I should point out that I’m not complaining about any of this at all. It’s very flattering that so many people have taken the time to read and comment. Also, the comments were, without fail, humorous and good-natured and recognised the impossible ‘can’t please all of the people’ nature of evaluating any artist, let alone one with as large and diverse a back catalogue as The Fall.

I’m not going to go into any great detail about the relative merits of each album: that sort of thing’s for the next blog, ‘You Must Get Them All’. What I am going to do is reflect a little about what I’ve learned and experienced over the last ten months.

But before I do that, here’s a video that I kept meaning to post but never found an excuse:

Fall Fatigue?
At the start of this enterprise, I did wonder whether I’d just get sick of doing it. I gave myself a target of covering all 105 batches by the end of the year; as I started on January 8, this meant I needed to do two of them a week. If I’d started to find either the listening or the writing a chore, then that would probably have been too big a challenge. However, after feeling a little daunted to begin with (525 songs! And many of them with multiple versions – sessions, live takes, alternate versions, etc.) I found that my enthusiasm for the task grew continually, and where it was practical, I sometimes actually wrote four or five in a week.

This enthusiasm was largely because of the inspiring and rich diversity of the group’s music, but also due to the response I got from readers. A key turning point was in early March when someone (I’m still not sure who, but thank you) posted a link to the blog on one of The Fall Facebook group pages, which suddenly expanded the readership dramatically. The wealth of encouragement, support and good-natured debate and argument I got from several different online avenues made it an increasing pleasure to write the blog.

Of course, another risk (hence the title of this section) was that I’d just get tired of listening to The Fall. My ‘All Fall’ playlist is, according to Foobar 2000 (an excellent music player which I’d recommend unreservedly) 2 days, 15 hours, 25 minutes and 45 seconds long – and this of course doesn’t take into account the various live versions that I listened to via YouTube or Spotify. I listened to each song at least six times before sitting down at the laptop, and had each one on repeat whilst writing about it, so with a bit of rough arithmetic, I reckon that’s at least 700 hours of Fall listening since January. But this ‘Fall fatigue’ never happened. In fact, when a couple of people suggested (semi-seriously, I think) that I should re-randomise the list and do them all again, I did actually – briefly – consider it. That I decided that this was a crazy idea was not to do with being tired of listening to the group; it was because I wanted to continue writing about them, just in a different (album-related) format. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt tired of listening to them. My wife, on the other hand…

Writing
A good proportion of my work involves writing, but it has to be in a very particular ‘house style’. I tried to avoid being formulaic: I wanted to provide a genuine (and hopefully thoughtful) reaction to each of the songs; I resisted the temptation to go back and edit retrospectively any of the posts (other than for glaring typos and factual errors), as I wanted it to be a true reflection of my feelings at the time.

Looking back over the blog, I think I got more and more into the ‘groove’ with it and got better as time went on. I certainly wrote more as it proceeded – although that in itself is not necessarily a good thing, of course. I tried to strike a balance between just saying ‘I like the guitars on this one’ and being overly florid or pretentious. Whether I succeeded or not is not for me to say, but it was certainly always fun to do.

Before I move on, here’s on of those ‘word cloud’ things of the blog; not especially enlightening, I don’t think, but it looks nice:

WordItOut-word-cloud-3484215

Context
I kept coming back to this word throughout the blog…

There were two ways in which I approached each batch of  five, depending on my work programme. My job involves both a lot of travel and long periods working at home. As a result, I either did my listening in the car or at home during the day. It’s hard to quantify (without going over the whole lot again as outlined above), but I strongly suspect that which method was deployed had at least some influence on the final result. I’m not talking about songs that were already firm favourites (e.g. Dr B), but those that were previously ‘hit and miss’ for me may have lost or gained (a little at least) through how I listened to them.

Listening in the car – especially as there are often large parts of my lengthy journeys that I’ve done many many times and don’t require particular concentration – tends to encourage more focused listening, whereas ‘home listening’ often involved the playlist being on in the background for a few hours. As a result, I think that songs that I’ve never been keen on probably suffered from extended car journey exposure, as they tended to irritate more rather than (as might have been the case at home) wheedling their way into my consciousness a little. Here’s one that certainly was painful to listen to half a dozen times in the car:

And This Day (in the last batch) was a particularly good example of the ‘context effect’. The fact that I was driving through excessively (even for Wales) torrential rain and ominous skies really brought out the oppressive, apocalyptic nature of the song. Similarly, the effect of Deer Park was doubtless enhanced by the fact that I was listening just after MES’s death, accompanied by a large glass of red or three.

Surprises
I mentioned several times during the blog that my introduction to the group came via W&F and TNSG in the mid-80s. It seems to be well-recognised that Fall fans’ favourite albums tend to be closely linked to those that introduced them to the group, and I’m no exception.

When I did get into the group in my late teens/early 20s, my starting point was the early part of the Brix era. Of course I investigated the group’s earlier stuff, and found many songs that I loved: Container Drivers, Expanded, Hip PriestSmile and so on. However, I never quite developed a completely consistent love of the albums from the pre-Brix era. After losing touch with the group for a while in the mid-90s/early 00s (and I know I’m not alone in that) I embraced the 21st century stuff with a real passion – and still do.

As a result, I had sort of settled into a rough view that: 70s – a few good songs but generally not that great overall; early 80s – full of fine songs but a bit uneven in places; mid/late 80s – generally superb (although not without its duffers – Vixen, C.R.E.E.P.); early 90s – the odd great song but not my cup of tea overall; late 90s – picks up the pace majestically, albeit irregularly sometimes; 00s onwards – fabulous noisy invention with just the odd dip (e.g. EGB).

Did this project change my view? Yes and no. I still don’t get 100% on with a lot of the first two albums (but I’ll get back to that in the new blog). I still adore W&F and TNSG. I continue to be a bit ambivalent about some of the early 90s material. I still find most 21st century Fall to be a treasure trove of unearthly delights. But what really grabbed me was the era that many would call the ‘classic’ one – 1980-83. Not that I ever thought that the early 80s weren’t full of excellent Fall songs, far from it; but there were many songs from Grotesque, Hex, Slates and – especially – Room To Live that, under the conditions I set myself, just blew me away in a way that I didn’t entirely expect.

Here are some of the most notable examples:

Another positive feature of the blog was that it led me to some of the b-sides, obscurities that I felt I really should have listened to more often in the past:

I think I’ve been rather a lazy listener in the past (in general, not just with The Fall). I’ve always obsessively listened to music, but I’ve nearly always done something else whilst it’s on: reading, cooking, etc. I’ve always found it a bit tricky (nigh on impossible, in fact) to just sit and listen. I can’t say that that’s changed entirely – I’ve listened to all these songs whilst driving, working or writing about them – but the process has made me pay rather more attention to the finer detail. Especially the writing about them with the song on loop in the headphones. The (new pair of) headphones were introduced to protect my long-suffering wife’s sanity, but they also helped me pick out lots of things that I might otherwise have missed.

Lyrics
My ‘lazy’ listening has always been in part characterised by rarely listening properly to the words. A sizeable proportion of my music collection is comprised of wholly or mostly instrumental artists, and there a only a very few (Billy Bragg, The Smiths, Springsteen) where the lyrics are an important part of what I enjoy about them. I’ve had many ‘so that’s what he says’ moments over the years (often followed by others asking what I thought he said – a question to which I generally don’t have an answer).

Now, you can’t enjoy The Fall without enjoying MES’s unique style of lyrical construction, and for many people Smith’s words are the aspect they love most about the group. And over the last thirty-odd years some of his most choice phrases have played a key role in my love of particular tracks. But, for me, the sound of Smith’s voice is just as important as – sometimes more important than – the words. It’s like another instrument. This probably explains my love of the later albums to some extent. Somewhere in the 90s, MES started to move inexorably away from the athletically articulate lyricism of the groups ‘classic’ period to the garbled and incoherent (if nearly always highly entertaining) snarling and growling that characterised the last few albums.

Take this pair as a prime example of the contrast:

I am greatly indebted to bzfgt and Dan and all the other contributors to The Annotated Fall, which I used as a constant reference tool throughout the blog. Their tenacity in establishing exactly what MES might have actually said is admirable and above and beyond the call of duty. Personally, I don’t lose any sleep over, for example, whether Smith says ‘vivant’ or ‘live on’ at the beginning of Spectre vs. Rector, But I’m kind of glad to know that there’s someone who does. They undoubtedly enhanced greatly my appreciation of the group’s work.

On an (almost) final note… @SkippyVinyls – curse him – has pointed out today that I didn’t cover M.H.’s Jokes (from The Twenty Seven Points). I could argue that it’s not really a proper song as such (which it isn’t), but having written about, for example, Glasgow Advice and Where’s The Taxi?, I’m not sure that that argument really holds water. So I’m just going to pretend that I haven’t seen his tweet. What tweet?

And that really is that for this blog. Thanks again to everyone who read, commented, re-tweeted, etc. It was all very much appreciated. And look out for ‘You Must Get Them All’, plus the (as yet nameless) side project that I have up my sleeve. I’ll finish – I think appropriately – with my favourite ever video: of the best group in the world doing the best version of their best song. Turn it up. And a bit more, go on…

Cheers,

Steve

 

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The Fall in Fives – the statistics

I should start by stating that I recognise that giving a song (or any piece of artistic endeavour) any sort of ‘mark’ is, of course, a deeply flawed concept in the first place. Not that it stopped me, though…

Why? Well, in the first place, it helped me put my thoughts in some sort of framework, to give them a context. I am, by nature, a bit of an OCD, spreadsheets, tables and graphs sort of a person. (I am frequently ribbed by work colleagues for putting any sort of information into a table at the first opportunity; I often explain that ‘I can’t understand it properly if it isn’t in boxes.’) Also, I became aware (especially via Twitter) that several readers either gave their own marks out of ten before reading mine to see how they compared, and/or tried to guess what the mark was going to be by the text before they looked at the actual number. This gave the blog a pleasingly interactive feel.

The ratings weren’t an entirely ‘gut feeling’ random affair. Being an ex-teacher, I did give myself a ‘mark scheme’ to work with. The key starting point was 7/10 – anything that received 7 or above had, for me, nothing fundamentally wrong with it; songs only dipped below this mark if there was some important aspect that didn’t work for me. I also tried to think along the lines of seeing the songs from the point of view of someone partly/largely/entirely unfamiliar with the group’s work: what would be the tracks that I would recommend that they start with? This was the framework I worked with:

9-10 Essential Fall: even if you’re not a devoted fan, you should still own this.
7-8 Really good Fall: any fan should definitely own this.
5-6 Good, if (slightly) flawed Fall: worth listening to if you’re a fan.
3-4 Not without its merits, but some significant shortcomings.
0-2 For completists only; shortcomings outweigh any strengths by some distance.

Where songs fitted within the ‘boundaries’ depended on how confident I was about the assessment. E.g. if I was unsure as to whether it reached the 7-8 band, it was probably a 6.5, and so on. Of course the ‘should’ element sounds terribly arrogant: it’s not for me to tell anyone what should be in their music collection; but it was only there to help inform my thinking.

One of the first things to note is that around two-thirds of the songs got at least a 7. Considering that I covered over 500 songs that included included obscure b-sides, live-only experiments, etc., that on its own is a remarkable figure. (If you only include album tracks, that figure rises to three-quarters.)

I also considered the marks chronologically. Looking at the average mark within each decade didn’t particularly surprise me (and probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me or has read the blog), with the 80s and 10s leading the way closely followed by the 00s, and a bit of a dip in the 90s:

Here’s the same thing by individual years (I grouped some years together where there were only a few releases):

The distribution of the “9+” songs is also interesting, definitely showing that (for me) there was a shortage of stand-out tracks in the early 90s:

It’s also interesting to note in the graph above, how many of the 9+ songs were from 1980-83 – more than I might have predicted, but I’ll come to that in more detail in the next post.

As far as albums are concerned, I should emphasise that the average mark for an album’s tracks is not the same thing as an overall rating for the album. Obviously there are several other things to consider when evaluating an album in its entirety. I’ll be returning to the albums in a new blog in the near future, and (at the moment) I don’t feel that inclined to give marks or rank them (I can’t guarantee that that won’t change, mind you!) But for now, I thought it would be interesting to look at how the albums fared by the average-score method.

Here they are in chronological order:

And here they are in a ranked order:

I’m conscious that the text on some of these graphs is rather small (just about visible on my laptop, but I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to see on phones), so here it is in a table:

1= Hex Enduction Hour 9.18
1= This Nation’s Saving Grace 9.18
3 Your Future Our Clutter 9.17
4 The Real New Fall LP 8.71
5 Perverted By Language 8.69
6 New Facts Emerge 8.64
7 Wonderful & Frightening 8.56
8 Re-Mit 8.50
9 Slates 8.33
10 Grotesque 8.25
11 Are You Are Missing Winner 8.05
12 Room To Live 8.00
13 Fall Heads Roll 7.92
14 Sub-Lingual Tablet 7.82
15= Levitate 7.50
15= Imperial Wax Solvent 7.50
17 I Am Kurious Oranj 7.45
18 The Unutterable 7.43
19 Cerebral Caustic 7.25
20 The Light User Syndrome 7.10
21 Extricate 7.05
22= Bend Sinister 7.00
22= The Marshall Suite 7.00
24 The Remainderer 6.93
25 The Infotainment Scan 6.75
26 Ersatz GB 6.50
27 Middle Class Revolt 6.39
28 Dragnet 6.23
29 The Frenz Experiment 6.11
30 Reformation Post TLC 6.07
31 Code: Selfish 6.04
32 Shift-Work 6.00
33 Live At The Witch Trials 5.64

There were, it has to be said, some surprises for me here. For example, Room To Live is an album that I have to admit I’ve under-looked (possibly criminally) in the past. Also, whilst I’ve never denied that it has many outstanding songs, I wouldn’t have put Hex right at the top. Why this might be I’ll explore fully in the next (last) post in this series.

Finally, it’s worth revisiting briefly the issue of context. If I went through all the songs again, I don’t think that they’d all get the same rating. Many – if not most – of them would, but I’m sure a few gained or suffered from [a] when/where/how I listened to them and [b] their placing within the random selection in which they found themselves. Again, I’ll revisit this in a bit more detail in the final post.

If you want to see an alphabetical list with all the scores, it’s here.

So that’s it for now. I’ll see you for one last reflective post before I embark on a whole new venture!

 

The Fall in Fives – The songs I didn’t do…

I’m going to do 2-3 more posts to tidy things up. There’s more than one list of Fall songs out there, but I used the Reformation A-Z site as my starting point – as well as thefall.org‘s list. Both include songs that I didn’t cover, mainly because there’s no recorded version (a bit of an obstacle to effective reviewing!), but for the sake of an OCD man’s sense of completion, here they all are.

1969
There were several occasions where The Fall either covered or ‘borrowed’ from The Stooges (e.g. Elves, Stout Man and Sing! Harpy), so it’s not a great surprise that the group had a crack at the opener from Iggy and co’s debut album. They only played it twice, both in 2009: the first time amalgamating with the then new Hot Cake; the second time as an intro to Reformation. If you listen to the original it’s quite easy to imagine The Fall delivering the song; would have been fun to hear, but I’m not aware of any recordings.

Having a look around did lead me to some other covers of the song, including by Joey Ramone (pretty much as you might expect it to sound), The Sisters of Mercy (ditto) and a surprisingly breakneck-speed version by The Pretenders of all people (apparently featuring Johnny Marr).

Ben’s Instrumental
With this one, I can’t really do much other than repeat what the A-Z says:

A fairly repetitive instrumental, mainly featuring guitarist Ben Pritchard, opened the gig detailed below [15 March 2007 Cartoon Club, London]. MES came in at the tail end to shout a few words about Athens, and that was that: we have no idea if this was the germ of an idea or Ben idly playing away while waiting for his leader to enter the stage. It hasn’t been played again, was never recorded, and presumably never will be, given that Pritchard has long since left The Fall.

Classical Gas
Until I looked this up, I’d completely forgotten about this tune, but once I gave it a listen, I did recognise it as being something I used to hear on the radio as a kid. It seems a very unlikely song for The Fall to cover – and in fact they didn’t, really. I had to rely on the A-Z again for this one, as there’s not really anything about it elsewhere, but the general gist seems to be that Ben Pritchard played it in rehearsal one day and MES joined in with some improvised lyrics; it seems to have been incorporated briefly and in rather an impromptu fashion at a couple of gigs in 2002.

Cock In My Pocket
Speaking as we were, about ‘borrowings’ from The Stooges, this is a slightly curious one. It would seem that the group played this as cover a handful of times at the tail-end of 2014, but on Sub-Lingual Tablet (released May 2015) it appeared as Stout Man but with an original set of MES lyrics. Despite this, the song (i.e. Stout Man) was credited to Pop/Williamson on the album. Not like MES to eschew bunging his name into the credits.

I would say that this is a far better Stooges song than 1969.  The ‘official’ version is from the infamous Metallic KO album (featuring Iggy’s gentle introduction, ‘A one, two, f*ck you pricks!’) but this bootleg demo version is well worth a listen:

Dropout Boogie
A cover of a song from Captain Beefheart’s debut album Safe As Milk that made it onto the set-list three times in the summer of 2015. Two of the three are on YouTube. The Birmingham one suffers from camera-phone standard sound quality and is also a bit sluggish and a little under-rehearsed sounding in places. The Glastonbury version is a completely different kettle of fish though. Obviously, the sound quality is far better, coming from a BBC broadcast. Smith is relatively focused and gives a pretty ‘straight’ but effective rendition; the group sound tight and aggressive, bolstered by the double-drum Melling/Garratt assault. It builds into an impressive wig-out climax, featuring some impromptu vocals from Eleni and one of MES’s trademark keyboard solos. Good stuff.

Gapa
A one-off from a 2012 gig, which I’ve certainly never heard. The lyrics (which seem to involve a diatribe about Channel 4) are quoted here.

Jack The Ripper
Another random cover version (this time of Screaming Lord Sutch‘s Monster Mash-esque 1963 release) that made only a couple of live appearances. Interestingly, these two performances were four years apart (2008 and 2012). I’m not aware of any recording of it, but there is a review of its first appearance here.

Jeanie
Bit of a mystery, this one. All I know is that it was played once in Cardiff in 2017, and, according to a Facebook poster quoted on the A-Z, ‘followed Mr Pharmacist and “was a similar pace. sounded great.”‘

Race Hatred
A very early song with – as you might expect from the title – an overtly political slant. No recording of it exists, but you can read the lyrics here. They seem a little embarrassingly sixth-form poetry to me. The A-Z comments that this song (and a few others) may have been ditched because MES wanted to ‘distance himself from agit-prop tracks in favour of more cryptic and impressionistic lyrics and sounds’ and I have to say that I’m glad that he did.

The Love Between
Written by Tim Presley and played once (as an instrumental) at a 2011 gig in Edinburgh. The White Fence version is here and is a mildly diverting bit of laid-back Yo La Tengo-ish psychedelia. Not much else to say, really.

Werewolves of London
Like Jack The Ripper, this seems to have been played just the once (in 2011) as a Halloween-themed cover. It’s a cover of a great Warron Zevon song (although I have to confess that I don’t know a single other WZ track) that features one of my favourite ever lines: ‘He’s the hairy handed gent / who ran amuck in Kent’.

This song was unashamedly (although Kevin Rowland admitted to it later) ripped off by Dexy’s Midnight Runners on their criminally-ignored masterpiece Don’t Stand Me Down. Don’t get me started on how amazing that album is; I could construct a whole blog just around that LP. But instead I’ll just post this:

You Don’t Turn Me On
Another very early song, of which (according to the A-Z) only one ‘appalling’ quality recording exists. Lyrics were written by Una Baines and seem to be a not exactly subtle attack on prog groups: ‘Your beard don’t hide / your ugly mind’. To be fair, she says: ‘It makes me laugh now. That was a very young me’.

I don’t think I’ve by now missed out any song The Fall ever did. But please let me know if you think I’m wrong!

 

The Fall in Fives #105

  • O.F.Y.C. Showcase
  • Frightened
  • Shake-Off
  • Totally Wired
  • And This Day

Having got all the gushy thank you stuff covered in my last post, let’s get on with the music, shall we?

Over on the ‘Mighty Fall’ FB page, Dave Abdy was well ahead of the game, looking at the index page to identify which five songs were left, and commenting that: ‘what are the chances of that final selection? Absolute belters, one and all’. And he’s not wrong.

I was determined, once I’d settled on the Fi5 ‘concept’, that I would go for proper randomness in terms of the selections. When I’d created the list, one of the first things I did was to look at the final batch; and I couldn’t have been more pleased with how that turned out. What a cracking selection this is to go out on…

O.F.Y.C. Showcase
@Oh!_Blogger (who I’ve mentioned in recent posts) posted a list of his favourite Fall album openers here. It’s a damn good list, but it omits what is – to my mind – the greatest Fall album opener ever.

After a brief, barely comprehensible bit of MES mumble (‘little Baco mongers’, The Annotated Fall suggests), Kieron strikes up a no-frills, no-nonsense muscular drum pattern that he batters away at exuberantly throughout the whole track. (To be honest, I could probably listen happily to five minutes of this on its own.) At 0:26, Eleni joins in with an oscillating synth motif; at 1:14 Greenway adds a bit of understated chugging top-string guitar; and then, at 1:25 it all kicks off gloriously.

The wonderful thing about this song is that it’s made out of virtually nothing. It’s a ‘show us what you’re made of’ drum assault, a simplistic guitar line and MES occasionally shouting ‘Your future, our clutter.’ There’s nothing difficult or complicated about it; I would imagine that there are many reading this who could, for example, play the guitar part perfectly adequately. But there’s just something incredible here, despite how ostensibly simple and basic it is. It bubbles with energy, a kind of ‘f*ck you, this is what we do and who does it better?’ confident aggression.

I love MES on this. He snarls, growls, shouts, basically does whatever the hell he wants; it feels like a lesson – this is how you do it, but don’t expect me to give a sh*t. And towards the end he even does some (relatively) tuneful singing – although any non-believer might question my use of the word ‘tuneful’ here… But the way he enunciates ‘clutter’ (e.g. at 1:33) is worth the price of admission alone.

I love this track unconditionally. What You Need was the epitome of the Fall’s work ethic in the 1980s; this is MES much older, possibly not much wiser, but still defiant and hell-bent on grinding out results. It’s the sound of a 50+ year old man who doesn’t give a flying one what you think but still knows how to make his group conjure magic – even if it’s a very different kind of magic than it was in the 80s.

Much drumming on the steering wheel this afternoon. Any Fall compilation that doesn’t start with this is morally and ethically wrong in my book. 10/10

Frightened
I find LATWT interesting, historically, but it’s never been one that I reach for regularly. I don’t wish to go over old ground, but I’m not a big fan of some of the generic punk sounds that come to the fore on this album. But this track is rather different…

One of my criticisms of LATWT has always been the incongruously fussy drums, zooming about across the channels. But Karl Burns’ contribution here is spot on; I think that his approach to the drums really fits well with the slow, menacing atmosphere of this song.  Martin Bramah makes a really important contribution here too; skittering, slashing chords that drive the song and match the ebb and flow of the track masterfully.

Compared to much of the rest of the album, MES ploughs his own furrow here, free of any punk-ish stereotypes. I’m too young (not something I say often these days) to have taken this all in fully at the time, but there are a few tracks on LATWT that feel a bit generic to me, vocally. Not the case here: MES is sharp, precise and incisive. (Although I’m really not sure why he pronounces ‘faeces’ as ‘face-sees’.)

I hear something slightly prog-ish about this track, although I have to confess that I struggle to identify exactly how this is the case. But, whatever: it’s a fabulous mix of lots of elements that combine to form a menacing, angular piece of post-punk-prog-insert-genre-here. Spidery, creepy and captivating. Incredible to think that this was recorded nearly 40 years ago. Joyful. 10/10

Shake-Off
I loved this from the first moment that I heard it, because of its hard-edged, in your face aggression. Like OFYC, it has that unapologetic air of ‘f*** you, this is just what we do’.

It opens with some floating, portentous synths and reverb-heavy, extremely random MES declamations – Give me the teachers who said if you deny the strong pot or ecstatic imbibed within you will be end up in eyeball-injecting – before a gloriously brash D&B rhythm kicks in at 0:33.

The combination of taut, crisp D&B and the layers of MES’s declamations is sublime. It’s full of playful moments too: ‘play guitars all night’; the delicious reversal at 1:55; I also love how it builds in volume and intensity over the last thirty seconds.

The (very brief) Peel version is raw and throaty; it lacks the intricate layers of the album version, but is similarly bursting with aggression. The XFM session version is haphazard and chaotic but is also worth a listen.

I loved this every time it came around. Beats, noise, aggression, distortion… Everything you could ever want. 10/10

Totally Wired
There have been more than a few occasions where I have been unclear regarding the theme/meaning of the group’s songs. Not the case here: you’d have to be a little simple-minded (especially given the song’s title) to misunderstand lines like, ‘I drank a jar of coffee, and then I took some of these’. I am rather naive and inexperienced regarding drugs, but I’m pretty sure that ‘these’ are not paracetamol.

Danny Baker’s NME review at the time (quoted by the A-Z) complained of ‘The Fall’s constant verbal battering’, which is a curious comment really. I mean, MES has frequently relied on ‘verbal battering’ over the years, but this track isn’t particularly an example of that approach. In fact, Smith’s performance here is (comparatively) controlled and restrained, although that’s certainly not to say it’s lacking in energy. I particularly enjoy the frequent climbs into (almost) a shriek, for example on the first syllable of ‘totally’ (1:24 is a good one) and the last ‘worried’ right at the end. Mr Riley also chips in with some slightly odd-sounding but lovely backing vocals too (they strangely remind me of Bowie somehow, but don’t ask me to justify that comment).

Musically, (as the A-Z points out) the Steve Hanley/Craig Scanlon interplay is one of the song’s most notable features. The way the bass and guitar lines complement each other (the end of the second chorus is a particularly good example) is outstanding.

Wired is – particularly when compared to the two songs between which it is sandwiched on this playlist – distinctly commercial and accessible, without sounding like the group were especially striving for this. In a more satisfactory dimension this would have been a chart success. However, as ever, one shouldn’t get too carried away with this line of thinking: the UK number one at the time of the single’s release was Kelly Marie’s crimped-hair-and-camp-dancers classic Feels Like I’m In Love.

Someone on The Fall Forum recently described this track as ‘a bit obvious’, and whilst I kind of see what they mean, I think it’s too harsh on the song, which I think is a good a three minute ‘pop’ song as the group ever produced. Another cracking one for driving to as well; certainly had the old middle-aged head bob going on in my car yesterday and today. 10/10

And This Day
No discussion around accessibility or commercial approaches here. As I mentioned above, when I created the random list one of the first things I did was to look at how it ended, and I was pleased that this was the final track. Just as the strange, uncompromising, puzzling Nine Out Of Ten was an apt curtain-closer for the group’s recorded output, this is a pretty fitting way for this journey to conclude – because to describe it as difficult and uncompromising is somewhat of an understatement. MES is frequently quoted as saying that it often ‘finished off’ audiences; the video I link to below has the tagline ‘not for the uninitiated’.

It’s a bit of a divisive one in the world of Fall fandom. The A-Z says: ‘Seen variously by Fall fans as a multi-instrumental layered tour de force with astounding vocals to match, or as a stodgy, seemingly never-ending unmusical/unstructured racket.’ The Annotated Fall says something similar: ‘it is passionately defended by some but dismissed as boringly repetitive and too long by others.’ Before this, I would have said that I tended towards the more positive view, but with the caveat that, if you’re listening to Hex, it’s such a dense and intense album that by the time you get to the final track, ATD is perhaps just a bit much. However, whilst I don’t want to revisit extensively the whole issue of context, one of the joys of this project has been freeing songs up from their original situation and giving them a chance to shine; to see them in a different light (and on the odd occasion letting them be a little irritating).

I really enjoyed ATD on the way down to Cardiff yesterday, much in the way that I’ve always done, but it benefited from its placement in the looped playlist here, between the zippy, concise Wired and the crisp, exuberant Showcase. But then, on the journey back north today through the relentless, lashing sheets of rain, it just made perfect sense. It’s such a dense, unrelenting slab of noise that it matched perfectly the apocalyptic weather.

There are two live versions on the 2005 reissue of Hex, both of which are great: interesting variations and well worth a listen. The received wisdom is that the 15 minute Hammersmith Palais version on Hip Priest And Kamerads is the best take, most closely capturing the mayhem of its reportedly immense live performances. (You can hear this here, but don’t get unduly excited by the video’s 25 minute length – it just has an inexplicable ten minutes of silence tacked onto the end.) It’s the original album version that does it for me, though. Some of the other versions may be – as The Annotated Fall has it – ‘cleaner-sounding’, but it’s the sheer, dense barrage of noise of the Hex version that blew my mind in the car today. The lumbering rhythm and in particular Riley’s spooky organ (that sounds a bit wrong, but you know what I mean) give it a warped, circus-like atmosphere. And I don’t mean circus as in Billy Smart (a link here for any baffled non-UK readers), I mean as in a travelling freakshow/carny from a Tom Waits/Nick Cave song or Cormac McCarthy novel. Peering through the rain-lashed windscreen as I drove warily through Merthyr Tydfil today, it felt like a song that signalled the end of the world. Not many artists can conjure that up.

To provide a bit of balance after waxing so lyrically throughout this whole post, I’ll give the last word to my long-suffering wife. After arriving home quite late after a long and stressful week at work, when asked her opinion about the very last track of this lengthy endeavour, she responded, resignedly: ‘It’s… I don’t know, a bit sh*t. Can we turn it down a bit please?’ 10/10

And so, somewhat unbelievably, that’s it. (Well, sort of – I have a few further things up my sleeve, and the album-related blog has already been set up – but we’ll get to that in due course.)

305 days, 525 songs, 109 blog posts, 110,000 words and (according to my computer, although this doesn’t take account of songs I listened to via YouTube/Spotify) 64 hours, 45 minutes and 40 seconds of incredible music.

What a ride. Thanks for coming along.

Steve

 

The Fall in Fives – The Big Thank You Post

I started this as the introduction to the final #105 post, before deciding that it ought to be a post in its own right. I started this blog exactly 10 months ago today, with no more ambition than it would have a readership that got into double figures. Obviously, things have turned out to be far more positive than I ever could have imagined. I may well miss people out in the list below, so sincere apologies if that’s the case: I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has retweeted, liked, commented, etc. So many people have been encouraging, challenging and supportive – big thanks to all of you! But these are the people to whom it occurs to me that I owe the biggest vote of gratitude.

So, heartfelt thanks to:

  • Caroline (@auto_tech_pilot), Eric (@justericsmith) and Rainmaster from the Fall Online Forum for your encouragement and pertinent comments
  • @keepingitpeel, @SkippyVinyls and @VariousTimes for unfailingly retweeting my posts
  • Dan and bzfgt for The Annotated Fall, which was such an invaluable resource (and to Dan for keeping me right regarding factual matters in his inimitable style!)
  • The Reformation/A-Z site for being similarly invaluable
  • JunkMan, who also swiftly identified some of my more heinous errors
  • Tommy Mackay (@TommyReckless) for The Story Of The Fall website and his wonderful book
  • The members of the three Facebook groups I post to (‘Mighty Fall’, ‘It’s Not Repetition’ and ‘Agents of The Fall’) for their likes and comments
  • Grant Showbiz (@zombat) for being my first ‘famous’ follower and impressing my wife by his track record regarding Billy Bragg and The Smiths
  • Mr Stephen ‘god of bass’ Hanley for liking and retweeting my posts, which impressed my wife even more (sorry Grant!)
  • Imperial Wax (@ImperialWaxBand) – also for liking/following, but also for the impeccable, respectful way they have publicly dealt with the guvnor’s passing – I simply cannot wait to see them play next year
  • My daughter, who has on occasion provided the type of insight that only a bright, cynical teenager can
  • Everyone who has ever been in the group for their contributions to the most incredible body of work (including @MartinBramah, who I was delighted to find following me)
  • And finally, my wonderful wife, who has shown great fortitude whilst being repeatedly exposed to ‘the worst band ever’ and has – as well as putting up with me being sat endlessly at the laptop with my headphones on and coming to bed ridiculously late – contributed several pithy and humorous comments. She’s a star, she is.

I have doubtless missed some people out – apologies to you if that’s the case.

Anyway, on with the last selection….

Cheers,

Steve

The Fall in Fives #104

  • Tommy Shooter
  • Surrogate Mirage
  • Loadstones
  • Crackhouse (The House That Crack Built)
  • Proteinprotection

Exciting news, yesterday, as Imperial Wax announced their first gig (notwithstanding their excellent performance with Damo Suzuki earlier this year). Only a London date thus far, but it would appear that a tour beckons. I await news of a Manchester gig with bated breath.

Unbelievably, we come to the penultimate set of five…
Tommy Shooter
Another excellent selection from IWS, Tommy starts with an endearingly hesitant keyboard line from Eleni (that rather sounds as if it might have been played on the ‘steel drums’ setting) before breaking out into a taut, understated groove. Greenway’s simple, ascending guitar pattern gives the song its shape, and is well supported by Dave Spurr’s restrained bass line and Kieron’s light, nimble drumming.

But while the group provide a solid foundation, it’s MES who provides the star turn here. His delivery, although snarled and slurred in all the right places, is crisp, forceful and imperious. He is utterly in tune with the ebb and flow of the music around him (not something you can always say) despite carrying off that thing that he does where he’s just off the beat but seems to hit the perfect yet unexpected moment – e.g. ‘poodles’ at 0:42 and 3:11.

[An embarrassing admission regarding lyrical mishearings: for longer than I care to admit, I thought that he sang ‘government pictures’ rather than ‘Doberman Pinschers’. For no apparent reason, I remember exactly where I was when I realised this mistake – I was pulling out of Welshpool Tesco car park when I suddenly thought: ‘Doberman Pinschers – that makes much more sense!’]

Smith hits a rich vein lyrically here. I don’t (as ever) have much of an idea what the overall theme is, but you can’t help but admire the construction of the language: not just ‘I’ve got news for you’, but ‘ I got news for you my friend/to which you will have to attend’; not just ‘sit on your shoulder’, but ‘sit on your shoulder bone’; not just ‘the locals are humiliated’, but ‘the locals are in the realm of humiliation’. As is often the case, his words somehow sound simultaneously like they were tossed off carelessly and thoughtfully, intricately constructed. The Hip Priestess captures the atmosphere of the song impeccably: a scene viewed through narrowed eyes, lit only by halogen streetlights and the stark single flame from a cigarette lighter.

A track of which I never tire. 9.5/10

Surrogate Mirage
Of all the obscurities that I’ve covered over the last ten months or so, this is possibly the most intriguing one. Played only once (at Leicester Poly in March 1982) this song then promptly disappeared from view and has never had any sort of official release. The only clear connection you can make to anything else is that the brief chorus bears a passing resemblance to Kurious Oranj.

After MES requests that the lights be turned down to reduce the group’s sweatiness, they set out on a sprightly, uptempo, slightly discordant opening, but this soon settles into a slow, gentle rhythm, with SH’s bass to the fore, picking out a simple four-note pattern while spooky keyboard chords float around in the background. This section has a melancholy air that puts me in mind of Mark’ll Sink Us. Periodically, the group breaks out into a more up-tempo section that contains the echo of Kurious Oranj.

The odd thing about it is that is that feels largely ‘realised’. A song that only ever appeared in one gig you might expect to be throwaway; a rough, undeveloped idea. In particular, early live versions of Fall songs often feature very early drafts (to be charitable) of MES’s final lyrics. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Sure, it’s rough and ready and under-rehearsed (6:19-6:30 is especially messy and ragged) but it doesn’t feel a million miles away from being a ‘complete’ song. And the lyrics – as far as you can make them out – are intriguing: ‘He put his head in the basin/He writes letters to his parents/Says they talk to him.’

One of the most intriguing corners of the group’s back catalogue. Not something I’d listen to regularly, but a fascinating ‘what if’ moment nonetheless. 7/10

Loadstones
I – as will be apparent to anyone who reads this at all regularly – love Re-Mit, in all its joyful, exuberant glory. And this plays a full role in my enjoyment of the album. Also, it made a nice, brash and straightforward contrast to the enigmatic previous song.

It bursts into life immediately with a series of staccato yet loose and twangy chords before setting off at a jaunty, rickety pace; Greenway’s guitar line (almost hoe-down-ish in character) leading the way. Eleni – often an unsung hero in later Fall material in my opinion – supplies a variety of smooth, oscillating synth touches that form a lovely contrast to the over-arching bluesy/rockabilly sound.

MES’s contributions are relatively melodic in the ‘chorus’ sections, although he reverts to random, somewhat incoherent declarations elsewhere: what on earth does he say after ‘Island of Bergen’ at 1:12? The Annotated Fall transcribes it as ‘Sataffopsagaffop / Sataffsagopfa’, and who am I to argue? And does anyone else hear an echo of Gut of the Quantifier‘ in the ‘shoes for the dead’ refrain?

Whatever he’s on about, it’s a short, sharp burst of energetic Fall fun; and again, not one that I found myself tiring of at all. 9/10

Crackhouse (The House That Crack Built)
Another rather intriguing oddity. It’s basically a D.O.S.E. tune (as confirmed by Julia Adamson, quoted on the Reformation A-Z site) from before that relationship went sour. It was only played twice, at back-to-back gigs in Manchester in May 1997. According to the A-Z, the two nights saw significantly different versions of the song, the first night’s take being ‘much punchier and shorter’.

The only recording (that I’m aware of, anyway), is from the second night. It opens with some quavering, spooky synth (although the eerie atmosphere is rather punctured by a voice – clearly very close to the mic – enquiring: ‘Is Brix still with ’em? F*cked off?’). Around 50 seconds in – by the evidence of the cheers and chants of ‘Hanley… Hanley’ – the band take the stage before embarking upon a lugubrious, funky groove, driven by the eponymous Mr H’s deep, growling bass. This carries on, with occasional bursts of Chemical Brothers-style synth/sequencers and choppy funk guitar, for around four minutes until MES makes his entrance.

The recording is too poor to get a clear understanding of what MES is saying much beyond ‘the house-uh that crack-uh built-uh’, although there are a couple of entertaining ‘hyup’s.

It feels (in contrast to Surrogate Mirage) more like an intro tape than a fully realised song, although it’s intriguing to speculate what a properly-recorded studio version might have sounded like. Not exactly essential, but interesting. 6/10

Proteinprotection
I enjoyed (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas a great deal, but this adds a whole heap of energy, aggression and bite on top of that and is frankly the dog’s bollocks.

From the word go, it’s taut and full of barely-controlled menace. The thumping, relentless bass and drums intro is soon joined by grainy, slashing chords from a distorted guitar. I love the contrast between the tight, controlled verse and the uninhibited thrash of the chorus. The ‘break-down’ (at 1:28), featuring a heavily-phased guitar is a lovely touch, as are the occasional spacey ‘oooh’ backing vocals that provide another pleasing contrast.

And, like on Tommy Shooter, Smith is on superb form here: it’s a controlled, menacing, impeccably-timed performance; he sits above everything that’s going on musically, somehow aloof and disdainful yet utterly in sync with the group. Some highlights: his delivery of the word ‘abstraction’ at 1:02; the slight shade of anger in ‘no protein protection’ at 1:50; and – above all – the ‘hey, wuh!’ at 1:13. The lyrics are, frankly, impenetrable to me – but The Annotated Fall, as ever, puts some serious effort into their interpretation. However, when it all sounds as good as this, I can live quite happily without knowing what it was about.

Just superb, flawless and – to revert to one of my clichés – one to turn up as high as it’ll go. 10/10

The Fall in Fives #103

  • Reformation!
  • Various Times
  • Neighbourhood of Infinity
  • Jet Boy
  • Tragic Days

Not entirely sure why, but everything went a bit mad yesterday: dozens of Twitter notifications, FB comments, etc; plus a record number of views for one day (over 400). As ever, it’s all very much appreciated, cheers. On with songs 511-515…

Reformation!
I used to absolutely adore this one, and have on occasion described it as a top ten song; but I did start to cool on it just a little a couple of years ago – probably through over-playing.

But it is an absolute beast of a tune. It’s one hell of a bass line, for a start: heavy, gritty, fuzzy and relentless in its two-note assault. Great guitar work too, a lovely combination of distorted thrash and sharp, bluesy solo fills. Overall, the song has a similar sound to the majority of RPTLC, but it’s less murky, a bit more bright and defined. Unlike, say, Over! or Coach & Horses, which have a pretty laid-back vibe, it bristles with energy, menace and aggression. That said, there is a darkly humorous tone as well. MES sounds far more integrated with the music around him than he does on much of the album, and there’s a sense of a wicked sense of humour in his barked contributions. Some of it is plainly addressed at recently departed members of the group, but it also has a random, off-the-top-of-my-head/things-I-saw-yesterday/what-I-was-thinking-about-in-the-pub-this-afternoon tone to it. You couldn’t find a more typical late-period Fall lyric than ‘Black River/Fall Motel/Cheese State’.

I’m not a very regular gig-goer myself, but you can see why this made so many appearances (113, according to the A-Z). Leaving aside its driving intensity, it also frees the group to lock onto that mammoth groove and leave Smith to contribute as and when he sees fit. The Palais version is a relatively brief, breakneck gallop through the song; the 2015 6 Music Festival performance (from about 14 minutes) features some powerhouse drumming from Kieron (especially from 19:32) and exemplary tremolo-heavy guitar work from Greenway. The ‘pissed man in a cheap hotel room’ video is also entertaining and worth a watch.

A mighty slab of Fall which is one of those that ought to be played at high volume. 9/10

Various Times
It always surprises me that this song (the b-side to It’s The New Thing) is from 1978 . It seems a lot more developed/advanced/matured (both musically and lyrically) than much of the early material. There’s a great sense of control here (particularly notable when it was only the group’s second single); they maintain a taut, dark, aggressive tone throughout, and the quiet/loud transitions are managed beautifully.

The balance between elements (the relentless three-note bass line, the skittering guitar, Burns’ flamboyant but tight drumming, the occasional high-pitched keyboard wanderings) is spot on. I also love the way that it meanders gently to an understated conclusion (I’m listening to the 6:40 version from the LAWT reissue; I know some prefer the slightly shorter original, but I enjoy the way this one winds down gently.)

It’s an intriguing lyric. Divided into three sections (past/present/future), it features a disillusioned German WW2 prison guard, a ‘No Man’ who despairs of his contemporaries (‘Everyone I meet’s the same now / No brains or thought’) and a dystopian future character who complains about the ‘weak beer’ and, mysteriously, how ‘they got rid of time around here’.

It’s an incredibly intense and accomplished piece for a group this early in their career. It’s one of those (there have been a few) where I feel I haven’t paid it nearly enough attention over the years; I was quite captivated by its tense, menacing atmosphere. 9/10

Neighbourhood of Infinity
I’d almost forgotten how strange and disturbing this one is. After a brief, cymbal-heavy drum intro and a grinding, astringent rhythm guitar with some odd little background shrieks (feedback, or a hyperactive child on a descant recorder?), MES fades in before being joined by a typically rock-solid SH bass. Smith’s vocal is fragmented, disdainful; it references ‘cut-up technique’ (as I believe Mr Bowie used to be fond of deploying) and this describes of the sound of the lyrics, not just the words. The overall effect is of multiple ideas layered, shredded and mangled. I have no idea how to interpret lines like ‘There’s a claque that makes use of Lancastrian patronisation of blacks / Their rep Jim Davidson / The love of Paris infects the Civil Service’, (The Annotated Fall’s admirable effort is here) but you can only admire Smith’s ability to twist and conjure language in such a rich, original and intriguing way.

It almost strays into ‘normality’ in the second half, but we’re never too far away from the sudden intrusion of some booming tom-toms or a burst of frantic guitar thrash. And it’s very poignant to hear (as today is the first anniversary of the group’s last ever gig) MES’s unequivocal ending statement of ‘We are The Fall.’

My main (well, only) criticism is why the hell is it so short? At barely over the two and a half minute mark, it feels like there are million fascinating ways in which it could have expanded/developed. I cold easily have listened to another 3-4 minutes of this.

And we haven’t even got to the Palace Of Swords Reversed version. I’m not, as you know by now, a huge fan of lo-fi live recordings, but this one… It’s a dark and murky recording, but it’s deep and dark and forceful; there’s an underlying mushed-up rumble of bass and drums and guitar (plus some mutant morse code from the keyboards) over which MES rants and raves with increasing fervour. Both versions are outstanding, if far too brief. 9/10

Jet Boy
After three excellent songs, this was a bit of a downer. A New York Dolls cover (a band I’ve never really seen the appeal of, to be honest – all style without substance imho), both versions (one on the Box Set, the other on The Marshall Suite re-issue) are a rather messy, uninspired, simplistic garage thrash. I don’t wish to be overly harsh – most bands have the odd throwaway cover in their back catalogue – but this is, frankly, a bit rubbish. 2/10

Tragic Days
Hard to know what to say about this. I’ve referenced previously the ‘Fall Wooden Spoon’, a cup competition I ran over on The Fall Online Forum to find the group’s worst song: this was a clear winner. It’s just 90 seconds of pissing about in (apparently) Martin Bramah’s flat. The motivation for including this on Levitate (other than just to make it the most difficult album ever) is unclear. It’s not quite as awfully self-indulgent as Taxi, so that scrapes it a mark, I guess. 1/10