The Fall in Fives #005

Random selection number 5:

  • Big New Priest/New Big Prinz
  • Mad.Men-Eng.Dog
  • Das Katerer
  • Rude (All the time)
  • In My Area

Big New Priest/New Big Prinz
This song brings back fond memories for me, as the ‘check the record’ refrain was used as the theme tune to a ‘Round Table’ type show on URY, the student radio station when I was at university. (This would probably be quite hard for the young folk today to get their head around, but back then URY were forbidden from broadcasting on FM because it might interfere with ‘official’ broadcasts. Hence it was on medium wave, with the inevitable shoddy sound quality, which was the main – if not the only – reason very few people actually listened to it.)

Whilst in the pub one afternoon in the summer of 1990, my friend John (who was deputy president of the SU at the time) suddenly remembered that he had been invited to be a guest panelist on that day’s show. Having nothing better to do, and fortified by an afternoon’s drinking, I joined him as an uninvited surprise guest. Much hilarity ensued (although I’m not sure the host was overly amused) and I do, somewhere, have a recording on cassette of the whole debacle. I haven’t dug it out for years, and possibly won’t do again for a while yet: I’m sure it’s a whole lot funnier in my memory than in actuality…

Anyway, the track itself (in both guises) manages the remarkable of feat of being simultaneously jaunty and sinister. The bass line (one of the simplest and most effective in The Fall’s history) and drums make the biggest contribution to the former, helping the song to bounce along energetically. Meanwhile, the abrasive, descending guitar line and MES’s distorted bark give the song a bit of menace.

Both versions are excellent, but I prefer the opener from Oranj, as the slightly heavy-handed echo/reverb effect on the other dulls its impact – but only a little. The only real shortcoming is that it ends too soon. On my ‘version’ of the album (I’ll come back to my ‘versions’ at some point) I glued the two together to make a bit of a 6-7 minute epic. I also appear to have a Big New Prinz on my hard drive, but this version from 458489 is exactly the same as New Big Prinz as far as I can tell. 9/10

Mad.Men-Eng.Dog

I like a good ‘experimental’ Fall track as much as the next man (and probably much more, unless the next man happens to be J. Eric Smith). In fact, with the encouragement of said Mr. Smith, I once made a Fillers and P**-Takes mix – although I’m not sure that anyone other than he and I ever listened to it…

Even I don’t listen regularly to a collection of these interludes all together, but they do often make a positive contribution to the albums. Many add a welcome dose of variety, texture and humour – although they do occasionally outstay their welcome a little (but we’ll come to Das Boat later).

At just over two minutes, this one isn’t guilty of stretching things too far. It’s hard to argue with The Fall A-Z’s description: MES shouting various repetitive seemingly nonsensical phrases accompanied by various drum beats and other discordant sounds, often played on machines. Like Hurricane Edward, repeated listens enable you to pick up lots of new little details each time. It’s quite difficult to establish the origin of many of the sounds. Is that, for example, the sound of pigs rooting about for truffles at 0:11? Who’s tapping what on what at 1:34? God knows what MES is actually on about. Even the thorough and meticulous Annotated Fall admits defeat with this one: the lyrics most likely are uninterpretable.

I’m not claiming it’s a great work of art or anything, and it doesn’t really stand up as an individual track outside of the context of the album; but it does provide an entertaining and intriguing little diversion to wrap up The Marshall Suite (I never listen to On My Own if I can help it – although obviously at some point I’m going to have to). 6/10

Das Katerer

I said in a previous post that I was sometimes guilty of ‘casual listening’, and here’s a prime example: how have I never heard those tweeting birds at 0:14 before?? I’m never sure why MES felt the need to include a fairly slight and unremarkable retread of Free Range on Unutterable (which is a great album, but could have stood being a little shorter). And, whilst there are a few random squiggles here and there, it doesn’t have the same level of playful and inventive electronic flourishes that make much of the album so enjoyable. The melody is a bit simplistic and repetitive, too.

Actually, I’m being far too harsh on Katerer here: whilst it’s not an essential part of the back catalogue, I found it pleasant enough, and it mixed quite effectively with the other four in this sample. 6/10

Rude (All the time)

If you were in your teens/early 20s, and a couple of mates presented you with a recording of this as ‘just an idea we’ve been playing around with’, you’d most likely think, Not bad: pleasant enough strumming and a reasonable basic idea for a melody. But as a Fall release, it’s not much more than a minor curiosity; the sort of thing that you don’t mind popping up on shuffle, but repeated listening isn’t terribly rewarding.

According to Discogs, copies of this go for about £80-100. I’ve never been a collector of anything, so I do find this a little baffling. I can think of a million better things to spend a hundred quid on. 4/10

In My Area

One thing that I’m starting to learn from this little project is that a lot of the early Fall stuff fares a lot better with me when listened to in isolation, i.e. not in the context of listening to the whole album. Both Rebellious Jukebox and Bingo-Master, for example, were far more enjoyable on repeated play that I might have expected judging by my previous experiences listening to the whole of, say, Witch Trials.

This proves to be the case once more with In My Area. I’ve never got on with Dragnet at all, and it has featured at the very bottom of the list when I’ve done a review/ranking of all the Fall albums in the past. (Before any smart alec rushes in to correct me, I know it wasn’t on the original album, but it’s on the reissue I own and it’s from that era anyway.) Area still has many of the features that are indicative of a Fall era/sound that isn’t really in my preferred style, but in the company of the rest of the songs in this batch, it provided a welcome change of pace.

It’s very angular and awkward: the band frequently sound like they’re going to lose track of each other entirely. The erratic fairground keyboards combined with MES’s repeated references to ‘madness’ add to the slightly deranged and wonky feel of the song. Not a classic by any means, but another pleasant surprise. 5.5/10

 

 

The Fall in Fives #004

The fourth set:

  • Noel’s Chemical Effluence
  • No Respects/No Respects Rev.
  • Chicago, Now!
  • Hurricane Edward
  • Cary Grant’s Wedding

A slightly different approach to this set, as I am at home all this week with no lengthy car journeys for a change. Thus, this batch was listened to on repeat whilst working at home, plus several times in the evening.

Noel’s Chemical Effluence

A large proportion of my music listening centres around the repetitive/krautrock end of things, such as NEU!, Föllakzoid and Minami Deutsch. Even when listening to more traditionally song-based bands, I am great lover of the extended 2 or 3-chord coda (this is a great example).

It will therefore be no surprise to anyone who knows Noel (and I am aware that my first reader/commenter rates this track very highly indeed) that it is right up my street. It’s an intense, murky, psychedelic slab of high quality Fall; the way it builds, driven by a jagged and increasingly frantically strummed 3-chord guitar part is hugely impressive. My only minor criticism is that the drums are a little tinny and could do with a little more oomph.

There’s a long tradition of rock songs about the tour bus, life on the road, etc. but I’m not sure anyone else has taken the chemical toilet as the main subject. The lyrics are fairly audible by MES standards, and in places are quite travel sickness-inducing (red-purple vomit stream), even when you’re just sat at home at the keyboard. (Oddly, Noel isn’t the only song to mention an abdominizer: The Annotated Fall points out that it also appears in The Past #2.)

A delightfully shambolic ending draws things to a close (you can almost hear Craig Scanlon saying Oh… are we stopping now then?). This was one that, by its very nature, benefited greatly from the repeated listening treatment. Why on earth it’s tucked away toward the end of The 27 Points and has never been played live is a mystery. 9/10

No Respects/No Respects rev.

Another strong moment from Re-Mit. The short, introductory instrumental No Respects is a sharp burst of surf-rock that clatters along energetically for about 40 seconds, before morphing into a slightly portentous and proggy fuzzed-up guitar line that fades (incredibly rapidly – like someone leaned over the mixing desk and stuck their elbow on a slider) almost as soon as it arrives. I’m a big fan of short, sharp instrumental openers to albums (try the first 56 seconds here) and this one works a treat.

Musically, the opening to the ‘full’ version is identical, but the production is slightly different: it’s a little brighter, and there’s much less reverb, which gives it a punchier sound. There’s excellent guitar work throughout, particularly as the whole thing works itself into a frenzy over the last minute. There are also some Byrds-esque arpeggios going on (e.g. at 0:56) that put me in mind of early REM or mid/late Teenage Fanclub. I’m not even going to attempt to interpret the lyrics, as it’s all largely incomprehensible anyway, but it’s a fine late-period MES performance: a great balance of slurring and snarling, topped off with some quite disturbing manic cackling towards the close. 9.5/10

Chicago, Now!

A dark and atmospheric track with deep, sinister guitar and bass lines and malevolent keyboard flourishes. Extricate had a pretty ‘glossy’ production, but this sits well here. Quite a tuneful (relatively speaking) croon from MES as well. Not sure what any of the lyrics have to do with Chicago, but the hi-de-hi part towards the end is an entertaining diversion (perhaps MES is an admirer of Gladys Pugh?)

The Peel session version isn’t radically different and doesn’t add or detract in any way especially, other than the keyboard is a little more ‘artificial’ sounding and less convincing (and the ‘stab’ at 2:35 sounds a little like The Art of Noise).

Strong, if not entirely essential: perhaps a good, gentle introduction for a new Fall listener? 7/10

[Random aside: whilst looking for the above video, I discovered that ‘Now’ is the title of veteran soft rock band Chicago’s 36th and latest album; also that they appear to have Jeremy Clarkson on bass and the late Keith Moon on percussion.]

Hurricane Edward

This, on the other hand (along with most of Levitate), would probably not be the wisest place to start with for someone unfamiliar with or unconvinced by The Fall. It’s basically a complete mess: an unholy cacophony that sounds like the rough ideas for several different songs tossed into a blender then forcibly injected into a broken mixing desk. We have random spoken work segments, live snippets, intense and frantic drumming, Sonic Youth-ish guitar torturing, electronic squiggles, cut-up drum machine samples, fuzzy drone noise and an opera singer accompanied by an orchestra of ukuleles. I am, of course, joking about the last one, but by the time you get to the end of the track you wouldn’t be surprised by anything.

And yet… somehow, defying all logic, it just works. Who else but The Fall could have crammed all of the above elements into less than six minutes and come out with something so insanely, joyously entertaining? It also benefited from the repeated listening approach: I heard something new every time I listened. Are those marimbas plinking away just before the 2 minute mark?   Is that someone trying to tune in an old am radio from 4:21-4:54? Mad and wonderful. 9/10

[The track itself isn’t on youtube – apart from an interesting, if poor quality sound-wise live version – but you can listen to it as part of the full album here.]

Cary Grant’s Wedding

I had only heard this a couple of times before starting this project, I have to confess. I do know people who admire it greatly, but I don’t really see the attraction myself. It doesn’t help that it only exists as a live recording (with the customary ropy sound quality), but the more I listened to this, the more tiresome I found it. In particular, the transitions between fast and slow tempo sections are awkward and jarring, and the title refrain is back to dumb punk/Jilted John territory to these ears. Also, you don’t come to The Fall for tuneful singing, but MES’s vocals (which are quite high in the mix for much of the track) are so aggressively off-key that they set my teeth on edge after a while. Not a fan. 2/10

The Fall in Fives #003

The third set that the random number generator threw up was this:

  • Rebellious Jukebox
  • The Birmingham School of Business School
  • Touchy Pad
  • Senior Twilight Stock Replacer
  • The Boss

I listened to these on a journey to Llandrindod Wells and back (hour and a half each way) and I have to say that, while I continue to enjoy the process, this set wasn’t overall as enjoyable as the first two.

Rebellious Jukebox

This track embodies quite well some of the main factors that put Live at the Witch Trials towards the bottom end of my Fall albums ranking. It’s not the worst set of vocals from this era, but there’s still an element of generic ‘Jilted John’ punk going on, plus a bit of that everyone-do-a-we’re-all-in-the-pub-singalong in the chorus. In addition, LATWT is blighted by unnecessarily fussy drums: the elaborate-fill-to-bar ratio is far too high, and there’s excessive zooming between the channels. There’s plenty of that here – just listen to the last 15-20 seconds. That said, I didn’t find myself liking it any less on repeated listens; but neither did it grow on me any.

Also, is it just me or does anyone else hear an echo (pardon the pun) of Echo Beach in the main guitar riff? (Coincidentally, I also think that are bits of The Fall’s cover of War that bear a striking resemblance to the Martha & the Muffins tune, but we’ll come back to that.)

I also have the Peel session version. Now, I think that the Peel version is superior is a much over-used phrase with The Fall. It is often true, to be fair, that the versions they recorded for JP sometimes had a bit of rawness and energy that went missing in the studio; but there are also plenty of occasions that the further time and thought that went into the album version yielded superior results. On this occasion, the session version is possibly slightly superior, but there’s not a great deal in it. There’s a bit more attack to the guitar sound, and we are spared the ‘zooming’ drums; however, the vocals are not helped by the excessive reverb (and the ‘divebomb’ effect at 2:37 is just silly, frankly).

The most interesting aspect of the Peel version is the presence of the congas. (I doubt that anyone who has enough interest in The Fall to read this doesn’t already know the story of the Hawaiian-shirted conga player, but you can read it here.) Until I listened to track at volume in the car, I never realise how clearly you could hear them (e.g. at 0:44). It doesn’t really add a great deal to the experience though, and overall this remains a pretty mediocre Fall effort for me. 4.5/10

The Birmingham School of Business School

My introduction to The Fall came in the form of a C90 given to me when I was 15 by a female friend (not an actual girlfriend, although I would have liked her to have been – but that’s a whole different blog) which had The Wonderful and Frightening World… on one side. An ex-boyfriend had made the tape for her (I think he must have been older, maybe a student at the local university – I’m pretty sure nobody at my school had heard of The Fall in the 1984/5) and she passed it on to me saying something like this is too weird for me, but you might like it. And like it I did. Two minutes into Lay of the Land I realised that this was an album that sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before. And that uniqueness, for me, has always been one of the joys of The Fall.

Code: Selfish, from which Birmingham comes, dates from a period when I lost touch a little with The Fall. In fact, I don’t think I even bought CS at the time; a mate taped it for me (by then, having been to university, I did know people who knew and liked The Fall). Rightly or wrongly, I felt that the early-90s stuff had lost some of its ‘this doesn’t sound like any other band in the world’-ness. MES himself sounded as unique as ever, of course, and it’s not that there weren’t some good songs from this era; but musically it too often sounded like the band were trying to keep in step with the contemporary indie-dance crossover scene. (The sort of thing that reached its nadir with this; or maybe this.)

Now, I’m not saying that Birmingham sounds like Groovy Train. But after the Black Sabbath-esque ‘tolling bell’ intro, the rhythm track and the guitar part on the verse do put me in mind of the seemingly endless parade of bands I saw at university who were trying, limply, to recreate Fool’s Gold. The other guitar part is a whole different kettle of fish, however. As much as Stewart Lee might have had a valid point when he described it as a guitar solo… that sounds contemptuous of the very idea of guitar solos, it is still remarkably widdly (a technical term, for those not familiar with advanced guitar terminology) for The Fall.

Birmingham is certainly a cut above most of Shift-Work / Code: Selfish era Fall. It has a dark, brooding tone which is supported well by MES’s menacing, sneering vocals. I like it, but just don’t quite love it; I suspect I might have done so had it been recorded 5-10 years later. 7/10

Touchy Pad

It’s a curious one, this. Musically, it’s quite accessible by Fall standards; not a million miles away from Overture from Kurious Oranj, and in places it sounds a little like one of those throwaway instrumentals that REM used to knock out occasionally in the 90s. However, musically, it’s far better than I’ve just made it sound. There’s something odd and disjointed about the way that it lopes along erratically that works really well: an effect that’s emphasised by the fact it sounds like it both begins and concludes mid-song.

Vocally, it’s unmistakably post-2010 MES – hear the phlegmy rumble at 1:20 – but he doesn’t overdo the growling, thankfully. I blow hot and cold regarding the various female vocal parts on Fall tracks over the years. I have no strong feelings either way about them in principle: it’s just that sometimes they add something really special and effective but at other times they just set my teeth on edge. On this occasion, Tamsin Middleton’s contributions are very much a worthwhile addition. I especially like the slightly disturbing and anguished scream at 0:33.

Lyrically – as ever – I have little idea what’s going on. The title suggests one of MES’s rants about modern technology, a la Laptop Dog or Quit iPhone, but other than the time machine references I can’t pick up anything that supports that. Listening in the car, however, I did spot a line about tentacles of the old ones, which sounded quite Lovecraftian to me (although my knowledge regarding HP Lovecraft is, I have to admit, pretty sketchy). The learned gentleman who compiles The Annotated Fall would seem to confirm this.

Tucked away right at the end of The Remainderer, after the ropy and uninspiring Say Mama/Race with the Devil, this is an easily-overlooked little gem. 7.5/10

Before I move on, I shall mention Atlanta Albania Whatever. A year or so ago, I came across some instrumental Fall demos that were floating about online. I combined a few of these tracks with various MES spoken-word clips and produced the album AAWTouchy Pad formed the basis for Jet-Lag Wreck Arrogant Big Lad, which you can listen to here.

Senior Twilight Stock Replacer

Not one of the stronger moments on the often glorious but slightly patchy Imperial Wax Solvent. My main criticism is that it has another one of those everyone-in-the-studio-chant-along choruses that put me in mind of Sham 69; it feels like a dumber version of Guest Informant. It has great, scuzzy bass sound, but that’s the only real positive for me – although the verse is much less irksome than the chorus.

Previously, I would have put myself down as ‘not particular fond of’ rather than ‘quite irritated by’ this track. However, repeated exposure as part of this project has shifted me from the former to the latter category. 4/10

The Boss

One of the handful of obscurities that I had to acquire for the purposes of this activity: a track that made a few live appearances about 10 years ago before disappearing without apparently having been recorded. Leaving aside the dreadful sound quality – the guitar amp seems to have been stuffed into a sock and, as is ever the case with these things, the cymbals are irritatingly prominent – it’s pretty pointless and uninspiring fare. What sounds like a rock ‘n’ roll covers band doing a little improvisation whilst sound-checking for a wedding reception is only very slightly enhanced by MES’s appearance for the last minute to shout variations of we are The Fall. 2.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fall in Fives #002

First of all, many thanks to J. Eric Smith for adding me to his ‘regular reads’ list: at least I know I’ve got one reader at least!

The random list threw up this as the second installment:

  • Jerusalem
  • Bingo Master’s Breakout
  • Mess Of My
  • Alton Towers
  • Where’s The F***in Taxi? C**t

Definitely a case of from the sublime to the ridiculous, I think…

Jerusalem

I have not – at least since my university days – been a very regular gig-goer. 2016 was a bumper year by my standards as I actually made it to 5; 2017 was more typical, as the total was 2 (Russian Circles and Billy Bragg). I have only actually seen The Fall once: at the Reading Festival in 1990 when they were second on the bill (below The Pixies). The setlist indicates that they played several of my favourite tunes (e.g. Big New Prinz and Life Just Bounces), but I have to confess that the only one I can actually remember was Jerusalem, with which they closed. Alcohol – which had been consumed pretty steadily for several hours before The Fall came on – is largely to blame for this. What memory I have of the song’s performance centres around MES’s rant in the middle (regarding his head injury on a protruding brick chip that fails to bring him adequate compensation) which felt at the time like it went on for ten minutes or so. This is doubtless a gross exaggeration resulting of both the all-day drinking and my addled middle-aged memory, but I’m certain MES riffed on the fault of the government line for some time at least.

With these ‘batches’ I am listening to all of the versions that I happen to have on my hard drive, although my comments will be primarily based on the original studio album/single release unless stated otherwise. In the case of Jerusalem, as well as the album version (which has Dog is Life tagged onto the beginning, which will get a separate – although probably pretty brief – mention in a later post), I also own the single version. This comes from  the 458489 compilation, and is distinctly inferior as it omits nearly all of the glorious ‘rant’ section. Therefore, I’ve been listening to 1:50 or so onward of the album version.

The intro has the air of Joy Division about it (albeit a somewhat more upbeat sounding version of JD) before it kicks in properly with a cracking spaghetti western-esque guitar line. It’s one of their tunes that finds the perfect balance between repetition and variety, and the ‘rant’ section (4:32-5:47) is peerless Fall: hearing the intensity of the music gradually building as MES rails furiously (albeit with tongue wedged firmly in cheek) against an uncaring government that is forcing him to consider emigration is an absolute joy. And who other than MES would get away with what The Fall A-Z page describes as a cheeky adaptation of such an iconic hymn? Basically, if you can’t grow to love this track after repeated listening, I don’t think you’re ever going to ‘get’ The Fall. 9/10

Bingo Master’s Breakout

So now I find myself with some early Fall. Very early Fall, come to that: from their very first release in 1978 (and actually recorded at the tail end of 1977). I have never owned BMB as a single (I was only 9 when it was released for a start); I own it as one of the bonus tracks on the re-issued Live at the Witch Trials. I’ve listened to it around 20 times over the last day or so, and this has quite possibly trebled or even quadrupled my lifetime listening figures for the song. And I actually enjoyed it far more than I expected, even if it’s still not going to make it into a homemade Fall compilation any time soon.

The plodding intro is a bit dreary, and the opening single-note guitar line is rather thin, scratchy and irritatingly piercing, but once it gets going it gallops along in an endearingly ramshackle fashion. One of the main things that puts me off this period of The Fall is MES’s Jilted John-style vocal style, but thankfully he just about steers clear of it here.

I also have a live version of the song from the same LATWT re-issue, recorded in 1978. It’s of better quality than a lot of live recordings from this period, but it does rather sound like the drummer is playing in an adjoining room. I generally feel that live versions add very little to my appreciation or enjoyment of a song, and this is no exception. 5/10

Mess of My

Another one from the very early era. I own this as part of the Peel Sessions box set (as well as a live version from the same album and gig as BMB above). It’s one of the strongest songs from this period, and it’s always puzzled me as to why it was never officially released at the time.

It’s a much more interesting and thoughtfully structured song than BMB. The change of pace at 1:25 is almost prog-ish (I suspect MES – or at least the MES of 1978 – would give me a slap for suggesting that, but it’s worth noting the love for prog that frequently surfaces on the Fall Forum) and it was interesting to hear how this section and the way it returns to the main body of the song echoes Jerusalem. The vocal is very effective throughout, and is mercifully almost completely devoid of the stereotypical punk-isms that generally blight this era.

The live version is just as unenlightening as that of BMB,only notable for the fact that Karl Burns now seems to have moved his kit to the building next door and that the applause at the beginning of the middle section seems to indicate that there’s only one person in the audience.

Not The Fall at their very best, but a little bit of an overlooked gem. 7/10

Alton Towers

When I have done album reviews/ranking lists in the past, it’s often been the case that I’ve had a few pleasant surprises from albums that I hadn’t listen to frequently in the recent past. I suspect that this might prove to be the case even more when approaching the Fall’s back catalogue in this song-by-song manner. I imagine that there will be a few  (like BMB) of which I’ve previously been dismissive, that actually turn out to be OK; and also those that move from ‘OK’ to ‘good’ by the same process. I also think that there will be some occasions where my dislike will only be intensified by repeated exposure. But will there be some favourites that will grow tiresome through multiple listens? Well, here was the first test of this tentative hypothesis…

Imperial Wax Solvent has its admirers, but it generally comes in around mid-table in polls. I, however, love it (well, most of it) and Alton Towers has always been a favourite. One of the many reasons is just how damn different it is. I know what John Peel said about them always being different, etc. but The Fall do laid-back space jazz?? The Fall A-Z claims it’s ‘mutant blues’ rather than jazz, but I disagree: the fretless bass and occasional snippet of trumpet definitely give it a jazz feel to me. However, it’s spot on its description of a floating miasma of sounds and impressions.

This would sound like madness to any inexperienced Fall listener, but it’s actually a very coherent vocal performance from MES by the standards of 21st Century Fall, and it integrates perfectly with the music. As ever, I have no idea what he’s on about (The Annotated Fall’s analysis of the song references Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre, but I have not the stamina to wade through the page, sorry) but some great random phrases pop out through the woozy grooves and squiggles: the spawn of J. “Loaded” Brown; the crows look very different today. MES at the top of his game as a lyricist and vocalist.

Hypothesis (in this case, anyway) disproved: a song I loved even more than before. 9.5/10

Where’s The F***in Taxi? C**t

Sometimes less is more, so I’ll just say this: this recording of several inebriated band members babbling incoherently at each other and occasionally bashing away at a poorly-tuned acoustic guitar is pointless, self-indulgent nonsense (even for a b-side, bonus track, whatever). Unusually for The Fall, I’ve yet to come across any fan prepared to defend it. 0/10

 

The Fall in Fives #001

The first batch that my random list has thrown up is this:

  • New Formation Sermon
  • F-‘Oldin’ Money
  • I African Mancunian
  • Jam Song
  • Dktr Faustus

Nothing overly controversial to start with: nothing ‘canonical’; nor anything that is generally despised. So here goes…

New Formation Sermon

A bit of an obscurity to start with: NFS first appeared on 2G+2, but I know it as a bonus track on Are You Are Missing Winner (an album that I, unlike the majority of Fall fans, really like).

The intro sounds like the ‘swing’ setting on Casio/Bontempi keyboard. (I speak from real experience here: my daughter used to own a cheap keyboard of this type, which she used to experiment on at length; thankfully she has grown out of endless, one-fingered versions of Welcome to the Black Parade in all 99 voices that it had to offer.) It has a pleasing, laid-back hoe-down/honky-tonk vibe, and kicks in nicely at the 0:52 mark with a jaunty, twangy guitar line. MES’s vocals work pretty well here too: he sounds like he’s either just got up or it’s the end of a long bourbon-soaked day; either way, it suits the overall ‘roadside bar’ atmosphere.

I should explain, at this point, how I’m carrying out this whole enterprise. My line of work involves a lot of travelling / driving / staying in hotels; the remainder of my time involves mainly working at home. This provides me with useful opportunities for music-listening – at home, or in the car. Today, I travelled from home (in north/mid-Wales) to Cwmbran (south Wales) – a 2.5 hour drive. I put the 5 songs (including alternate versions where appropriate) on shuffle in the car for the drive. On of the reasons for doing this (and indeed for the whole enterprise) is that I am terribly inclined to what you might call ‘vague listening’. By this, I mean that I am not by nature inclined to listen carefully to detail, musically or lyrically – I tend to just let stuff just wash over me and often can’t articulate very well exactly why I (dis)like a song/artist. I do enjoy when I am able to, however, so I am hoping this approach might give me a bit of the discipline necessary to do so.

Back to NFS: overall, it’s an enjoyable little track, if not earth-shattering. My main criticism is that it stops just as it’s getting going. The Fall Tracks A-Z says that it is reminiscent of a lite-version of Container Drivers. Not sure that I hear that myself, to be honest. But not a bad start to the list at all. 6/10

F-‘Oldin’ Money

In general, I’m not a fan of The Fall’s cover versions, especially when they’re of the 50s / rock ‘n’ roll / rockabilly variety. This, however, is an exception. From the very beginning (I love the exuberant ‘Oh yeah!’ 4 seconds in), it bounds along with engaging enthusiasm. One of the biggest positives is MES’s vocal performance, which is really strong. His vocals are pretty forward in the mix and they work really well (unlike several covers where they feel a bit ‘phoned in’). The whole band sound like they’re having a whale of a time, and whoever added the handclaps (again, something of which I’m not generally a fan) make a valuable contribution. In fact, there’s even a little handclap solo around the 2 minute mark which just adds to the joyful atmosphere (I’m not sure I own any other songs with a handclap solo!)

Looking through my hard drive, I also have a live version (XFM Live Sessions @ Sound Republic, London 14/4/99). I’m also not a great aficionado of live versions (again – more on this later) but this is a welcome, if not essential addition, to the collection. Similarly exuberant (with the opening ‘Oh yeah’ replaced by the traditional ‘We are The Fall!’), it’s a similarly impressive performance. Again, it’s a fine vocal performance by MES (although the engineer was a little over-enthusiastic with the reverb). The breakdown at 1:04, which is endearingly shambolic on the studio version, does come perilously close to ‘even I could play that better’ territory, but they just about get away with it.

MES’s actual, technical musical ability is always an interesting question. The section from 1:29 – 1:43 on this live version is a case in point: he seems to lose the timing almost entirely, although he and the band just about pull it back into line. Intentional? Who can say. 7/10

I African Mancunian

I’d never actually heard this before: it’s even more obscure than New Formation Sermon, having only appeared on The Fall 5 Albums. I did enjoy it though. It’s got quite a ‘tribal’ atmosphere to it: ominous, repetitive drums, and a haunting flute/didgeridoo-ish sound floating around in the background. Multi-tracked, somewhat random vocal that fits in well with the overall vibe. It’s a bit slight, but it was worth acquiring. 5.5/10

Jam Song

I love Re-Mit. (When I last reviewed all the Fall albums, it came in at no.4.) This is at odds with the opinion of the majority of Fall fans, but by now I’m used to that. Having said that, I’ve never rated Jam Song as a particular high point of that album (my comment on the aforesaid review was Jam Song is fun but possibly doesn’t quite justify its 5 minutes). Someone on the FoF pointed out that the title possibly doesn’t help: ‘Jam Song’ makes it sound a bit self-indulgent and throwaway; a more obscure/obtuse title might have made it seem a bit more interesting/worthy.

So it was a little bit of a revelation to find myself really loving this song in the car today – I enjoyed it more each time it came on. Yes, it is a little self-indulgent, and yes it does rather sound like a rehearsal idea that everyone’s just having a first bash at, and yes MES does sound like he’s just riffing on a couple of lines that he scribbled on the back of a fag packet in the pub early that afternoon. But by god it rocks more than just a little. I’m not overly fond of ‘rocks’ as a verb in this sort of context, but it’s totally applicable here. The guitar sound where it comes in at the minute mark is reminiscent of ‘Paranoid’, but overall the song from this point onward has the air of mid-70s Led Zeppelin about it, especially the bluesy shuffle of the drums (not the genius of Fool In The Rain, but in the same spirit… ish). There are some pretty ‘rockish’ guitar fills as well. And then, at 3:46, Dave Spurr comes in with a crunching, utterly Fall-esque bass line that just rounds off things to a tee.

Of course, I’ve no idea what MES is on about – ‘trucks with porcelain’??? But my limited understanding of / focus on lyrics is yet another thing I’ll come back to at some point. A cracker, without a doubt, whatever (many) others might say. 8/10

Dktr Faustus

Probably the most familiar song in this batch to the casual Fall fan, I should imagine. I have a number of acquaintances who ‘quite like’ The Fall, and their favourite Fall tracks generally fall in the 1982-92 region. And this, to these people, is probably pretty close to the ‘archetypal’ Fall sound: the repetitive, twangy guitar; MES’s ‘megaphone’-style vocals; the MES/Brix vocal contrast.

This is another one where I enjoyed the repeated in-car listens more than I expected to. When I last reviewed the albums, Bend Sinister didn’t come out very well – basically, I didn’t feel it was actually as good as I remembered it being at the time. But, in isolation, this really worked for me today. BS has the reputation (I’m not sure entirely deserved) of being a ‘dark’ album, and while there is a slightly malevolent tone to the song, there is simultaneously also a quite playful aspect to it (a song can’t really be classed as ‘dark’ when it contains random shouts of ‘banana!’) and the contrast is pretty effective. Speaking of ‘banana!’, I did mention above that I am pretty hopeless when it comes to hearing / interpreting lyrics, and this is a classic example: I didn’t, before today, realise that Brix goes on to mention further fruit such as apples, plums and strawberries. I would like to develop a more rounded understanding of The Fall’s lyrics, and I’ll revisit this topic in future posts. In the meantime, if you’re so inclined, you can read some detailed analysis of the Dktr Faustus lyrics here.

My main criticism is that the transition from verse to chorus (if you can really call it a chorus), e.g. at 1:02, is a bit awkward and jarring. Other than that though, it’s a strong if not spectacular part of The Fall canon. 7/10

 

The Fall in Fives: an introduction

I’ve read in many places that blogging is dead, redundant, etc. And that may well be the case; my web browsing isn’t wide-ranging enough to comment with any authority. So why do this (I’ll explain what ‘this’ is in a moment)?

  1. Other than my family, music is my main passion in life.
  2. I love writing (I do a lot of it as part of my work, and I find that a positive aspect).
  3. I love The Fall.
  4. I used to love the Fall Online Forum (hereafter known as ‘FoF’) – in fact I still kind of do, but more about that later – but opportunities to discuss The Fall’s music on that platform, for a variety of reasons (which, again, I’ll get to later) have rescinded somewhat recently.

There are other reasons too, but I’ll also get to them later. But I should at this stage explain what I intend to do…

Over the last year, I have really enjoyed writing about The Fall on the FoF. One of the threads I participated in with particular enthusiasm was one where several forum members reviewed the albums in chronological order (my first contribution to this is here, and the final one is here). In addition, a few forum members contributed some excellent reviews in a thread where they reviewed all of the albums in alphabetical order.  (This thread is highly recommended: there are some very thoughtful and interesting reviews.)

Anyway: all of the review stuff I have written has been album-based, and I thought it might be interesting to look at the Fall’s songs on a more individual track basis. The Fall Tracks A-Z site lists over 500 songs (including O! Zztrrk Man twice, for some reason). When I take out songs that have never actually been recorded (e.g. Race Hatred), it leaves the pleasing round figure of 520. Which, circuitously, got me thinking about reviewing them in batches of five. This was partly inspired by the notion of calling this ‘5 a day’; however, I realise that significance of this name might be a little lost on anyone reading this who isn’t from the UK (although wikipedia would suggest that this isn’t actually a British phenomenon only).

So, to get (finally) to the point, I have applied a random number generator to the 520 songs, divvied them up into batches of 5, and aim to review them as stand-alone songs. Doing it this way – working on the basis that I can do a couple of ‘batches’ a week – should enable me to cover all of them in a year. This may be over-ambitious, I know… But even if my readership never cracks double figures (an entirely believable scenario), I’m sure I will still enjoy doing it.

I have actually done the first batch today, but this is probably enough for an introductory post. So: part 001 to follow…