The Fall in Fives #099

  • The Joke
  • Serum
  • Hot Aftershave Bop
  • Cab Driver
  • In These Times

The Joke
I mentioned in #097 that I was surprised that the fast-paced garage-rocker DIY Meat didn’t get more live outings. The Joke is a similar kind of song, but it certainly seems to have been one that MES did enjoy performing, as it made it onto the setlist well over 100 times, and features on eleven (according to the A-Z) of the live albums.

It’s not amongst the group’s most innovative offerings, it’s true, but sometimes a belting riff and an acerbic MES vocal is all you need. There are two guitar parts throughout (presumably one is Brix and the other Scanlon), one in either channel. (To digress slightly: I’ve never been a particularly avid headphones user in the past, but to spare my long-suffering wife from over-exposure to ‘the worst band ever’ I’ve written a lot of these with the headphones on, and on many occasions it really pays dividends in terms of the ‘extras’ that you pick up – this was one of those occasions). What I really love about this track is the interplay between the two guitars. They’re not playing anything radically different – both pretty much follow a pretty common chord progression – but it’s the subtle differences between the two that make this an excellent headphones experience.

For example, if you listen from where the group kick in at 0:15, over the next few seconds, you get a choppy thrash on the right but a more sustained lead guitar on the left. At 0:51-0:54, you get a similar lead/rhythm effect, where the left pulls a bluesy string-bend while the right hammers away on one chord. 1:52-2:01 is another particularly fine example. They work like this all the way through, circling around and colliding with each other, producing a gloriously ragged and textured fuzzed-up thrash. Stick the headphones on and turn it up.

One of the criticisms often levelled at Cerebral Caustic is that MES frequently sounds uninterested (I’m afraid I’m one of those pedants who’s hanging on to the ‘proper’ use of ‘disinterested’), off-hand and a bit bored with the whole thing. Not the case here: his vocals are biting, aggressive and perfectly timed. Some great, if obscure lines too: ‘Multicoloured sweets in bottom of white sweet pack’; ‘go back to your diseased-hut-control room’. The Wikipedia entry for Milan Kundera’s novel, The Joke, claims that: The novel was referenced in The Fall’s song “The Joke” on the album Cerebral Caustic. The song’s refrain is, “The Joke! Five years in a PC camp – The Joke!”, linking humourless Eastern Bloc authoritarianism to political correctness. The A-Z comments, in a commendably deadpan fashion, that ‘this may or may not be accurate’.

As I mentioned above, there are plenty of live versions to listen to: I have a couple on my hard drive, and there are six on Spotify. The 27 Points version is quite interesting, as it both mixes a lo-fi introduction into a ‘cleaner’ version (a la Bury) and seems to feature a guest appearance from Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. They’re all generally okay, but feel a bit one-dimensional in comparison to the studio version. 9/10

Serum
A dark slab of ominous electronica that you could easily imagine sitting alongside Oxymoron and Hostile on LUS. I love the ‘treated’ drums on this (similar to Dr Buck): it’s an avenue that, despite my appreciation of Kieron’s excellent drumming on most of the group’s 21st century output, I wish they’d explored more often. Here, the combination of the deep, distorted toms, the dark and disturbing synth/sequencer effects and Greenway’s floating, spooky Twilight Zone-style guitar lines is sublime. It creates a richly oppressive and foreboding atmosphere.

MES’s vocals – a deceptively casual drawl that draws you in with gentle menace – are in perfect harmony with the dark, barely-restrained chaos that lurks beneath. I’ve no idea, as ever, what ‘101.1’ (not his first use of seemingly random numbers, of course) might pertain to – as usual, there are some interesting suggestions on The Annotated Fall) – or why he might be ‘excluded’ from ‘pleasures in curvaceous women’, but his performance is captivating here. 9/10

Hot Aftershave Bop
As I’ve mentioned previously, I used to own the 12″ of Living Too Late, of which this was the b-side. Perhaps because I loved the lead track(s) so much, I’ve always considered this a bit of a minor footnote in the group’s history. But even though I found it a little lacking in comparison to the two songs that preceded it on this playlist, it’s definitely not without its merits.

Steve Hanley’s bass is a highlight: not the most complex of bass lines, but it forms a prominent, driving foundation, and there are several flamboyant slides up the neck (e.g. at 2:00 and 2:06) that add a bit of colour. There’s some nice guitar work too: like The Joke (although not in quite so striking a fashion) there’s a guitar in either channel; the left (Brix?) focusing on relatively straightforward chords/arpeggios, whilst the right (Scanlon, presumably) lets loose with some frenetic, blues-rock string-bending.  The drums are the song’s Achilles heel for me: whilst they gain a bit more body from around the two minute mark, the fragile, tinny snare in the first half makes the song feel a little thin. That said, the fuller ‘that-80s-drum-sound’ percussion on the Peel version doesn’t really improve things, even if both the bass and guitar are equally as effective here as on the single version.

MES’s dislike of facial hair is well-documented (in the early 80s, the group at one point expressed their rebellion against Smith’s dictatorial nature by growing beards); whether this has any link to a song with ‘aftershave’ in the title is hard to tell, but there’s not a lot else to go on – ‘courtesy orange box’?? Still, he’s pretty on-form, and provides some entertaining squeals as the song progresses. Apparently, promo copies of the 7″ came with a miniature bottle of ‘Hot Aftershave Bop aftershave’. God knows what it smelled like: peculiar and goatish, perhaps?  7.5/10

Cab Driver
An early version of City Dweller, and I have to say that I preferred it (slightly) to its successor. Like its later incarnation, it’s very trance/dance oriented, and has a chord progression that’s not a million miles away from Lost In Music. Compared to Dweller, though, it’s very spacey and woozy and altogether looser in structure. The vocals, such as they are, mainly consist of multi-tracked samples of MES (and others) chattering away aimlessly and unintelligibly a fair way back in the mix. The only distinguishable bit is the frankly disturbing growling whisper at the beginning: ‘He’s in there now, man: he’s listening right to us, I know he is.’

I enjoyed the way it floated along enigmatically; but it possibly does so for a minute or so too long. 6.5/10

In These Times
As regular readers will know, Frenz is not an album that I have returned as often as most over the years, so this was another one of those pleasant surprises. Lots to like about it: SH’s deep, heavily-flanged bass intro; the moody floor-tom-led interludes (e.g. at 0:44); the fuzzy guitar solo lurking in the background around the two minute mark. Plus a selection of prime MES lyrical obscurities: ‘Diluted Jesuits pour out of mutual walkmans from Elland Road to Venice Pensions and down the Autobahns’; ‘My gossamer-thin gate will keep out the trash in which my psychic streets emerge’. And we haven’t had a shout-out for bzfgt over at The Annotated Fall for a while, but he undoubtedly deserves one for his understated and deadpan annotation for the ‘my Aqua-cat is where it’s at’ line: ‘Maybe the cat just thinks it’s aquatic. I don’t think these lyrics are necessarily striving for coherence, though.’

On the negative side, there are some rather cheesy 80s-style keyboard stabs towards the end (which dominate, horribly, several parts of the Seminal Live version) and the chorus does teeter slightly towards the monotonous end of things; although it’s rescued by the random nature of Brix’s contributions. She claims at 2:25 that ‘this song’s a belter’, which is possibly overstating the case a little, but it can certainly go in the same ‘better than I remembered’ file as Aftershave. 7.5/10

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The Fall in Fives #098

  • Stephen Song
  • Bremen Nacht
  • Stout Man
  • Say Mama
  • Kinder of Spine/Spider

And so we get to songs 486-490… A very nice tweet from @SkippyVinyls this week (and thank you to the many people who ‘liked’ it) saying that he was a bit sad that this was coming to an end and that he was now revisiting the early ones. As I said at the beginning, I would have been happy with double figures in terms of readers, so the fact that this has been read by so many more than that is brilliant. As for the early entries, I’ve dipped back into them on occasion, and I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t really hit my stride with this until maybe the 20s onwards, and I think (hope, at least) that I’ve produced more interesting pieces as the project as gone on. That said, I’m not entertaining the suggestion that one reader made of starting the whole thing again from the beginning once I’d finished! I do have an idea of what to do once this is done, but we’ll come back to that later…

Stephen Song
I know a couple of people who listen to music by the season (for example, they only listen to Jethro Tull in the Autumn). I have to say that I’ve never really fully grasped this concept, but Stephen Song brought it to mind because, whilst listening to it over the last couple of days, it occurred to me that it gives me a sense of Spring. There’s something gently lilting, uplifting and strangely pastoral about it. The light-footed rhythm and tumbling chords and bass line capture a spirit of playfulness, like rolling down a grassy hill as a child. (Possibly a simile too far, but I hope you see what I’m getting at.)

It’s not all sweetness and light: the slightly creepy gothic tone of Gavin Friday’s vocals (an acquired taste, admittedly) cut across the tweeness of Brix’s voice effectively*, and the middle eight (?) that comes in at 1:13 and 2:25 adds a welcome bit of angular discord. But there’s a sprightly, almost celebratory tone to the song that was a welcome contrast to the rest of this playlist.

I’ve always thought that there are some great lines here – ‘His vendetta in parchment’; ‘Floating grey abundance’ – without really having a strong sense of what it’s about. MES himself described it as being about plagiarism (see, as ever, The Annotated Fall for a fuller discussion) which I imagine for most of us brings the words black, pot and kettle to mind.

I have generally rated this song very highly in the past (I may even have named it as top twenty on the odd occasion) but, whilst I enjoyed it a great deal, it didn’t quite hit the heights that some others have done. The balance of light and shade isn’t completely struck, even if it isn’t far off. Still lovely though; I’m off to find a hill to roll down. 8/10

*I almost added a metaphor regarding raspberry coulis and vanilla cheesecake here (possibly influenced by my wife’s TV cookery show habit) but I thought I’d pushed my luck far enough with the children rolling down a hill thing.

Bremen Nacht
Frenz has scored pretty poorly so far, average just 5.5. This partly because the song-writing, in my estimation, is just not up to scratch in several places, but also because of the overly glossy production that doesn’t always sit well with the group. However, the clean, clinical sound actually really suits this one, the crisp, sparse atmosphere adding to its aggressive punch.

In Simon Wolstencroft’s book (quoted in the A-Z) he describes this as ‘always great to play live – you’d see some of the crowd almost going into a trance’. I should imagine that it was actually bloody exhausting to play, but it definitely must have been hypnotic.

‘Relentless assault’ is one of those music journalist clichés, but it’s apt here. This is a song that grabs you by the throat and pummels you into submission. For the overall sound, I prefer the original album version, which is truly full-bodied and aggressive. The ‘alternative’ version, which stretches things out to nine minutes, is a little thinner in sound, but brings the frenetic surf-style guitar more to the fore. The ‘run out’ version is (comparatively) understated but makes excellent use of the trusty old megaphone and features SH’s funkiest twang.

All are excellent: a pugnacious, relentless slab of oompah-krautrock; and who else could bring you that? 9/10

Stout Man
In the last batch, I explained how Greenway was stupid, ridiculous and crass but that I had somehow managed to come around to loving it (well, liking it at least). This one is stupid, ridiculous and crass but… well, that’s about it.

Its defenders tend to fall back on the ‘it’s funny’ argument. Now, there’s a tremendous amount of humour in MES’s work throughout the group’s whole career, but, for me, ‘big fat man pushing a little pram’ is not exactly the height of his wit.

Stout Man is, like Elves or Sing! Harpy, is a pretty brazen steal from The Stooges. On this occasion it’s Cock In My Pocket (not Iggy & Co’s absolutely finest moment, but it does feature a blistering James Williams solo that’s well worth a listen). The most interesting thing about the song is how MES’s explanation of its recording (see here) exemplifies his mistrust of and contempt for musicianship, the group having betrayed him by daring to practice and master a song.

Interesting as that might be, the song itself is a leaden, lumpen blob of whatever the opposite of inspiration is. You can’t help thinking about a sad pub-blues band with a pissed singer on a late Sunday afternoon. Smith gargles and growls defiantly, but the whole thing smells of beer-soaked bar towels, brimming ashtrays and resigned desperation. 2/10

[Neither this one, or the two below, are on YouTube, apparently.]

Say Mama
Paired with Race With The Devil (which I covered in #056) this is part of a three minute ‘dip’ in the otherwise excellent The Remainderer. It’s a spirited enough thrash at an old Gene Vincent song, and it disappears (a minute in) before it’s had a chance to either develop or irritate. Just a bit – as my daughter would say – meh. 5/10

Kinder of Spine/Spider
I love it when The Fall latch on to a strangely poppy hook and create a crooked take on a catchy song; I love it when they take inspiration from some obscure 60s psych-garage oddity and feed it through their own inimitable mangle of angular distortion; but most of all I love it when they dig deep into the dark, sinister recesses of Fall-ness and produce something that is utterly just them. And this is one of those moments.

Apparently drawing inspiration from this (which is disturbing enough on its own), listening to this (especially on headphones) is akin to unleashing a mutant spider, drooling with venom, and allowing it to crawl across your skull. It’s a crazed mix of 60s-psych-art-garage-punk (you could throw several hundred genres at this one), with a lurching, menacing rhythm, stabs of abrasive, aggressive organ and a pair of guitars (one thrashing out fuzzy chords, one scratching out little bluesy solos that fight to keep their head above water).

Over all of this, MES is deranged, disturbing and utterly compelling. If you wanted to be critical, you could say that there’s no ‘real’ song here – just a wandering and purposeless riff – and that lines like ‘Green of the green of the bed of the breadcrumb’ make no sense whatsoever. But then you’d obviously be listening to the wrong group. 9/10

The Fall in Fives #097

  • Hollow Mind
  • Afternoon Disco
  • Greenway
  • D.I.Y Meat
  • The Steak Place

Hollow Mind
Who this disparaging little ditty is about is unclear (I’ve never come across any clues), but whoever it is MES doesn’t think too highly of them. This, of course, does not exactly narrow things down any. The simplistic lyric takes the subject to task for having few thoughts in their head (obviously) and little to say (‘silent views’). However, despite the wonderfully dismissive ‘you don’t know f*ck sh*t’, it’s not exactly the most acerbic of Smith’s put-downs. Still, he manages to infuse his vocal with a fair dose of derision, even if his sneer is a little off-hand in places.

It’s pretty simplistic musically as well, based around a straightforward (mainly) two chord pattern played on a scratchy acoustic accompanied by a pretty bog standard root note bass line. Although it’s quite ‘thin’ sounding, it has a certain ramshackle charm, and the gnarly fuzz of the electric guitar that emerges over the last third peps it up a bit with a little rickety thrash. The almost comically deep backing vocal (the A-Z suggests that this might be Ed Blaney) gives it a bit more ‘body’ as well.

I wouldn’t describe it as a career highlight, and it does feel a little carelessly tossed off, but I still found it enjoyable. 7.5/10

Afternoon Disco
An out-take that appeared online a couple of years ago that nobody seems to know very much about, other than it’s from somewhere around the IWSErsatz era.

There’s a certain funk/glam rock feel to it. The surf-rock, tremolo-heavy guitar line is unmistakably Greenway, and he also adds some choppy funk breaks from time to time. Eleni’s keyboard contributions are also notable, with a chunky synth line and various oscillations and squiggles appearing periodically. There are some distinctive Smith-isms here and there (‘bald-headed idiots’, ‘the Athenian building, blending’) but it’s not entirely clear what he’s on about. My best guess is that it’s about the tawdry nature of small-town night life (‘I love you so / I want to be sick’) but I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely confident in this. Interestingly (well, to me, anyway) MES’s enunciation of ‘laughing’ is very reminiscent of Is This New.

Again, this isn’t exactly something that you’d hold up as being the pinnacle of the group’s output; it has the air of being not quite fully realised that you might expect from an out-take. Nonetheless, it has a quirky, angular energy to it that makes it definitely worth a listen. 7/10

Greenway
If ever there was Fall track that divides opinion…

I must confess that I disliked this when I first heard it. I have no problem at all with the metal-style riffing: it’s a rather good riff, and I have a fair bit of metal in my collection (generally either of the post-metal variety like Russian Circles or Pelican or what my eldest – the metal expert – assures me is atmospheric black metal or blackgaze). What bothered me was that MES sounded in danger of becoming a caricature of himself, especially with the horribly liquid phlegmy growling and unsubtly shock-value (although admittedly grimly amusing) lyrics.

The turning point came when I made a mix of the ‘winners’ of the Fall Wooden Spoon competition (a cup contest on The Fall Forum to find the worst songs, that I’ve mentioned a few times previously). Not wishing to just stick it in as it was, I started playing around with it, looping sections and so on… and before too long I found that I’d unexpectedly warmed to the damn thing. I mean, it’s stupid and ridiculous, but somehow it sort of works for me now. I’m not sure whether this points to Fall songs’ ability to bludgeon you into submission or my susceptibility to being convinced by repeated exposure to their music; possibly both. I made my ‘messing around’ into a full-length remix, which you can hear here.

The song that the riff is nicked from (Gameboy by Greek metallers Anorimol) is here. It’s hilariously over the top and well worth a quick listen. I’m sure that MES also pinched the dog/cat line from another song, but I’m damned if I can remember which one or where I read this. Answers on a postcard please…

Yet again: not their finest moment, but for the laughs and the monster riff it gets a 7/10

D.I.Y Meat
While you can question many of MES’s decisions regarding how albums were sequenced, there are no arguments about this an album opener. A frenetic burst of hard-edged garage rock, it has a Nuggets-era 60s psych-punk tone to it (the intro always reminds me a little of The Shadows Of Knight’s I’m Gonna Make You Mine, one of my favourites of this era/style). The guitar’s sharp, bright distortion is a highlight, as is the unusual percussion, which sounds in places like someone is taking a drumstick to a dustbin. The occasional burst of sci-fi-style, almost theremin-like keyboard adds some variety to an otherwise heads-down rocker.

MES isn’t exactly coherent, but he attacks the lyrics with gusto, and his manic ‘ha-ha-ha’s are another highlight. I’ve never had much clue what this one is about or who the ‘handyman’ might be, but the suggestion (from a contributor on The Annotated Fall) that it might be about Fred West certainly puts an interesting and slightly nauseating spin on the song’s title.

The Peel version is more rockabilly than Nuggets; whilst it steams along energetically enough, it’s a bit thin sounding and lacks the bite of the album version. Smith’s opening cry of ‘her-her-her!’ is entertaining though. It surprises me that this was only played live five times, as you can imagine it being a bit of a stormer. That said, the version on 15 Ways is slightly ropy in places, even if MES does sound like he’s enjoying himself.

It’s very different from many of the best tracks on LUS, most of which (like Hostile, Powder Keg and Oxymoron) have a strong electronic flavour which contrasts sharply with the bare bones rock ‘n’ roll of DIY. But it’s a fizzing, banging corker of a track and sits quite happily as track one on my version of the album. 8.5/10

The Steak Place
Brix’s book is not exactly full of in-depth analysis of The Fall’s music (to be fair, that wasn’t really what she was going for) and I disagree with some of her assessments (MCR has its faults, but I wouldn’t describe it as ‘tepid’), but she’s spot-on about this one, I think, which she simply describes as ‘boring’. (She’s also right about Oswald Defence Lawyer.)

A gentle acoustic strum, a bit of finger-clicking and… well, not much else. A potentially interesting scenario (tacky American restaurant full of shady mafia types) fails to generate much interest owing to some startlingly banal (by Smith’s standards) lyrical observations: ‘Cheap carpet lines the way’; ‘Things are brought forward and eaten’.

The Fall are often infuriating, inscrutable, challenging, difficult; but very very rarely dull. This is an exception. 3/10

The Fall in Fives #096

  • The Man Whose Head Expanded
  • Loop 41 Houston
  • Mollusc In Tyrol
  • Midnight in Aspen/Aspen Reprise
  • God Box

A week away with work (enjoying the delights of the Swansea/Llanelli area) has meant that there’s been some time for listening but little for writing over the last few days. However, as I only have nine batches to cover after this one and there are eleven weeks until the end of the year (my target for completion) I don’t think there’s much risk of me running out of time.

This was one of the most diverse selections that the random number generator has thrown up: all five seemingly coming from radically different genres. Whilst its average score places it firmly in mid-table as far as these batches go, I did rather enjoy this playlist’s disparate nature.

Earlier on in the series, I frequently referred to comments on the ‘Story of The Fall’ website. I haven’t done so in recent weeks, as the individual song entries on the site were taken down, owing to the author Tommy Mackay publishing it in book form. I’d be surprised if anyone interested enough to read this blog hadn’t already furnished themselves with a copy of Tommy’s ’40 Odd Years of The Fall’, but just in case you haven’t come across it, you can find out more here. My copy was awaiting me when I arrived home yesterday; I’m going to give a proper cover-to-cover read once I’ve finished this project.

40 Odd Years Of The Fall

The Man Whose Head Expanded
The same bleeping Casio keyboard rhythm that prefaces Fortress (although a little pacier here) introduces a dark, weird, yet strangely funny tale of paranoia and plagiarism. The eponymous man is some sort of author who becomes convinced that a ‘soap opera writer’ is stealing his ‘jewels’ for prime-time TV. (When I retrospectively discovered this song in the late 80s, I presumed that the ‘Vic actor fools’ into whose mouths these jewels were placed was an Eastenders reference. Of course I eventually realised that the song pre-dates the TV show by a couple of years, but it was a reasonable mistake to make, I like to think.)

It’s one of those songs where SH provides the driving force musically; a bouncy yet darkly ominous bass line that’s fleshed out expertly with some almost jazzy runs up and down the scale (e.g. at 0:53) and a few other quite flamboyant excursions away from the main rhythm.

The synth-plinking disappears after MES’s stuttering, hilarious command to ‘turn that bloody blimey Space Invader off!’ at 1:29 (which never fails to make me smile and also always puts me in mind of a Victoria Wood or Alan Bennett sketch). At this point Craig Scanlon steps forward and proffers, at first, some languorous, distorted chords; as the tempo picks up he throws in a little bit of frenetic thrash, but then he withdraws his guitar for a minute or so before providing some jerky, angular work over the last thirty seconds or so. He populates that guitar-free minute(ish, between 2:42-3:55), with some intriguing keyboards: gentle, floating, tinkling organ/electric piano, free-jazz atonal chords (I’m not sure, being no musical scholar, whether chords can actually be atonal, but I’m sure you know what I mean – there’s one at 3:13) and even some sci-fi laser-gun effects. Overall, the song is amazingly well-paced; a variety of mood, tempo and atmosphere that provides a perfect backdrop for the intriguing lyric.

This is among my favourite MES 80s vocal performances. I find it challenging to put my finger on precisely how he does so, but his delivery is simultaneously ethereally divorced from what’s going on around him – floating around the music, ploughing its own furrow with casual disregard for tempo and melody – whilst somehow utterly synchronised with every step the group takes. Astonishingly good.

The Peel version is solid: it ups the tempo, has a driving, relentless energy and features some fine megaphone work from MES. Taken in isolation, it’s a stormer; but it doesn’t quite have the subtlety, the light and shade, the variety and texture of the single version.

Throughout this project, I have tried (not always successfully) to remember to have a quick look through Spotify to check out any live versions that aren’t in my collection. (I don’t own all the live albums; even the most ardent completist would admit that their quality – both in terms of sound and performance – is distinctly variable). The In A Hole version isn’t bad at all: it has a rough, almost industrial feel, and features some nicely ear-splitting squalls of feedback. On Austurbaejarbio, there’s something strangely ‘distant’ about the sound, as if it was recorded from a mile away from the stage whilst still somehow retaining reasonable fidelity (although one channel does disconcertingly drop out from time to time). Interestingly, two of the seven versions on Spotify are listed as The Man Whose Head Exploded.

And then, there’s the ‘alternative’ version that appears on Fiend With A Violin. It’s mildly interesting, looping a section of the rhythm and bits of Smith’s vocal and dropping various samples/sound affects into the mix somewhat randomly. I would stress mildly though; it pales into comparison when you listen to the masterful original. 10/10

Loop 41 Houston
Can’t say I’ve ever been overly fond of this one. As a huge fan of TRNFLP, I’ve often expressed the opinion that – while it doesn’t exactly spoil the album – it interrupts the flow of generally genius tunes. However, I have to say that I rather warmed to it on repeated listens as part of this playlist.

Written by Lee Hazlewood, it was originally done by Dean Martin. (There’s a lovely, amusing YouTube clip of ol’ Dean performing this on some sort of TV variety show here, which is notable both for his startlingly jaunty delivery – I’d say he was under the influence, but I’m sure I’ve read that, despite the Rat Pack’s reputation, he was the one that didn’t really drink – and his knowingly comical attempts to mime the harmonica solos.) Hazlewood’s own version, whilst more carefully considered, is a bit flat and lifeless in comparison.

MES actually sings this really well. He stays remarkably close to the actual melody, and puts a lot of feeling and gusto into it; he captures the song’s (admittedly rather cheesy) maudlin world-weariness with some style. The group’s sparse and simplistic backing is just right for the song’s sat-in-a-honky-tonk-bar-down on-my-luck atmosphere, and Ben Pritchard (I guess?) steps forward, tilts back the brim of his stetson and knocks out a nifty little country-twang solo.

The ‘Loop 41’ part of the song is a thirty-second blast of staccato distortion and what sounds like a snippet of Trans-Europe Express.  It merges (or rather doesn’t) incongruously into the main song, which adds to the whle thing’s odd charm. It appears on its own right at the end of  Live At The Knitting Factory – New York, but is, I think, a pre-encore ‘outro’ tape rather than an actual performance.

The Country On The Click version (entitled Ho(e)uston – which would seem to acknowledge MES’s transfer of the title location from Texas to North London) is not radically different other than forgoing the electronic intro.

One of the most pleasant surprises so far. I hope I haven’t been unduly influenced by ol’ Dean’s charms, but I’m going to shock myself by awarding this one a 7/10

Mollusc In Tyrol
I am, as even casual readers of this blog will know by know, a lover of ‘experimental’ (for want of a better word) music, whether created by The Fall or anyone else. (Here‘s a random example of something a little bit odd that I like very much, for context.) So I have no problem at all with the randomness, strangeness, formlessness, lack of melody, etc. found in Mollusc. On paper, it’s something I’d expect to really like. But it just doesn’t quite work for me somehow. Maybe it’s the thin, astringent sound that suggests that there’s a whole heap of things going on that you can’t quite hear properly. I’m not sure; but, whilst I didn’t mind it at all, there are plenty of the group’s more experimental moments that I prefer. It also makes a brief appearance on The Twenty-Seven Points as a (brief) intro tape. 4/10

Midnight in Aspen/Aspen Reprise
Apparently (at least partly) inspired by Hunter S Thompson’s suicide, the minimal, oblique lyrics (‘Hyphen / Aspen / Utah / Ice mountain of Jehovah’) and gentle, melancholy music make for a genuinely tender and moving song.

Ben Pritchard’s delicate minor-key arpeggios and Steve’s Trafford’s melodic but understated bass provide a sensitive, wistful background to MES’s pensive utterances. Smith is, as ever, peerless in his timing (‘hyphen’ at 0:55, especially) and seems to express genuine emotion without, unusually, ever resorting to cynicism: listen to how he says ‘he was lucky this week’ (2:21). Not that there isn’t, as ever, a modicum of humour (‘highest bestest’).

For some reason, this track always brings The Doors to mind, although having had a quick skim through their back catalogue, I struggled to identify any specific song that actually sounds much like this. I think, perhaps, that it’s just that MES sounds particularly like he’s reciting poetry over a musical backing here.

There’s also an even more understated and delicate version that the group did for (remarkably) Radio 3. (You can here it here.) It’s worth a listen, not least for MES’s seemingly impromptu solo coda.

I’ve never been quite sure what the point of the reprise is (despite it continuing to be very pleasing on the ear). Presumably there’s a reason why the two parts encircle Assume on the album, but MES’s thought processes around the sequencing of Fall albums are too deep and dark a mystery for me to inquire further. Whatever the thinking, it’s a remarkable thing: a pretty Fall song, and I loved every minute of it. 9.5/10

God Box
Like Sing! Harpy in the last batch, this is yet another example of MES as musical magpie. This time it’s The Ramones’ back catalogue he’s raiding, the vocal melody here bearing more than a passing resemblance to Go Mental.

Despite there being nothing specifically wrong with this track, I found it curiously unappealing. From my point of view, The Ramones are not a great starting point, as I find them inexplicably overrated (just a more concise, simplistic, faster and unimaginative take on The Stones’ unremarkable blues-rock chug to these ears.) But it’s more that there’s just something cold, flat and uninspired about it. I’m afraid that, to me, it has ‘tossed-off b-side’ written all over it. 5.5/10

 

The Fall in Fives #095

  • My Condition
  • Sing! Harpy
  • Christmastide
  • I Am Damo Suzuki
  • Theme from Error-Orrori!

My Condition
I am not, by nature, a fan of most live recordings (as will be abundantly clear to anyone who’s read more than a couple of these), but it has been, on a few occasions, worth giving a listen via this process to some of the recordings that I wouldn’t normally put on (Jazzed Up on #092 being a good example). This one, however, was a bit painful. It was only played twice (in late ’78), the second performance appearing on the Box Set. It’s mildly interesting in terms of its slight musical resemblance to A Figure Walks, but this is far outweighed by the appalling sound quality, which made this really hard going to listen to. 2/10

Sing! Harpy
One of those ‘is it about Brix?’ songs. I’d always presumed so, and in her autobiography (quoted in The Annotated Fall) Brix herself seems to agree. Lines like ‘She gripped me like a hawk/her talons were quite famished’ and the violin intro (considering the Nigel Kennedy situation) would also seem to point in this direction.

Musically, as several others have pointed out, it certainly owes a bit of a debt to The Stooges’ excellent Little Doll. (If you’ve never listened to this, then please do, if only to hear the astonishingly blistering solo that takes up most of the second half of the song.) The group’s take on the riff is distinctly more restrained, and overall, for me, it suffers from rather 80s-sounding production; the drums in particular have that tinny, reverb-heavy sound so prevalent at the time. But despite the slightly arid production, it has a stealthy, creeping, laid-back swamp-blues vibe that sits well with MES’s cynical drawl. (And, latest in the series of ‘MES enunciations that are somehow wonderful’, I do enjoy how he pronounces cannabis – ‘can-ab-is’ at 2:13). I would have liked a bit more fuzz to it, but to be fair to the track my judgement was probably clouded by just having listened to The Stooges song three times in a row. 7.5/10

Christmastide
An alternative version of Xmas With Simon, which I covered in #022. It’s a little thinner and sparser, but not especially different. A bit pointless really. 5.5/10

I Am Damo Suzuki
I’ve mentioned several time previously that TWAFWOTF was my teenage introduction to The Fall; also that one of the things that blew me away about it was just how damn different it sounded to anything else I’d ever come across. When I bought TNSG (my first proper Fall purchase), I was just as blown away, but – having by now having already been exposed to a Fall album – more by the inventiveness and quality of the songs rather than its startling other-worldliness. But that was until I got to this one…

This is song number 474 of this project, and I have up to this point covered all manner of spliced-up, oddly-edited and utterly random songs. But as a 16 year old who’d spent the last few years listening to The Smiths, REM, The Woodentops, The Primitives, etc. I’d really never heard anything like this. I remember checking that my record player was working correctly, as it was plainly trying to play two different songs at once. The introduction is in itself somewhat askew: the simple, haunting guitar line already sounds a little out of sync with Smith’s sinister, breathy vocal. But the entrance of the drums at 0:43 blew my mind (and still provides an exhilaratingly jarring experience). Not many artists could get away with what is in effect two versions of the same song played in two different time signatures (details of how it transpired here), but the way that the two rhythms clash, resolve, then draw apart again is just masterfully bonkers. (And it keeps going right through the fade-out – listen to the last 30 seconds.)

At the time, I had absolutely no idea who Damo Suzuki was (although I recently had the privilege of seeing him perform a frankly mind-blowing set with Imperial Wax, it would be quite a few years after my purchase of TNSG before I would be introduced to the wonders of Can) and was frankly puzzled as to why MES pronounced it as ‘Suki’. Of course this is probably the Fall track where Smith’s love of Can is most clearly referenced: not only is there a reference to Vitamin C, but there’s a clear lift from Oh Yeah (just listen to the Can track from 3:13). (I doubt many reader of this haven’t heard those two Can songs, but if you haven’t then please do as they’re both marvellous.)

The A-Z features a quotation from someone who claims that the song ‘doesn’t work live’. It’s certainly true that you’d need a guitarist of superhuman talents to be able to play across the tempo of the drums in the exact fashion of the album version. But, based on the two live versions I own (from 2G+2 and Knitting Factory New York) I would have to respectfully disagree. True, neither manage the frankly impossible task of capturing the chaotic arrhythmia of the original, but both are a spirited reading that capture the spirit of the song well. The distorted, fuzzy sustain of the guitar on the 2G+2 take is especially lovely (and he actually manages to pronounce Damo’s name correctly – occasionally).

An unhinged, ridiculous, unique masterpiece. 10/10

Theme from Error-Orrori!
Back to the proper obscurities for the last track. This originally appeared on a 1990 compilation called Home and wasn’t even credited as The Fall – it was listed as being by Mark Smith, M. Beddington, S. Hanley, S. Wolstencroft (M.Beddington being Martin Bramah, of course).

This was one of those I’d almost forgotten I owned and haven’t played that much over the years; but it made a welcome contribution to this rather patchy playlist. It has a Slint/Fugazi atmosphere to it: dominated by a heavy, ponderous bass and drums pattern, with Bramah contributing the occasional bit of understated bluesy soloing. It does have the overall feel of an unfinished idea, but there’s still a lot to like about its heavy, doomy shuffle. 7.5/10

The Fall in Fives #094

  • Everything Hurtz
  • Bombast
  • One Day
  • New Face In Hell
  • Wolf Kidult Man

From one extreme to another… This time we have five relatively ‘mainstream’ tracks: all proper album tracks and not an obscure b-side in sight. And it was a cracker – tying with #075 for the highest average score.

Everything Hurtz
Given Smith’s recreational habits, it’s perhaps surprising that there aren’t more hangover-related Fall songs. Whilst it isn’t his most insightful lyric, ‘pursuing the fuel’ is a particularly pleasing euphemism for a heavy night, and he certainly captures that dreaded morning-after feeling: painful (‘big fat pain in my chest bone’), skint (‘got a big fat no no in my chequebook’), sensitive to noise (‘got the disease tinnitus’) and struggling to speak properly (‘speakin’ like I’ve got Tourrette’s’).  As you know by now, I have the utmost admiration for The Annotated Fall‘s lyrical analysis; however, suggesting that the ‘z’ in the title and the reference to ‘bitches’ are a linked reference to hip-hop culture is possibly a tenuous leap too far.

It’s also not the group’s most musically inventive moment, being a fairly standard indie-rock structure driven by a fuzzed-up but rather restrained guitar riff. However, MES’s litany of woes almost give it a bluesy feel, and there’s just about enough Fallness to the sound to stop it being snared in the early-90s indie-dance-crossover trap. 7.5/10

Bombast
I vividly remember the first time I heard this, having hurried home from the record shop with my shiny new vinyl copy of TSNG. After Mansion‘s gentle introduction, this one burst from the speakers, slapped me about the face and demanded that I sit down and pay attention to one of the best albums ever recorded. (Well that’s how I recall it, anyway.)

It’s a contender for best introduction to a Fall song: MES megaphones an aggressive statement of intent that would make anyone sit up and listen (although it’s a shame that’s it’s a slightly truncated version of the intro from the Peel version of LA, and doesn’t discuss Lloyd Cole’s brain and face).  On reflection, whilst it’s a joyously spirited opening statement, it doesn’t actually make a huge amount of sense. ‘Whose main entitle is themselves’, for example, demonstrates a casual disregard for most of the rules of grammar; and doesn’t he actually say ‘Bombaxt’? (And possibly a bit of the old ‘Bazdad’?) Over on The Annotated Fall, Bzfgt paraphrases it as: ‘All those who are entitled in their own minds, and whose only source of entitlement is themselves, are in for an overdose of vitriol.’ Which is a fine effort, to be fair, although over around 800 words he really ties himself up in knots trying to pin it down. In my unintellectual way, I’ve always interpreted it as: ‘Don’t give me any of your bullshit, or you’ll know about it.’ But whatever MES actually means, it’s a glorious introduction to what follows…

…and what follows is an absolute marvel. It’s like Steve Hanley (who I believe composed this while on paternity leave) came up with three great riffs and then thought, f*ck it, let’s weld them all together and see what happens. It clashes, it grinds, it thrashes, it threatens to punch you in the face… and it’s just full of highlights: the atonal, tremolo-heavy chord at 0:27; the staccato chords just before the minute mark and again at 1:36 and 2:22 (echoed by Mes’s yelps); the squall of feedback at 1:32; the brief, controlled burst of thrash 1:40-1:46 (and the extended one from 2:28). There’s no real song as such here, but it’s a gloriously effective and actually moving piece of noise. Haven’t said this in a while: turn it up loud; very loud. 10/10

One Day
Another great moment from the much (and unfairly) maligned Cerebral Caustic. It’s an infectious blast of frenetic garage-punk/rockabilly that, after a brief sample of what could be a little dubstep, hits the ground running and never takes its foot off the accelerator. Actually, that’s not a bad analogy, as listening to this is a little like taking a drive with someone who has a sporty new car and is determined to show you its prowess, careering along recklessly.

The prime force behind the song is a gnarly surf-rock guitar line, which powers along in the right channel of the stereo. On the left, there’s all sorts of stuff going on: a choppy, scratchy, almost skiffle-ish (acoustic?) guitar mainly, but also a selection of weird and wonderful random noises that scrape, screech and squawk away merrily. Dodgy edit alert at 2:20 too.

The Rex Sargeant Mix (which you might see floating around as ‘alt.mix’ or ‘alternate version‘) or something similar, is certainly an interesting listen, MES appearing to sing the same song over an almost entirely different backing. It lacks the bite of the original, but has an intriguing trancey, techno-ish, chaotic feel to it and is definitely worth a listen.

But back to the original… I love MES’s vocal on this: distorted to hell, sneering, abrasive and delivered with impeccable timing (‘Transparent or not’ at 1:16 is a particular favourite; as is his peculiar enunciation of ‘vacuum’ at 0:44). I hope you kept the volume at the same level as it was for the last one. 9/10

New Face In Hell
Who the hell else would ever begin a song with the line ‘Wireless enthusiast intercepts government secret radio band and uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions.’ Well, nobody, obviously. You might say that the words ‘band’ and ‘type’ are grammatically redundant in that sentence, and you’d be correct; but – and sorry for repeating the cliché once again – you’d be entirely missing the point. I’m no language or poetry expert (as, by now, is doubtless abundantly clear) but the playful way that MES inserts superfluous words – and conversely omits those that might make things a little less ambiguous or mysterious – is one of the many joys of his twisted and compelling lyricism. Read the opening line back with ‘band’ and ‘type’ omitted: still an intriguing sentence, but Smith expresses it a way that’s utterly his, completely unique and adds a humour and depth that’s beyond the realms of my explanation but is palpably just there.

[One long paragraph in, and we haven’t even got past the first line yet; obviously it’s going to be one of those songs…]

The two-chord pattern (with the occasional diversion into a different key) forms a loose, ragged funk that propels the song with a momentum that’s somehow both intense and languid. It drives the song relentlessly, still making room for a bit of variation (e.g. the choppy staccato style that appears just after four minutes, plus the brief, sudden excursions up the neck at 4:38 and 4:50). Like many of the best Fall tunes, it manages to sound simultaneously tight and focused yet on the verge of falling apart.

It’s also one of the very best MES vocals. For much of the song, he frenetically and furiously spits out rapid volleys of dizzying wordplay, but also holds the whole thing together memorably with the arresting squeal of the title (a lot more pleasing on the ear than the piercing shrieks of Muzorewi’s Daughter).

The Peel version is equally good. The separation of the guitars in the opening is especially effective (solid rhythm in the left; a spot of VU-ish soloing in the right); Riley’s keyboard is a lot more prominent, giving the song a slightly more tranquil air; and SH pushes himself forward with a muscular funk – especially after the breakdown at around four minutes. Nice little touch with the cowbell too (3:54). Very much in ‘just own both’ territory.

Whether it’s a 9 or a 10 (if it’s any less, you must be missing an ear or two) probably depends largely on your feeling about the kazoo. If, like me, you’re a parent, you’ve most likely been exposed to ear-splitting volleys of their buzzing noise at birthday parties which may well cloud your judgement. So, it seems fair to give it a 9.5/10

Wolf Kidult Man
A burst of primeval howling, heads-down primal drums, a reverberating bass line and a wonderfully scuzzy, snaking fuzz-guitar riff – all within the first ten seconds – propel you into a raucous piece of no-nonsense garage thrash. MES’s performance is a million miles away from that on New Face, but just impressive in an entirely different way. It has a haunting, ghostly feel (emphasised by the double-tracking); at once distant, off-hand and disassociated, yet somehow totally in tune with the music. Like the rest of this playlist, ought to be played at high volume. 9/10

[And, of course, this is the last ever song that The Fall opened a gig with. I can’t imagine that anyone reading this blog hasn’t watched this (there’s a slightly longer version here), but if you haven’t then you should. And then you should not just play this at very high volume, but also pour yourself a little (or not so little) glass of something and toast the inscrutable, obstreperous old bugger who gave us all this amazing stuff. Cheers.]

 

The Fall in Fives #093

  • Birthday
  • Tom Raggazzi
  • Dresden Dolls
  • Haf Found Bormann
  • Muzorewi’s Daughter

This really was a proper ‘odds & sods’ selection. There will be people who have a fair few Fall albums in their collection who won’t have heard all (perhaps any) of these. In a sense, this made this an interesting selection to review; but in some cases, it’s very clear why obscurity beckoned…

Birthday
Like much of this playlist, somewhat of an obscurity: as far as I’m aware, its only official release was on the 1996 Sinister Waltz compilation. One of the group’s traditionally obscure covers, this was originally done by The Idle Race (one of Jeff Lynne’s early bands – the original is here). Like The City Never Sleeps, Lucy Rimmer provides the lead vocals, with no sight of MES at all. Unlike City though, it’s not absolutely bloody awful.

The group add a bit of vim and vigour to the rather limp and dull original and come up with a sprightly little indie shuffle that makes for a passably enjoyable couple of minutes. It sounds nothing like The Fall – indeed it could be any one of a hundred artists from the 80s/90s – and it’s unlikely to come anywhere near anyone’s Fall compilation, but it’s alright. Grew on me a little, if I’m honest. (Some interesting video clips of it being rehearsed here.) 6/10

Tom Raggazzi
I own a couple versions of this: one from the F-‘Oldin’ Money single; one from the vinyl version of The Marshal Suite. That one is twice as long as the other is about the most interesting thing you can say about what is fundamentally a half-arsed and perfunctory piece of lazy reggae. MES in particular sounds barely interested. Didn’t fill me with a desperate urge to skip it, but one of those that I wouldn’t consider any sort of loss of I never heard it again. 3/10

Dresden Dolls
Another obscurity. It originally appeared on a bootleg single, ‘apparently‘ recorded in Smith’s living room;  it finally made it on to an official release as part of the Backdrop compilation. I must confess that I haven’t actually listened to this in years, and my memory was that I disliked it. But actually, it’s not that bad: its raw, angular raggedness is quite appealing. It’s an interesting little snapshot of the very early Fall sound, and while MES veers into generic punk stylings on occasion, there’s a snotty aggression about it that makes it worth a couple of listens.

The Annotated Fall makes a reference to this one sounding like Serge Gainsbourg’s La Horse, but I have to say I don’t quite hear it myself; it sounds more a grubby version of The Stranglers to me. 5.5/10

Haf Found Bormann
Yet another obscure one. It was part of the Hey Luciani! play and eventually became one of the b-sides to There’s A Ghost. It would seem that this song was rather unpleasant experience for Marcia (‘I hated every night of the dreadful “Haf Found Bormann” song’), but I have to say that I rather enjoyed it. Truth be told, there are quite a lot of songs on my hard drive that sound like this.

It has a slow, loose-limbed rhythm that brings The Orb to mind. There’s also quite an avant-garde flavour to it; Steve Hanley gets quite free-form jazz in places (listen to him go at 0:45), a lot of hard-to-identify noises float around in the background; and Marcia recites what sounds like some sort of beat poem while Brix shouts incoherently somewhere off in the distance.

There’s a live version of this to be found on YouTube which is quite interesting: the whole sound is fuller, more muscular; it’s played a lot ‘straighter’ (Mr Hanley largely abandons his Jaco Pastorius ambitions); and the vocals are far higher in the mix. Swings and roundabouts, for me.

According to someone quoted on the A-Z, it’s ‘loosely based on George Steiner’s short novel, Portage of AH to San Cristobal, where Israeli commandos capture Hitler in the Amazon jungle.’ Well, I’m in no position to argue with that. But what I would say is that, although it’s a bit formless and pretentious, it has a damn sight more invention about it than the rest of this playlist. 6.5/10

Muzorewi’s Daughter
The only song from a ‘proper’ album on the playlist. I mentioned the ‘Fall Wooden Spoon’ cup competition last time with regard to Drummer. This one didn’t get quite as far in the ‘worst songs’ tournament, but it did attract a fair bit of support and was only one vote away from making it to the last 16. This I found less surprising than was the case with Drummer.

It opens with a sort of faux-tribal rhythm that always puts me in mind of those racially dubious 40s/50s animations where cartoon characters end up being scalped or boiled in a large cauldron. I don’t dislike the grainy, muffled production (it’s possibly the best thing about it, other than the strange descent in both tempo and key towards the end) but there are other elements to dislike. In particular I find the chorus simplistic, predictable and frankly a bit dumb; I could also live without MES’s ear-splitting shrieks.

It would appear to be about Abel Muzorewa, who was briefly prime minister of Zimbabwe in the late 70s; apparently, the lyrics were mainly written by Kay Carroll. These two facts are far more interesting than the song itself 3/10