The Fall in Fives #105

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a ride. Thanks for coming along.

Steve

 

13 thoughts on “The Fall in Fives #105

  1. Hi Steve- thanks so much for this. Though you’ve just finished, I’m slowly using the whole thing to discover Fall tracks I’d never heard of, and rediscover some forgotten ones. It kind of makes up for not having a new Fall album to listen to. I’m up to #017 so still loads to go. BTW I’m the guy who did that “31 reasons why I love the fall” earlier this year…. cheers, Steve

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this, I’ve loved it, and it’s been good for me since MES’s death. It is really fucking strange reading other people’s opinions of Fall songs when none of my friends or family are fans, and I don’t go on any forums much. All those little things only I thought I loved or noticed, or the stuff no-one else likes but I do… Now, I just need to clear a couple of months to go through all these fantastic songs again.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good evening Steve,

    I’m still working my way through this great piece of work , well done mate , it is a great reference tool . I thought i had most of the stuff ever released, but this blog has enabled me to tidy up my collection.

    Having first seen MES and the Fall in the early 80’s and nearly every year since mainly down South..

    Interesting reading the various ratings. I agree with most, but some of the tracks I enjoy were under rated in my opinion but that is what makes the Fall unique, and having taken your ratings and played the top rated tracks to only discover these in a different favourable light.

    Congratulations on your hard work.

    ‘If that’s what you get for having a hobby!’

    DM out

    Liked by 1 person

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