Marquis Cha Chat

The Fall studio albums revisited in order

Re-Mit

markesmith

God knows why I decided to cram the first thirty Fall albums into a couple of days’ listening earlier this year. It certainly wasn’t with a view to writing a blog about it – that idea followed a little time later (and I’m glad it did) – but it was a hugely enjoyable time. I have loved writing this blog and, although I publicise it and encourage people to read it, I have been writing it mainly for my own pleasure. I want to continue blogging but this seems a natural end for this particular sequence as this album was the final album in my listening sequence. There are other things I could blog about and I will settle on something.

You might assume that I have more insight into The Fall than I had previously and that I now consider myself to be an expert on the band. Not at all: they are still a mystery to me (but a wonderful and enjoyable mystery) and if you go on fallonline you will find people with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the band which dwarfs my own. You will also find far more loyal and avid fans of the band than me there too. They are my favourite band but I also love other music passionately. I am not musically monogamous. They do mean the world to me, though. I can be very defensive when others criticise. For me it’s like when someone joins in when you are dissing your partner. That doesn’t feel right because she/he is your partner to slate not theirs; they are just meant to listen. I can say bad things about The Fall but anyone who wants to join in had better have put in some time at the coalface (Fallface).

I have a mental list of artists whose passing would result in me having to take a day off work in order to compose myself. Bowie is on the list; Dylan is on the list; Neil Young is on the list; Scott Walker is on the list and at the very top of the list is Mark E. Smith. I’d be sadder about MES because he, to me, is the easiest to relate to. A working class maverick. He’s like a great 1970s footballer: infinitely more talented but not immensely wealthy and out of touch. He walks the same streets as the rest of us. They are all geniuses but MES has been more loyal to his unorthodox muse than anyone else. Even The Fall’s most commercial recordings have been tinted with eccentricities and nonconformist flourishes.

You have to trust me on this but when The Fall are over their audience will be far larger and their influence will reach further than any band currently in existence. I don’t know next week’s Lotto numbers but I know that.

What an album to go out on! Re-Mit is another Fall album to add to the good pile. There are too many fab Fall albums to listen to them with any regularity so you tend to know the first ten you heard really well and the rest less so. Re-Mit still seems very recent to me but I know it’s a one that will stick. I had many reservations about the RNFLP/FHR era in that, yes I liked the music a lot, but I feared that they might become an identikit Fall-by-numbers form of the Mancabilly version of the band with the odd leftfield quirk. This album showcases the Mancabilly elements but the additional experimental components feel natural and unforced. As well as this the live sound of this line up is captured in the studio – although there is a greater sense of danger and impending implosion onstage.

No Respects (Intro) sets the tone with a short bit of riffing and rhythm before Sir William Wray leaps into view with a cyclical guitar riff and keyboard intrusions dominated by Smith’s impressionistic yelping and unique vocal phrasing. This is one of those Fall albums that are of a piece and the songs, like Scooby and Shaggy, belong together. The album works as a whole without obviously standout tracks. That is not faint praise because there is no consensus as to what the standout tracks on Hex, Grotesque and TSNG are – not to my knowledge anyway. Not that I’m comparing this album to those undisputed classics. Nevertheless, it is a wonderful addition to the band’s body of work. My favourites here are Hittite Man, a tweaky revisit to the early 2000s Fall sound that is perfected here, and Loadstones, which bridges the Mancabilly/leftfield divide beautifully: chanty refrain and growly vocals over a guitar riff that could have come from almost any Fall era.

And that song seems the perfect one to end on.

Re-Mit is not the best Fall album but it is a more than impressive piece of work. I can name more than two dozen critically acclaimed bands who have not produced one album as good as this one: the thirtieth album by a Manchester band in their umpteenth year together working on a smallish budget.

Bravo Mark et al.

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Done.

Ersatz GB

A1

It is a pet theory of mine that most of the groups you have heard of are back together in one form or another or have never actually split up. Apart from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The Membranes, who I saw at Tiffany’s in Newcastle in the 1980s, are playing at the 12 Bar in London just before Christmas (one of the things I like about them, other than their thrilling uncompromising music, is that they are from deeply unfashionable Blackpool where I spent many wonderful childhood holidays). Original members of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band stiil tour  playing perfect renditions of their former leader’s angular masterpieces. Wishbone Ash are playing somewhere near you soon. I saw a version of ELO on BBC2 recently; the Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac are together again; the Buzzcocks still tour as do the UK Subs and Ruts DC. I went to a John Peel tribute gig at Stockton recently and saw The Wolfhounds, The Things, Eton Crop, Inca Babies, Terry and Gerry, The Blue Orchids (Bramah!) and A Witness (who tore it up!). I have seen the still innovative Pere Ubu twice in the last eighteen months with hardly any song overlap over the two gigs. There was an advert on the television the other day for a Queen tour. They are currently fronted by someone who obviously fancies his chances of being crowned as Queen’s campest ever frontman: a cross between the 1968 comeback Elvis, Prince and Liberace.

It is not uncommon for me to tell someone that I am going to see a band and for their response to be, “Are they still going?” The other response is, “Who’s that?” These responses either make me feel very old or like the questioner thinks that I am desperately attempting to acquire or retain a semblance of coolness. Telling friends and colleagues that I am going to see a young or newish band can sometimes be made to feel like I’ve just informed them that I’m now in a relationship with someone who used to babysit my daughter.

Recent scientific research has shown that most people today have only heard of ten or twelve bands from the whole history of music. If you ask some folk to list twelve bands their answer will be, “The Beatles and eleven others.”

Yes, I know that is a rip off of an old joke about picking the Argentinian national team in the Maradona days.

I mention this because sometimes people can get a bit sniffy about the number of original members present in a band. Fair enough, I suppose, as there are always key members of a band. Would you go to see Motorhead without Lemmy? Well, many people have seen the latest version of Alex Harvey’s band even though Saint Alex has been deceased for some time. Ditto The Magic Band. It all depends on the spirit, intent (is it just a cash cow?) and quality of the remaining members. The Fall have only one original member these days and they are still a challenging, interesting and exciting band. I think it’s one of the drummers who is the remaining member of the original line up. They should have hung on to that bloke who sang on ‘Victoria’. He was young, good looking and had heaps of charisma. Very charming as I recall.

Ersatz GB is not a Fall album for newcomers. It is not a gateway to a love of The Fall. It is a fantastic album but it is uncompromising and true to the latterday Fall vibe. There is a wall of sound herein and, fortunately, it is a wall of glorious sound. It begins with a drum beat that is a close cousin of the beat on Motorhead’s Overkill. That’s not a bad sound to evoke. Thus begins the hardest sounding Fall album for some time. I can’t help but think of the louder tracks on Hex. Even in quieter moments, such as the Eleni vocal vehicle Happi Song, there is a sense that the loudness is incipient. The harsher more guttural version of Smith’s voice is more evident on this album than on any previous collection. It is an appropriate and effective accompaniment to the scraping guitar and punchbag rhythms  of this set whereas it can occasionally be a distraction live.

There is a thrilling home straight on this album beginning with Monocard, a menacing, bare sounding and doomy track that I am sure Sonic Youth and Shellac will be fighting over to cover on a future Fall tribute album. Laptop Dog is the catchiest song on a resolutely uncommercial work with a riff that is in the same postcode as many a Stooges ostinato. The muddy sounding I’ve Seen Them Come is an exhilarating exercise in repetition that demonstrates that the early ‘no selling out’ maxim is still in place. The closer, Age Of Chang, is a powerful rhythmic piece with a guitar sound not too far removed from that of Public Image’s debut single. The bassline on this song alone makes the album worth a listen. The only disappointing thing about this song is that it is too short. This is the modern Fall at their best: mojo intact. The best Fall album closer for many a moon.

The Fall? Are they still going?

No. They’re thriving.

(The Fall will return in Re-Mit)

Your Future Our Clutter

KCS

A couple of weeks ago I saw a band called King Champion Sounds in a very small but charming venue in Byker. They’d been recommended to me because of their Fall-like bass sound but I thought it was more JJ Burnel than Hanley. My friends disagreed and said they could hear a very strong Hanley influence. Mind you KCS were clearly influenced by more than M.E.S. and co. I could hear some Can and Screamadelica era Primal Scream in there. They are a fantastic band and I urge you to look them up. Like The Fall they deserve a bigger audience.

The thing is, though, when someone says they are influenced by The Fall I always think, “When?” The Fall of Hex; The Fall of Kurious Oranj; The Fall of The Unutterable? Or do they just mean The Fall attitude – whatever that is – presumably fiercely independent and autonomous.Have the band ever been less fashionable in the wider world but more influential in the music world? Every musician of standing who wants to be cool mentions The Fall or, like Damon Albarn (I prefer the Noel Gallagher’s pompousness puncturing monicker ‘Derek Oblong’ – much as I cannot stand either of the Gallagher brothers) gets M.E.S. to appear on his record.

Here is a semi-pretentious sentence for you: they are the Velvet Underground de nos jours. By that I mean that their influence is greater than their sales. The Fall together or The Fall ended, I am sure that their radio play will remain exactly the same. In that environment they will never die and,sadly, they will never thrive. In time they will be recognised as Manchester’s most significant band and may well be acknowledged as the most important band to come out of the punk era. In my opinion this is already true but I believe it will become a consensus.

I love the fact that there is no real Fall canon. There are some sacred albums but Fallfolk are varied in their favourites. It is possible that Re-Mit is someone’s most-loved Fall album. Who am I to argue?

Your Future Our Clutter isn’t my favourite Fall album but it is one of the best albums I’ve heard that was made in the last five years.

If you buy YFOC, my friend, you will experience a great deal of glorious, rhythmic loudness. For it is a sometimes raucous album with some impressive tuneful moments.Musically, it begins with a throbbing and urgent beat which evolves into a clashing object of thrilling repetition. The strongest track here is Bury PTs. 1+3 which is a live staple to this day. This is Smith’s ‘Do you wanna be in my gang?’ singalong – without the connotations. This song pounds! An incredibly uplifting piece of music about not belonging.

YFOC is a very consistent album. There is no filler here and one or two tracks to cherish. Mexico Wax Solvent is the kind of mid-pace Smith-vent that is impossible not to love. Five stars there. The glorious noise on YFOC/Slippy Floor is the greatest Fall cacophony of the twenty first century so far. Chino begins with a Joy Division bassline before mutating into something vibratingly post-punk and distortedly rhythmic. Imagine Duanne Eddy sitting in on a Wire recording session being produced by Keith Levene and being told, “Make it sound goth, buddy.” Weather Report showcases the two sides to the current Fall brilliantly: the dark pop and the noncommercial art. This track ends the album on a satisfying musical high.

The fun song on the album is Funnel Of Love which is enjoyable and meaningless. Likeable, though.

No bad moments on Your Future Our Clutter. The boys (and girl) done good. In the future there will be a band who will claim. “Yeh, The Fall, man, Your Future Our Clutter, that’s where it’s at. That’s where we are coming from . . .”

Trust me, I know these things.

“You don’t deserve rock and roll.”

(The Fall will return in Ersatz GB)

Imperial Wax Solvent

Albini-007

 

U2 haven’t had a lineup change since they formed in 1976. King Crimson, who first materialised in 1968,  have one original member left standing. Who would you prefer to see play your favourite local venue of choice? Same old brew or something challenging and unexpected?

It’s always that same old line about Mark E. Smith on the rare occasions that he is wheeled out before the mainstream media. The Fall has had 40, 000 members and he ruthlessly sacked everyone of them. He is a drunken tyrant who cannot form lasting relationships with any of his musicians.

Yawn. That is clearly the most interesting fact about Mark E.Smith. Some fixed smile autocue dependent automaton that resembles Christine Bleakley (or is Christine Bleakley) will be mouthing pointlessly about the shelf life of Fall drummers on the day of Smith’s demise because, as we all know, the numbers will be all that count. You won’t get Eamon Holmes telling you that Who Makes The Nazis? inspired him to subscribe to ‘Searchlight’ magazine. Dermot O’ Leary won’t be saying that his love of Sparta F.C. inspired him to finance the reformation of Magazine.

Nope. It’ll be the stuff about sackings. And, sadly but inevitably. one hour after his death it’ll be gone.

What about the influence? How will that be measured? Will it be Pavement and The Nightingales? Will it be I, Ludicrous and Sleaford Mods? Will it be the attitude? The lack of compromise? The contrariness?

Who can say but I think that The Fall’s influence is far reaching. In the future people will cover their songs – no doubt ‘cleaning’ them up while they do it.

I mention this because I realise that I am within amp twiddling distance of the end of the albums I set out to review. Took the band thirtysomething years to reach this point but eight months for me. Easier to be a critic than a creator? Definitely.This blog might still be read a year from now (if I’m very lucky!) but The Fall’s music will be played fifty years in the future.
What about Imperial Wax Solvent?
It is solidly good whereas some earlier albums are epoch-making. Of the many marriages this is the one that is sexually consistent (not mind-blowing); intellectually equal (not dangerously challenging); and pretty (not intimidatingly gorgeous). This is a steady breadwinner; a terrific homemaker; a safe and stable partner.

It might not be loved fifty years from now but no one will ask, “Why did they bother with this one?” It will be a very rare day when someone chooses to listen to Imperial Wax Solvent in preference to, say, Slates or Extricate.

I do like it but it some of it is forgettable and adds little to the Fall legacy. There are, however, some stunning moments. Wolf Kidult Man is a tightly performed pummeling rocker. A terrific three minutes of Fall power. There are other tracks of this ilk herein such as Tommy Shooter and Senior Twilight Stock Replacer. The title of the latter could only ever belong to The Fall. It has one of those broken riffs that we haven’t heard from the band for several years and an addictive chanty refrain. Eleni’s vocal on this album is the chugging catchy enough I’ve Been Duped. More in tune with the surrounding material than some of her other contributions. Her best song on a Fall album, I’d say, albeit not written by her.

There are some perfectly good songs on this album like Latch Key Kid and Strange Town (a little like Bourgeois Town), and the mostly instrumental Taurig, which gives the album a sense of consistency but not genius. Can Can Summer is not dissimilar to Powder Keg from The Light User Syndrome. It’s a three star album. What would U2 give to produce a three star album these days? (I know, I know . . . they are easy targets) It’s one of those albums where you’d say, “It’s really good for a band that has been going so long.” The old faint praise thing that dogs recent Woody Allen films and Bob Dylan releases.

The problem is that we do witness moments of genius in IWS but most of them remain unfulfilled. Not so with 50 Year Old Man which is the album’s masterpiece and musical centrepiece.  This immediately follows Wolf Kidult Man and has a similar feel at first but is a thing of change and unpredictability. 50 Year Old Man leaps out of this album. A mixture of braggadocio, bitterness and defiance. Steve Albini is mentioned a couple of times: a similarly cantankerous and maverick temperament to Smith, in my eyes. I cannot begin to speculate why he is ‘in collusion with Virgin trains’. An Albini-produced Fall album would be a thing to behold. Hardly likely as those hypothetical sessions would be somewhat charged with creative tension and dominated by power struggles. You’d love to be there, though, wouldn’t you . . .

I know that there are many Fall followers who don’t bother with the more recent material and this album may represent the beginning of that disillusionment with the band. This is a very decent album which was preceded by better material and followed by superior work. I could understand the disenchantment if this was one of  a succession of quite good records but it isn’t. On various Fall websites ‘the last four’ (meaning, I reckon, the last four full length sets) are spoken of in derogatory terms as if this was a collection of albums that demonstrate the decline of a fantastic band. I don’t go along with this assessment at all but I not so one-eyed that I wouldn’t admit that there are less accomplished Fall albums, some of them much earlier in their oeuvre, and this is perhaps one of them. That is to say, in qualification, that it isn’t in the top twenty Fall records. Such is the nature of Fall fandom that some will have it in their top five.

It’s a decent and steady Fall album. No bad thing. No shame there.

(The Fall will return in Your Future Our Clutter)

Reformation Post TLC

Edward Gorey Umbrella

‘A seven year cycle seems to happen every day.’ Considering the then recent disintegration of yet another Fall line up it would seem safe to assume that Smith is singing here about the stability, or lack thereof, of his band’s lineups. The current Leeds chairman is proving to be a greater threat to long term employability than Smith currently is, but in the music world perhaps only Hawkwind’s Dave Brock has become acquainted with more (sometimes journeyman) musicians than our man. This has, however, kept the band fresh and the music fluid and never tired and repetitive (in one sense).

Probably.

To my mind Reformation is the last album before the current phase of krautrocky jams and raucous sound experiments that the band have produced with some success since this lineup disbanded in 2007. This is a gateway to that phase. The last few albums seem to have divided Fall followers but they are on a roll in my opinion. The recent The Remainderer mini album is tremendously exciting and vital: as good as anything in the last twenty five years. I saw them at York in August and it was chaotically, unpredictably beautiful and everything you would want of a Fall gig. The new songs sounded great and the whole experience was vibrant and fulfilling. This is a band that isn’t afraid to teeter over the edge of failure just to pull themselves back and triumph gloriously. Sometimes, as with Levitate, they tumble into the abyss, but usually they emerge victorious. The lack of commercial success, as I’ve said before, must be bewildering when the band must know they have created something so superior to so much of the music world. I write this in the week that the brilliant but relentlessly avant garde Scott Walker/Sunn O))) collaboration, Soused (an appropriate Fall album title if there ever was one), has entered the top 30 in the album chart. Perhaps Das Boot can be a hit single one day.

The album kicks off with bitter laughter and two songs that target the recently sacked lineup. This and the post-Brownies era represent true risings from the ashes for The Fall. This time, however, their most acclaimed lineup for years had imploded and it could well have been curtains for the band. The man, as you know, though, is dogged. I think we now know that The Fall will only call it a day when M.E.S. is no more. Hell, he’s playing now with such dodgy hips that he is having to sing for lengthy periods either prostrate offstage or in the dressing room! He’s not gonna let three sacked musicians wreck his day. Traitors, liars and something beginning with ‘c’ are how he portrays his recent former employees. In parts of London the word is pronounced as ‘cant’.

The opening tracks are both bass heavy pieces that allow Smith to vent. Reformation! has always reminded me of the Extricate title track (which wasn’t on the original vinyl version of that album) in that it is Smith articulating single words or very short lines over a dancey riff. Although Reformation! has a much harder and rawer sound than its predecessor. Over! Over! is a precursor of some of the more conventional songs that crop up between the slabs of sound on the next few albums. Not one of the longer spacey jams that I associate with those records.

The Fall of the last five or six albums are, to my mind. truer to the early Kay Carroll maxim of ‘no selling out’ than any other version of the band since Room To Live. This is not a band looking for a late career hit or a nice earner touring an old classic album.

Fall Sound is another bass driven song that is probably the catchiest track on the album. This is reminiscent of some of the tracks on the better mid-nineties albums. Smith seems to be singing about bands attempting to achieve a ‘Fall sound’. We all know there are many Fall sounds. Some people don’t. The ‘no laptop wankers’ sums up the musical approach here. Smith is no Luddite but he has always set out to achieve an organic sound that can be replicated live. There are a few exceptions to this rule – some of them his extra-curricular non-Fall work. They have stubbornly stuck to the same set of instruments over the years (occasionally adding an extra drummer or guitarist), producing very different musical results. The gig in York was, I believe, their first performance without a keyboard player in a decade or so.

White Line Fever is a pleasing but uneventful cover of a Merle Haggard song. Insult Song is one of those longer repetitive mid paced songs like Garden or Words Of Expectation beloved of the mid-1980s Fall. This one is lyrically hilarious and features a musical backing that resembles Keith Levene and Jah Wobble misremembering The Velvet Underground’s The Gift from the skronky, heroin-drenched White Light White Heat set. I mean that as a compliment.

Eleni gets to sing on The Wright Stuff which would be a pop song if Edward Gorey or Neil Gaiman were responsible for shaping the world we live in. It’s catchy but odd. Das Boot isn’t catchy but is very odd. It’s this album’s Papal Visit but at greater length and a tad more musical. A great punishment for disobedient children on long car journeys. Systematic Abuse could be a slickly recorded (for The Fall) unreleased track from Live At The Witch Trials. I’d nominate this and Fall Sound for my mythical Fall compilation from this period. I don’t think you can like The Fall and fail to enjoy Systematic Abuse. It has that driving repetition of the early songs. At first Outro sounds like the second coming of Ludd Gang but is gone before you can say, “I hate the guts of Shakin’ Stevens for what he has done.”

I really like this album but it is not one of the classic Fall albums. In Bowie terms this is Lodger. To hark back to The Velvet Underground this would be Live At Max’s Kansas City. Interesting albums that contribute to the whole picture and don’t tarnish the legend; but not for the newbies.

(The Fall will return in Imperial Wax Solvent)

Fall Heads Roll

Henrik

 

The tour that followed the release of this album saw me attempting to boycott the band in disgust after Mark E. Smith’s walk off after twenty odd minutes of a gig I was attending at Gateshead Sage. I was just getting back up on my feet financially, and was able to spend some money on seeing bands again, when that happened. I stubbornly didn’t go to see them on their next tour – which I now regret – and I vowed not to buy any more Fall albums (bonne chance!). Smith had told the musicians that they were ‘playing like a fucking cabaret band’. They sounded on form to me. Of course the album’s title was met with knowing smirks by Fall watchers and this band was not destined to remain together much longer. I think a cigarette stubbed out on the back of the neck of a tour van driver in America was the final straw for this lot.

And yet this was the line up that was immortalised via an excellent BBC 4 documentary (The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E. Smith) . . . This was the last Fall lineup of John Peel’s lifetime . . .
For me this is the competent and enjoyable but workmanlike Fall. Fall Heads Roll is a very satisfying listen but it lacks the experimental edge of albums like The Unutterable, Kurious Oranj, Hex and is considerably more mainstream than its predecessor RNFLP. Mainstream for The Fall I mean. A little like saying Clear Spot is mainstream for Captain Beefheart (or PIL’s Album). This is probably the cleanest sounding Fall album since Wonderful and Frightening World . . . However, the earlier album was an incredibly inspired piece of work that marked a fairly radical, and musically successful, change of direction for the band. Fall Heads Roll is great but it lacks daring and the don’t-give-a-shitness of most Fall albums.

My favourite girlfriend is not necessarily the sanest, best dressed and most conventionally good looking one.

This may be one of the gateway Fall albums for non-Fall fans (heretics) as it includes some very accessible tracks – despite the tone of the earlier part of this piece I do like this album a lot. It doesn’t have the feel of an album that was cobbled together in a rush using substandard material (Hello, Are You Are Missing Winner!) and it does sound like the band want to make something good. Ride Away is a mid pace piece with a pseudo-reggae chug and is a catchy beginning to the album (but signaled the end of the Sage gig). Pacifying Joint is impossible to dislike. In a way this album is an album of potential singles and Pacifying Joint has a semi-commercial kick but, like Cruiser’s Creek or No Bulbs, is too essentially ‘Fally’ for the mainstream singles buyers. Youwanner and What About Us? are likeable rockers that hark back to the repetition of the Hex era but are far better produced and less leftfield. Assume has a little of the Velvet’s There She Goes Again about it and is one of my favourite tracks on this album.

I like my Fall lineups to be works in progress (and most of them are) but this version sounds like the finished article to me. I, for one, welcomed the rebuilding of the band post-FHR. Sadly, the membership pack when you join The Fall includes a map to the Prestwich Department for Work and Pensions. This is a safe version of the band, I feel. Yes, it’s all very enjoyable but where, for example, is the skronk.

I haven’t mentioned Blindness, have I?

Blindness is the best Fall track in many years. It is the best bass-driven track I’ve heard by them since The Classical. Hanley would be proud of this riff and he is the Elvis of bass guitarists. Since I began listening to albums as a kid there have been tracks that have blown me away: Starman on Ziggy; New Dawn Fades on Unknown Pleasures and Wall Street Shuffle on Sheet Music and Blindness is just such a song but has the added attraction of being by my most loved band. FHR is a tremendous album – despite my faint praise – but Blindness belongs in a better setting. It’s reminds me of when Henrik Larsson played for Celtic . . .
John Lydon once said he didn’t like technically perfect albums. Bear in mind that this was in the Metal Box period. FHR doesn’t fulfill that description but I do miss the imperfections.
(The Fall will return in Reformation Post TLC)

The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’

JohnPeel

 

Sometimes a Fall lp is closely linked in my mind to a time or to certain events in my life. This one I associate with the idea that I would never be comfortable with the idea of becoming middle class, or my friends becoming middle class. This was the first Fall album I can remember being the subject of a dinner party conversation and that just jarred. Socialising is not something I enjoy beyond the company of a few long term friends and family. Actually I hate it. It is infinitely worse when the subject of conversation is a topic that is only half understood by the majority of the people discussing it. Combine that with the self-loathing I felt by allowing myself to attend a dinner party populated by people my age who had doggedly crawled up the social ladder whereas I, through stubbornness and circumstance, still saw myself as a working class kid/bloke from County Durham. Took me years to sort my life out. First course for me was a bowl of inferiority complex served up with a little well concealed anger.

Eleven years later and I still find it difficult to accept that I am now middle class in terms of profession and income. In the end I couldn’t fight it off. In my mind I will always be working class. However, I did not succumb to all of the middle class trappings that the dinner party hosts embraced. I have not attended anything that resembles a dinner party for years and I have cut them off like a gangrenous limb. They became a truly corporate couple who would only meet in ‘designer’ coffee shops and were rude about my family so fuck ’em.

Never mind the writing style, feel the bitterness . . .

Playing a Fall album to a collection of people who are mainly unfamiliar with the band’s work at a dinner party and inviting discussion . . . Fuck that!

The opinions expressed therein, by the way, were best described as anodyne. That’s me being kind.

I had another unexpected encounter with this album in 2004 when an English teacher in a school in a school in Dunston told me he played the album in his classroom and, “the kids seem to work well when it’s on.” He added, “They seem to quite like it.” Kudos to him. Dunston is where Paul Gascoigne is from and is a part of Gateshead. Gateshead is a part of Tyneside that Newcastle thought of as the mad woman in the attic until Gateshead spent millions on the Sage music venue, the Baltic art gallery and the Millennium Bridge. Suddenly there was a Newcastle/Gateshead website because part of Gateshead had put on a pretty party dress and acquired a sizeable serving of culture. Gateshead council should have told their Newcastle equivalent to go and shit in their hats after years of being snubbed.

If I were to include a laboured analogy, and I wouldn’t do that, I was Gateshead at that dinner party and the others were Newcastle. Problem with that is that I would’ve said, in 2003, that Gateshead was something of a dive.

I saw The Fall at The Sage in 2005 when MES walked off after half an hour. I vowed then that I would never pay to see them again. Errr . . .

The Real New Fall LP . . . is a fantastic piece of work. This time the band sound well rehearsed and the songs sound like they’ve been lived in and worked out properly. It’s a throwback to the Extricate days in that the technology is mostly unobtrusive and the songs are tight and structured. The lyrics are not back-of-fag-packet fresh but complex and measured. In short, it sounds like they have spent some time on this set of songs. For many this would be the best Fall album in years and I can understand that point of view.

One of the best known Fall songs is Theme From Sparta FC due to the BBC’s use of it to introduce the football results on a Saturday afternoon. (You can find a clip of MES reading the results on the BBC here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdZa9CkLwLM. It is hilarious.) This usage aside, Sparta is a genuine Fall classic. Great guitar riff and excellent performance by MES. Includes a menacing Greek section from Eleni Poulou, the new keyboard player and current Mrs Smith. Sounds like something muttered in a monastery in a satanic Dario Argento film by a tormented cleric just as the protagonist leaves after asking difficult plot-changing questions. Cannot be a coincidence that the current run of good albums began with the introduction of the Greek Smith spouse. If you don’t like Sparta you have no chance. At anything!

That is the third track. Before you reach Sparta you’ve had Green Eyed Loco-Man and Mountain Energei. Two very different tracks: Green Eyed Loco-Man could be from The Unutterable or Marshall Suite and is a superb, but slightly misleading opener, as it less guitar-dominated than most of of the rest of the album; the bass-led Mountain Energei is the spiritual, but not actual, return of Steve Hanley. Contraflow is an excitingly performed minimalist rant. Later in the album there is some great low-fi distortion and Prestwich Beach Boy harmonies on Mike’s Love Xegagon. Mancabilly fans will, no doubt, savour Open The Boxoctis #2. One of those songs that would be a massive hit in an alternate reality where making great music pays off. If Steve Gibbons designed the universe Open The Boxoctis #2 would be that universe’s Stairway To Heaven.

And on it goes with no weak tracks and no filler. Maybe I need to rethink my dinner party etiquette as this may be a gateway album into The Fall. Having said that, I probably won’t. Definitely won’t.

But . . . it may be a gateway album into The Fall.

Sadly this was the last Fall album released in John Peel’s lifetime. I may never have heard The Fall without Peel as my mate Mick might never have heard him play them, then play them to me. Peel introduced me to so much of the music I grew to love over the years. It wasn’t just the music but the independent spirit and the courage to experiment. I do not want to picture my record collection without John Peel’s influence. I don’t think I’m alone there.

(The Fall will return in Fall Heads Roll)

Are You Are Missing Winner

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All bands/artists who’ve had lengthy careers create a piece of work that most long term watchers deem to be their worst or most uncharacteristic work. Followers of Bowie, of which I am one, would probably argue about Never Let Me Down or the Tin Machine live album as being Dave’s nadir. The Clash clearly scraped the lowest barrel in the pile with Cut The Crap; Beefheart had a couple of mid-70s turkeys (Unconditionally Guaranteed and Bluejeans and Moonbeams) and Neil Young, in a particularly uneven patch in his career, went off the rails completely with the double apostrophised Everybody’s Rockin’.

It’s happened elsewhere in the arts and sport: I mentioned Lawrie M*******’s time as Sunderland manager after nothing but success elsewhere. Monty Python legend Eric Idle was in Nuns On The Run; Martin Scorsese made Kundun and Bringing Out The Dead and The Well-Beloved sprung from the imagination of Thomas Hardy.

Back to music and Kiss, never a band of subtlety and taste, alienated their large but, at that time, diminishing, fanbase with the weirdly punctuated Music From ‘The Elder’ (on which Lou Reed appeared!)

Let’s not mention the recently deceased, former Music From ‘The Elder’ guest artiste, Lou Reed’s album with Metallica . . .

Having said that,Lou Reed changed rock music. Reed’s work is among the most important in the rock era. I remember one of the first interviews I read with Mark E. Smith was where he mentioned doing a paper round while whistling Velvet Underground songs. I knew then that I’d like his band a lot. Even Reed, as referenced earlier, was capable of producing musical dross. Most of us know what that is . . .

On the Fallonline site the most unrevered album seems to be the grammatically nightmarish Are You Are Missing Winner. I have been asked more often about my opinion of this album than any other and have stated that it is ‘not bad’. I have to take that back.

Perhaps Julia Nagle had more to do with the songwriting on The Unutterable than we are led to believe because the songs on this album are, in her absence, pathetic and tame.This is The Fall album where you wonder if they are trying or not. I no longer doubt Mark E. Smith’s commitment to a Fall legacy. I look at recent performances and recordings and see a man who is unafraid of failure. A person who is determined that his greatest work is yet to come.

Not so in 2001. They looked and sounded like The Fall but they are as much The Fall as Les McKeown’s band, who are to play at Whitley Bay Playhouse in the next few weeks, are the Bay City Rollers.

This version were a half decent Fall covers band.

There are four or five songs of b-side Mancabilly at the beginning of this atrocity, followed by half-hearted and derivative sub-Fall-like material. Even their imitators would think twice about releasing this dross. Bourgeois Town sounds like a half-decent idea for a song and My Ex-Classmates Kids would have been the fourth track on a Brix-era 12″ single.

This is, in my opinion, the worst Fall album. The Fall recovered very quickly but you have to question whether or not Kiss ever came back from Music From ‘The Elder’.

(The Fall will return in The Real New Fall LP (Formerly ‘Country On The Click’)

 

The Unutterable

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The Unutterable should be the title of a very dark  H. P. Lovecraft tale (is there any other kind of Lovecraft story) or one of the novels written by the demented Sutter Cane in John Carpenter’s peerless postmodern horror film In The Mouth Of Madness. The Unutterable is not, however, a dark record for the most part. The band and its leader sound unusually relaxed and cheerful. Not Haircut 100 cheerful but North of England cheerful. Quite right too because this proves that the post-Brownies comeback of The Marshall Suite was not a Blackburn Rovers-type one season wonder.

This was the second Fall album released after my daughter’s birth in 1998. My daughter, by the way, who is sixteen next week and a great kid, has zero interest in The Fall – to my great shame. “Not been brought up right!” I imagine you are saying. If I were to die before reaching the final Fall album in this sequence, she would not write the remaining entries. I know now that that statement means my avid and vast readership are sweating like Game Of Thrones/Song Of Ice And Fire  fans are over the mortality of George R R Martin. Martin would kill for my immense readership! Probably most of his main characters . . .

There is actually more bloodshed in the history of The Fall than there is in Game Of Thrones.

Because of my daughter’s babyhood much of my time was not spent listening to music – other than songs about wheels on buses and winding bobbins up. Mind you, some of the stuff on Teletubbies was weirder than Papal Visit even. One day, after wondering about the sexual availability of Balamory‘s Miss Hoolie, I became aware of The Unutterable through a cd given away free with Wire. Dr. Bucks’ Letter was The Fall track on it. It stunned me. It is a truly awe-inspiring piece of music that is unique in The Fall discography. I can’t think of another song that sounds like this. It is a bassy, rumbly throb with a compelling and guttural Smith narration on it. It is a very, very distant cousin of sections of Faust’s Nosferatu soundtrack/accompaniment.

It blew me away, my friends! Miss Hoolie suddenly became Miss Wholie? Oh well . . .

In the meantime another one of those, “It’s their best in ages” whispers reached me. I’d say that, this time, the statement was fairly accurate. The Unutterable was the best Fall album since Extricate. There had been some very good ones in that time but this one surpassed them. It is a very consistent album, although I have heard some listeners argue that it tails off. I don’t agree. I think there is one truly weak track (Pumpkin Soup . . .) but, otherwise, the album is uniformly great.

Dr Bucks’ Letter is not surpassed on the album but, then again,  it would have been the best track on many other Fall albums. There are some great guitar-oriented rockers that look forward to the next few albums of guitar-dominated songs. The opener, Cyber Insekt is a mix of guitar and electronics with a riff that is from the same family as No Xmas For John Quays and a fabulous whispered female backing vocal (‘Cyber insekt, cyber insekt’).  Two Librans has a I Wanna Be Your Dog vibe in parts. In the extras on the Touch Sensitive live dvd Smith can be seen insisting on the song’s inclusion on their setlist. Not a surprise as it is a thrilling, pounding song guaranteed to keep bald headed men in leather jackets nodding along. If some of the experiments on Levitate had come off there might have been a track like Serum on it. It is an accomplished rumbling soundscape with a dense production and junglist drumming. If you live in an upstairs flat this is the quickest route to a falling out with your downstairs neighbours. The sound is so deep that I had to nail my floorboards back down after it finished. Hands Up Billy is one of those Manc rockabilly songs that we would hear a lot of over the next three albums – but it is a superior member of the species. The lyrically bizarre (as ever)  Das Katerer recycles the Free Range keyboard riff (the one that was playing at Brownies as things began to disintegrate). Why not? It is a tremendous sequence and they do something very different with it here.

I could go on. I haven’t mentioned the straight ahead rock brilliance of Ketamine Son,  the enigmatic Midwatch 1953 and two-songs-in-one Sons Of Temperance.

This was a band that looked finished two years previously when, post-New York fracas, Smith had to rely on Julia Nagle getting her mates in to fulfill previously booked gigs that probably had punters, some of them long term fans,  clamouring for their money back. Most people thought that Smith wouldn’t survive without the anchor that was Steve Hanley who had finally walked out on him. I won’t pretend that I didn’t think that the end was nigh. In defiance of expectations Smith and Nagle put Humpty Dumpty back together again and produced two excellent and (probably) career-saving albums.

Of course, in true Fall fashion, Nagle was gone by the time the next album arrived, save for one small live contribution to an Iggy Pop cover.

John Carpenter should consider a sequel to In The Mouth Of Madness where instead of strangers asking the protagonist, “Have you read Sutter Cane?” they’d ask, “Have you heard The Unutterable?” Another character will peer over their shoulder and whisper, “It’s their best in ages . . .”

(The Fall will return in Are You Are Missing Winner)

 

The Marshall Suite

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‘I went to the bank just to get a little money.
When he told me their requirements I started feeling funny.
He said “You ain’t got a house, you ain’t got a plot”
I ain’t got a window and I ain’t got a job
But it takes a lotta blue-backs to satisfy my honey.
If I could get my hands on some f-oldin’ money.’

I quote the first verse of The Fall’s cover of F-‘Oldin Money for a reason. Bill Hicks, who has been mentioned in this blog before, had a routine about musicians selling their music to advertisers during which he graphically asserted that they were fellating the devil. I completely agree that it is a despicable thing to prostitute your art in such a way. However, there is the, what I shall call,  Willie Nelson Get-Out Clause. Hicks forgave Nelson for allowing some of his music to be used in adverts because he had been presented with a huge tax bill and it was the slammer or the ad agency.

I want to invoke the Willie Nelson Get-Out Clause here. Famously Touch Sensitive was used in an advert for the Vauxhall Corsa. The reason Mark E. Smith is not smoking Satan’s pole in my opinion is because there is no one else in the history of modern music who deserves a bit of loot more than Mark. Not only has he influenced more than one generation of musicians but he has been a one man employment agency for performers – particularly in the Greater Manchester area. Added to that I can’t think of any more ways in which Smith has contradicted the ‘no sell out’ maxim of the Kay Carroll era.

Have you heard the album that Touch Sensitive is from? Commercial? Hardly.

I hardly ever listen to The Marshall Suite and this is an error on my part. I always forget what a good album it is. Ask me about it when I haven’t listened to it for three months and I’ll say, “Oh, that caterwaul. That disorganised, half-hearted catastrophe!” Well, I might say that if I’d spent the previous two weeks reading Evelyn Waugh’s diaries but you know what I mean. Sometimes you forget how attractive your ex-wife was and then you see her scrubbed up for an event and you think, “Now I remember what it was I saw in her.” Not wanting to sound shallow (I don’t even have an ex-wife by the way!). Hopefully you are following . . .

The first two tracks of TMS are both exhilarating and deceptive. You have the classically riffed powerball of Touch Sensitive with its infectious  ‘Hey hey hey!’ kicking the album off with the kind of guitar-driven song many Fall fans might have feared was lost after Levitate. The Vauxhall car company were kind enough to provide a video for the song which was aired nightly on ITV. I have no idea how this song was not The Fall’s most successful hit single. It is much more catchy than Victoria and includes amusing lines about urination. I know I couldn’t work for a record company because I’d have that down as a top ten single and demand a huge promotional budget.

The second track is F-‘Oldin’ Money, the most punctuation-heavy title on the album, and is one of the band’s superbly chosen covers. It is their funniest cover version since White Lightning and, if they’d doubled it up with Touch Sensitive on a 7″, they’d be living with models in Malibu in my misguided/deluded record company world.

After those two gems the casual listener is now expecting a guitar-driven punky Mancabilly album but things take a dramatic turn thereafter. It’s like the Danish film Festen: the  tone changes dramatically once you realise what is going on.

This time it works. The electronic bits add to the songs rather than distract. There are other guitar-driven tracks like Bound, which is probably no one’s favourite track on this album but does nothing wrong; and the excellent cover of The Saints’ This Perfect Day. Unique in two ways: a cover of a song by near-contemporaries as well as a cover of an acknowledged near-contemporary classic. Otherwise it’s a mostly a series of loud electronic tracks. Luckily they’ve spent some time and thought on the songs this time and have crafted an album of genuine quality and invention.

The Crying Marshall is something to behold. An effective blend of Fallness and electronics. This, I suspect, is what Levitate was meant to be.

Two tracks leap out at me: there is something deeply moving about Birthday Song and Inevitable is a  tuneful pop beauty. Birthday Song has the most un-Fall like muzaky backing with Smith tenderly talking over it. It sounds a little like the Message From The Temple track at the end the first Psychic TV album without the pseudo-cult trappings. It is unique in the Fall canon and ends up being the best song on this album. Beautifully put together. Bravo, Mark and co.

This album is what Levitate could have been if it wasn’t put together by a band in decline. It is an album of artistry and craft. Hard to believe that just prior to this Smith had to fulfill previously arranged gigs with a hastily assembled female band that had to learn the songs virtually overnight.’Granny on bongos’ indeed.

How does Smith keep doing this? ‘Mark’ll Sink Us’? Doubt that.

(The Fall will return in The Unutterable)

 

 

 

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