Now reissued by the band's own label on CD, "Dragnet" was The Fall's second album, recorded over a period of three days during August 1979. (How punk?!) It's full of the sort of angular atonality and shouty obstreperousness that The Fall's music was packed full of back then (and, to be fair, is not exactly bereft of these days), best demonstrated on somewhere classics like "Psykick Dancehall" and the lurching "Muzorewi's Daughter". Like just about nothing else on earth (and that extends to the typewritten manifestos reproduced in the booklet), although for me a pale shadow of their next and bestest album, "Grotesque (After The Gramme)", which followed a year later.
THE FALL/CLEVELAND The Roadhouse, Manchester 6/12/93
In which the normally road-reticent (or at least apathetic) Fall play four consecutive nights in an 'intimate' venue in their hometown (well, Mark E. Smith's a Salford lad, but it's only on the other side of the river). But why?
How we laughed when we finally gained entrance to the Roadhouse: it really must've been the smallest venue I've ever been in - the stage is virtually two-dimensional! Still, it was very nice, more like your favourite pub where the house band just happen to be one of the most important chroniclers of modern Britain.
I hadn't heard of Cleveland prior to tonight, but they were very good: unavoidably Smithsonian, but with washes of Echo and the Bunnymen atmospherics and Stone Roses touches as well. Clever and differentish songs (one included the line "Rust never sleeps", so they've clearly been listening to the right records), and well worth keeping an eye out for.
I didn't see much during The Fall's set, since the stage had been cunningly placed at floor level, and your average Fall fan is tall, wide or both. However, I can report that, for someone who looks strangely like Andy Capp, MES flutters his eyelids a lot! He seemed fairly reticent and non-confrontational tonight, the band were quite tight and disciplined, well schooled in playing his difficult music, which, over the space of an hour included a goodly proportion of this years' "The Infotainment Scam" album, and other recent songs such as "Behind The Counter", "Why Are People Grudgeful?", "I'm Frank", a song about Frank Zappa, whose chorus got amended to "I'm Frank/I'm dead", "Free Range" and the pearlescent "The Mixer", which was a bit hard to recognise since half its keyboard parts appeared to be missing.
They weren't as bad as their live reputation would have it. but they're more of an education than an evening's entertainment. I'm glad that I went, but I'm equally glad I hadn't bought tickets for the next three nights as well.
THE FALL Middle Class Revolt (Cog Sinister)
Due to a geographical accident my copy of "Middle Class Revolt (a.k.a. The Vapourisation Of Reality)" is 300 miles away as I type this, and hasn't been played for a month, but from what I remember (and from what I've just read in the NME's review to jog my memory) The Fall's 18th album is as good as any of their others, with the possible exception of the untouchable "This Nation's Saving Grace". Mark E. Smith is still the paranoid man of last year's "Infotainment Scam", his trajectory of grumpiness covering career women in the wondrous "15 Ways", not accidentally a warped re-write of Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover", students (presumably) in the incomprehensible rant "Hey Student!",,just garbled enough to ensure he's not barred for life from every NUS building on the planet, football on "Symbol Of Mordgan", a conversation with John Peel spliced up and set to "music", and even a Groundhogs cover ("Garbage Man"). The music remains as itchy as ever, whilst in places almost approaching the chart-friendly pop magnificence of past Fall classics such as "Hit The North". Still bitter, and getting better, after all these years.
THE FALL The 27 Points (Permanent)
Proof positive that the worlds grouchiest professional Mancunian is turning into a Frank Zappa for the 21st Century, "The 27 Points" is a double live (and at times barely alive) album culled from the last four years of Fall recitals, a living, breathing lexicon of what you cant do on stage anymore unless youve got this much attitude.
Unprofessional even by Mark E Smith standards, songs collapse with barked orders to sound engineers to "sort it out", intro tapes run on past credulousness and Smith fails spectacularly to tell a joke. All you need is a big bloke standing next to you shouting "Turn it up, yer (insert biological expletive of choice)" between songs to replicate that total Fall live experience. The band summon up previously unhinted at piledriving ability to prove that there always was a techno element to their music on 90s classics such as "Free Range", "Big New Prinz" and "A Past Gone Mad", here renamed "Passable", all of which could batter and bruise at a hundred paces, "Bill Is Dead" is fragile, wobbly and wonderful, and Smiths hectoring just gets better and better.
Patchy, admittedly, but spiky and unpredictable as ever, this presents possibly the most impressive, if sprawling, evidence of why arguably the only members of the class of 77 to make it this far with some degree of credibility still matter. As it says on the sleeve, "Parental advisory: explicit, incompetent music".
THE FALL The Light User Syndrome (Jet)
Another year, another Fall album - well, another four Fall albums, actually, as, in his quest to mythologise himself into a Broughton reincarnation of Frank Zappa Mark E Smith has already released three volumes of outtakes, rarities, demos and studio floor sweepings this year. But "The Light User Syndrome" is the bona-fide follow up to 1995s I-liked-it-but-nobody-else-did offering "Cerebral Caustic". As usual, major changes are afoot, The Fall group now veering unsteadily between a sextet and an octet, and signed to Don Ardens newly indiefied Jet label, i.e. the home of the wonderful time-cannot-tarnish-them Electric Light Orchestra throughout the seventies. Its childish, but theres some kinda subversive thrill in seeing the familiar searchlights/skyscraper label design spinning on the platter whilst The Falls grouchy spiky rockabilly percolates from the speakers in place of Jeff Lynnes Brummie Beatles.
Predictably, The Falls sound has undergone a comprehensive overhaul as well - theyre best describes as sounding energised, if that doesnt seem too unlikely. Certainly the opening thrash of "D.I.Y. Meat" (Mark convinced that decorator has designs on his wife, by the sounds of things - a spiritual cousin to Chris De Burghs "The Painter", perhaps?!) is the speediest Fall song Ive ever encountered. The lengthy epic makes an overdue reappearance, a genre left untouched since 1988s "The Frenz Experiment" album: included is the "Chisellers" single, here retitled "Interlude/Chillinism", apparently a song supporting the beleaguered Hull FC, which features Brixs classic observation "Pink Floyd are short!" (as in of a decent songwriter, presumably), and the less impressive, and even lengthier, "The Coliseum", which harks back to "Bremen Nacht Alternative" with its metronomically undanceable take on dance music. "Cheetham Hill" is a definite future Fall classic, with the songs unfortunate protagonist stuck in the dodgy district of the title, "Spinetrak" is a spitting, crackling battle of wits between Mark and Brix, the highly-inappropriate cover version corner is catered for by interpretations of old country choons called (here, at least) "Stay Away (Old White Train)" and "Last Chance To Turn Around", and closer "Seccession Man" is a nod to the old Kinks song about Nicky Hopkins "Session Man".
Darn good album then, and one that could signify a new artistic, if not commercial, phase for The Fall, if it werent for their stubborn attempts to sabotage success at every turn - even the fingerprint unfriendly cover and plastic inner sleeve (kinder to your precious records but brutal on your sanity) conspire against (light?) user satisfaction. And if its not meant to sound scratched its possibly the worst quality pressing Ive ever heard. Also, it never fends off the lurking, back-of-my-mind suspicion that, like most Fall albums, irrespective of their frequent excellence, itll get played three times and then be forgotten about. However, John Peel has contributed sleevenotes to this, their nineteenth studio album, and for the purpose of explaining to non-Fall devotees why they still matter so much, here they are:
"Waleed lives in Baghdad. He wants to hear the Fall. Penelope is a teacher. She lives in Honey Grove, Texas, and heard the Fall on the BBC world service. Sebastian works in Hamburg. Hes a doctor and roams the internet in search of Fall information. Not all the time, mind. Jeff does the same. He lives in Ipswich and has compiled an authoritative Fall discography. William is my son. He said, "Fall LPs dont really need sleeve notes, Dad". Hes right, of course".
THE FALL Levitate (Artful)
By my reckoning The Falls 20th album (although some sources put the figure at double that), "Levitate" carries with it the usual line-up/record label changes that have made Mark E Smiths shambolic ensemble more than just a band. Serious Fall students will observe the absence of Smiths sometime wife and guitarist Brix and vocalists Lucy Rimmer and Mike Bennett, and the addition of new guitarists Andy Hackett and Tommy Crooks. Julia Nagle also takes on co-writing duties on six of the fourteen tracks. I should also point out that being signed to another new label has not improved the traditional abysmal Fall album pressing standards.
You could argue that, in their own cranky fashion, The Fall are just as predictable as Oasis. When you put on a new Fall album, you can almost guarantee that it will contain the following: a scabrous, punch-drunk take on whatever bandwagon is currently rolling through Fad City (jungle/drum n bass, in this instance), impenetrable vocals (Smith is invariably singing either from another studio or behind a barrage of effects) and bizarre and/or obscure cover versions ("Im A Mummy", author (perhaps wisely) unknown, Hank Mizells 1976 hit "Jungle Rock") and moments of utter confusion (the entirety of "Hurricane Edward").
The old dog/new tricks relationship this time out amounts to a beautiful, fragile Julia Nagle instrumental (very Berlin-era Bowie) called "Jap Kid", which later reappears as the backing to an interpretation of the traditional "I Come And Stand At Your Door" which owes nothing to versions by The Byrds or This Mortal Coil (or, in the case of Smiths delivery, to the concept of singing either). Theres also a few seconds of in-concert footage at the beginning of "Everybody But Myself" (Smith hollering "Crowd control!" to a not-completely-satisfied audience) that reminds the listener that with his revisionist determination hes rapidly on his way to becoming Salfords answer to the late great Frank Zappa.
If you like The Fall, youll love "Levitate" - its them doing what they do best. I still cant shake the inevitable feeling, however, that again theyve released a fine album that, due to its obstreperousness - the very ingredient, after all, that makes The Fall The Fall - wont be visiting my turntable frequently in the future. And if you dont like The Fall? Dont even think about it.
THE FALL Live To Air In Melbourne 82 (Cog Sinister)
Given that recent reports have described performances by the new slimline three-piece Fall line-up as "utterly shambolic", with dozens of fans demanding their money back, now is probably not the cleverest time to be releasing a Fall live album. "Live To Air In Melbourne" dates from a happier era, and finds the band (line-up unknown) performing classics from the "Hex Enduction Hour" and "Room To Live" albums at a televised gig in Melbourne. Performing is a bit of a grandiose term for whats actually going on, though; frequently it sounds as if only Mark E Smith and the bassist and drummer are concentrating on the song in progress, sharing the stage with some kind of sub-Beefheartian improvisational guitar orchestra. The hissy and clangorous sound quality doesnt help with unravelling matters, either, with volume levels taking unscheduled nose-dives halfway through some tracks. Fortunately an unusually high percentage of the hip priests ramblings remain audible, and therein lies what charm "Live To Air In Melbourne 82" has - highlights include his complaint that the car parks of the home counties are full of David Bowie impersonators, the observation that the Volvo parked outside his house has a Moody Blues tape on the dashboard and pretty much all of "Im Into CB". But these moments, of course, can also be obtained (with somewhat greater clarity, Id hope) on the albums mentioned above, which leaves this CD as a curio of interest only to the hardened Fall obsessive.
THE FALL The Marshall Suite (Artful)
This years Fall album, then, produced by this years model of The Fall. "The Marshall Suite" sprawls over three sides of vinyl, and has appears to harbour some pretensions to being a concept album (The Fall go new prog? Surely not!) but underneath it all its just yet another Fall album, and reassuringly so. Despite the sophisticated veneer of string arrangements and brief thematic instrumental pieces, most of the familiar Fall tricks are present and correct here: theres a typically grouchy opening single ("Touch Sensitive" sample lyric "You say What about the meek?/I say theyve got a bloody cheek"), thundering rockabilly ("Bound"), obscure cover versions ("F-oldin Money" by one T Blake, which sounds not unlike their version of "White Lightning" from way back when, and "This Perfect Day", which I think is a Saints song), moments of surprising loveliness ("Birthday Song") and a smattering of doubly-coded song titles ("(Jung Nevs) Antidotes", "Finale: Tom Raggazzi", "Mad.Men-Eng.Dog"). If youre not already a Fall fan theres nothing on "The Marshall Suite" to convert you; if you are theres nothing on "The Marshall Suite" that will really surprise you. And I have the sneaking suspicion that, like many of the fine albums Mark E Smith has helmed during the 90s, "The Marshall Suite" wont be making regular visits to my turntable.
THE FALL Hex Enduction Hour (Cog Sinister)
THE FALL 458489 B Sides (Beggars Banquet)
"Hex Enduction Hour" finds this laudable Fall-approved (Cog Sinister being the band's own label) CD reissue series crash landed in 1982, with an album recorded in Reykjavik (Mr Smith being hip to Iceland almost fifteen years before Mr Albarn, notice) and, bizarrely, the Regal cinema in downtown Hitchin. Showcasing their new two drummer line-up (a bit prog, that?) "Hex Enduction Hour" piledrives like no other Fall album, with the possible exception of "The Frenz Experiment", but doesn't allow the blunderbussing to flatten out Mark E's traditional obstreperousness: the songs are as heavily encoded as ever, as titles like "Jawbone And The Air-Rifle", "Fortress/Deer Park" and "Mere Pseud Mad. Ed." might indicate. An acquired taste, undoubtedly, but maybe only the most committed Fall enthusiast would actually enjoy being flogged this hard - compared to my favourite early work of theirs, "Grotesque (After The Gramme)", "Hex Enduction Hour" can be something of a trial.
Speaking of being flogged hard, "458489 B Sides" collates nearly two hours of the bands Beggars Banquet-era flipsides. Although superficially perhaps a rather joyless listening experience, its leavened somewhat by the inclusion of a number of alternate takes on familiar Fall classics ("Slang King 2", "No Bulbs", "Living Too Long", "Shoulder Pads #1B", "Hit The North Part 2", "Guest Informant") and at least one previously undiscovered moment of loveliness in the form of the mellow jangly gem "Entitled". Essential for some of us, but Id understand if you couldnt be bothered.
THE FALL Early Fall (Cog Sinister/Voiceprint)
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, "Early Fall" mops up all the singles the band recorded for the Step Forward label between 1977 and 1979. That means vicious sideswipes at their new wave contemporaries ("Repetition", "It's The New Thing"), lacerating dissections of Fascism ("Various Times") and suburban ennui ("Bingo Masters Breakout") and early examples of the band's uncategorisable rockabilly rumble ("Dice Man", "Psyckick Dancehall") ("thefall transcend all categories even rock'nroll", the sleevenotes rather ungrammatically contend.) There are also two tracks added from the long deleted "Live At The Electric Circus" compilation, which is nice.
Apart from some rather too authentic sound quality on a few tracks ("the material on this album spent years out of print, changing hands on increasingly scratchy vinyl" boasts the press release, and guess where some of these tracks sound like they were mastered from) this is a great CD. Mark E Smith's spleen-venting, code-cracking lyricism was never sharper than on these early singles, and the band's crackly, spiky yet propulsive backing is the perfect foil. Compare and contrast with the recent "A Past Gone Mad" compilation, which concentrates on their work during the last decade, and decide whether they've progressed.
THE FALL Austurbaejarbió (Cog Sinister)
THE FALL Live In Cambridge 1988 (Cog Sinister)
THE FALL Backdrop (Cog Sinister)
These are the latest fruits of The Fall's continuing programme of issuing rare and previously unreleased material through their own label, an activity that tends to bind up equal portions of the mercurial and the infuriating. The pick of these three CDs to my Fall-saturated ears is undoubtedly the barely pronounceable "Austurbaejarbió", a set taped in Reykjavik in May 1983. It documents the rarely heard five-piece line-up of Mark E Smith (naturally), guitarist Craig Scanlon, Steve Hanley (bass) and twin drummers Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, an ensemble whose studio output amounted to just two singles. It makes for thrilling, lurchingly unpredictable listening. It sounds almost like The Fall playing jazz, the entire band acting as rhythm section whilst Smith adds scattershot verbal improvisation over the top - has he ever been funnier than when cast in the role of car salesman in the rendition of "The Classical" included here? Fascinating listening from an underexplored region of the band's past.
The more prosaically titled "Live In Cambridge 1988" is, appropriately, less of a surprise. I would guess that this gig was taped on the same tour as those which produced the live half of the contractual bookend "Seminal Live", and consequently the terrain is more familiar: competent overhauls of material from the contemporary hot-spot of "The Frenz Experiment" and the handful of Brix-era albums that proceeded it, plus a blistering stare-down of mouldy oldie "Pay Your Rates". The production lacks a little in comparison with "Austurbaejarbió" - the way we arrive halfway through the opening number "Shoulder Pads" annoys on every play, although you're soon smiling again as Smith's verbal trajectory zones in on Talking Heads album covers, for some reason.
Firmly in 'you should get out more' territory, former bootleg "Backdrop" collates mainly live rarities from Melody Maker, Record Mirror and Sounds EPs and LPs and other obscure sources. Amidst the songs that you have far too many versions of already ("Hey! Luciani", "L.A.", "U.S. 80's-90s", "Guest Informant", "The Man Whose Head Expanded" and so on) is a version of Gene Vincent's "Race With The Devil" played at John Peel's request at his 50th birthday party (apparently learned especially for the event, although Smith appears not to have bothered with such niceties as the lyrics and rants all the way through it: fortunately the band are playing so fast it hardly matters). The highlight is a hilarious uncredited few minutes of MES talking about the imminent release of the "How I Wrote Elastic Man" single, a mixture of invective and encrypted slang that's almost worth the cost of the CD on its own, and marks him out as the spiritual patron of the Chris Morris school of anti-comedy.
THE FALL The Unutterable (Eagle)
My counting fingers reckon this to be The Fall's 22nd studio album (and, shed a small tear, the first not to be released on vinyl, probably due to their new home under the wing of Eagle Records, a company whose other activities include sating the world's continuing desire for Electric Light Orchestra live CDs). After the rather downbeat "The Marshall Suite" it sounds as upbeat as the band are likely to get at this late stage. "Cyber Insekt" has that trebly, psychobilly crackle that distinguished early incarnations (you could probably trace its lineage right back to their 1977 debut single "Bingo-Master's Break-0ut!", if you were Pete Frame enough). "Two Librans" is a cracking, impenetrable non-hit non-single that bangs on about Oprah Winfrey studying bees. "Dr. Buck's Letter" features a list of things Mark E Smith cant leave the house without (sunglasses, music, Amex card, Palm Pilot) throughout which he teeters on the edge of breaking into fits of gnomic giggles. "Octo Realm/Ketamine Sun" introduces the band as characters in a slacker docusoap, and "Way Round" finds MES ranting about why he hates roundabouts. "Sons Of Temperance" even pays homage to a recurring figure from the band's back catalogue, a sly reference for long-term listeners.
This week's incarnation of The Fall slide around this tricksy music with the grace of figure skaters, diamond hard and drilled to perfection. (And, given Smith's brush with the law following an 'incident' with band member/girlfriend Julia Nagle in a New York hotel, the booklet naturally features pictures of boxers.) In fact, it's possible that "The Unutterable" is as good a Fall album as we might reasonably be expected to be handed these days, a pleasant reminder of how dynamic and vital they still are when they can be bothered.
THE FALL Liverpool 78 (Cog Sinister)
Another in the interminable series of Fall odds and ends CDs released on the band's own label, this unpromising-looking set taped at Mr. Pickwick's in Liverpool sometime in 1978 even shares its cover photo - the famous shot of Mark E Smith flipping the finger - with the recent "Live In Cambridge 1988". Ignoring the tacky packaging, what lies within?
A revelation, essentially, albeit a shabby and battered one. This is the earliest live incarnation of The Fall that I have yet clapped ears on; it could be either the first or second line-up of the band (the booklet notes concentrate on discussion of the music rather than the permanently revolving door of the group's family tree), and this recording predates the release of their debut album, "Live At The Witch Trials". If you've grown up on Mark E Smith's pissed pensioner on-stage performances his between-song banter with the audience and vitriolic delivery of some of his most crackling lyrics will come as something as a shock. The material encountered here forms a goodly part of the reason why The Fall are still so revered today. The setlist includes early classics like the New Wave-baiting, Devo-slamming "It's The New Thing" and the blank-eyed anti-Fascism of "Various Times" (and is that a barely encoded namecheck for Ian Curtis in the lyrics?). Smith is even better when scything into the state of contemporary popular entertainment: "Mess Of My" begins with his instruction to the band "A note of your own choice, gentlemen" and launches into something impenetrable about Swedish singers, DLT and "Top Of The Pops", whilst the incredible nine-minute "Music Scene" swings drunkenly from gumming my Alma Mater, Salford University, to the practice of buying records. There's even comedy: when the unnamed bass player loses a string before beginning the aforementioned epic, Smith comments "It's the avant-garde part of the set", to which the bassist counters "Avant-garde a third string", and "Bingo Master's Breakout" begins with Smith leaving the stage to retrieve his cup of tea from the dressing room.
For all that it becomes easier to forgive the lousy sound quality - there doesn't appear to be a percussionist in the house until about halfway through the set - and the shabby packaging. Although hardly the first past the post for the newcomer, if your shelves already groan under a heavy weight of Fall releases this is an astonishing slasher-movie of an aural document that strongly deserves to join them.
THE FALL Are You Are Missing Winner (Cog Sinister)
Album number 22 from line-up number 22 (all information sourced from "The Great Rock Discography", argue the toss with M C Strong, not with me!), the slack spelling and/or grammar of the title suggests that Mark E Smith has rarely cared less, and that's saying something given his usual lax standards. Opener "Jim's "The Fall"" begins energetically enough, but then Smith stumbles in front of the microphone like a swaying drunk and begins barking threats like "We are the new Fall and you'd better have a look". Here come the new Fall, same as the old Fall, you might think. "Crop-Dust" shows the new Fall in a more flattering light - certainly the musicians he's currently being propped up by are remarkably adept at the current Smith sound, which is as rough and distorted as last album "The Unutterable" was, relatively, at least, slick and refined - being a motorik drone with guitars sounding like sitars. "Bourgeois Town" is credited to R Johnson arr. M E Smith, although to my untutored ears it sounds more like Leadbelly's "The Bourgeois Blues" than anything in the king of the delta blues singers' canon, but then again Smith has rarely been scrupulously accurate in revealing his sources. The perky "My Ex-Classmates' Kids" is the closest Smith staggers towards singing a tune during the entirety of the album: needless to say, he's still several ballparks awry. Side one closes with a cover of R. Dean Taylor's "Gotta See Jane", presumably included to appeal to those once moved by the band's 1987 cover of R. Dean Taylor's "There's A Ghost In My House", which remains their biggest hit. On the evidence presented here, it's unlikely to be toppled from that perch.
"Ibis-Afro Man" is undoubtedly the album's strangest track, amidst some strong competition. It lurches unsteadily in with Smith shouting through a mouthful of cotton wool, yelling things like "I ate a monkey for breakfast/I ate a skunk for lunch", before several overdubbed Falls arrive and a drunken scuffle ensues. It then descends into what can only be described as a parody of the electric vultures that circle the middle movement of Pink Floyd's "Echoes". A section of thrilling, cyclical garage Krautrock follows, spoiled only slightly when Smith trips into out-of-focus. This gives way to a synth loop that sounds as if it has just fallen off a Yes or Rush album, there is audience applause and the song closes with the sound your mobile phone produces as it loses its grip on the tail end of a vanishing signal. The Fall's multi-part prog rock epic, then, we can only assume. Iggy Pop receives a co-writing credit. It'll take decades for Fall obsessives to decode this one.
Racked against that, the dark, admonishing "The Acute" is relatively straightforward, littered with classic Smith-isms like "And to sum up the motive of the film is/Keep your cap on your pen and your dick in your pants". Closer "Reprise: Jane - Prof Mick - Ey Bastardo" is as fragmented as its title, a selection of studio sweepings and false starts punctuated by ominous silences, which gradually mutate into another version of "Gotta See Jane".
Is "Are You Are Missing Winner" the most puzzling Fall album yet? Possibly, but every Fall album raises many times more questions than it answers. Here's a few: what are the pictures that appear to be extreme close-ups of Darth Vader actually of? Are the blokes photographed on the back cover Smith's new bandmates, and is the guy on the left actually Frank Black? And why has "Are You Are Missing Winner" been released on vinyl only as a picture disc, in a limited edition of 1000? Just as an excuse, rather than a reason, for the album's atrocious-as-usual production? What's possibly most confusing is, despite or because of everything above, "Are You Are Missing Winner" isn't actually a bad album, although nobody who hasn't already got a shelfload of Smith's rantings is ever going to venture near it.
THE FALL The Rough Trade Singles Box (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
THE FALL Totally Wired The Rough Trade Anthology (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
These are two new compilations drawing on material The Fall recorded for Rough Trade during their two periods with the label in the early 1980s. "The Rough Trade Singles Box" is exactly that, the band's four Rough Trade singles (one of which was a double) lovingly recreated as individual CDs housed in miniaturised cardboard reproductions of the original 7" sleeves. It's a lovely thing to behold - perhaps the effect could have been furthered by pressing the singles as 3" CDs? - but somewhat impractical unless you have access to a multiplayer or a CD writer, as it spreads barely 40 minutes of music over 5 discs.
But what music it is! Even more flailing and experimental than the fabulous clatter they presented to former label Step Forward, these songs show the band trash the nominal popular appeal of the single format, fashioning spiky, impenetrable music with no concessions to commerciality at all. "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'" opens the set with the band's fractured and amateurish droning industrial estate skiffle not quite disguising the serious, if skewed, points Mark E Smith is attempting to make about the nature of creativity in this tale of an artist trapped by his greatest creation key line: "The Observer Magazine just about sums him up e.g. self-satisfied, smug". Flip side "City Hobgoblins" is a raucous tumble through the unexplained in the company of the titular creatures, who, Smith reports, are "Ten times my age, one-tenth my height".
The booklet notes reveal that, somewhat incongruously, Rod Stewart apparently used the speedfreak anthem "Totally Wired" as intro music at his stadium gigs, but then again, it's about as conventional as this box gets, which is to say not very (although it did spend nearly six months on the independent singles chart). Key line: "I drank a jar of coffee and then I took some of these". You dont have to be weird, to be wired. More strangeness is found on the b-side, "Putta Block", which opens and closes with shards of live Fall performances by a volatile band in front of bored and disinterested audiences, surrounding a chugging studio-bound main section.
"The Man Whose Head Expanded" is a vicious, impenetrable anti-computer rant whipped along on a hot-wired Casio keyboard and the improbable catchphrase "Sounds like hick-wap, huh?". "Kicker Conspiracy" concerns itself with the contemporary state of English league football in a fashion that renders it accessible even to somebody (such as myself) for whom the so-called beautiful game is some kind of foreign language (although possibly not to a football fan with no love for The Fall, it has to be admitted). "Wings" showcases the kind of metronomic percussion and circular riffs that would feature prominently in their work for future taskmasters Beggars Banquet, allied to a bizarre and hilarious tale of amateur aviation and time travel. Finally there are a couple of Peel Session recordings to wrap your head around, a reasonably kempt version of the sweaty old classic "Container Drivers" and a rough-as-nails "New Puritan" seemingly dictated by Smith to the band as they play. And could the lines "I curse your preoccupation with your record collection it's only music, John" be directed at their famous BBC patron, perhaps?
"The Rough Trade Singles Box" is a useful document that the obsessive Fall collector (and, given the tsunami of elderly product the band continue to churn out, there must be quite a few who answer that description) will undoubtedly adore. It's well presented, and the music it contains has lost none of its vicious, visceral kick over the last two decades, which is perhaps more than can be said of Mr Smith and his ragged ensemble. It also dovetails neatly with the fabulous "Early Fall" compilation, which performs a similar mopping-up operation on the band's Step Forward singles. But for the casual buyer there are more convenient ways to explore The Fall's Rough Trade years, and here comes one now.
"Totally Wired The Rough Trade Anthology" is a slipcased double CD that mops up much of the fine music discussed above in a more consumer-friendly form, along with further vast tracks of the band's Rough Trade catalogue. It's not a perfect document, so let's get the complaints out of the way first. There are 20 minutes of blank space on the first CD which could perhaps have been put to better use. Come to think of it, how many more discs would have been required to anthologise the entirety of The Fall's Rough Trade recordings? Also, some vague booklet details and the lack of a pin-sharp chronological running order conspire against anyone foolish enough to attempt to track these songs to their sources.
Nevertheless, there's a great swathe of fabulous, cracked, caustic music collated here, extra points being gained for a smattering of examples from what, for me, remains the band's finest long player, 1980's "Grotesque (After The Gramme)". There's also much that was unfamiliar even after nearly a decade of unevenly rewarding Fall fandom. "That Man" is the real discovery, a sledgehammer-subtle deconstruction/destruction/desecration of The Beatles' "This Boy", crammed with immortal Smithisms such as "He came down from Accrington/He came down from Hovis land". Is "An Older Lover Etc" Mark E's idea of a love song? It's certainly pre-dates Pulp with its curtain-twitching afternoon anxiety as the man skewers unambitious suburban daydreams: "Take an older lover/Get ready for old stories/Of teenage sex from the early 60s/Under cover/Behind office desks/Old divorces/Children's faces". It's poetry, but maybe not as we recognise it. "Leave The Capitol" is a pop song by Fall standards, bitter and exultant, a far more confident, swaggering anti-London statement than, er, Catatonia's "Londinium", for example. "English Scheme", from "Grotesque (After The Gramme)", is still scythe-sharp over two decades later.
The second disc is a less consistently pleasurable listen, mostly drawn from the long, difficult, repetitive material the band fashioned during 1982/3, prickly with tension and borrowed Burundi beats. There are moments, though, such as "Ludd Gang"'s sublime "I hate the guts of Shakin' Stevens for what he has done/The massacre of "Blue Christmas" on him I'd like to land one on". It rallies late in the day with the kinetic oddness of "Eat Y'Self Fitter": beginning with Smith being denied entry to a heavy metal club on account of his overly-smart appearance, it just gets stranger and stranger over the course of seven minutes' worth of twisty tumult.
"Totally Wired The Rough Trade Anthology" is a cracking compilation that only wrongfoots when the band's output does likewise, although admittedly your reaction to that trying second disc depends on how you like your Fall: committed "Hex Enduction Hour" enthusiasts would no doubt lap it up. It's a shame that Castle haven't seen fit to anthologise every last scrap of the band's Rough Trade output into one all-encompassing box set, but until they do "The Rough Trade Singles Box" is the one to look at, "Totally Wired The Rough Trade Anthology" the one to listen to.
THE FALL 2G+2 (Action)
It's painfully symptomatic of The Fall's cantankerous career path that at a time when their music is subliminally infecting millions via the recent Vauxhall Corsa television ads they should be releasing their latest album on the in-house label of famed Preston phonograph vendors Action Records. "2G+2" is a whirl of live and studio material in a similar style to 1989's "Seminal Live", consisting predominately of concert recordings of the "Are You Are Missing Winner" band taped in L.A., New York and Seattle during November 2001.
It might sound like an unpromising premise, but "2G+2" presents, partly at least, the most energised, agitated Fall heard in some time. Forgotten mid-90s near-classic "The Joke" kicks off proceedings in a satisfyingly unkempt fashion, naturally containing Mark E Smith's immortal "GoodeveningweareTheFall" introduction. "My Ex Classmates' Kids" is possibly even more offhand and swaggering than the album version, ending with the bravely creative threat of "My Twix up your nose". Of course, "2G+2" wouldn't be a Fall live album if the quality of the performances didnt duck, dive and waver a little, and somewhat perfunctory renditions of "Kick The Can", "F -Oldin Money" and the perennially misdirected "Bourgeois Town" help keep up tradition. But "Pharmacist" (sic) finds Smith gargling with meths again as the band hammer out this most rudimentary of melodies with blacksmith subtlety. The old fave "I Am Damo Suzuki" is exhumed to obvious audience delight, and now comes adorned with some strangely Jarvis Cocker-esque vocal contortions.
Of the studio recordings "New Formation Sermon" is what? Acid country? Johnny Cash jamming with Can? "I Woke Up In City" is rather more graspable, a distorted Stooges groove laced with Smith's gnomic logic until what sounds like a radio news programme discussion on the place of sport in the educational curriculum invades the mix, leaving the listener flabbergasted at just how a human brain can fuse such connections. "Distilled Mug Art" is Northern bluegrass, clouds of portent gathering even if the nature of the imminent doom remains frustratingly opaque.
"2G+2" adds up to an enjoyable ragbag of odds and ends, certainly a measure more coherent than the band's last studio effort, "Are You Are Missing Winner". Any Fall aficionado who hasn't yet entirely written the increasingly wayward ensemble off will find much of merit here, and 25 years into this wonderful and frightening tale what more could you reasonably ask of the band?
THE FALL The Light User Syndrome (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
Castle's seemingly unstoppable Fall reissue program has now alighted on the band's 1996 album, their only release for the temporarily reactivated Jet label (once home to Ozzy and the Electric Light Orchestra), and the final Fall album to feature Mark E Smith's sometime wife Brix. As the informed and informative sleevenotes point out, "The Light User Syndrome" is something of a neglected gem in The Fall's plump discography, and listening to the album anew the fearful and frightening glam racket the band kick up comes as something of a shock after half a decade of tired, grouchy releases.
"D.I.Y. Meat" cracks open proceedings with the group's trademark psychobilly, perforated with Smith's demonic cackles, before "Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain" finds the ensemble dismembering some flailing Krautrock, apparently recorded with a tea-strainer, as Mark E Smith argues with himself across your lounge. "He Pep!" is sparky garage-punk sloganeering - key lyric: "I wrote a song about it, conceptually, a la Bowie/But its been lost in the vaults of the record company by our manager". The thinly veiled drug sermonising of Johnny Paycheck's "Stay Away (Old White Train)" is one of the album's two covers, the other being Gene Pitney's "Last Exit To Brooklyn", here retitled "Last Chance To Turn Around". On "Spinetrak" the band summon up all their reserves of crushing, metronomic power, the song having an itchy Brix chorus that pummels into your head. The album's centrepiece, "Interlude/Chilinism", is a seven minute expansion of the earlier single "The Chiselers", described on its sleeve as "relevant to the recent experiences of Halifax Town Football Club", at the time facing relegation and bankruptcy. Quite how their troubles might be soothed by this mysterious confluence of sub-Orbient noodling, robo-synth passages, slow skiffle scuffle and barked observations that "Pink Floyd are short" escapes me, but it's a hilarious, unsettling moment nonetheless.
What used to be the album's second side opens with "Powder Keg", a second example of Mark E Smith's mysterious powers of clairvoyance. Having released the song "Terry Waite Sez" shortly before the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy was kidnapped, "Powder Keg"'s tales of "retreating from Enniskillen", whirl of fractured accusations that "town is a powder keg" and references to "Manchester city centre" appeared in the shops five days before the IRA bombed the city. (In fact, I was preparing to stroll to Piccadilly Records to exchange the atrociously badly pressed vinyl copy of "The Light User Syndrome" I had bought there earlier in the week when it happened.) "Cheetham Hill" is a garbled tale of out-of-towners kerb-crawling through the titular district, Smith's repeated assertion that he "Couldn't make out whether he was from Salford or Manchester" hinting at some dark and troubled local tribalism. (And pause for a minute to consider that The Fall are frequently at their finest when getting referential about their home turf.) "The Coliseum" finds the band going electroclash, sort of, eight minutes that recall the grinding repetition of the "Hex Enduction Hour" era, formless but fun. The album proper closes with "Secession Man", their fab nod to The Kinks' Nicky Hopkins-lionising "Session Man", but this reissue adds a few more versions of "The Chiselers" extracted from the single of same, neatly wrapping up a package that tells you almost everything you could ever want to know (short of the full and unexpurgated lyrics, but then again no Fall album I own includes those) about The Fall's last great recording.
THE FALL It's The New Thing! The Step Forward Years (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
"It's The New Thing! The Step Forward Years" rounds up almost 80 minutes of music from the 18 months The Fall spent with their first label. Being a Sanctuary release, there are added value enticements aplenty, including a slipcase and incisive booklet notes. But the main attraction is the music, which is comfortably amongst the greatest The Fall ever fashioned. Hear them when they were young, lean and hungry, when Mark E Smith at least made some attempt to sing (painful though it often sounds) rather than just mumble into his pint, and be astonished all over again by their combination of arrogance and brilliance, sparking with live-wire energy and contempt for the commonplace.
Always the curmudgeonly old wave of whatever wave was new at the time, hear them skewer all the young punks, Kraftwerk and Joy Division simultaneously on "Repetition", or overturning the temporary thrills of the fake with "It's The New Thing!", a song that tumbles over itself in its urge to make its point. In these early days The Fall's music was a black and white kaleidoscope. There's so much going on in these songs - the angular non-melodies, Smith's awkward poetry and time capsule observations - scratching deeply into their own narrowly defined furrow. "Frightened" positively drips with unease, the mysterious "Rebellious Jukebox" becomes more sinister with every listen. Before you can blink "No Christmas For John Quays" is sharded with corrupted interpretations of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"; next up "Industrial Estate" knocks the drudgery of new town 9 to 5 flat in two minutes. The title track from their debut album "Live At The Witch Trials", making an uncredited appearance here at the beginning of "Futures And Pasts", recasts the group as the Moody Blues tribute band from hell, Smith reciting poetry over scratchy guitars. Possibly the highlight of this set and that set, "Music Scene" is their token eight minute rambling jam session: hear the band get uncomfortably funky amidst apparently random taped extracts from television programmes. (Even this, however, pales against the splenetic version caged on the "Liverpool 78" live album.) There's just "Rowche Rumble", the Valium-addled daughter of The Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper", to go before the compilation plunges into a selection of songs from the band's second album.
"Dragnet" was a difficult and dark work, even by the band's uncompromising standards, although time and familiarity have rendered the extracts here less gruelling to the ears than they might once have been. "Flat Of Angles" is rusty country rock, "Psyckick Dancehall" the setlist from some kind of supernatural discotheque and "Dice Man" as convincing a stand-up statement of intent as you'd find anywhere in the Fall canon. Smith lets his Can obsession loose on "Muzorewi's Daughter", and, somewhat uneasily, embraces Chandlerian detective fiction on "Before The Moon Falls". The poisoned bubblegum bounce of "Chock-Stock" sounds like a failed attempt to ensnare the teenybopper market, but the patience of the most stoic Fall fan must surely be tested by "Spectre Vs Rector", eight minutes of discordant, stabbing guitar and barked rhetoric. The compilation shudders to a close with the band's final Step Forward single, the alcohol-sodden "Fiery Jack", perhaps ominously anticipating its author's later years: "I eat hot dogs/I live on pies/I'm 45".
What sinks this otherwise marvellous collection is that, like last year's anthology of the band's Rough Trade work, it's so naggingly incomplete. Considering everything The Fall released on Step Forward - two albums and four singles - would easily make an essential double CD, "It's The New Thing! The Step Forward Years" smacks of an opportunity squandered - how long, the cynic in me wonders, will it take Castle to reissue those two albums and a box set of the four singles, condemning the completist to make four purchases where one would have done admirably? Great music questionably marketed, the decision is yours.
THE FALL Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
This issue's Fall album, for me at least, is a release that is as uncompromising in its makeup as the band themselves. "Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set" is a 5 CD set, each of those discs containing a complete Fall concert from 2001, snaring the band's performances in New York, Seattle, Haarlem, Amsterdam and Brighton. The initial joy at this plundering of the vaults is tarnished somewhat when you begin to inspect the setlists: there are 80 tracks presented here, but only 30 different songs, making for an uncomfortable degree of repetition (ironically something lambasted by a younger, sharper Mark E Smith on the band's first EP).
So, assuming that you're comfortable with the idea of letting another five versions of "Mr Pharmacist" into your life, what's to enjoy about this album? Opening with a gig taped at The Knitting Factory, New York on 23 November, first reactions are surprisingly positive, the band cooking up an impressive railroad attack on "Cyber Insekt" over which Smith yells a distorted version of "We Plough The Fields And Scatter". It's followed by an equally frenzied "Two Librans", and "Sons Of Temperance" and "Mr Pharmacist" demonstrate the kids in the band can do that garage thing in their sleep. The evening closes with a babbled but kinetic interpretation of "This Nation's Saving Grace"'s classic Can tribute "I Am Damo Suzuki": the repetitive, reptilian guitar figures make it what it is, Smith's random yelping is just the icing on the deliciously poisoned cake.
Three days earlier at Seattle's Crocodile Café, "The Joke" is thunderous and electric, although possibly more because of the band's efforts than those of the main man. "Cyber Insekt" is again locomotive, the band at their best, Smith as the demon train conductor. "Two Librans" is all attack and advance, the group tearing it up with hamfisted enthusiasm, deftly applying their sledgehammer power. "Sons Of Temperance" offers further compelling evidence that the then-model Fall could do this loose-but-tight thing standing on their heads, whilst MES groans and mewls out front. A closing "I Am Damo Suzuki" is again the disc's highlight. Here the band's timing is all over the shop, but the song is so alien, even in this extra-terrestrial company, it gets my vote, although at one point Smith appears to be singing "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?".
Next stop is Haarlem in The Netherlands, stardate 6 April, bringing with it the first occurrence in this box of the band's bizarre intro tape, here entitled "MES (Intro)" and being a mix of bludgeoning techno and free-associative spoken word from the Mancunian James Joyce. Sonically the Dutch dates appear to have been recorded from within the audience, and although at times it seems as if the clamour for drinks at the bar might drown out activities on stage it really brings home that special community atmosphere of a Fall gig, even though Mr Smith appears to be performing in a different venue to the rest of his band - in fact several songs, among them "Touch Sensitive" and "Mr Pharmacist" , begin in nakedly acapella fashion, as if the group were caught napping. Herein, on what is arguably the pick of this scrawny bunch, "Antidotes" stakes its claim as a garageland "Kashmir", "Hot Runes" flaunts an insectoid scuttle and a sinister "Way Round" twangles like a Morricone spaghetti western score. "Mr Pharmacist" flaunts some quaintly rockist guitar 'licks', but karmic payback arrives with the song's utter collapse in the faster mid section. "Das Katerer" makes a welcome but solitary appearance, although the rendition here sounds somewhat sucked out, and an early outing for "Ibis-Afro Man" finds the song less baffling than it would later become on the "Are You Are Missing Winner" album. But hang around for the encore and you too can share the joy as the band lurch into a ragged, feedback-raddled but surely unexpected version of ageing classic "Paintwork".
Next day in Amsterdam the band are clipped and efficient, although Smith is still distant, battling verbally against himself on "Sons Of Temperance", speaking in all manner of Northern tongues. In between tunes there's a yell of "Get it fucking together", although whether it comes from within band or audience cannot be determined. There's another of those acapella moments fronting "Cyber Insekt". No "Paintwork" tonight, although the big cheer that erupts at disc's end - a feeling of relief that some home listeners might share - suggests an encore that failed to make it to tape.
Finally, Brighton, ten days later, and it seems the band are, initially at least, employing elastic bands instead of guitars on an opening "The Joke". There's a somewhat offhand and perfunctory "F'Oldin' Money" to deal with as well: certainly, there are more committed renditions elsewhere in this box. "I'm Mark E Smith and these are my folk festival boys", the bard announces before once again staking his claim to be Damo Suzuki, supported by a drum sound that suggests caverns being bashed together, kind of Bonzo on a (low) budget. Smith appears to abandon his microphone halfway through the song, audible only as a ghostly holler. "Ketamine Sun" is introduced with death rattle moans on the mic, and takes in a few lines from Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons" on its windy way, a song which, from this angle and in this light, it begins to resemble. That aircraft hanger drum sound makes a comeback during "Hot Runes" and "Ibis-Afro Man", and some hip kid electro babbling and rhythmic rattling leads us into a soon abandoned attempt at "Paintwork".
Some of the selections here made it to the live half of last year's "2G+2": if you were a member of the silent minority who thought "Darn it, this is good but if only I had another six hours of the stuff" you'll welcome "Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set" as manna from Manchester. For the rest of us, though, maybe the unspoken intention is for the (light) user to distil their favourite moments into a ho-hum CD of their own design, although even then it would take a rare genius of picking and programming to assemble an outstanding package from these component parts. Of course, Smith's gnarled invective is as fun as ever on the rare occasions when his slurred mumble can be decoded, but otherwise you'd have to be pretty far gone and out to derive much consistent enjoyment from these discs which, though never dull, are only fitfully entertaining.
THE FALL Words Of Expectation BBC Sessions (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
THE FALL Live At The Witch Trials (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
THE FALL Dragnet (Sanctuary/Castle Music)
"Words Of Expectation BBC Sessions" contains a seemingly random pick of seven of the 23 (at the time of the album's release) sessions the band have recorded for number one fan John Peel's show, with two apiece from 1978 and 1981 and one each from
1980, 1995 and 1996. Featuring some fantastic music, perhaps inevitably it's the early material that cracks the biggest grin and hits hardest. It's still shocking to hear the awkward, DIY thrash and flail produced by the early, jerky versions of the band, spiked with Smith's withering, tangential observations. "Industrial Estate", for example, is a pell-mell clatter that made the listener unwelcome to the working week whilst Ricky Gervais was still at school. The mistitled "No Xmas For John Key" reveals why it hasn't become a Christmas compilation staple with Smith's yell of "Make sure the album this song is on is in your Christmas stocking": the album this song is on, "Live At The Witch Trials", wouldn't even be recorded until nine days after the session's 6 December 1978 transmission. "Container Drivers" is another familiar peak of the early Fall repertoire, one of Smith's pithiest, most pungent character sketches that tumbles gloriously downhill over itself. The lo-fi rumble of "New Puritan" is one of many moments here that demand Mark E's instatement as the post-punk poet laureate of the underground: "The scream of electric pumps in a renovated pub/Your stomach swells up before you get drunk" is at least as pointed a social critique as Betjeman's gumming of Slough. He tops it by yowling (Is it a growl? Is it a yell? No, it's a yowl!) "I curse the self-copulation of your record collection/New puritan says, "Coffee table LPs never breathe"".
Over on CD2, "Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul" finds the man in prescient mode ("I switch on the X-Box") whilst Dave Tucker's wandering clarinet adds further unlikely dimensions to the band's sound. "C 'N' C/Hassle Schmuk" is a contemporary party favour, lashing the "Grotesque (After The Gramme)" album track to a merciless parody of Coast To Coast's bafflingly popular 50s pastiche "Do The Hucklebuck", whilst a spectacularly on-form Mark E castigates, "You wouldn't even know the sun was up unless there was a press release on it". I can't think of a finer example of Smith's verbal dexterity than the first verse of "Deer Park", wherein he manages to conjure up an entire askew sound world whilst the band grind out ever decreasing circles of melody in the background well, not until we get to "Winter", at least, peppered with fragments of sustained, riffing invention such as "There was a feminist Austin Maxi parked outside/With anti-nuclear anti-nicotine signs on the side". In just two lines he drags the listener unwillingly back to gloomy early 80s Britain, the group serving up a subdued, slow-motion "Sister Ray" behind him, of which the plastic organ interjections sound particularly redolent. The handclappin' "Know Look" (a.k.a. "Look, Know") finds The Fall in poptastic mode, decorated with a guitar break that's almost George Benson-tasteful. The 1995/6 sessions featuring the "Light User Syndrome" configuration herald a giant leap sideways for the always changing, always the same band: dense, borderline melodic and heavily encoded, they're great but lack some of the angular unpredictability of old, as if the sharp corners of all those Can, Beefheart and Stooges influences have been sanded down just in case somebody loses an eye or something. Nevertheless, they can still confound shredded expectations with a cover of Lee Hazlewood's "The City Never Sings", occasional vocalist Lucy Rimmer deputising for Nancy Sinatra, and a scratchy, ugly deconstruction of Captain Beefheart's "Beatle Bones 'N' Smokin' Stones", the aural equivalent of pulling legs off insects.
The packaging is Sanctuary's usual combination of back-of-a-fag-packet artistic elan and Daryl Easlea's enthusiastic and evocative if unpolished booklet notes. Although it's great to hear these key moments in Fall history being given a good kicking around Maida Vale, given Sanctuary's propensity for boxing things up I wonder how long we must wait before the idea of issuing all 23 together occurs to them.
Sanctuary are also about to bring the Fall-loving world what they describe as Expanded Deluxe Editions of the band's first two albums. Housed in slightly too snugly fitting slipcases, "Dragnet" comes a-bustlin' with 11 extra tracks, whilst the two disc "Live At The Witch Trials" package, now in its fourth and undoubtedly most lavish CD incarnation, features a literally staggering 30 additional tunes, drawn from contemporary singles, Peel sessions (oh yes!) and live performance.
Opening with "Frightened", "Live At The Witch Trials" finds Mr Smith immediately letting his somewhat unlikely admiration for Van Der Graaf Generator roam free over five minutes of creeping paranoia and unspecified threat, a subject if not a sound that would be explored more fully on "Dragnet". "Crap Rap 2" exposes the group's manifesto: "We are The Fall/Northern white crap that talks back" before mutating into the speedfreak rumble of "Like To Blow". The next classic to be cued up is "Rebellious Jukebox", a ghost in the machine that donated its title to a regular Melody Maker feature. "Industrial Estate" is on here too, and more than worth another mention, its pounding, relentless power remaining undimmed even after a quarter of a century. "Two Steps Back" finds a curmudgeonly Smith surveying his microcelebrity status, and "Music Scene" remains, as ever, eight glorious minutes of seething rage directed at the plastic factory entertainment industry.
"Live At The Witch Trials" remains one of the seminal debuts of our time, simply because, even if it influenced no one else (and of course it has inspired countless indie combos to arise from their scratchy, garage/basement origins), it would remain remarkable for being the first album-shaped window into the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall. That it still sounds scary and inspirational today, that it remains the music least likely to gain Radio 2 airplay even in these enlightened times, is the true measure of its genius.
The album is followed by all sides of their 1978 Step Forward singles, and old favourites such as "Bingo-Master's Break-Out!" seem to have benefitted from some spring cleaning, sounding clearer and more vibrant here than on Voiceprint's issue of the "Early Fall" compilation (the entirety of which, incidentally, can be found within the bonus bits attached to these two reissues). "Repetition" and "It's The New Thing" skewer the punk myth, object lessons to anyone who might dare lump The Fall in with the rabble of three-chord wonders being scooped up by major labels at the time. "Various Times", introduced in performance as "a history lesson", confronts the Nazi imagery that some other artists were toying with: we can only guess, for example, the subject of the line ""I don't like them", said Ian in his black out-threat". "Dresden Dolls", one of three home-recorded tracks here that were issued as a bootleg single, makes similar points with rather less elegance and economy.
CD2 begins with the two 1978 Peel sessions previously enjoyed on the "Words Of Expectation" set reviewed above, but listening to these tracks yet again provides further opportunity to marvel at the conga line wandering around in the distance during "Rebellious Jukebox", or reflect on how rarely the word belligerence crops up in song lyrics ("Put Away"). The live recordings, formerly available as the Voiceprint CD "Liverpool 78" and recorded at Mr. Pickwick's in that city on August 22 of that year, have long been one of my favourite Fall artefacts. Despite being allegedly recorded on a cassette purchased from a market stall, and the band's drummer apparently playing the gig from a different venue, the precision-drilled chaos they cook up explains exactly how they were able to record "Live At The Witch Trials", essentially a compendium of popular favourites from their live repertoire, in a day.
One almost scandalous discovery born of having the Radio 1 and live sets sufficiently close for convenient comparison is the degree of self-censorship Mark E Smith applies to the otherwise unreleased song "Mess Of My". Rather too evocative of its title in the Peel version, being a confusing bundle of malformed images, the Liverpool recording finds it substantially overhauled and revealed as an electric tirade against the media, an outpouring of wrongs which range, randomly and bathetically, from "Swedish singers with DLT" and "TV rockers, no leads plugged in" to "jokes about rape", culminating in the idle musing of "I dream about taking some terrorists out for a quiet drink and getting them to stick a bomb up the TV man's arse the hedonist slideshow bullshit arse", none of which makes it to the BBC recording.
Of rather less import, but interesting nevertheless, is the mocking "ding-ding-ding-ding-ding" emitted by MES, pre-empting the introduction to (again!) "Industrial Estate", almost as if he's already become tired of these songs and is itching to move elsewhere, restless for new territory. Comedy arrives in the exchange that prefaces the set-closing meltdown of "Music Scene", as Smith announces, "You've got a novelty here, you've got a bass player with three strings. It's the avant garde part of the set". "Avant garde a third string", retorts the stricken bassist. Nevertheless the performance which follows is one of the most devastating any band called The Fall have offered, Mark E's rambling about how a band could "Get on "Top Of The Pops" or perhaps "Old Grey Whistle Test"" ranging into an extended tirade about university students that flips seamlessly into a rant against music industry marketing techniques. Astonishing.
The thing, though, is this. The Expanded Deluxe Edition of "Live At The Witch Trials" brings you four versions of "Industrial Estate" and three apiece of "Psycho Mafia", "Like To Blow" and "Mother-Sister!". Practically corpulent at two and a half hours, sometimes the listener longs for a little breathing space. Like other Sanctuary Fall projects, for example "Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set", their commitment to value for money has rather buried the finished product with good intentions. As nothing here is being released for the first time there's nothing to ensnare the hardcore Fall collector: I would hardly class myself as such, but only two of these 41 tracks didn't already feature in my collection. And all this largesse is only likely to make "Live At The Witch Trials" appear yet more daunting to the first time listener, although, as ever, Daryl Easlea's excellent booklet notes help make the initiation process as painless as possible.
"Dragnet" followed "Live At The Witch Trials" breathlessly out of the traps a mere eight months later: despite lacking its predecessor's protracted gestation period the band nevertheless spend three times as long getting it together in the studio (2-4th Aug. '79!), creating, perhaps inevitably, a deeper, darker, more furrowed and knotted experience: the sound of a group burrowing into themselves. Practically dripping paranoia, an undercurrent of threat tied these 11 songs together like a ribbon.
Proceedings begin with "Psykick Dancehall" - the kind of place where you might encounter a rebellious jukebox, perhaps - Smith permits himself a rare, if, as ever, prophetic, moment of aggrandisement: "When I'm dead and gone/My vibrations will live on/In vibes on vinyl through the years/People will dance to my waves". The repetitive, claustrophobic stalk 'n' slash "A Figure Walks" was apparently inspired by "a long walk home wearing an anorak that restricted my vision by 2 thirds". A brace of upbeat poptones lighten the darkness ever so slightly, "Printhead" being an anti-inky rant and "Dice Man" exploring MES' MO in the context of Luke Reindhardt's titular cult novel. Further along, the emphatically not-a-love-song "Your Heart Out" might warm the cockles of Smith's critics with the admission "I don't sing, I just shout". The aptly titled "Before The Moon Falls" plunges the listener back into the dark stuff again, dirgy and perplexing, descending further into terror with the mad eyed screaming and tribal drumming of "Muzorewi's Daughter".
Spirits rise once more as "Dragnet"'s sonic rollercoaster plunges through "Flat Of Angles", which, with its wailing, muffled not-quite steel guitar, sounds like the Eagles being given a kicking and "Choc-Stock", a cheery singalong slice of pseudo nonsense that, if it didn't contrive to mean less than it does, could have been their Eurovision contender. "Spectre Vs Rector", partly recorded in a damp Manchester warehouse, finds the band, as usual, operating ahead of their time, essaying a definitive lo-fi document years before the terminology. Thought by some to be one of their finest achievements, a treatise on obsession and possession to rival Elvis Costello at his bloodiest, for me this is eight long minutes of self-indulgent blackboard scraping.
Following the album are the band's two remaining Step Forward singles in their entirety, perhaps coincidentally both concerned with the perils of addiction. "Rowche Rumble" pulls The Rolling Stones' "Mothers Little Helper", the pharmaceutical industry and attitudes to recreational drugs together into one fantastically flab-free diatribe, four classic minutes of anti-pop, whilst "Fiery Jack" does similar thing with its portrait of the eponymous 45-year-old alcoholic, wrapped around a prime slab of Mancabilly.
A plethora of alternate takes follows, offering - at last! - something for the Fall fan who thought they had everything. Nevertheless, you'd have to be stoutly dedicated to the band's output to be excited at the idea of listening to four consecutive "Rowche Rumble" rejects. Still, it's all added value, fair filling the disc on this reissue of one of the band's most overlooked works.
THE FALL The Real New Fall LP Formerly Country On The Click (Action)
Despite its ponderous mouthful of a title - referencing the way the album was comprehensively remodelled after it leaked out onto the internet - "The Real New Fall LP Formerly Country On The Click" is their finest and, dare I say it, most coherent release in a long while: their greatest minor classic since the last one, which, unless I've been napping, I would posit as 1996's "The Light User Syndrome". This time around the sound is similar to that modelled during their early 90s Fontana trilogy, all churning near-miss melodies and voguish blasts of noise, but the song titles are still so thoroughly encoded up themselves as to be practically parodic ("Last Commands Of Xyralothep Via M.E.S.", "Open The Boxoctosis #2", "Mike's Love Xexagon").
"Mountain Energi" documents Smith's loosening grip on modern life and rubbish to a "Glam Racket" stumble, finding him sounding surprisingly puzzled and vulnerable whilst receiving mortgage advice, failing to rent a car, envisioning Lord Byron and Dolly Parton in conversation and receiving notes from fish detailing effective methods for their capture. Its a classic, but so steeped in humility - in a Fall song! - it will probably never be recognised as such. "Theme From Sparta F.C." is apparently another of his terrace anthems, following in the illustrious bootsteps of "The Chiselers" and "Kicker Conspiracy". Well, football is a foreign language to me, but here, as ever, MES speaks with universal forked tongue. A further example of what seems to be rapidly becoming a compendium of classic Fall moments, "Contraflow", like "Way Round" some years before, finds Smith delivering another fiery denunciation of highway furniture.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Fall album without the traditional mangled relationship between tracklisting and running order: what I shall assume is actually "Janet, Johnny + James" is, of all things, a near-Fairportian folky tangle of guitars, Mark E once again in pensive mood, and a small wonder to behold. Lee Hazlewood's "Houston" is handled with the customary delicacy and reverence The Fall bring to their interpretations of the works of fellow artistes: retitled "Loop 41 'Houston", it finds Smith apparently going back to Euston, rather than the titular destination - country and western perverted by grimy London streets. Finally, "Recovery Kit" brings it all back home to those early 90s Coldcut-sponsored house experiments: desperation stalks and a figure walks as Smith mutters over incongruous drum rolls.
"The Real New Fall LP Formerly Country On The Click" delivers: it's a very fine album, appearing at a time when the band's legend was almost suffocated under a tidal wave of reissue activity, some of it worthwhile, some of it not quite so. Following the more-baffling-than-brilliant "Are You Are Missing Winner", it's a work that makes a person proud to be a Fall fan once again: not floundering, but fantastic.
THE FALL Totale's Turns (Castle Music/Sanctuary)
THE FALL Grotesque (Castle Music/Sanctuary)
THE FALL 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong (Sanctuary)
These are Expanded Deluxe Editions of The Fall's 1980 catalogue, bustling with rather pointless slipcases, rather more useful extra tracks and Daryl Easlea's informative, illuminating booklet notes, which become more compelling with every passing reissue.
"Totale's Turns" is a live recording, captured straight to cassette in (as the front cover informs, in hilarious prescience of the Trotter's Independent Trading van's logo) "Doncaster! Bradford! Preston! Prestwich!". The sonics are, predictably, as rough as a sandpaper convention, but somehow it never really seems to detract from proceedings, which commence with shouter Mark E Smith hectoring what his alter ego R Totale XVIII mythologises in the sleeve notes as "an 80% disco weekend mating audience": "The difference between you and us is that we have brains. We are Northern white crap but we talk back!"
An elastic band rendition of "Fiery Jack" follows, sounding like the young Johnny Cash crashing on a unorthodox combination of chemical influences. (Perhaps not coincidentally, around this time Smith would refer to The Fall's music as country and Northern.) Another bouncy non-hit, "Rowche Rumble", follows, before the mood darkens with the cloudy slow/fast tribal thumping of "Muzorewi's Daughter", the band confrontational and chaotic, yet driven by one of the purest visionaries in reasonably popular music. "Are you doing what you did two years ago? Well don't make a career out it", he lectures (versus heckler) before the happy clapalong "Choc-Stock"."Spector Vs Rector 2" apparently contains a hidden homage to Genesis' progtastic "Watcher Of The Skies", although I have yet to winkle it out. More obvious to eagle-eared Fall enthusiast is the cheeky and delightful cross-referencing of "This is the second half of "Spector Vs Rector"/The rector lived in Hampshire/You probably know this if you've got the record/So we're breaking it in easy for you", as the dark tapestry of a cult weaves ever onward. The studio soupcon "That Man" is a bejewelled nugget in this company: "He came down from Accrington/He came down from Hovis land" yells Mr Smith over a delightfully tuneless pillaging of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love". "New Puritan", allegedly recorded "at home during which said home was attacked by a drunk, which accounts for the tension" would later be powerfully polished in Peel session performance. Here it's ugly and violent, the ever-contradictory Smith raging against the diminished expectations of a discontented country ("In Britain the scream of electric pumps in a renovated pub/Your stomach swells up before you get drunk"), instructing and directing his musicians as the song progresses.
It's a dichotomy that reaches some kind of resolution on "No Xmas For John Quays", a performance legendary in Fall folklore. Battling against errant stage equipment and the shortcomings of his own band ("Come on, get a bit of fucking guts into it!"), although the sleevenotes aren't specific it would be thrillingly fitting if this performance had been taped in the same town round about the same time as Joy Division's "Preston 28 February 1980", an album similarly beset by bad vibes and failing electronics. Soon to be ex-drummer Mike Leigh taunts the maestro with a sequence of increasingly preposterous and incompetent drum breaks, to which Smith responds, "Fucking get it together instead of showing off!" From this point downwards the band gradually sink into a vindictive sonic quagmire, attempting to carve each other (or maybe just Mark) up a la The Velvet Underground during "Sister Ray".
R Totale XVIII again: "This is probably the most accurate document of The Fall ever released". How the North was won? Well, maybe.
"Grotesque", the band's third studio opus, remains one of their greatest albums. A plethora of producers, including Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis and Swell Map Mayo Thompson and a microbudget (most of the album's rumoured £300 cost was expended on the first colour Fall cover, designed by Smith's sister Suzanne) conspired against each other to create the strangest, most intriguing sound the band had yet fashioned, trebley sheets of keyboards slapped over enthusiastic of ramshackle rhythms, with the threat of a kazoo solo never far away.
The very pre-poll tax psychoskiffle of "Pay Your Rates" explodes proceedings before the game is immediately raised by "English Scheme". Deranged cut-up rhythms abound as Mark E Smith summarises the hopes and fears of the country circa 1980 in two minutes flat, concluding "If we were smart we'd emigrate". "New Face In Hell" alternates narration and yelping to expound a tale of amateur radio, good neighbours and government oppression. Leapfrogging himself again, the astonishing "C 'N' C-S Mithering" begins with a repetitive acoustic guitar figure over distant murmuring electrical hash before a snare beat you can practically taste kicks in. These elements are assembled in service of a spectacular stream of lyrical unconsciousness that switches from a tour of Lancashire cash and carry outlets to Herb Alpert's office in the blink of a stanza, Smith rattling off another bullseye with each passing line. It clatters straight into a song that really should have been the signature tune of "Pigeon Street" character Long Distance Clara in another, better universe: on "The Container Drivers" Mark E's incisive observational skills reach a peak - has he ever been this wickedly funny and piercingly astute since?
Over on what used to be - and maybe still is - side two, "Impressions Of J Temperance" is "Dragnet"-dark and courses with supernatural threat. But even here there's a sheen that sets it apart from that earlier album, and a prickly lyrical inventiveness that would be pursued further on later works like "Hex Enduction Hour". It builds to a sacrificial close, cacophonous even by their own amelodic standards. "In The Park" is a hilarious, instantly disposable ode to the discomfort and difficulty of al fresco adultery, the band at their twangliest, seemingly playing electric elastic bands. It seems cheeringly fitting that the closest The Fall had yet come to a love song would be about unsatisfactory sex. The homemade "WMC-Blob 59" follows, an attempt to re-enact "Revolution 9" on a beer money budget, not entirely successfully it has to be said. "Gramme Friday" kidnaps the "Peter Gunn" riff and forces it into a compromising situation with a lyric detailing the chemical obliteration of the working week: "I am Robinson Speedo and this is my gramme Friday". The nine minute march of "The NWRA" (a.k.a. "The North Will Rise Again", and not "The North West Republican Army", as some have interpreted it) closes the album proper, following a coup in which the inhabitants of the north take over the southern half of the isle.
The extra tracks tinselling this reissue include a tranche of contemporaneous singles. "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'", according to its author about "how the public kill off their heroes' creativity", with its poisoned "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" introduction, bounces as vigorously as any song formed predominately around the repetition of the same single note can be expected to. Its b-side, "City Hobgoblins" - "paean to paranoia #1097" says MES - is another insistent, clattery slab, fun but possibly even to its creator rather overfamiliar by now. The speedfreak anthem "Totally Wired" delights, as ever, a "Mr Pharmacist" for the Mark E generation, although its attendant flip, "Putta Block", is notable mainly for being partially assembled from fragments of live performances of "The NWRA" (in which audience conversation threatens to drown out a slowly unwinding band), "Rowche Rumble" and "Cary Grant's Wedding", the latter liberally doused with Smith's stand-up skits. His comedy skills are explored further in the closing self-interview, a section of which appeared on the rarities compilation "Backdrop", hilariously throttling topics such as the then-imminent release of "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'" and departed drummer Mike Leigh.
Perhaps the most delightful aspect of this reissue - the utter excellence of the music was pretty much a foregone conclusion - and particularly pertinent in the light of
Smith's revelations about "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'" - is a badly framed photograph on the back cover that shows (some of) Mark standing next to a wire spinner of Pickwick Elvis Presley albums, a truly Ozymandian moment.
So hot off the press that it has yet to grow itself some cover art, "50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong" modestly positions the band's fanbase somewhere between that of Phil Ochs (who claimed that "50 Phil Ochs Fans Can't Be Wrong!" on the back of his "Greatest Hits" album - which, with typical self-deprecation, wasn't) and Elvis Presley (who kicked off this whole numbers game in 1960 with the compilation "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong"). Here Mark E Smith and Sanctuary attempt the Herculean feat of presenting the highlights of The Fall's quarter century recording career in a single package - 25 studio albums released by almost as many lineups on ten different labels, through which the sole constant has been Mr Smith's turbulent indignation.
Under such circumstances, then, "50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong" is a staggering achievement, all two CDs and 39 tracks of it. Never mind that, in quickly straying from being a chronological singles compilation, it enters fanatical territory in which no two of the 50,000 of us could be expected to reach consensus over its contents (I would have happily substituted "New Face In Hell" for "English Scheme" as a representative of the skewed perfection of the "Grotesque" album, and, 100% proof distillation of the Mark E Smith persona that it might be, I could happily live without "Hip Priest" if its removal made space for "Paintwork", arguably the band's most complete six minutes): this is exactly the kind of all-encompassing career retrospective The Fall have always deserved but have, until now, been denied.
Much here is familiar from Castle's recent swathe of reissues from the band's Step Forward and Rough Trade years, so I won't dwell on the continuing excellence of, for example, "Industrial Estate" and "How I Wrote Elastic Man". I will note, though, that the selection of the difficult, obstreperous "The Classical" is as inspired as it is brave. The clattering deconstruction site of "Eat Y'Self Fitter" might never have grazed the pop charts but it stands as elegant, anarchic testament to MES' lifelong refusal to compromise: this is pungent, highest-uncommon-denominator avant-rock, contorting old-fashioned concepts like verse and chorus, harmony and melody into strange and vital shapes. And yet the band follow it abruptly with the bright pop sound of "C.R.E.E.P", the first of a string of singles that, in encroaching on Cure and New Order territory, cruelly exposes the limitations of Mark's vocal technique. Its deficiencies are painfully highlighted by a string of karaoke covers that are certainly fun in a knockabout way, but could anybody really claim that The Fall enhanced their appreciation of The Kinks' "Victoria", apart from by sending them scurrying back to listen to the original in preference? Yet there are nuggets sprinkled amidst this half-decade with Beggars Banquet: the ragged tango of "Spoilt Victorian Child" is rightly selected to represent "This Nation's Saving Grace", arguably by common consensus The Fall's finest album, and "Hit The North (Part 1)" is surely the band's default anthem, Smith, with his usual impeccable timing, writing the soundtrack to Manchester's baggy renaissance two years too early.
Songs drawn from their three album major label dalliance with an opportunistic Fontana follow: "Telephone Thing" is a scene-stealing Coldcut collaboration, each party sneaking the music of the other into places it would normally be refused admission, and "Free Range" casts Smith as King Canute attempting to head off a rising tide of fascism in an unlikely but deserved top 40 hit. The last decade of Fall activity breezes past in an amiable, bouncy blur, never too far away from a quotable quip ("Pink Floyd are short"), ominous prescience (describing Manchester as a powderkeg on an album released five days before the IRA bombing), a deliciously incongruous advertisement soundtrack ("Touch Sensitive", later co-opted in an attempt to fill the viewing public with an irrational urge to own a Vauxhall Corsa) or gleeful reincarnation as ska heroes ("Why Are People Grudgeful?").
If you ever thought, hoped or feared that you might enjoy the music of The Fall, "50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong" grabs you roughly by the lapels and hauls you kicking and screaming through the demonic funfair that is Mark E Smith's world. If you cant find anything to admire in over two-and-a-half hours of handpicked career highlights, at least you can say that you tried. And if you can, maybe The Fall's next quarter century summation will bear a title phrase closer to Elvis' than Phil Ochs'.
THE FALL Hex Enduction Hour (Castle Music/Sanctuary)
or Hex Enduction Hours as it might be more correctly titled these days. Sanctuarys Fall album expansion programme reaches their 1982 monsterpiece, one of the most jagged of their many early peaks, meaning the album is now dressed up in somewhat unnecessary slipcase garb and drags behind it an extra discs worth of material of dubious merit. Happily, though, Daryl Easleas incisive booklet notes are practically worth the admission price on their own.
The greatness of Hex Enduction Hour is not immediately apparent. Compared with the sly, sharp observational searchlight of their previous full-length studio adventure, Grotesque, Hex a product of their new two drummer line-up (and why would any band, let alone one thats The Fall, actually require two drummers?) sounds congealed, distant, as if your stylus is hosting a huge glob of parasitic fluff, Marks cryptic rants mixed as low as Michael Stipe would be on the first few R.E.M. albums. Cribbing from the factoid-filled sleeve notes, we find that the lead singer of Krokus declared it to be one long downer, and that the HMV chain refused to display the sleeve, declaring that it had all the artistic merit of a toilet wall.
Burrow through the noxious layers of cig smoke that pillow this album, though, and theres some kind of fun to be had. Thunderous, clattering opener The Classical finds Smith boasting Ive never felt better in my life .he is Superman, and he can do anything. By Hip Priest hes revelling in a degree of self-mythologizing arguably unapproached by anyone else in rock and this in the era of But this is Phil talking and They say "Martin, maybe one day you'll find true love". MES spends eight minutes exploring his audiences perception of himself; the closest the song comes to a chorus is the line He is not appreciated.
After the briefest opening nod to the synth-pop saturated times with which the band find themselves so gloriously at odds, Fortress/Deer Park hits a Velvets-een drone whilst Smith ventilates his spleen on the subject of the music industry, namedropping Colin Wilson and Captain Beefheart en route. Winter is a sprawling two-parter that originally closed and opened the albums two sides, a tall tale of urban insanity propelled by the band at their most motorik. The smog lifts briefly for the bright, hard and bouncy poptones of Just Step SWays. Bacardi, Elton John and Hovis all get a look in during what ostensibly seems like an exploration of the limits of what Ms and Mr Public will endure in pursuit of celebrity, it practically rewrites itself in the shadow of The Word and Big Brother. (Hex Enduction Hour is older than Channel 4, by the way.) "Iceland is similarly uncharacteristic, its banjo and piano not yer typical Fall weaponry. Finally, the interminable And This Day eloquently demonstrates why the band have never taken their place alongside the likes of The Grateful Dead when lists of all-time greatest jam bands are compiled, being ten punishing minutes of rhythm and booze.
A rather cursory and scrappily compiled second disc omits a few obvious selections. Cracking Peel session takes of Hex tracks Jawbone And The Air Rifle, Hip Priest and Winter exist, all a model of conspicuous clarity compared to the album versions which isnt to say that theyre necessarily better, just usefully different - and could have been gainfully employed filling the half hour of blank space found here. Instead, we get Peel sessions of Deer Park and Who Makes The Nazis? only. Contemporaneous b-side, the oft-referenced but rarely reissued Im Into C.B. is here, the kind of acutely piercing character study Grotesque specialised in, but bafflingly not its equally non-album flip Look Know. A series of desultory lo-fi live tracks that even Mr Easlea has difficulty (double) drumming up much enthusiasm for follow. Session Musician would not be the last time they trampled over territory already covered by The Kinks, although to be fair that bands Session Man didnt collapse into a mantric chant of Jingles cabaret Merseybeat, and was distinctly lighter on the kazoos. Jazzed Up Punk Shit pretty much speaks for itself, as does a Stars On 45 version of Im Into C.B.. Theres also the dubious attractions of two further interpretations of And This Day, and a venomous nine minute crash through Deer Park, whipped along by the kind of keyboard abuse that Keith Emerson might consider cruel and unusual.
Hex Enduction Hour is a very fine Fall album, possibly more so because it makes even fewer concessions to listener comfort than their previous works. Its a shame, then, that booklet essay aside in its newly bulbous form it adds so little to the originals twisted, corrosive charm, a rare minor misstep in Sanctuarys ongoing good work.
THE FALL/JOHN COOPER CLARKE/RESIST The Mill, Preston 5 October 2005
I dont know if it was some wags idea of a merry jest to book Resist as a support band for the mighty Fall, and if so whether the joke was on the audience or the quintet themselves. Looking as if theyd just had the contents of a goth dressing up box emptied over them , Resists keyboard-heavy music brought to mind what the component parts of Garbages music must have sounded like, prior to being expertly synthesised and blended into something mass-marketable. Theyre surely deserving of some respect for having the audacity to at least attempt to invoke the spirits of Tori Amos, Metallica and Yes within the space of the same song, but theyre on a hiding to nothing attempting to wring it out of an audience gathered to venerate Mark E. Smith.
Next up was legendary Mancunian punk poet John Cooper Clarke: although an unadvertised addition to the bill his presence wasnt a complete surprise as hes been providing support services on other dates on this tour. As a first exposure to his art, his mixture of poetry, jokes and observations seemed curiously rooted in a time long past. Perhaps it was the Lada and Skoda references, or the faint, acrid tang of unreconstructed sexism that blunted his cutting edge; maybe it was his chosen look, a punked-up composite of Ronnie Wood and Withnail & Is dealer Danny. Even so, I was distressed as the level of background chatter rose towards the end of his short set. Perhaps some people dont realise when theyre being entertained.
How do you follow a smorgasbord of goth, poetry and comedy? With video art, thats how, specifically some Hot Space-era Queen performance footage cleverly spliced to give Freddie Mercury the appearance of a gentleman enjoying himself a little too much for primetime television. Amusing though it might have been in a snickering, juvenile schoolboy sort of fashion, 15 minutes later, having cycled through similarly treated tapes of Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand and a youthful Michael Jackson, the joke had been stretched way beyond elasticity. Having suitably desensitised the audience, on strode, and staggered, The Fall.
Let it be said straight away that, instrumentally at least, the 2005-model Fall are astonishing, the backing quartet grinding out an unstoppable wall of grimy, gasoline-gargling rock n roll. Perhaps the music theyre entrusted with doesnt have the complexities of yore - the Krautrock embellishments of This Nations Saving Grace, for example, or even the neglected sparkle and variety of Cerebral Caustic but their thunderous powerhouse attack is possibly unsurpassed in Fall history. Its a shame, then, that the guy at the front undoes so much of their good work. Reviews of the gig on the bands sterling website described MES as on form tonight; unfortunately, to me it seems that his powers of enunciation have gone into freefall, even compared to as recent a reference point as the Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set collection of 2001 gigs. Ranting with all the efficacy of someone whose mouth has been filled with cotton wool, his performance brought back unpleasant memories of the two nights I wasted going to see Bob Dylan a few years ago. It also cruelly underlined the importance of Smiths impenetrably cryptic but almost always entertaining lyrics, his diction-free yelling proving a poor substitute.
Highlights? In a set that lent heavily on their latest album, Fall Heads Roll (released two days earlier and unheard by me at time of typing) the crushing terrace chant of Theme From Sparta F.C. inevitably impressed. As on the Peel Sessions box set golden oldie Wrong Place, Right Time morphed gloriously into The Moves I Can Hear The Grass Grow, the band negotiating the tender transition with utmost eloquence. What About Us pummelled mercilessly, and their biggest non-hit, the Vauxhall advert-soundtracking Touch Sensitive, was raced through faster than a speeding Corsa. And of course theres always the added fun of MES-watching: tonights library of anti-stardom antics included supporting himself with a microphone stand under each arm, as if on crutches, turning his back on the audience and, during Mountain Energei, hunching over like a startled hedgehog. Also, it has to be said that, for such a small venue, The Mills acoustics were excellent, positively hi-fi compared to some of the distorted sludge Ive endured in places like Clwb Ifor Bach.
So, a man, a legend, a bit disappointing really. In fact, the lack of an encore almost came as a relief; following barely an hours performance there would be no more, no matter how much the lady at the front of the crowd bellowed He is not appreciated into a recumbent microphone. It seems like Im in the minority, though; maybe theres a lower limit on what Im prepared to endure in the name of entertainment.
THE FALL The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 (Castle Music)
If ever an album was simultaneously fully aware of and in denial of its cultural significance, The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 is it. The clue, of course, is in the title: there will be no more Fall Peel sessions. When The Jesus And Mary Chain called their similarly-themed 2000 collection The Complete John Peel Sessions, it was because there would be no more Jesus And Mary Chain, rather than because there would be no more John Peel. The mighty Fall were the broadcasters favourite beat combo, and for a quarter of a century they were practically the house band on his Radio 1 programme. These six CDs collect the 24 Peel sessions (97 tracks!) The Fall recorded: they arrive in a reductive cardboard box, coloured bill envelope buff, the discs packaged individually in CD single cases, accompanied by a 46 page booklet packed with stills familiar from BBC4s documentary The Fall: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of Mark E. Smith and Daryl Easleas ever-incisive annotations. The mother lode for Fall obsessives, this immediately renders obsolete 2003s scrappy Words Of Expectation BBC Sessions, which contained seven cherry-picked sessions seemingly centred around the studio albums Sanctuary had reissued at the time of its release. And Sanctuary surely deserve a doff of the flat cap for successfully negotiating the logistical nightmare involved in bringing this music to the racks in one exhaustive package: for the first time ever, perhaps, it seems as though The Falls legacy rests in sympathetic, capable hands.
How to describe this music? Well, the cliché is true, its always different, always the same. Smith hammers out elliptical accusations-uh, foaming with bile, and whoevers in The Fall that day bashes out a distant approximation (perversion, maybe?) of the current musical fashion of the day behind him. More punk than punk, they never sold out well, maybe some of those mid 80s cover versions came a bit close remaining the antithesis of doing it for the quids, never caring whether they shifted units or got on television. And, perhaps starved of or ambivalent about other media channels, they saw these sessions as their golden opportunities to communicate with the faithful, however far underground they might be hiding. Peel gave them a platform, something they rarely, if ever, took for granted. Nevertheless, six discs of the stuff is strong medicine, as Easlea acknowledges: Whereas (Castles exemplary 2004 career-spanning double CD overview) 50,000 Fall Fans Cant Be Wrong is GCSE level Fall, The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 is the doctorate. Take a deep breath and in you plunge.
The early sessions covering the years 1978 to 1981 are perhaps over-familiar, being issued for the third time in as many years here, first on Words Of Expectation BBC Sessions and then appended to Castles series of Expanded Editions of The Falls contemporaneous long players. But the vicious satire of Industrial Estate still bites hard and hilarious and New Face In Hell is imbued with dark, swirling undercurrents. Be thrilled anew by Hip Priest, the sound of MES penning his own winding nine-minute epitaph against a plodding, grumbling bassline and blasts of machine static. C n C Hassle Schmuck offers some light relief from all that gnarled knottiness: interrupting a barely begun reading of the Grotesque music business-spearing classic altogether now, You wouldnt even know the sun was up/Unless there was a press release on it - with the announcement Arthur Askeys just been shot/Maybe we should do a tribute, Smith steers the group into a virulent disfiguration of Coast To Coasts still-warm hit (Do) The Hucklebuck.
Disc two opens with the staggering, crackling brilliance of a rash of Hex Enduction Hour-era tunes. Still six months away from an in-store appearance, Deer Park and Winter were already well-established, and arguably finer than the studio alternatives; the single-only Look, Know remains one of the most cruelly overlooked of the bands fingersnapping pop tunes. Session six casts us into uncharted territory, with the tangled Smile arguably no other song in The Fall catalogue is as unlike its title. Garden twists and squirms for ten interminable minutes, Hexen Definitive Strike Knot for nine: as Smith said, If we carry on like this, well end up like King Crimson. They didnt, of course, and so they didnt. Eat YSelf Fitter is all Glitter Band tribal drumming, although the bands chorus vocals seem to float from way back. What does it all mean? It sounds like Marks tirade against consumer culture, bemused by the purpose of home computers and video recorders, as well as hilariously being refused admittance to a heavy metal club for his overly-smart appearance. The next sessions 2 x 4 mildly streamlines and contains their approach, shaving off the club-footed excess in search of the definitive Mancabilly sound. The bass-heavy meandering Words Of Expectation gave its name to the earlier Peel Session set on which it failed to make an appearance. C.R.E.E.P., which follows, is palate-cleansing, bright, bouncy Brixpop, all cheesy synths and shoutalong choruses.
Disc three offers more of the same, swinging between Mancabilly and Brixpop via the unsquare dance of Spoilt Victorian Child if they carry on like this, theyll end up like The Dave Brubeck Quartet! The Man Whose Head Expanded is a rare delve into the back catalogue for a band with such a determinedly anti-nostalgic stance, being all of two years old at the time of this 1985 session. Its attacked with clattering vigour if only they sounded so dangerously close to completely out of control these days. Faust Banana reveals itself, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be an early version of Dktr. Faustus, but, unlike its Bend Sinister counterpart, doesnt sounds as if its encroaching riffs and cryptic mutterings were produced by a band rapidly being consumed by quicksand. Perhaps its around this point that the gradual corrosion of Smiths scything edge begins, the long, slow regression from whip-smart social commentator to stumbling, ranting old feller. R.O.D. proffers more Bend Sinister-era mystery, possibly presenting The Fall at their darkest and most impenetrable music by and for folk with bunker mentalities.
Athlete Cured signals a crisp re-emergence from the primal murk, although the backing vocals threaten to overwhelm the narrative at times. And surely Smith should be made the poet laureate of somewhere for the lines, in Guest Informant, In the burning scorch of another Sunday half-over/Hotel back garden resembled a 1973 Genesis album cover.
Disc four journeys through the ska ballet soundtrack Kurious Oranj and the (potentially, at least) Blood, Sweat & Tears-referencing Chicago Now. Kenny Bradys fiddle wheels and circles like a bird of prey during Black Monk Theme, once upon a time a song by The Monks entitled I Hate You, and Hilary is that Fall rarity, a relatively lucid late period character study, replete with charmingly inappropriate orgasmic Bolanesque grunting. The unbroadcast Whizz Bang, later rejigged as the b-side Butterflies 4 Brains, could be taken or mistaken as a love song, but by the following years The War Against Intelligence, Idiot Joy Showland and A Lot Of Wind hes overtaken by grumpy/suave belligerence again, railing against contemporary culture, the media and Madchester. On the latter, in particular, both band and tyrannical captain sound slurred and rushed, as if nobody can be bothered. This 14th session also yields a version of The Mixer, still one of The Falls loveliest tunes, that not being an adjective frequently applied to their work. It surges and swoops like The Cure or New Order in their early 80s prime, Brady whirling a violin dervish over the top. The ominous anti-Nazi rumble of Free Range is as potent as ever; its followed by Kimble, which offers the barmy prospect of The Fall covering Lee Perry. It works gloriously: dub, after all, prizes, among many things, space and repetition, things The Fall arent too hamfisted at themselves.
Disc five captures the reinvigorated 1993 band in immediately post-major label mode, crashing and crusading through potent fare like Ladybird (Green Grass), all robo-rhythms and melted metal, Smiths insect-terrorising sermonising on top. Service is slathered in Italo-house piano, as if Smiths serenading the Robert Miles demographic, and Paranoid Man In Cheap Sh*t Room exposes the Hip Priest gone to seed, jabbing a bony finger at himself and perhaps mapping out the lonely path ahead. The songs selected from the next years album, Middle Class Revolt, homogenised and polished these achievements, producing, in M5 and Behind The Counter, perfectly grouchy-as-yer-like Fall, but less staggering, in at least two senses of the word its Mark E. Plays Pop.
Reckoning is more like The Fall The AOR Minutes, and its difficult to take Smiths admission that he never wrote songs about ex-wife Brix, later girlfriend of Nigel Kennedy, at face value when confronted with lines such as Youre sleeping with some hippie half-wit/Who thinks hes Mr Mark Smith, especially when the first verb appears to be obscured by backwards tape on this version. Its the closest The Fall have ever got to Steely Dan; its also perhaps the closest theyve ever been to Pavement. Smith tears a chunk out of his core constituency on Hey! Student, the archetypal Fall rant that dates back to pre-Peel days, when it was known as Hey Fascist. Glam Racket Star is presented as a thundering Glitter Band stomp, rewired by the returning Brix it plays like a streamlined, cleaned-up refinement of Hex-en murk. A desecration of Jingle Bell Rock locates the true heart of the festive season in Friday night on Oxford Street/Walking with green M&S bags; even better, one of the sets hilarious highlights in fact, is a relatively straightforward attempt on Hark The Herald Angels Sing, replete with angelic hosts on chorus vocals, almost completely undermined by Mr Smiths honking, one note performance. But really, Mark E. Smith tackling Mendelssohn who wouldnt pay to hear that? The ultimate antidote to Xmas excess, he spits out Hail the heavenly prince of peace with the beatific seasonal calm of somebody having a disagreement with a nightclub doorman. From the oft-underrated Cerebral Caustic, Numb At The Lodge (a.k.a. Feeling Numb) lacks the album versions slot machine chorus clatter but is welcome nevertheless. Two circa The Light User Syndrome dates, already familiar from Words Of Expectation BBC Sessions, present shiny, spiky and tuneful songs from their best album since their last best album. No wonder it couldnt last. On the epic Chilinist Brix observes, quite reasonably, The Stones are short/Pink Floyd are short, and if a version of Nancy Sinatras This City Never Sleeps voiced by Lucy Rimmer doesnt quite attain the Saint Etienne/Dubstar/Black Box Recorder frothy pop heights it aspires to it certainly comes closer than anything else in the Fall canon. D.I.Y. Meat is crackling, acrid punk like its 1977 again, and Beatle Bones N Smokin Stones offers a rudimentary attack on Captain Beefhearts warped bluesadelica.
Disc six dumps the listener in the difficult Levitate/The Marshall Suite years, during which the bands appeal became increasingly selective, pivoting around an incident that saw the ensemble break up during a New York show. Jungle Rock almost coalesces by accident, such is the feeling that everybody in the band is playing, or at least picking desultorily at, a different tune. Bound Soul One and Antidotes find The Fall at their most skeletal and elemental, demonstrating a rudimentary, building block approach to music making. The 2003-model Fall sweeps in with the pulsing return to form Theme From Sparta F.C., reporting for search-and-destroy duty like The Stooges armed with blunt instruments on anti-green belt rant Contraflow. A pub jukebox rumble through Mr. Bloes 1970 hit Groovin With Mr Bloe is rapidly subsumed by the pungent Green-Eyed Loco Man. Theres an unprecedented vintage excavation of Mere Pseud Mag. Ed., more vicious and viscous than it would have sounded 20 years before, although MES diction might have been a little crisper back then. Closing both the set and the Falls Peel Session career is Job Search, a song aired separately on Peels 65th birthday programme: beginning with a hamfisted approximation of squelchy Aphex acid, its soon polluted by some crudely recorded strumming and Smiths distant incoherence, Fooling themselves via Mark Lamarr that they are reggae experts.
So, there it is. Everything produced by that golden triangle of The Fall, The BBC and John Peel, gathered together in the same place, at long last. For some folk, itll be enough to make the license fee appear good value.
THE FALL/THE DEAD SHORES/THE SUZUKIS Club Nirvana, Wigan 18 January 2006
Set in a converted cinema with a capacity approaching 800 sweaty souls, the brains behind Club Nirvana are apparently Fall acolytes whove been doggedly attempting to bring Mr Smiths ensemble to the casino town for years. Their patience was more than justified and their faith repaid with interest tonight.
First up are local boys The Suzukis, whose lead singer in particular is totally in thrall to Gallagher chic, never loosening his cagoule, and if he doesnt quite go the full Lemmy with the microphone stand its apparent where the attitude came from. A rattling ball of post-punk confusion, there are moments in their short set when the guitar noise coalesces into a tunnel of texture, bringing hope for their future.
Would you like a free CD?, asks the lady, and who am I to refuse? The item in question turns out to contain two tracks by The Dead Shores, and, auditioned later, it crisply captures the musical essence of their live act sort of The Specials meets Sultans Of Ping F.C. with lots of throbbing-templed Scouse shouting. What you miss in the comfort of your own home is the sight of shaven-headed singer Craig Whitfield flexing random limbs and climbing his microphone stand a very Julian Cope-ian gesture, the Archdrude actually getting a namecheck during one of their songs, which are about stuff like kitchens and bathrooms and scaffolding.
Possibly almost as imposing as opening for The Fall is the fact that both bands have had to play under a giant backdrop of the Fall Heads Roll cover art, making this possibly the most lavishly staged gig Ive attended in, well, weeks. At approximately 10:20 The Falls four-piece backing squad take the stage and lock into a pulverising Youwanner, reminding me how, at the last Fall gig I attended, three months earlier in Preston, the sterling efforts of the band were conclusively undermined by the barely-arsed shuffling shabbiness of their employer. After what seems like an age the Prestwich profit deigns to join them, barking and slurring through the lyrics but with a sense of purpose lacking from our previous encounter.
There follows a thumping tour around the highlights of the recent Fall Heads Roll album, at no point during which does Mark E. Smith suspend himself from a pair of microphone stands as if on crutches. He exercises artistic license over the settings on his musicians amplifiers, though, at one point reducing the bass guitar sound to a fingernails-on-chalkboard scratch, also joining Eleni at the Korg for a few tender husband and wife duets that seem to consist mainly of him slamming his hand down hard on the high notes whilst Ms Poulou gamely maintains her rhythm. Guitarist Ben Pritchard receives a few fatherly pats on the back, and an eager young stagehand, clearly perplexed by Smiths habit of dismantling the bands equipment, is later recruited to bring a microphone back to the wings, from where the maestro has elected to sing Midnight In Aspen.
Highlights for me would include an absolutely slamming What About Us? that provoked such outbursts in the mosh pit that MES refused to let it end, eventually halting it after about ten crazy minutes. Of the big non-hits, Theme From Sparta F.C., parked mid-set these days, was appropriately thuggish and Touch Sensitive a bit rough but very ready. Mountain Energei began fuzzily, although Mark seemed to regain his composure, if not his diction, as it progressed, and I Can Hear The Grass Grow suffused the evening with the expected psychedelic glow. (No, hang on ) An epic, scorching thunder through Mr. Pharmacist followed, and then, even as Spencer Birtwistle was drumming open the next number, Mark hustled his troops offstage.
And yknow, if it had ended there I would have left satisfied, but they amble back on to delighted, expectant cheers and essay a version of Blindness that lasts approximately forever. It seems that every other Fall review I write these days quotes the lyric, from 1983s Words Of Expectation, If we carry on like this were gonna end up like King Crimson, and it might have taken them another couple of decades but with the crushing, repetitive (I mean those in a good way, naturally) performance I think he/they might have finally got there. A second encore serves up the yellalong poptones of Open The Boxoctosis #2, and the evening closes with what I thought sounded like FOldinMoney but in which other patrons detected strong traces of White Lightning.
But lets not argue over what they played. Tonight The Fall were a different band from the one I saw three months ago, yet their membership was unaltered. As John Peel famously described them, theyre always different, always the same. The instrumentalists performed furiously and fabulously on both nights; the difference was entirely due to the demeanour of the man in front (and occasionally to the side). Tonight, it was almost like he cared, whereas in the past its been patently obvious that he didnt. All of a sudden his hirem n firem approach, the bands revolving door membership, the mid-set equipment meddling, all the crazy techniques he uses to keep The Fall fresh and vital, seem entirely sensible. On a night like this, The Fall do not sound like a franchise thats scratching on the door of its 30th anniversary.
It wouldve been brilliant if theyd played Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul, though.
THE FALL The Legendary Chaos Tape (Feel Good All Over)
Plugging the yawning chasm in The Falls live discography between Totales Turns (documenting performances between October 1979 and February 1980) and A Part Of America Therein (ensnared during 1981), The Legendary Chaos Tape was woozily taped by future Smiths and Billy Bragg producer Grant Showbiz at an August 1980 gig at Londons Acklam Hall. In a neat twist on the current Fall live experience a goodly percentage of the lyrics can be discerned, but the band seem a little foggy, the occluded sonics not presenting them at their sharpest.
With a setlist drawn predominately from their then-unreleased third album Grotesque, the mini-album that followed it (Slates) and the album after that (Hex Enduction Hour, 18 months away from the shops at the time of this performance) theres not a great deal of hysterical, lighters-aloft singalong audience reaction. In fact, most of the new songs are played disappointingly close to their studio configurations, consigning much of The Legendary Chaos Tapes delights to the marginalia. Smith apologises(!) for causing the wrong character to be arrested during the suburban espionage tale New Face In Hell; he responds to a keyboard trill during the anti-metropolitan poptones of Leave The Capital with the snide Nice little cascade there for that bit; and theres the occasional rash of reverberation around his voice on Spectre Versus Rector, as if Lee Scratch Perry has wrested control of the desk, closing with the repeated line Thank you to all the people who helped me in my vendetta tonight. Taking the pulse of contemporary culture (back in the days when it arguably still had one), on Middle Mass/Crap Rap MES reaches out to All the speed psychos from 78/The ones who havent got into Adam And The Ants (whose first hit had been in the charts for barely a fortnight at the time), and Pay Your Rates bigs up the old working class traitors hello Warren Mitchell No Dexys Midnight Runners estate. Of Impressions Of J. Temperance he observes It finishes off the applause, and indeed it does, building to a screeching, towering climax.
Whilst its certainly pleasant to hear concert performances of Grotesque material, theres nothing about The Legendary Chaos Tape to suggest this was anything other than just another night for The Fall, especially compared to the compressed cantankerousness of Totales Turns. Its fine, but it lacks the sideshow comedy and tension of that album.
THE FALL Listening In Lost Single Tracks 1990-92 (Cog Sinister)
Well, at least with a title like that you can hardly plead misinformation. Listening In Lost Single Tracks 1990-92 compiles the non-album A and B sides from The Falls uneasy major label years. As Fontanas old-school hipsters they shared a roster with the likes of Catherine Wheel, The House Of Love and James, and perhaps as a consequence around this time The Falls music not so much flirted with as grazed contemporary fads like Madchester and baggy (arguably both different facets of the same thing). Certainly, these years captured the band at their most ingratiatingly glossy (save their brief late-80s period as a chart-troubling covers jukebox).
On Telephone Thing, which bookends the album in extended and dub incarnations, Mark E. Smith awkwardly surfs the incipient indie-dance boom with assistance from Coldcut. Butterflies 4 Brains was formerly known as the unbroadcast Peel Session track Whizz-Bang, and its maudlin introspection still stands out amidst the rest of The Falls output. You can tell that Smith is actually trying to sing because he adopts a kind of flat croon that surfaced a lot during this period. Blood Outta Stone sounds like the soundtrack to a Peckinpah film set in the Salford badlands, and a decade after MES mused in song If we carry on like this/Well end up like King Crimson the tripartite suite Zagreb (Movements I+II+III) finds the band at their proggiest.
Later mildly refabricated for the underrated Cerebral Caustic album, Life Just Bounces is an atypically jolly and, yes., bouncy tune, but here it only heightens the stumbling directionlessness of the following The Funeral Mix a Fall instrumental; wheres the sense in that? The baggy frug of So What About It?, presented in three different remixes, could be The Soup Dragons open to a higher state of consciousness. Xmas With Simon might have been rather outranked for tinselly festivity by the Peel Sessions versions of Hark The Herald Angels Sing and Jingle Bell Rock, but it still boasts such delightful seasonal observations as Pity the people who had too much dessert and Big old nice old house in old English village.
The novelty title of Dont Take The Pizza might suggest the bar being lowered a little, but it turns out to be the sets sole concession to Mancabilly, albeit a more restrained implementation of the genre than that practised by earlier incarnations of the band. The chanted chorus backing vocals of Eds Babe foreshadow He Pep!, and Pumpkin Head Xscapes takes a barely comprehensible pop at The senile morons who run KLF. More productively, The Knight The Devil And Deaths keening, droning strings give this flimsy Code: Selfish outtake an eerie air, and Telephone Dub is a disorientating hall of mirrors, with MES vocals reflecting and reverberating. The elegant anti-Nazi protest Free Range, though, is debilitated by its overly-fussy remix, Free Ranger.
Listening In Lost Single Tracks 1990-92 does exactly what it says on the tin. Its a release with a slim target demographic, but anyone who craves a collection of The Falls Fontana-era rarities will find their requirements completely satisfied.
THE FALL Cerebral Caustic (Castle Music/Sanctuary)
This issues Fall reissue attempts to reinvigorate their 1995 effort Cerebral Caustic, but even master Mark E. chronicler Daryl Easlea, whose Fall booklet notes are usually as enthusiastic as they are erudite, has a hard time pleading its case. He consigns it to curates egg status: even so, it must represent a particularly hip priest (ha!) with unconventional ideas about nutrition.
The album opens with The Joke, a crackling, concise garage-rock confection on which MES sounds positively lucid compared to some of the stumbling performances hes had coaxed and goaded out of himself since. The slightly returning Brix forsaking an offer to join Hole, so its not as if she was doing it for the money makes her first (very) vocal appearance on Dont Call Me Darling, one of several songs here that could have alluded to the couples fractious relationship had Mr Smith not strenuously denied any such association.
The work of either one or three weeks depending who you believe, Cerebral Caustic betrays the haste with which it was assembled on near-non-song moments like Rainmaster, North West Fashion Show and the fitfully amusing dance lack-of-craze The Aphid. Nevertheless, they serve to highlight the beaty togetherness of Feeling Numb (Prozac-peddling poptones from a parallel universe, and the decades Rowche Rumble) and the unsteady wonder of Life Just Bounces, with its rising/falling riff and alien note of could it be?! optimism.
Im Not Satisfied is a fairly straightlaced cover of the Mothers Of Invention tune. Towering album highlight for me is Bonkers In Phoenix, in which a gentle Saint Etienne-esque sliver of Brixpop is assailed by diseased electronics and Mark E. the carney barking out a commentary on the summer festival season. As caustic and driven as the album gets, One Day (youll find that youve last a good man) is, again, emphatically not about Brix. Rather more sinister is the original albums closer, Pine Leaves, snatches of concentration camp-referencing dialogue, some MES mutter and a distinctly wintry acoustic guitar/synth backing.
Of course, this being a Sanctuary Fall reissue the album doesnt end there, and so the mixed merits of the main feature are frayed further by 66 minutes of generally uninspiring bonus material. Theres an admittedly brilliant December 1994 Peel session cue the astonishing snow-frosted sarkiness of Jingle Bell Rock and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, gifts in any season but really, anybody buying this who hasnt already shelled out for The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 should spend some time re-evaluating their priorities. Theres an opportunity, if thats the correct word, to hear some pre-release rough mixes pretty much the album all over again but in drastically reduced sonic circumstances - and a smattering of alternates, the better of which is a Bonkers In Phoenix with Brix higher in the mix and Mark muffled. Finally, the honestly titled Mark E Smith & Brix Smith Promo Interview is as welcome as any opportunity to unpick this albums dense, knotty music in the company of its creators.
THE FALL Fall Heads Roll (Narnack)
That ominously prophetic title has already caught up with them: the sometimes blisteringly brilliant band that recorded Fall Heads Roll imploded during a US tour the week Im typing this, MES continuing his engagements with a Fall made up of his keyboardist wife Eleni Poulou the only member to survive the cull and members of their support band.
Fall Heads Roll opens with Ride Away, a Country n Northern vibe, some of Smiths wobbliest near-singing yet and the acrid sonic scouring-pad of Eleanors keyboard work, a sound thats all over these songs like a rash. Compared with its cracking predecessor, The Real New Fall LP Formerly Country On The Click, Fall Heads Roll is a far more expansive work, all wide open spaces rather than chaos and clutter, a change reflected in the stark cover art. Its a shift aided by the US vinyl release, which spreads the album over four potentially sonically superior sides where the domestic pressing makes do with two.
What About Us? is a propulsive concert favourite that, like several of these tracks, was aired during the bands 24th and final Peel session; it begins as an East German rabbits-eye view of economic migration and somehow mutates into an anti-Harold Shipman rant. Midnight In Aspen and its reprise sound nothing at all like The Fall, at least until Smith mumbles and stumbles into proceedings, betraying a trickling, babbling sumptuousness, an almost lounge lizard delicacy. Blindness is devastating, take-no-prisoners evil glam-prog; I Can Hear The Grass Grow a thunderously brilliant bludgeoning of The Moves weak tea psychedelia, a world away from the bands forelock-tugging photocopy of The Kinks Victoria. Bo Demmick is (Maries The Name) His Latest Flame by way of Rusholme Ruffians: what can we label it how about tumblebilly? Early Life Of Channel Führer is another un-Fall-like moment, Smith getting oblique over acoustic guitars and the thump of funereal percussion.
Unfortunately, once done with the brilliantly dumb straight-ahead Stooges ruckus of Youwanner the album rather runs out of steam. Clasp Hands seems a bit jumbled after its nth reworking, and Breaking The Rules belittles its hair metal title with a song that sounds like it couldve been written for The Monkees circa late 1967, being cheeky, cheesy pop laced with censor-baiting nudge-wink could-be drugs references like I broke my mind trying to break the rules. Trust In Me closes the album in anticlimactic style, cultivating a vague are of menace to little avail, with MES nowhere obviously to be heard.
Nevertheless, if you ignore most of side four Fall Heads Roll is a revolt into a new style for The Fall, a darker, clearer work that wont snag them any more fans than the 50,000 they have already but shows MES to be perfectly capable of outstripping his loyal audiences expectations nearly thirty years into this game. Shame it proved too good to last.
THE FALL The Twenty-Seven Points (Castle Music)
In the opening sentence of his (erudite, as ever) booklet notes, Daryl Easlea, the master Fall chronicler of Leigh-On-Sea, pegs the reader thusly: Right, youre either a hardcore Fall completist or this is a blag. When this double live album was originally released, following the studio set Cerebral Caustic onto the shelves with almost indecent, contractually obligating haste in the high Britpop summer of 1995, I mustve been a hardcore Fall completist, exchanging folding stuff for a vinyl pressing that, according to my records (yeah, yeah) has sat unplayed for over a decade. Second time around, thanks to Kev, its a blag, and I must confess to not being overwhelmed by The Twenty-Seven Points on remaking its acquaintance.
Mysteriously and perhaps thankfully among Castles extensive series of Fall reissues The Twenty-Seven Points could almost be looked upon as a contracted edition. Compared with the specification of the original CD issue as recorded at MusicBrainz.org, it seems the previously separate entities M.H.s Jokes and British People In Hot Weather have been smooshed together as a single track, and the listed Three Points/Up Too Much is absent from the end of the second disc (it also failed to make an appearance on the original vinyl issue).
In the grand tradition of Fall live albums, The Twenty-Seven Points spends no expense to present the band at their best. Abandoned performances are presented in all their fractious inglory, gig intro and outro tapes are spliced into the mid-disc mayhem, and what songs there are find themselves surrounded by spoken word pieces and slices of audio verite. A pair of otherwise unavailable studio recordings add to the confusion. The renditions themselves are not of the highest fidelity: serviceable but rarely thrilling, they sound as if they were recorded on the crumpled TDK SA that adorns the cover. Even the randomly retooled track titles read like theyve been taken straight from a scrawled inlay card. Easlea bravely but rather half-heartedly suggests that Smith and producer Rex Sergeants tape-mangling has antecedents in Teo Maceros creative cut and pasting of Miles Davis work, but its a fanciful comparison.
When The Twenty-Seven Points which draws its setlist almost exclusively from the bands three-albums-per Fontana and Permanent residencies is good, its, well, alright. The white noise squirts of Ladybird (Green Grass), Passable (= A Past Gone Mad)s amphetamine Kraftwerk and a blank-eyed cover of Sister Sledges Lost In Music, in which not a shred of the celebratory original can be detected, all at least remind the listener of how good an album the bands commercial zenith, The Infotainment Scam, was. A Burundi-drumming/Krautrock-pummelling Big New Prinz morphs imperceptibly in and out of Hip Priest, and Prague 91 / Mr. Pharmacist opens with some delightful gypsy fiddling by Kenny Brady. Free Range is still powerful beneath the sonic fog, as Smiths fractured phrases describe an apocalyptic vision of a right-wing future: In 2001 it pays to talk to no-one. The sparkling diamond in the murk is a wobbly recording of a woozy performance of Bill Is Dead, demonstrating that MES can do heartfelt and vulnerable when he tries, even it he doesnt try it often enough. It doesnt even matter that his vocalising isnt even in the same postcode as anything that could be mistaken for a melody. Ultimately, though, youd have to either be that hardcore Fall completist or a blagger before The Twenty-Seven Points begins to justify its shelf space.
THE FALL Are You Are Missing Winner (Castle Music)
Released at something of a commercial and critical low point, even by The Falls wayward standards, Are You Are Missing Winner was initially sold only at gigs, and later issued in uncharacteristically frivolous limited edition picture disc form. The latter rather truncated the no-expense-spent cover art, which, restored to its rightful square form, looks rather less like Darth Vader and more like the negative of Mr and the new Mrs Smith, future band member Eleni Poulou, that it actually is.
The titles deliberately cracked grammar and that bizarre cover are at least some preparation for the deconstruction site contained within, a direct and violent reaction to the polished pop of previous long player The Unutterable. During the self-referential garage rock Möbius strip of opener Jims The Fall Smith barks threateningly We are the new Fall and youd better have a look. Bourgeois Town is Leadbelly savaged, the kids wanna Krautrock; Crop Dust all grey metal machine music and brokeback Eastern riffs. My Ex-Classmates Kids might be a wry contemplation of the artists mortality (although its difficult to tell, to be honest, what with all that banging on about broken laptops), but it models arguably the albums most joyously uncomplicated music. Kick The Can could be The Small Faces strutting out in their Ogdens-inspired psych-fuzz pomp were it not for the loon out front rattling off 21st century monochrome Unwinese. Returning to the R Dean Taylor back catalogue, source of the bands toppest pop hit, 1987s Theres A Ghost In My House, Gotta See Jane is dispatched with such urgency MES can perhaps be forgiven for his, uh, unorthodox approach to (the) melody.
Ibis-Afro Man traces its twisted lineage back to Iggy Pops African Man, and not for the last time the album approximates some kinda sound collage: here be studio sweepings, irate chimpanzee chatter and mobile phone interference. The Acute finds the hip priest dispensing pearls of wisdom such as Keep your cap on your pen/Keep your dick in your pants, whilst Hollow Mind is a jangly country n northern singalong. Original disc closer Reprise: Jane Prof Mick Ey Bastardo is as frustrating as its encoded title might suggest, as random stretches of backing track are joined by Smiths approximation of a Johnny Foreigner accent and yet more of Gotta See Jane.
Of course, this being one of Sanctuarys Expanded Editions the fun doesnt end there, no sirree, Bob! Rude (All The Time), an acoustic cover of a tune by their then-managers former band Trigger Happy, is rescued from its former obscurity on a members-only Record Club single. The presence of a handful of tracks from the live/studio stopgap 2G+2 suggests well all be spared an Expanded Edition of that particular album, and the close proximity of I Wake Up In The City to My Ex-Classmates Kids reveals them to be built of similar garage rock rubble. New Formation Sermon is kind of a polluted version of Prefab Sprouts Faron Young, Distilled Mug Art little more than one of Smiths slurred word experiments with some music playing nearby. And if the five disc Touch Sensitive Bootleg Box Set didnt sate your desire for 2001-model Fall live performances theres another live My Ex-Classmates Kids for your listening pleasure, ensnared in Cologne during October of that year. Finally, the charmingly-titled if utterly pointless Wheres The Fuckin Taxi? Cunt appears to be a band meeting with background acoustic strumming. Thanks for that.
If theres anybody left who might enjoy Are You Are Missing Winner that doesnt own it already, this discs for them. It certainly demonstrates how far removed The Fall remain from other bands, even a quarter of a century into their trip.
THE FALL / SAFI SNIPER Jillys Rockworld, Manchester 9 April 2007
As MES sang nearly a quarter of a century ago, Went down the town/To an HM club, ostensibly an unusual venue for a Fall gig but actually pitched just right for tonights tour-ending appearance. Jillys, or at least the room The Fall took over, was appropriately intimate, yet unlike many small clubs still delivered reasonable acoustics.
I cant correctly recall the name of the first support act I have a feeling they mightve been called Farrow, but havent managed to Google anything that would confirm this but they were rather impressive. A kind of rap/rock Sly & The Family Stone, multi-racial and multi-gendered, what youth they betrayed with lyrics about teachers and assignments didnt impede their amiable sonic battering. Next up was the video artist known as Safi Sniper, who, as at the Preston gig I attended 18 months earlier, spent far too long scratching and looping images of James Brown, Pavarotti, Boney M and Sinead OConnor, an activity that continued long after it had become grindingly tedious.
The new Fall not the same as the old Fall made what seems to be their customary tardy appearance at 10:30. This was the first time Id seen The Fall since their summer 2006 dissolution during an American tour (again, something of a tradition for Smith and his revolving backing band), and, thrilling though that imploded line-up could be on an on-night, there was a power and confidence from the first this evening that confounded those (i.e. me) suspicious of MES hyping of this latest incarnation of the group, especially in the light of their unfocussed and dispiriting Post Reformation TLC album.
Admittedly, everything I heard tonight sounded kinda samey, whether it was opening newie Senior Twilight Stock Replacer (sung substantially by bearded, hatted bassist Rob Barbato, Smith stumbling onstage towards the songs close) or recent-ish classics such as Theme From Sparta FC, but the band were in possession of such pulverising power it would be churlish to complain. Smith himself appeared leathery and wrinkled, resembling nothing so much as an irascible tortoise, lashing out with instant catchphrases like No Newsnight for you, you fucking student. Unfortunately, The Fall run on a different timetable to Network Rail, and I had to leave for the last (reasonable) train home only five songs into the set. However, my disgruntlement was ameliorated slightly on later reading that the band only played another five tunes. Still, on this showing they were good enough to have me seriously considering braving the uncharted territory of the 0125 train following their next Manchester gig in July.
THE FALL / SAFI SNIPER / ANDREW HOLMES / REBBECCA RAY / STEWART LEE The Ritz, Manchester 1 July 2007
In which Mark E Smiths venerable Mancunian institution / finishing school manages to sneak into the worlds first International Festival of original, new work under cover of a launch evening for a new book of Fall-inspired short stories, Perverted By Language, a publication that had already felt Mr Smiths withering disdain directed towards it. Pick the ironies out of that, why doncha. The evening began with a selection of short films and animations inspired by the book: thats right, films inspired by a book of stories inspired by Fall songs. Perhaps I can be forgiven for finding the connections in this third-generation material tenuous at best. Apart from the odd recognisable reference to the bands catalogue the opening animation was titled Iceland, and featured a man and his carrier bag they sailed right over my head.
Next some of the books authors were trotted unceremoniously on stage to present their wares. Stewart Lee scored points for a) favouring us with only an extract from his work and b) prefacing it with a droll dig at the festival itself, the programming of which, as part of its commitment to original, new work, included a complete performance of Lou Reeds 1973 album Berlin. The charisma-free Rebbecca Ray rather fumbled the spirit of the occasion by titling her story I Can Hear The Grass Grow, at least permitting convenient recycling should she ever be asked to contribute to an anthology of short stories inspired by the work of The Move. Andrew Holmes struggled gamely with the rising level of chatter, only making it through his The League Of Bald-Headed Men by chuckling awkwardly at his own jokes. (I could barely hear him myself over the noise of the lady behind me complaining about how he was a really funny guy and people should give him a chance.) The final slot in the evenings cavalcade of pre-musical entertainment was claimed by Safi Sniper, whose interminable rolling and scratching of some vintage footage of Black Sabbath performing Paranoid served only to highlight how much I would rather be watching some vintage footage of Black Sabbath performing Paranoid than his eyeball- and eardrum-numbing experiments with same.
Finally, after a pleasant amble through half of the Pixies Surfer Rosa album, and at a reasonable hour for once, Good evening, we are The Fall. The opening number is, as is often the case, a new, or at least unreleased on album, tune, this one I later learn rejoicing in the title Wolve Kidult Man. As is also often the case, Mr Smith, smartly dressed and frequently not dressed in a jacket he removes and replaces continually during the course of the evening, indulges in a great deal of microphone abuse, handing it out to the moshpit, stuffing it inside the bass drum or dragging the stand around the stage by the cable, only to have a poor, hapless roadie bound onstage to untangle his mischief-making. Theres lots of patented on-stage mixing and expressing himself on the other band members instruments, particularly the cymbal solo he adds to the end of Reformation!. His diction is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not the clearest, but the occasional memorable phrase almost makes it through his mouthful of mothballs: during Wrong Place, Right Time, after an ominous silence where I wouldve expected a verse to fit, I think I caught forgotten the lyrics again, I detected a few possible digs at the festival itself city of second-hand culture, yes? and during a cover of The Mothers Of Inventions Hungry Freaks, Daddy (with all the tricky bits smashed to smithereens by the groups garage band enthusiasm) it sounds like the originals Mr America lyric has been replaced with Mr Metallica.
The group a fresh, new lineup, apparently start brilliantly, sounding incredibly tight and disciplined despite, or arguably because of, MES constant amp fiddlin, mic trashin, keyboard smashin antics. Pacifying Joint, Fall Sound (yes, the song that sounds almost indecently like New Order), Theme From Sparta F.C., Over! Over! and My Door Is Never are all served up in fine form. But they fumble towards the close, with a disappointingly flat and lifeless Mountain Energei, and a couple of new songs dissipate the head of steam theyd so successfully built up. A pummelling encore of Blindness which, as usual, seems to go on forever and Reformation! sends me away happy, somewhat prematurely as it happens, as The Falls premier fan site records a second encore of Senior Twilight Stock Replacer. Nevertheless, given that I missed half of The Falls last Manchester appearance to catch the last train home, I dont feel particularly disgruntled about accidentally leaving one song ahead of time.
THE FALL Reformation Post TLC (Slogan)
With its atrocious cover art, demonic opening cackle and new (and, naturally, since dissolved) lineup, Reformation Post TLC might seem like business as usual for The Fall. Yet its also the first Fall album to have been denied the possibility of being road-tested and knocked into shape in the BBCs Maida Vale studios under the patronage of Mr Peel, which might explain why so much of it sounds like uncommitted, space-filling doodling.
Opener Over! Over! is not unimpressive, all chewy rhythms and amusing if non-specific ranting. (And is that strange growling Mr Smith emits halfway through some kind of Satchmo impersonation? All the best dictatorial group leaders are doing it this season, as Van Morrisons recent live album attests.) So dumb its clever, Reformation! (exclamation marks are also a big thing this year, it seems) proves that sometimes all a song needs is a two-note riff and MES repeatedly yelling slogans such as Fall motel and Cheese sticks. Fall Sound is the one that, predictably enough, sounds like New Order those tussling cymbals and prominent bassline are a dead giveaway - albeit a far more sinister New Order than New Order ever were. A cover of Merle Haggards White Line Fever, on which Mark comes within a postcode or two of the right note on occasion, could be autobiographical, but isnt: that particular volume, Renegade: The Gospel According To Mark E. Smith is due next February, surely the publishing sensation of 2008.
Insult Song is the first of the albums many longeurs, a rambling stream of mildly comic consciousness, ripping mercilessly on his new bandmates, set to a stolid, awkward funk backing. Its hardly worth the journey to arrive at the punchline Little did they know they were paying by the minute for the tape they were wasting. The Usher does spoken word in a concise and comedic fashion, qualities sadly not shared by Elena Poulous turn on The Wright Stuff, and the initially unprepossessing Coach And Horses finds Mark back in the 19th century (a la Wings), fashioning one of the albums highlights in the process. Just about the only interesting thing that can be said about Scenario is that it loots much of its lyric from Captain Beefhearts Veterans Day Poppy.
Das Boat is unarguably the albums low point, too many minutes of flatulent synths, half-hearted chanting and percussive clatter. I cant think of another Fall song that has so little reason to exist. Systematic Abuse seems weakly derivative of the last albums Assume, Smiths rant against the monotony of, amongst other things, potatoes and his mail focussing on topics barely worthy of his bile.
Reformation Post TLC isnt a flat-out disaster: maybe half of it is pretty good, at least. Yet compared with its predecessor, Fall Heads Roll, an album blessed with better packaging, songs and even production, it cant help but appear half-baked. Having seen various permutations of the 2007-model Fall in concert, theyre capable of far more than this uneven display might suggest.
THE FALL / GABRIELLES WISH / FERAL MAN Albert Halls, Bolton 2 November 2007
Boltons Albert Halls, situated within the Town Hall, seems an uncharacteristically plush venue for a Fall experience. With its ornate ceiling and chandeliered finery its almost like a shrunken replica of Blackpools Empress Ballroom. Somewhat out of touch with modern-day developments in ticketing, when I phoned the venue to book I was warned that it would cost an extra 80p to have my ticket posted, and it seemed like the venues kindly staff were becoming increasingly exasperated with the behaviour of The Falls audience during the evening: probably very little crossover with the Ken Dodd and Joe Longthorne crowds that seem to constitute their bread and butter, they deserve better than us. (And two nights later Rick Wakemans playing, so maybe they get it.)
Feral Man? Lets just say that this Manchester band betray a strong Happy Mondays/Black Grape influence, with lots of two-handed Madchester rapping like its 1989 again.
Gabrielles Wish appear to have been knocking around the Manchester scene approximately forever, which perhaps explains why they appear to be the problem sons and daughters of The Fall themselves. Surely its no accident that their female keyboard player models the same distracted, enigmatic air and cheap, tinny synth sounds as Elenor Poulou herself? The intrigue thickens when their singer makes a late entrance, clutching a carrier bag, barking encoded slogans over the bands unrelenting riffage. He dances like hes stepped on a live wire, and is prone to wandering to the back of the stage mid-performance. They preface their songs with dialogue samples I logged a couple of steals from Kubricks A Clockwork Orange. Their slightly clumsy multimedia experience is certainly different, maybe even refreshing, but somewhat lacking in banter they just stomp off at the end of their fairly lengthy set.
To The Fall, then, and, not for the first time, I cant help feeling sorry for the group. They knock out this indestructible garage rock rumble, only to have Mark E Smith turn up and shout indecipherable verbiage all over it and mess up their equipment with his obsessive compulsive tinkering. Hes fairly restrained tonight, but still manages to knock over a cymbal, turn off the bassmans amp and, an exciting new party piece, jabs his microphone at the PA until it squeals for mercy.
MES seems to be mixed up a little louder than usual, but with his mothball mouth he doesnt seem to be making any more sense than is customary. The setlist seems to be split roughly equally between perfunctory thrashes through some of the less unimpressive moments from last album Reformation Post TLC and new material, such as the not unamusing prog triptych 50 Year Old Man. Theme From Sparta F.C. seemed a bit muddled compared with the pummelling clarity of recent performances; surprise of the night was a barely recognisable Wings, this 1983 b-side surely being the oldest Fall song Ive ever heard this most anti-nostalgic of organisations play. During the encore staple Blindness a competent, rather than thunderous version an overenthusiastic member of the audience (not an audience in which it took much effort to appear overenthusiastic) gained the stage, touching the healing hem of MES garments.
Not one of their better performances you can usually tell from the first when theyre on form and when theyre not, and this was definitely a not night.
THE FALL Extricate (Fontana/Universal)
Wow, a Fall reissue, it must be weeks since we last had one of those! Withering sarcasm aside, this worthwhile endeavour is part of a programme reprinting the groups early 90s major label stint, sensitively expanded and annotated by the master Fall chronicler of Leigh On Sea, Daryl Easlea.
Like most of their albums, Extricate has its own distinctive sound, neatly encapsulated by opener Sing! Harpy: simultaneously snappy and experimental, its hardly commercial yet presents The Fall at their most outgoing and agreeable. (I keep thinking its targeted at Courtney Love, but the chronology suggests thats unlikely.) Slowed down a bit the basic, beaty Zappa tribute Im Frank could be mistaken for a scabrous guitar assault from the first Mothers Of Invention album. Bill Is Dead is one of Mark E Smiths most beautiful songs (not a race thats likely to induce a photo finish, of course): a tribute to his late father, its one of those rare occasions when the listeners reminded that a real human heart beats somewhere within that leathery exterior. Harmonious, optimistic, romantic, nostalgic its everything a Fall song isnt. Smith claims hes writing in character on the misogynistic Black Monk Theme, Part 1; 60s garage rockers The Monks, from whose back catalogue the riff is sourced, are awarded all the credit. Extricate being nothing if not eclectic, a cover of The Searchers Popcorn Double Feature follows.
A Lisa Stansfield tune in a former life, producers Coldcut comprehensively remake and remodel Telephone Thing as a vehicle for Smiths British Telecom-directed irie (well, weve all been there havent we?). Wacka-wacka Shaft guitar, baggy beats, MES ranting over the top, it shouldve collided head on with the Madchester zeitgeist; as it was, what with The Fall having done Madchester three years earlier with Hit The North, it almost seemed old hat. Hilary is a piercing, withering character study peppered with Buddy Holly-style hiccoughing; the sluggish Chicago, Now! is a bit Hip Priest denied its cathartic release, and the drawling reference to Cab Calloways Minnie The Moocher tagged on the end might not be everybodys idea of adequate compensation. And Therein , though, is one of The Falls definitive Country and Northern hoedowns.
The bonus disc rounds up the expected flotsam and jetsam from the Extricate era - b-sides, Peel sessions and so on much of which will already be in the collection of anybody attracted to this release in the first place. Being familiar with the album only from its original CD issue, its something of a surprise to discover that the likes of British People In Hot Weather, Arms Control Poseur, Black Monk Theme, Part 2 and the yelping, motorik title track were actually bonus tracks back then, so intimately entwined are they with the rest of the album in my memory. It wouldve been nice if the booklet bothered to explain the provenance of these bonus tracks, and a more inspired running order than the one that sees multiple Telephone Things and Arms Control Poseurs following each other wouldve made the bonus disc a more approachable listen for non-archivists. The only track here that was completely new to me is Theme From Error Orrori, but its sense of sludgy stasis warns the listener away from Error Orrori, whatever it may be.
For all my carping, Extricate is a good-to-great Fall album, now made longer. And how terrible can that be?
THE FALL / SAFI SNIPER / FERAL MAN / THE PROPHETS The Dome, Morecambe 26 March 2008
The Dome looks rather like some Star Wars space junk thats washed up on Morecambes promenade. Nevertheless, it ticks a satisfying percentage of my ideal venue tickboxes: well-illuminated free parking nearby, unreserved seating (tonight, at least), pretty good acoustics (thatd be The Domes dome-like architecture, I suppose) and a band on the bill who are rarely not worth the effort to go see.
As usual, tonight The Fall are dragging a raggle-taggle supporting cast along in their slipstream. Typical of the chaotic Fall organisation, none of these were originally on the advertised bill. I, Ludicrous, who I was quite looking forward to given their sprightly, John Peel-championed Preposterous Tales single, had apparently been escorted off the tour after Mark E. Smith read something disagreeable on I, Ludicrous member David Rippingales Grauniad blog. Theres no sign either of the mysterious Bobbie Peru.
In their stead, The Prophets (I presume, although they could be The Profits) appear a bit overawed by the mission theyve chosen to accept, probably not helped by their hasty addition to the bill and a misplaced second guitarist. They play in an acoustic configuration (probably the first time Ive seen an acoustic guitar deployed at a Fall gig, come to think of it) of vocalist, guitarist (both of whom look as if they shop in the same boutique as Doves), percussionist and multi-instrumentalist (percussion, melodica and xylophone, although she has to endure the indignity of holding the latter whilst playing it), all of whom, vocalist aside, huddle to one side of the stage. So, visual dynamism is not yet their forte; do their songs compensate? Well, at their very best they could be mistaken for third-rate Las demos, and even those standout moments are hamstrung by lyrics such as Monday morning/Im still yawning. All credit to them, though; theyre performing a difficult job under hostile circumstancees.
Feral Man, though, are veterans of the Fall support slot, and theyve been bumped up the bill since the last time I saw them. They still look and sound like theyve been bricked up in a Manchester rehearsal room since 1991, their two-handed rapping and baggy beats proudly resistant to the onward march of musical evolution. Still, theres a twinkle to their bravado, and a cover of Grandmaster Flashs Step Off is genuinely stunning, like The Stone Roses backing The Beastie Boys, suggesting that its only the weakness of their self-penned material thats holding them back.
Id managed to blank out the memory of Safi Snipers previous Fall support slots, but unfortunately here he is again. A little of his work goes a long way, I find, and 20 minutes is almost enough to drive me back home. Tonight he rebuilds the Carpenters Weve Only Just Begun as an instrument of excruciating torture, and footage of the Eurythmics, Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley also feels the wrath of his itchy fingers, distorting and manipulating both sound and vision way past the point at which the joke wears thin. I suppose I should be thankful that the effect is diminished by the visuals being projected on to a curtain at the back of the stage, rather than a screen, providing an extra dimension of textural rippling, but it doesnt ease the pain nearly enough.
Then, a Fall roadie takes to the stage and hurls random prose threats at the audience, text that sounds like the stuff of MES own spoken word intro tapes, after which the band arrive and were off, into the land of unfamiliar new material. Its an instrumental that at least allows the band to demonstrate their awesomely kinetic surf/garage chops before the great dictator turns up with a couple of the traditional Good evening! We are The Falls, as if they could be anyone else if they tried (or even if they didnt try). I later learn that this opener is entitled Is This New (perhaps in tribute to the question most frequently asked by puzzled audience members attempting to work out whether the mangled post-punk wreckage being served up by the group is something that they should already be able to hum along to), one of half a dozen moments presented from the upcoming Imperial Wax Solvent album, still a month away from the shops at time of typing.
And so, for the next 70 minutes, it goes. Quarter century-old b-side Wings is still in the setlist, brilliantly, and, primed, I recognise it from the off rather than have realisation seep up on me halfway through as happened the last time I saw them. It helps that, to his credit, MES seems to be playing things relatively straight tonight, his cryptic utterances appearing less garbled than usual, and his circus ring shenanigans restricted to relocating the bass drum microphone to thumping effect, bashing a cymbal with his vocal mic and a few moments of avant garde improv on his spouse Elena Poulous keyboard. Heck, he even stoops to upright a couple of microphone stands hes upended on his travels round the stage.
From Fall Heads Roll were treated to Pacifying Joint and the by-now-traditional epic closer Blindness, astonishing as ever, especially the moments when, as if guided by some invisible signal, the entire band simultaneously ratchet up the tension a notch. Last years disappointing Reformation Post TLC contributes Fall Sound (i.e. New Order Sound) and Reformation, epic statements of intent both (as much as any song whose lyrics appear to consist predominately of the phrases Reformation! Fall motel! Cheese state! repeated ad nauseum can be described as an epic statement of intent). Theres a precious moment during the latter song where MES appears to be inciting the audience to yell the title back at him, and, shocked, the crowd suddenly falls silent.
The remainder of the set promotes the unpurchaseable Imperial Wax Solvent, some of which is already becoming familiar through repetition. Wolf Kidult Man is there, as is Elenas vocal showcase Ive Been Duped, which appears tonight to be a comment on the government-sponsored shutdown of analogue television transmissions. The epic 50 Year Old Man is evolving still; I count five different sections, including one in a country n western (or country n northern) style.
So yeah, still different, still the same, still assaulting expectations of what a live performance should be like.
THE FALL Imperial Wax Solvent (Sanctuary)
Recent entries in the long and winding Fall discography (now 27 studio albums deep) have been somewhat spotty and unpredictable in quality. “The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click)” was a classic of sorts, and “Fall Heads Roll” had many fine moments, but “Reformation Post TLC” was mostly a flatulent, indulgent mess. Whither “Imperial Wax Solvent”?
I’d heard several of its songs prior to release in performances around the north-west (Bolton! Morecambe!) and even managed to scam my copy of the album a few days before the street date thanks to the good Fall-affiliated folk at Action Records, so I was denied the shock of the new on first listen. But when it’s good, it’s good.
“Imperial Wax Solvent”’s centrepiece, its watercooler moment, is clearly “50 Year Old Man”, one of Mark E Smith’s occasional thinly veiled age-related autobiographical moments (see also “Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room”). Eleven minutes long, splicing a banjo interlude into its scorching, Can-at-45-rpm Krautrock, it finds MES by turns gnomic (“That Steve Albini/He’s in collusion with Virgin trains/Against me”) and lascivious (“I’ve got a three foot rock hard on/But I’m too busy to use it”).
Not their greatest long player by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that The Fall can produce a record as chewy and challenging as “Imperial Wax Solvent” in their fourth decade is a triumph in itself.
THE FALL / ED BLANEY / OPTIONAL WALLACE Manchester Academy 18 July 2009
Optional Wallace are a local trio, apparently benefiting from a lot of bussed-in support to counteract vocalist/guitarist Danny Wallace’s admission that he’s “shitting it”. They’re actually quite good; they get four tunes in before they lapse into Editors soundalikes, but up to that point they’re pretty hard to pin down, maybe suggesting The Killers minus the synths, polish and makeup.
Ed Blaney is preceded by a lady with a pink dress, a blue guitar and a song about how she wants to be a rock star when she gets to heaven. Well, here’s hoping. Occasional Mark E. Smith collaborator Mr Blaney then offers a mercifully brief serving of dreary Salford agit-folk.
The Fall play for around an hour, in front of a backdrop emblazoned with the image of Tommy Cooper and the cryptic slogans “Unseen Knowledge”, “Unseen Footage” and “Unseen Facts”, which partway through the set Smith half-succeeds in tearing down. For me it’s one of those shoulder-shrugging nights when the kinetic momentum of the band is almost derailed by the shouty bloke up front. For instance, they begin promisingly with a Burundi Diddley rumble, but then on shambles the man in the black leather jacket , unleashing a tidal wave of garbled verbage, the only discernible words of which are his trademark public service announcement “We are The Fall”, as if, over 30 years into the task, anybody in the Academy (something of an Enormodome by Fall venue standards) is going to mistake the group for anyone else. MES proceeds to undo the well-drilled chug of “Strangetown” and “Wolf Kidult Man”; during “My Door Is Never” a prowl around the stage ends at his good lady wife’s keyboard, on which he exercises some of his usual random avant-garde tendencies. A lengthy song so new that MES has to read the lyrics evolves into a many-sectioned thing a la “50 Year Old Man”, the audience reluctant to applaud in case it hasn’t finished yet, dragging a side 2 of “Meddle”-style coda along behind it. Aptly enough, it’s followed by “50 Year Old Man”, which itself seems to sprout a new instrumental section after Smith shambles off stage, shortly to be followed by the band. Well, that was a fun 35 minutes.
They return with a by-numbers “Fall Sound” and a rather more convincing “I’ve Been Duped” (perhaps not coincidentally not sung by Mark). But then, after some clumsy outbreaks of rogue drum machine programming Elena yells “Is anybody there?” and blimey, if we aren’t suddenly thrust into the 30-year-old charms of a crooked, juddering “Psykick Dancehall”, now officially the earliest song I’ve seen them perform. It’s scant compensation, though, given the yawning gap between how driven and powerful and on-form Fall can sound and the shambolic performance they give tonight.
THE FALL / FRAZER KING Manchester Moho Live 10 November 2009
Wythenshawe sextet Frazer King appear to have bussed in a loyal fanbase tonight. Their half-hour set is a riot of unpredictability, a weird hybrid of Gomez, the “Deliverance” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtracks, Cossack dance music and the occasional glinting hint of The Pogues and even Shack. One of their singers has a kind of hewn-from-stone Johnny Cash voice, and they’re certainly distinctive, one of the best Fall supports I’ve seen.
The Fall have the odds loaded against them by whoever is piping classic rock through the PA during what turns out to be an interminable lull between bands. I mean, if you’ve just heard the likes of “The Chain”, “London Calling” and “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” played very, very loudly it’d take a special kind of Fall performance to not seem like an anticlimax.
And yet, strangely, and in Mark E Smith’s own irascible and thankfully inimitable fashion, they just about manage it. Inevitably much material from their as-yet-unreleased next album is performed, of which “Cowboy George” is working its way into a multi-part “50 Year Old Man”-style epic, dragging a squidgy electronic coda along behind it, and something I believe is called “I’m Not From Bury” also impresses. Aside from a glorious rampage through “Psykick Dancehall” and an encore of “White Lightning”, the remainder of the set is derived from their two most recent albums, “Reformation Post TLC” and “Imperial Wax Solvent”, which means cracking versions of “I’ve Been Duped” and “Wolf Kidult Man”. “Reformation” is curtailed by the night’s second PA outage: the band gamely struggled on after the first, ferociously jamming through their on-stage monitors.
MES seems relatively well behaved this evening: there’s almost the vaguest suggestion of diction to his singing, and he doesn’t sabotage the band’s equipment as much as he does on a particularly cantankerous night. The band are on spectacular form, coursing with crispy, piledriving power, although it seems like it’s a few songs in before I actually hear any guitar.
So, a good one, albeit compromised by issues that I’ll charitably suggest were outside of the band’s control. It was certainly better than their last Manchester appearance back in July, a shambolic, overambitious attempt to fill the Academy.
THE FALL / SAFI SNIPER FAC251, Manchester 24 May 2010
FAC251, a new venue with a capacity of 350, run by New Order bassist Peter Hook in the building that once housed the Factory Records offices, might be the smallest place I've yet seen The Fall in, but it's surprisingly pleasant for such a tiny space. The acoustics are very fine, the view is relatively unobstructed and it's even pleasantly ventilated.
I immediately pigeonhole the unnamed support band as the goth Tortoise (in the same way that I usually peg every Fall support band as the goth something-or-other). They also have the occasional Mogwai moment, which I could happily have heard more of. Their lead singer's voice, however, being pitched somewhere between PJ Harvey and Starsailor's James Walsh, is a taste I fail to acquire.
Oh Safi, it's been so long. Not long enough, unfortunately. Time has not mellowed my antipathy towards his brand of audiovisual anti-entertainment, which tonight takes the form of looped sounds and images drawn from the works of Donna Summer, Prince, Ozzy Osbourne, Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley. I wonder whether he's deliberately deployed as a means of diminishing an audience's expectations of the headliners, because a Fall set would have to land some way short of the median to be less enjoyable than Safi...which tonight they don't, and aren't.
Firstly, a big hand for the band, who on current form deliver a storming, stripped-down garage rock rumble. Gradually assembling on stage "Stop Making Sense"-style during opener "O.F.Y.C. Showcase", all it needs now is for Mark E Smith to not sabotage their gripping competence, which, happily, he doesn't. The setlist leans heavily on recently released new album "Your Future Our Clutter", although to be fair their setlist leaned heavily on months-away-from-release new album "Your Future Our Clutter" when I saw them last November. At least I now have the benefit of at least a glancing familiarity with the material; nevertheless I think I initially recognise at least two songs as stomping album highlight "Bury" before they finally play it. Outside of the new album they play Elena's vocal showcase lamenting the state of British television "I've Been Duped", "Over! Over!", "Wolf Kidult Man", a cover of The Mothers Of Invention's "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" and, as an encore bonus for vintage fans, "Psykick Dancehall". So, the band are stunning, MES doesn't ruin it for anybody and it's another solidly good Fall gig.
THE FALL / GIRL PECULIAR FAC251, Manchester 25 May 2010
Tonight's support band are a different female-fronted guitar-based quartet to last night's. Their first song's a bit Joy Division-y, their second sounds like The Slits, but mid-set confusion ensues when an announcement seems to suggest that they're joined by a member of The Fall circa "Are You Are Missing Winner", with whom they then perform a brief medley of classics from that album. Generally, though, they're lower on could-happily-have-heard-more-of-that moments than the previous night's openers.
Happily for fans of entertainment there's no Safi tonight! Instead, squealing electronic drones announce the band's arrival, again "Stop Making Sense"-style, during "O.F.Y.C . Showcase". Their performance is definitely cranked up a few notches tonight; where previously they crashed about amiably , tonight "Cowboy George" and "Bury" are pulverising and "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" totally outta sight. It's even easier to decipher some of MES' lyrical contortions of The Mothers' original, with "Mr America walk on by" becoming "Mr Britannica walk on by" and "great mid-western hardware store" twisted into "great west midlands hardware store". The setlist is arguably stronger tonight as well: without dropping anything too significant ("Mexico Wax Solvent", maybe) we also get "Strychnine", "Funnel Of Love", "I'm Going To Spain" and "Reformation". In fact, the generally increased awesomeness more than compensates for tonight's greater crush meaning that there's not much to be seen, although it's readily apparent when Mr Smith's manhandling Elena's keyboard or fine-tuning the guitar amps. One of those rare even-better-than-solidly-good Fall gigs, then, great on its own terms but even more revelatory when compared and contrasted.
THE FALL Your Future Our Clutter (Domino)
On something of a roll this millennium, “Your Future Our Clutter”, the band’s 28th studio album, is simply another good-to-great Fall record. Admittedly, it’s overlong, especially on vinyl where it carries two extra tracks, and as intimidatingly cryptic and self-referential as ever. But really, it seems kinda churlish to criticise The Fall for being just like The Fall.
It is, as Mark E Smith bellows through his megaphone during opener “O.F.Y.C Showcase”, “A showcase of Fall talent”. He sounds like a Mancunian Action Man, emitting a fresh gnomic utterance every time his string is pulled, whilst the band fashion an indomitable statement of intent behind him. Barely believably, the lineup is identical to the one that recorded the last Fall album, 2008’s “Imperial Wax Solvent”, and the benefits of familiarity are readily apparent in the supercharged mangled Stooges rumble that powers great swathes of “Your Future Our Clutter”. “Bury Pts. 1 + 3” is one of the album’s for-the-ages classics, a terrific glam racket that gradually ramps up the fi from its Dictaphone-standard opening to a thunderous main section. The sinister rockabilly of “Hot Cake” references several of the album’s other tracks in its lyrics, its sound later revisited on “Y.F.O.C.”. “Slippy Floor” is awesome in its grinding simplicity, with MES yelling to be heard over the group’s relentless riffing. In typical Fall patchwork style it concludes with a flash-forward to later track “986 Generator” and snippets of conversation and answerphone messages. “Funnel Of Love” is a cover from an unlikely source, co-written by country singer and Bob Dylan sideman Charlie McCoy, here presented as twangly bubblegum pop corroded by exotic distortion and effects. The first vinyl not-quite-a-bonus track “986 Generator” is an interminable trudge, enlivened only slightly by suggestions of banjo and pedal steel. Somewhat better is the album’s other vinyl-only bonus track, “Get A Summer Song Goin’”, the massive seasonal smash that never was, which refreshes the parts previously pandered to by the band’s exemplary cover of The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow”. “Weather Report 2” is one of those rare moments of touching vulnerability Mr Smith has every couple of decades (c.f. “Bill Is Dead”, from 1990’s “Extricate”) in which he repeatedly asserts “You gave me the best years of my life”, before being bundled away by an invading army of squiggly electronica, finally vanquished by the whispered conclusion “You don’t deserve rock ‘n’ roll”. The album’s other future classic “Cowboy George” is a spaghetti western epic, rudely spiked with crudely reproduced Daft Punk samples.
As great 28th albums go, what’s the competition like? Well, I’d take “Your Future Our Clutter” over Dylan’s “Good As I Been To You” and Van Morrison’s “You Win Again”, suggesting that Mark E Smith hasn’t entirely exhausted his seam of punkish irascibility; the fact that it’s another of 2010’s finest only underlines its triumph.
THE FALL / SCUMBAG PHILOSOPHER / CORNED BEEF Moho Live, Manchester 3 June 2011
Corned Beef are a punk trio from Clitheroe, and unafraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, almost, with one of their two vocalist/bassist/guitarists dressed in a UK Subs t-shirt and drummer Paul Baron modelling – yes! – a sawn-off Metallica t-shirt. To me they sound a little like early Hüsker Dü, but my scarcity of reference points means that they probably don’t at all. Their short, sharp punk shocks seem a little overdecorated with kick drum, though. It’s a bit of a cruel trick that their performance is prefaced with great chunks of “The Story Of The Clash, Volume 1”; there’s hardly a band in the land that isn’t going to suffer under those circumstances.
A somewhat confused second support slot opens with a poet who wryly describes himself as “the cut-price John Cooper Clarke”; his tales of alcoholic abandonment and misguided youth rebellion prove to be the most entertaining section of the evening. He’s accompanied by Norwich band Scumbag Philosopher, who appear to be made up of a Mo Tucker-esque stand-up drummer, a bassist, a hidden (from my vantage point anyway) guitarist, and a lead ranter with a cassette recorder. They’re more into slogans than songs, as evidenced by the likes of “God Is Dead So I Listen To Radiohead”.
The Fall, meanwhile, are prefaced by five minutes of thudding electronica that sounds a bit like they’d miked up the Aphex Twin’s stomach. It finishes, there is anticipatory applause and it starts all over again. Still, giving the people what they want has never really been a priority for Mark E Smith, otherwise we wouldn’t all be crammed into this sweaty, smelly basement at way past ten o’clock on the evening of what must surely be the hottest day of the Mancunian year thus far, and he wouldn’t play as much unheard, unreleased material as he does tonight. And he wouldn’t phone in his encore performance – a perfunctory “Weather Report” – from the dressing room. But that’s life in the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall, Not As Other Bands for 35 years and counting now.
“Cowboy George” wears a long, rambling outro that dawdles directly into “Bury”, and what with – shock of the evening! – “Muzorewi’s Daughter” accompanying the by now almost traditional “Psykick Dancehall” it’s practically a “Dragnet” theme night. MES’ equipment-mugging tendency is in the ascendant once again, suddenly silencing guitar amps only to later reinstate them at boneshaking volume just as abruptly. For me, though, the quality of a Fall gig is inversely proportional to the amount of as-yet-unreleased material played. That’s probably what made their two night stand at Fac251 last year so thrilling, in retrospect at least, given that latest album “Your Future Our Clutter” was barely months old at the time. With a new album rumoured for later in the year the setlist is peppered with the unfamiliar likes of “Cosmos”, “I’ve Seen Them”, “Greenway” and something too new to be named. Perhaps it’s a bit snide to criticise this least nostalgic of dictatorships for constantly moving forward like a shark, but there will be better times to hear this band play a set like that.