Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day 47: Pop tones...

Another request today, this time from an old mate called Luke, he's requested this slow-burner from the excellent Fall Heads Roll, this particular tracks is a peaceful ocean of calm on what is a volatile and quite punchy album, good choice sir.

Song: Midnight In Aspen
Album: Fall Heads Roll

Year: 2005

This one is quite ghostly and airy, the picked out guitar line harmonising with the bass wonderfully while the drums are gently prodded to create a very pop-sounding song, almost like a light theme tune or a bit of easy listening to these ears. When compared with the bombast and megalithic chaos that happens on other songs on the album (see the caustic Blindness, or the call to arms of What About Us?) it's a world apart, Mark's vocals are suitably reined-in for the mood, quiet, reflective and calm, never breaking into a shout or squeal.

I think the title of the song creates a frosty, snowy landscape in your head before you even hear the 60s-film soundtrack-like music and the lyrics simply build on this, the unusual moment of calm allows a lot of space for rich descriptions to be mumbled and reflected upon, there's talk of fog and ice, but on the whole, the words are free of narrative or deep meaning, seemingly unconnected, especially here: 'Even chain on jeep/Hyphen/Aspen/Utah'.

The only lyrics that make sense together are: 'He aims the highest bestest powered rifle at the stars/Orion/It bounces off/The satellite/He was lucky this week' just a nice bit of freeform painting of words there, who knows what he means, could a man take guidance from an act as strange as shooting at the stars? Could it be based on a celebrity or news story? Who knows, but its a welcome curveball from the band on an album that's packed with vitriol, a nice drop-off before the raging tune that follows it (Assume).

Any more requests? I'm thinking I ought to cover some songs from albums like Cerebral Caustic, Levitate, The Marshall Suite, Bend Sinister or The Frenz Experiment as they all seem to have been neglected so far. I'm not sure if I should start covering stuff off I Am Kurious Orange just yet as some of the songs on there are repeats or reworked songs, thoughts?

My aim is to cover the studio albums first and foremost, then move onto Peel Sessions, live stuff and rarities, but that's a looooooong way off.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Day 46: I'm like, totally wired.

A request from my good friend Dan Middler today, he is an awesome musician and all-round great human being.

Song: Totally Wired
Album: Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1998 CD reissue, but was also a single)

Year: I'm going to say 1981 as in the video, but it may have been earlier)

This video is great, a dark, moodily-lit Fall performing in front of a bustling crowd, this one has all the atmosphere it commands, its both fun and serious at the same time, a paean to being a bit odd and perhaps an ode to caffeine (see the line: I drank a jar of coffee and took some of these!) it has a great beat to it and the acapella vocals that begin it are great, and the backing vocals just make it for me. The lyrics are great, talk of a butterfly stomach and being a communist combined with some great literary injections.

These take the form of the lines: When the going gets weird/The weird turn pro is a Hunter S Thompson line, I've always found him to be a bit cloying, but this line is a typical Thompson line that is just truth refined. MES's vocal delivery is focused, the stutter of 't-t-t-t-t-t-totally wired' at points is great, as is his machine-gun delivery of swearing and missives in this live version is amazing.

I'd say this fits in perfectly with the feel of the album it has been attached to, it has that same fire in its belly, the same lyrical fervour and the music is similarly riled up and focused, sometimes you can just tell The Fall are firing on all cylinders and beautiful art is formed, this is one of those moments. It's almost like each album is a gig, if the right elements come together, you could get a focused, direct Fall (Grotesque, Perverted By Language) a confusing, mysterious Fall (Slates, Your Future Our Clutter) or just a confusing one (The Infotainment Scan, In A Hole, Room To Live) but they are all rewarding, I'm almost at the point where I don't want to even state a song or album is my favourite any more, there's hardly a duff moment in their whole career. What do you guys think? Does a bad Fall song exist?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Day 45: Like forsooth, by gad, verily!

I wanted to do another song off The Infotainment Scan immediately due to listening to it today, amazing album that sounds unlike any other album, even from around the time.

Song: It's A Curse
Album: The Infotainment Scan

Year: 1993

So this is a bitter, clever and very representative of MES's style at its best song. The rest of the album has its fair share of bitterness, but this has some killer lines in it, quite direct.

The song has a choppy, staccato riff that peppers the scene to give MES some room to flex his scrawny self over them. There's a song on this album called Glam Racket, in which he attacks, not by name, the band Suede, the indie-rockers who are currently enjoying a reformation resurgence about now, but I'd say this continues here, again, no specifically, but the lines: 'I do not like your tone/It has an ephemeral, whinging aspect' could well be about Suede frontman Brett Anderson, he did have a nasal, annoying voice, I'm a bit of a fan, I was about 8 or 9 when they came out so it formed some of the pop/guitar music I heard at the time. Obviously MES hates anything that brings back the past in an obvious way, further confirmed later when he randomly spits a curse about nostalgia bores: 'Balti, Vimto and Spangles, were always crap, regardless of the look-back bores' I agree with this to an extent, there's nothing worse than dealing with someone who talks constantly about things which happened in the past, there's nothing wrong with reminiscing but putting a rose-tinted view on things which have disappeared for a reason is just dull. Having said that, Suede and Vimto are back with a vengeance, so perhaps MES has put a curse on himself here. Spangles made a brief reappearance in the mid-90s but died an equally quick death, I remember seeing some for sale in my local Woolies, none of my friends ever bought them, and neither did I.

Elsewhere, there is talk of sandwiches being stashed in side-pockets, another call to arms on tedium from the master chronicler of weirdness it seems. The line about 'frog-like chins, ready to burst' and 'bargain vampires' makes me laugh every time, I can imagine someone walking down the street and seeing these weird people just plainly existing.

The title of today's blog comes from the opening lines, which never fail to raise a smile, really good, full of class-hate and loathing as well as being stellar MES in action.

Going to have to close this one early, I've places to be, I have decided that if I miss a day (like I did yesterday) I will always try and catch up as soon as I can, that is my promise to you dear readers.

Day 44: I'm going to Spain...

Missed day 44, so sorry to any readers who were expecting this yesterday, had a job interview away from home, so didn't have time to spurt off any Fall-ness.

Here's one that goes with the weather and is one of my favourite covers, really funny/tragic at the same time.

Song: I'm Going To Spain
Album: The Infotainment Scan

Year: 1993

So this is a nice airy number with some very 80s/90s guitar tone and some hilarious lyrics, this is a cover of a Steve Bent song, which he performed on New Faces in 1974, which is doubly funny for me, I'm a fan of comedian Graham Fellows, who does a character called John Shuttleworth (older Fall fans will remember him as Jilted John with this song) but his show featured a sad, has-been neighbour called Ken Worthington, who came last on New Faces in 1976, touting himself to be 'TV's Clarinet Man'.

Anyway, back to the song, MES has changed some of the lyrics, instead of being 24 years old, he says he is 34 years old, in the line 'I sold my car, packed in my job, I'm 24 years old' this makes me laugh, its the kind of doe-eyed thing you hear from friends now and again, that they would love to sell everything and move, they rarely do. The whole song is so tedious, the fact MES is singing it at all (and badly) is funny enough, but gives it a sad air.

Lines like 'the factory floor presented me, with some tapes of Elton John' are great and don't really need changing, the original is a soft rock nightmare, even has castanets all over it. The Fall version omits the lines about cheese and pickle sandwiches, which is a shame, maybe it was too silly for Mark. Instead he replaces it with a line about cashing in premium bonds, amazing/. Instead of the original's castanets, there's some amazing finger clicking happening over the track and at the end of The Fall version, this is the stuff of nightmares.

Weirdly, this track sounds at odds on this album, which is a punchy, dance-influenced stomper of a release, with some amazing vocal performances and a band that sounds focused and tight, I think he just felt he had to make a statement of intent with a track like this, its so ridiculous that there cannot be a reason more credible. An odd choice, even for The Fall, but one I sing along to regardless.

Mad, here's the original below, even weirder than the cover.

What sane person thinks, "Yeah, let's cover that!"

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Day 43: He sees visions of islands.

A dark story unfolds in a graveyard, a rabbit hunter creeps round a dark setting and a grave-tender is shocked to be shot at, as a result, he shows the rabbit hunter who has mistakenly shot at him a jaw-bone from the ground, obviously dislodged from a recently-disturbed grave. From then on the laid-off rabbit hunter is cursed with visions of jawbones and is put off eating at all. Now if this isn't literature laced with music, I don't know what is. The lyrics in this song are again, somewhat buried in delivery, but what a song, dark, inventive, bat-shit crazy. Only helped along by the demented and chirpy chorus.

Also one of MES's best vocal deliveries ever.

Song: Jawbone And The Air Rifle
Album: Hex Enduction Hour

Year: 1982

So this album was partly recorded in Iceland, I've no idea if the dark perpetual night-time got to the band, but this is where the sweep of dark, gothic horror via the north-west comes in for me, there had been hints of it before, but this is a masterpiece, two drummers create a clanging, skitterish rhythm section, while the bass sounds incredibly prominent and MES's vocals are clear and concise, a welcome rarity.

The lyrics would bear a full replication here, but that would be lazy of me, I'll instead say that the sense of narrative wouldn't be out of place in film or a collection of short stories, such is the strange, totally unique nature of the descriptions and cadence he unfurls here. Whole sections could be deconstructed to create dozens of other stories, take this one for example: 'A cemetery overlooked clough valley of mud/And the grave-keeper was out on his rounds/Yellow-white shirt buried in duffle coat hood/Keeping edges out with mosaic color stones' in a brief verse, he has fit in more description than most bands manage in an album, you get an instant image of this man and his mannerisms and its haunting, even the comic lines like 'The air rifle lets out a mis-placed shot/It smashed a chip off a valued tomb' and 'Rifleman he say y’see I get no kicks anymore/From wife or children four/There’s been no war for forty years/And getting drunk fills me with guilt' this is a humourous image, a man so bored of life he goes out drunkenly shooting things at random, but also, addresses being laid off, something which is inherently sad, this is what life has come to, very poetic.

I like the disgusting idea of a jaw-bone covered in slime, and the fact it puts him off meat and eating, having hallucinations, 'Advertisements become carnivores/And roadworkers turn into jawbones/And he has visions of islands, heavily covered in slime' it's all a bit Wicker Man isn't it? A normal 1970s/80s situation injected with a touch of the uncanny, really strong stuff when you think about it in this context.

I'd like to know what books MES was reading at the time he wrote this, if it was something similar to HP Lovecraft I wouldn't be surprised. I'd thoroughly recommend if you have friends who dismiss The Fall as too awkward to get into or they don't get it, get them to listen to this one and read along with the lyrics, there's no denying this is one of their definitive tracks and one that showcases everything wonderful about this incredible band.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Day 42: Exit this Roman shell!

Hello everyone, hope those in the UK had a nice bank holiday, a very British institution, I'm sure there must be a Fall song somewhere about this. I saw some decent bands this weekend, including the excellent Rot In Hell and the incredible and intense Amen Ra.

But back to the quest in hand warriors, for today is another bit of filth from Slates. I love this one, it has an air of pure chaotic drunkness to it. Just a note, in typical awkward style, The Fall put out this release in the full knowlege it was neither viable as an LP or an EP, too short for the former, too long for the latter on its 'fuck you' size of 10", brilliant. It still made a respectable #3 in the UK Independent Album chart though, so it must have sold well.

Song: Leave The Capitol
Album: Slates

Year: 1981

What is chronicled in this wonderous piece of Fall history is to me a messy night out from the sounds of things. By no means taking a less intense route, this does take the foot off the gas compared with the track I've previously talked about (Slates, Slags etc). This is of course, no bad thing, it means the song rumbles along pleasantly while a somewhat catchy set of lyrics run over it, the chorus could almost be a call to arms for Fall fans, great stuff.

Mark's vocals seem to be double-tracked here and it adds to the fervent and anthem-like cry of 'Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!' there's some great kazoo work in there as well, do The Fall hold a record for having the instrument on more records than anyone else? Does such a record exist? Should we care?

What sounds to me like an impression of a Scotsman appears during this one, the cackled 'I dinae!' over and over makes me laugh, but quite what the semblance is, I've no idea. Some crazy accordion and feedback make a dash for it towards the end as well, the more I write on this song, the weirder and more twisted it appears! Indeed, let's have a look at the lyrics...

My idea about the song being about a drunken night, perhaps in some backwater London pub is from lines like: 'The tables covered in beer/Showbizwhines, minute detail/Its a hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square/Its vaudeville pub back room dusty pictures of/White frocked girls and music teachers' which conjure up images of a supposedly 'cool' hangout that's be appropriated by the cloying type of Londoner who seems to know it all, yet know nothing, you know the type. It's almost like the refrained chorus is Mark having an existential moment and just realising he needs to get out, like that moment you are so drunk you know you should immediately go home when out, that panic that means adrenaline will get you home, but you will not remember how.

I like the line about hotel maids smiling in unison, like they know something you don't, its a nightmarish vision, a line of maids all grinning maniacally at you...

The closing lines would not be out of place anywhere else in the Fall's back catalogue, cryptic and poetic, they rip asunder any notion of understanding I thought I had about it, well done again MES.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Day 41: Turn that bloody blimey Space Invader off-uh!

Here's one of my all-time favourites, on which album this first appeared I'm not sure as it seems to crop up on several, either way, its amazing.

Song: The Man Whose Head Expanded
Album: Perverted By Language (1998 reissue version)

Year: 1983 (For the song, first released as a single)

This is almost as good as Eat Y'Self Fitter, but doesn't have that menace or confusion about it to tip it for me, but this still remains a great little track that apparently is again, Mark Riley inspired. This actually features some semblance of singing from Mark, which is why I love it. He uses the now-legendary 'uh' suffix to almost every line here, like someone on here said, listening to The Fall is almost like learning a new language sometimes, I love the 'uh' thing, he still does it now despite his voice having aged quite oddly (compare PBL material to YFOC stuff and hear the difference).

The music on this one is great, revving along nicely until about halfway through when Mark gives some direct feedback to Paul Hanley as a sci-fi noise on the keyboards kicks in by shouting 'Turn that bloody, blimey Space Invader off!" and he does, but at the same time, its almost as if the whole band take their feet off the pedal and the whole thing slows down to a crawl, but oddly, this works and is an example of why being loose and free-flowing can create some great little bits like this. It sounds both like a mistake and completely planned simultaneously and changes the tone instantly. There's some great little keyboard squalks as this progresses towards the end as well, very focused in that unfocused way only the Fall can replicate.

The lyrics follow a conspiracy-inspired route, the story (and that's what it is, a full narrative I reckon) of a man who is convinced of TV script-writers following him around and using his musings and things he says as ideas for stories, or as Mark puts it 'The soap opera writer/would follow him around/and use his jewels for TV prime time' this is charting someone who has become delusional, whether that's how he felt about Mark Riley, who knows, the two continued their spat for years through song, quite pathetic, but amusing nonetheless. One thing I'll never understood in this one is the 'hick wap huh' lyrics, I used to hear it as 'Hercule Poirot' but I'm not convinced this is the case, seems a strange thing to put in either way, but MES isn't averse to slipping in some non-words, he likes singing 'ba ba ba ba' and 'la la la la' in other songs.

The conspiracy thing follows The Fall through their whole career, Mark's lyrics tend to lend themselves to this, they even have a song called Paranoid Man In Cheap Sh*t Room later on, the lines about lager being poisoned and the titular man whose head expanded looking over his shoulder adds to this here. I love towards the end, he changes the title lyrics to 'The man whose head... diminished' and actually diminishes the vocal as he says it and the music follows, brilliant line and brilliantly delivered.

I have a weird version of this song on a very cheap-looking compilation album called Fiend With A Violin which has some recordings from 1996 on it, the version on that is almost unrecognisable, the title gets shouted over and over, but the music is almost trance-like and sounds quite unhinged, its almost like a remix, I'd be annoyed if I'd seen them perform that rather than the original, but its an interesting take on it. I'm not sure what format it was originally intended to be, whether its a studio outtake or a demo version, I've no idea, but none of the album sounds that polished, the version of LA is the only one worth a proper listen I'd say. Can anyone shed any extra light on this weird release? Mark is wearing a terrible shirt on the back cover's photo.

Over! Over! More Fall loveliness tomorrow.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Day 40: I get a potato out?

A request again, this is off an album I haven't visited much, but is often cited as being a lot of peoples' most favoured line-up of recent years, as is often called the American Fall, he picked these guys up after the band disintegrated on a US tour in 2006, so all of them are American, bar Smith, Elena and Dave Spurr. They are a bit tighter than lineups around that time (although I prefer the Fall Heads Roll line-up they replaced).

Song: Systematic Abuse
Album: Reformation Post-TLC

Year: 2007

Yeah, so the TLC in the album title apparently stands for 'Traitors, liars and cunts' according to Mark, charming, I'm sure he was still smarting from losing a great bunch of people after that tour but it doesn't really show on the album. This one is a long, long gallop to the end, with some great images, disintegrating bills and vegetables, analogies of money falling through his fingers etc. The title is repeated ad infinitum, as we are used to from MES, but takes on some double meaning in a somewhat obvious way for Smith's usually baffling caustics. It could mean what it means, systematic abuse, repetitive battering and wearing down, a phrase often used when it comes to domestic violence or child abuse, or a lot of the time institutional abuse in care homes, children's homes or boarding schools etc. However I think in this instance, it means the 'system' in an almost adolescent way, as in the powers that be, the ones in charge etc. Mark equates bills through the door as rotting vegetables, disintegrating in his hands, pretty amazing imagery and a deft vocal performance as well.

The music buzzes with a more professional touch than you usually hear with this era, it's all very clean, clear and sonorous, the only fuzz and gurgle comes from Elena's keyboards, with her constantly tweaking the base sound to create a collage under the tight framework courtesy of the US Fall members. Mark's vocals are slightly off-rhythm, I guess on purpose, maybe the music was just a bit too well-played for him this time and he felt the need to sabotage it in some way.

Excellent romp regardless, let this blog roll on!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Day 39: I hate the countryside so much.

A request today from another reader called Drucker, he's asked for some latter-period Fall, about time, I'm spending my time in the 80s and 90s at the moment.

This one is a cracker actually.

Song: Contraflow
Album: The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click)

Year: 2003

So this one reminds me of all sorts of things, the dark, swirling guitar sound could be influenced by a million bands, but I'm mainly reminded of the spirit of The Dead Kennedys, and as well as that song, it brings to mind this one. I wonder if Jello Biafra is a fan of The Fall? Certainly sounds like it.

Back to The Fall, this is off the album that could almost be the definitive in this generation's sins against the record industry, as I've mentioned in a previous post, this album was leaked as being called Country On The Click on the net and the unreleased version people cyber-stole differs almost completely from the released version, hence the new title and massive cuts, pastes and changes in the songs. Apparently this song exists as a slower version with keyboards and backing vocals, but I feel this would detract from what is a raw, mysterious slice of MES. The punk-esque 'chorus' is spat out with a grunt and works really well with the overly-loud guitars. I love the production on Fall songs, so over-clocked if it was a computer it would have burned out long ago, it always sounds calculatedly raw and brutal in a way that not many other bands can manage.

Interesting lyrics that appear in this song seem to focus on the countryside, mentions of Snake Pass and Buxton get a mention, the Peak District is an area of the UK that marks out a massive area between Yorkshire and Smith's native Manchester/Salford/Prestwich/Bury, he actually mentions the peaks a few times on Your Future Our Clutter, so maybe it's a minor obsession he has. The Snake Pass he refers to is a road that stretches from Manchester to Sheffield/Barnsley and is beautiful, but also pretty hair-raising, some sheer drops on either side of the road and is often closed in bad weather, but remains a main route for some reason.

There's a line that reinforces this odd notion of the countryside "Them keys won't fit/Keys won't fit (the keys won't fit)/The keys won't fit in the socket/Or the controls/Stuck like grids on Pennine mud" I feel like the last part should be reversed, but it works both ways, is the mud stuck to grids or are the grids stuck to mud? It does bring up the idea of cattle grids and the earthy smell of the countryside.

But why does he hate it?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Day 38: The containers, and the drivers.

Okay, one of my favourites today, and one I know holds special meaning for a lot of Fall fans, particularly author of excellent Fall-related book The Fallen, Dave Simpson. If you haven't read this particular tome, track it down now, I consumed it recently and its an amazing insight into how the group has operated over the 30 years it has existed. Basically, Dave makes it his life's work to track down every musician who was in the Fall and quiz them on their experiences, some are hilarious, some a bit tragic but all give an interesting account, he doesn't find a few as some seemed to have slipped into the ether, but read it to find out more.

Anyway, one of his favourite tracks is this, there's a horrible section in his book where he charts the breakup of his relationship thanks to his spending time away working on this book and ending up in the far-flung reaches of the country to do so. His partner actually leaves him and to his horror, is seeing a container driver, the ultimate insult.

Song: The Container Drivers
Album: Grotesque (After The Gramme)

Year: 1980

So here's a song that encapsulates several Fall tropes within its brief running time (really short for this era I reckon ) the humdrum job of container delivery drivers with some genuinely trite and funny remarks (They sweat on their way down/report with customs bastards/hang around like clowns) as well as being one of the most obvious blues-influenced songs they've ever written without it being a cover, it reminds me of all sorts of things, weirdly these millionaires come to mind, its the pace of the whole thing and the jangly guitars that do it, this is also of course, courtesy of the amazing Paul Hanley's drumming, this being his first album with the group, some rate this as the best Fall lineup ever and I'm almost inclined to agree, they sound spot on here, that first drumroll just makes this song and the railroad-esque chug-a-chug that makes up the clattering pace means its not only memorable, but damn catchy as well. There's even some truck/train noises towards the end and Mark's vocal exhalations only add to this.

The lyrics are incredible, almost an anti-traveling song in that it relates the monotony of their existence in concise detail: "Bad indigestion/The bowel retention/S'before their wages/Sometimes in short sleeves/Look at a car park for two days/Look at a grey port for two days/Train line, stone and grey/This is not their town" you can almost see them, rotund chaps in hermetically-sealed cabs belching and burping their way down the M1 to Dover to take a container full of whatever to some industrial estate (that's another day!) in the arse-end of rural France perhaps. I like the part about looking at a car park and looking at a grey port, having traveled in my band, I can empathise with these descriptions, there's something very dull about ferry transit and docks/service stations that brings something of horror to the soul.

I like the line about Communists just being part-time workers that thing that people who are proud of their work (no matter how banal) do when talking about people different from them, that narrow-minded sense of accomplishment.

I'm guessing this is influenced by Mark's time as a clerk at the docks in Salford, where he must have seen these types day after day, so I see this as a rare glimpse of autobiography within a Fall song, as he has said on many occasions, he writes objectively and outside himself.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Day 37: Wants anarchy...

Another day, another request, this time from a guy called Robert, who has asked for some stuff off Perverted By Language, which is one of the first albums I owned by the band, its a dizzying one to begin with, I had to listen to it over and over before its mysteries revealed themselves, here's a particularly dark one devoid of humour, which is unusual for MES.

Song: Smile
Album: Perverted By Language

Year: 1983

This is of course the first album featuring Brix, but apparently the vast majority of this album had already been recorded when she joined, so I'm not sure if she contributes to this track at all, its listed as written by Smith and Craig Scanlon, and it sounds quite stark and minimalist so I'm inclined to think she doesn't feature.

The track is a long, dark passage of one riff, not unusual, but the space left for MES to improvise over is more canyonesque than normal, the delay on his vocals only adds to the chilling atmosphere, the music simply creates the mood, he provides the dread. The lyrics run like a list as is his wont, but here take on resonance as MES almost sounds evil as the song opens, the bass sound and general style of the song reminds me of Joy Division, and not in that way that any band who takes things steadily and moodily does every music critic ever, the bassline picks out such a similar path to Peter Hook's style its just there.

Of course this period of The Fall featured two drummers, playing in tandem to create a bombastic sound, but here it creates tension, as the song relentlessly churns your stomach, the drummers become more obvious as MES actually instructs them to 'take it down' towards the end before the shouted command of 'UP UP UP UP UP UP' brings the dynamics to the fore again, actually amazing.

The lyrics, well, the repetition of the word 'smile' over and over becomes almost ghastly and full of horror as the song continues, sometimes delivered as a acid-laced word through gritted teeth, sometimes a full on patented MES squeal, but its just haunting. Elsewhere, the lyrics have a bitter edge to them, as I mentioned previously, most Fall songs feature something humourous or a sly poke at someone or something with an affectionate spin, here you get the feeling its a dark, dark tale he's telling, some great imagery here, the part about 'meat animals' gets me every time, like he's pouring scorn on a group he hates, but in a manner which suggests he means it.

Here's a cryptic one 'Lousy celebrity makes joke record/Lick-spittle southerner/Waiting for next holiday by gas miser' now I can hear that first part in any other Fall song, but the rest, no way, as ever its anyone's guess what this means, but I've picked it out as an example of MES really finding his lyrical sting, this album I'd say encapsulates a period where his lyrics were so entrenched in folds of meaning he almost came across as a savant, sure there are lines you can take from all the albums he's ever made, but this one has a twisted charm that I think is unique, see 'Eat Y'Self Fitter' for proof, its almost another language.

I have to include this video as proof of this song's lasting legacy, this is their first performance on national TV, what do they choose to play on a widely-viewed program, broadcast around tea time? Yeah, this one, the slow-burner that hangs menace in the air, you can see Mark's face crumpling with every spat invective here, just amazing, unintentional humour arrives thanks to the presumably Tube paid-for dancers, who try and gyrate alluringly while the audience looks bemused and terrified. Brilliant.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Day 36: A Moody Blues cassette on the dashboard!

I haven't done anything off this wonderful album yet, shame as I really love the rushed nature producing some of the oddest arrangements The Fall ever recorded.

Song: Room To Live
Album: Room To Live (Undilutable Slang Truth)


Okay, so this album was recorded as a quick follow-up to Hex Enduction Hour, Smith forcing the group to record more songs than they intended, they originally entered the Cargo Studios in Rochdale to record a single. In a Beefheart-esque way, some members were excluded from certain recordings, resulting in some of the songs sounding a bit unfocused, but it all jitters along with a cursory air that is fantastic. Smith claims some of the tracks are simply him and Karl Burns double-tracked, which I can believe, the album also features a member of the Fall famous for just playing 16 seconds of guitar on "Hard Life In Country". Arthur Kadmon was dismissed straight after, bonkers, but more on that when I blog that song.

So the music here bounces along just nicely, its a bit more restrained than Hex Enduction Hour (recorded previously the same year) but still rings with invention and a little hint of madness. This features saxophone, which farts along nicely with an unmistakable Mark Riley riff (he left following the tour of New Zealand and Australia about five months later) and the drums keep a usual, metronomic beat throughout.

The lyrics jump out on this one, some general observational parlance from MES here, as ever, references to cultural happenings feature, the stand-out being a "DHSS Volvo estate/Right outside my door/With a Moody Blues cassette on the dashboard" I know the type of car, you see them still, nearly 20 years later, just filled with tat, I almost want to own one, they are almost anti-car, they become great big slabs of previous owners' histories with cig ends, dog smells and god knows what kept in the boot, most of them still have cassette/radios too. I'm not sure if MES like the Moody Blues at all, I think they're pretty good in an inoffensive way, not bad at all.

Elsewhere he talks of chasing women, which he claims "makes meat out of the soul" we could possibly double-reference that with Slates, Slags, etc as I covered a few days ago. The idea of the title Room To Live could mean several things, he keeps saying "I just want a room to live" but does he mean a literal room or room generally? The list-like nature of the lyrics suggests the latter, maybe feeling hemmed in, surrounded by people, but as he says in a line later on "there's no hate to the point I give" which suggests that while he may be uncomfortable with his situation, a claustrophobic existence perhaps, he is happy to let it carry on.

One last thing, I'd love to know what "a reporter with no wig" is a reference too, the mind boggles.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Day 35: Where's that bloody belt?

The Fall, the only band I know who have opened a song with a line about not being able to find a belt first thing in the morning, pure brilliance, this is a request for reader 'Sly & The Family Bone', you are welcome.

Song: No Bulbs
Album: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall

Year: 1984

This one is demented, punchy and quite jerky, again, the idea of a slow descent into madness echoes the grotesque artwork for this album. Having said that, the lyrics are hilarious, focusing on the minutiae of modern living and what seems to me like poverty, no belt, no bulbs for the flat and talk of living in a 'trash mound'.

The music is brash, loud and features some paint-peeling feedback squalls/keyboard towards the end, but is most notable for the harmonics (yes harmonics in The Fall!) of Mark and Brix singing together on what we could term the chorus of: "In need of black strap/No belts in this flat" the harmonics are skewed of course, but its a nice touch when it happens, the production as I've said before about this album, is pretty maxed out and abrasive (not quite as fuzzy or crackling with scuzz as Slates) and gives you an idea of how loud they must have recorded it, but when you are recording The Fall, why not go all out?

Flashes of lyrical genius pepper this one like so many bullets, the half-finished line of "No belts in this flat/The former tenant was anti-corporal-punish!" this sense of simple poetry gone-wrong leaves behind a great line I'd argue, certainly memorable. Elsewhere there is the despairing: "They say damp records the past/If that's so I've got the biggest library yet" this is just cracking, kicking any notion of romanticising poverty or squalor a la George Orwell and his type and just shooting from the hip, its not glorious, its pretty disgusting right? I'd guess that Mark is against any type of class tourism you see these days (the characterisation of the working class as chavs and media lampooning them with no sensitivity) and this song could be seen as evidence.

I'm going to stick my neck out and label this song as a tad existential, its in the realms of challenging the futility of life, at one point, not able to find a bulb, our protagonist (I presume this isn't autobiographical) destroys what he describes as 'years of hippie craft/Cut up the match ship/And a string wooden chandelier or something' this is what sounds like mindless destruction and a lot like self-loathing. The whole song reeks of existence, the grim reality of damp on the walls, living in a place so untidy a belt cannot be found in the 'trash pile' and a lack of bulbs is just the icing on this cake of crust.

I once went to look round a house on my own (to see if it was any good for me and my mates, they were all busy) and the house was covered in hamster shit and sawdust and none of the lights worked, no bulbs you see, the letting agent just turned to me and said "I'd leave if I were you, this is horrible" one of the most honest things I've ever heard from someone in that profession, either way, this song reminds me of that house in Sheffield, I wonder if they ever found the explosive hamster?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Day 34: I will remain here.

A request today for Bev from Coventry who has asked for a few songs to be covered, but I've picked one out in particular. By the way, Cov is great, got a few friends who live there.

Song: The Steak Place
Album: The Frenz Experiment

Year: 1988

So here's quite a funny one, you can hear the laughter in MES's voice here, it starts with some cheesy finger-clicking and features only MES, and what I presume is Brix on acoustic guitar (she and Mark are credited with writing this one), but there's so much space you can just focus on his lyrics, another example of his writing on banal subjects and making them sound interesting. In this case, what seems to be an affectionate paean to the US roadside diner, but as ever, there's a paranoid element, there's talk of hitmen being pacified personally.

It's all a bit Americana, with a jaunty rhythm giving it a playful edge, but also a very pop edge, remember this is off the album which gave us the covers of Victoria and There's A Ghost In My House, so this is probably why, pop was on their mind and cast an influence over the whole thing. I love the atmosphere created by the picking out of description here, talk of "Cheap carpet lines the way/Aluminium tack door handles/Candelabra lions head" I can just picture it, one of those diners with black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe and the like lining the walls and fake plastic plants lining white pots while a smell of meat and chip fat fills the air, the menus are probably laminated too. Perhaps this is a weirdly lucid moment for Smith, being cocooned in comforting fakery for five minutes, it certainly amuses him, he laughs as he delivers the lines: "I'd stop the automation/I'd sit behind dusty lace/I have a word with hitmen/I give off a beatific face" suggesting he has given up making this a serious song at all. It is a bit absurd when you think about it.

I particularly like the closing line, which is simply (who I presume is) Smith quietly singing "Bad song" as the chords fade out, I love these aural footnotes he gives, in a similar way to songs like the song I looked at yesterday's "This is the definitive rant" or the weird bit he does at the start of Hex Enduction Hour's Fortress where he sounds like a TV presenter saying: "Today, on the Vitamin B Glandular Show" its almost like a poet addressing his readers before a collection of his work, offering a tiny sliver of another side to the actual art.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Day 33: A hate for slate.

So I've had a request from follower of this blog 'ruiend' who points out that I haven't done anything off the oft-overlooked but much-loved 'Slates' album (or mini album type affair). This is true, so hopefully, this will re-tilt the balance as I think so far, the majority of my blog entries have been about 90s Fall tracks, although I'm not sure, hopefully you all think its a fair balance, I didn't want to be limited by chronological order, meaning I can pick at whim and will what I write about, and you can too.

Song: Slates, Slags, etc
Album: Slates

Year: 1981

So here's one of the most abrasive tracks I can think of by the group, simplistic in extremis thanks to its two-note riff that underpins what Mark even shouts at the start as a 'definitive rant' showing even this early, he was aware of his reputation as a man of words and opinion. I've no real idea of what he means by slates (except the roofing-tile material, maybe it goes right through him) but hatred is poured in buckets upon 'male slags' which I can empathise with, I'm not a macho type by any stretch of the imagination so I hate those who are for no real reason, seems MES does too.

I must mention that first and foremost, this is The Fall at their most caustic and pissed off, the production on here is scratchy, tinny, trebled up to the max and is nigh-on irritating, but therein lies its charm, to go along with some vicious lyrics, MES has engineered a horrific racket to go with it, almost anti-music to show his intentions. This chimes with a relatively recent genre, black metal, in which teens created a kind of proto-death metal sound but removed all production values and any semblance of bass. The phrase usually coined is 'wasps in a biscuit tin' by critics, I won't bang on about obscure Norwegian bands on here for long, but listen to this slice of waspness by Darkthrone and you'll see what I mean, suits their dark lyrics and themes, usually laughably sixth form fare but still sounds incredible today.

Back to slates and slags, MES focuses hate upon those he hates, this must have been very cathartic to record, lyrics like: "Male slags knock over your drink/Pay for correct amount spilt" give a definite image of the kind of people he is talking about, what I guess is the middle to upper class spods who act as if privilege is a god-given right, who as he terms 'kill the safety in our lands' and 'ream off names of books and bands'.

I guess he is grabbing out at people he can't stand, but I do wonder if there's any jealousy going on at all, I doubt there is much, but maybe a smidgen. At any rate, it almost runs like a list of things he cannot stand against this particular group of people, I love the comparison to actual slate that occurs later on: 'They are the grey ones of the state I relate' perhaps meaning that they are dull, lifeless people who make up society in a similar way to the slates that make up the structure of a roof, ever mysterious, this is just another line we could debate all day.

I like the images that come with the lines: "Okay mates/Let's get onto the valley of the weights" I can almost see two chaps in rugby shirts trundling off to a gym to get fit together, MES has obviously always had it in for the yuppies and this is only their fourth album!

Kay Carrol must get a mention here for her demented backing vocals, if anyone can do an impression of what kicking a cat must sound like, its obviously her, she adds to the cacophony wonderfully here, but unfortunately I remember her for being the bands ballsy manager from the documentaries I've seen, not as a musical contributor. My enduring image is of her calling up some promoter and effing and blinding loudly about some money they are owed while Mark sits on a sofa next to her looking uninterested, amazing.

The list idea continues through the whole song, MES attacking other 'slags' this time, female and then going on to 'Rip-off bands' who wear 'hoop shirts' and 'shitty new pants' which is hilarious, I can imagine people ripping them off almost immediately, but as MES has said, he is still around, they aren't, quite right.

I thought I'd just add at the end here who I am as I don't think I've said, I'm Mike Shields, a subeditor/journalist and I've written for a variety of music mags in the past including Kerrang!, Rock-A-Rolla and a load more, I've been a fan of The Fall since about 2004 when I got an anonymous bootleg CD in the post, quite where they got my address or name I have no idea, but it was simply called 'Not Appreciated' and had groups of three or four tracks from about 5 gigs on it, and it got me hooked. Other than that, I'm currently residing in the terrible town of Barnsley, having moved here from nearby Sheffield for a job, I'm looking to get out as soon as possible.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Day 32: Brum Brum, get out of my way...

A request today from a reader of the blog from Germany, thanks Andrew, good suggestion this.

Song: The Birmingham School of Business School
Album: Code:Selfish

Year: 1992

Okay, so this is a weird combination of 90s rave-esque electronics and a song about one of the most referred-to cities in Britain when talking of dull, faceless places. Birmingham has been transformed since, but looked like a concrete jungle back then (New Street Station is still a brutalist abortion as far as I'm concerned). Birmingham, or as us Brits like to call it, Brum, is a city in the midlands, famous for spawning Black Sabbath and not a lot else (at least I can't think of anything bar the annual Supersonic Festival which is incredible).

Yeah, so as Brum is a byword for boredom, MES sounds quite depressed here, half-mumbling lyrics such as: "And my friend, he said Im full of surprises now/Let me tell you about scientific management/And the theft of it's concealment" which just conjures up an image of some business tosser bending your ear about some stocks or management techniques he no doubt was taught by someone calling themselves a 'consultant advisory manager' or something similar.

He goes on to berate the city as a joke: "Laughing-stock of european/Olympic bidding again and again/Exciting developments" which tickles me, I love it when towns and cities try to be something they aren't, I'm sure Brum in its current state could be a contender these days, but I'm pretty sure it was depressed in the 80s and 90s, as the whole of the midlands were. I worked for the local paper in Barnsley for two years and during that time, they put in a serious bid for European Captial of Culture (Liverpool has won it before, so it could have happened in some strange universe) but Barnsley's bid was woefully short of its competitors (Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester among them) I think the saddest thing was seeing local poet Ian McMillan posing next to a derelict office block, its windows painted in rainbow colours in the name of diversity and art, papering over the cracks of a town that is generally horrible (needless to say, it didn't win).

The music in this song is classic mad-chester rave fare, I can imagine pillheads dancing to this with whistles in their mouths, not taking notice of MES ranting over the top. It's all in a similar vein to his recent-ish forays into dance music with Von Sudafed (his project with Mouse On Mars) where he is given free reign while the music does its own thing. The music here sounds a little dated in dance terms, but it does the job, nice retro-sounding drum machines and synths to create a modernist urban palette for MES to paint over.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Day 31: Both my enemy and my friend.

Here's a fantastic one, so many elements in this near-four minutes its dizzying. This is a genuine piece of art here, enjoy.

Song: Sons Of Temperance
Album: The Unutterable

Year: 2000

Part old-style Fall, part dream pop thanks to the keyboard swells in the background, it also has some elements of j-pop, the quirky and quickly-changing focus means it doesn't stay in the same place for too long (yes this is The Fall).

The vocals are acid-tinged here, snarled, grumbled and eventually sang in a feint, almost ethereal way, the lyrics concerning this country's moral compass, some of the lyrics sound almost personal: "The firmament is both my enemy and my friend/One thing's for sure - division in my soul" this has a sad air to it, but then is followed by the hilarious: "You're an androgynous piece of slop" if he has actually said that to anyone, I'd love to know the back story, love it when an image is conjoured up out of nowhere.

Elsewhere, the chorus, with its defiant group vocals mean it packs a punk-tinged punch that is memorable, I'm sure I'll be singing "Roll up! Sons of temperance!" all day. Following the chorus is the dream-pop I alluded to earlier, a trippy, psychedelic Fall for a few moments, before crashing back to the main riff once more.

Reading the lyrics without the music is quite moving, forget Mark's snarl and just read these closing lines and it sounds like something you might read in a po-faced memoir: "On the night out of the valley/On sweet silence/Dark distortions of the past/And the restructure of your new life" very revelation-like and a bit dark at the same time, MES never fails to surprise me, and wading through these lyrics is like studying poetry, but poetry that could reference anything and veer to corners of the psyche that others dare not to.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Day 30: News Of The World?

So here's one that could easily soundtrack a current news story, despite being released over 20 years ago, the current phone-tapping scandals are nothing new, but obviously still relevant.

Song: Telephone Thing
Album: Extricate

Year: 1990

This is a repetitive one, but is augmented by some deep keys and some nice stuttering vocal effects as MES backs himself up (lack of Brix on here meant he had to fill out songs in this manner). It's a good old-fashioned Fall slow-burner, leaving plenty of space for Mark's invective. The subject here is obviously phone tapping and paranoia, quite why anyone would need to tap into Mark's call is anyone's guess, but here we have it. The line everyone always quotes is: "How dare you assume I want to parlez-vous with you?" which is amazing, simple, direct and memorable. 'Assume' is an interesting word, that holds different meanings for different people, he visits the word in more depth on 2005's Assume off Fall Heads Roll, where he applies this cryptic head-scratcher: "If you assume, you are a Hu(l)me/ If you half assume, you are a Hu(l)me/If you don't assume, you are a cap-it-an!!"

The mentions of Gretchen Franklin (left) here are apparently nothing to do with the elderly and now deceased actress who played Ethel Skinner on TV's Eastenders. When asked why he had mentioned this relatively minor character, Smith claims he thought he had made the name up, so maybe influence through osmosis? She would certainly be the type to listen in on conversations on another phone in the house, but subterfuge and clandestine recording techniques seem a little out of her league, she was, after all, famous for having a dog called Willy who she would constantly talk about making cheap accidental double-ententres such as "Have you seen my Willy?" I don't see her as a dark character capable of spying, but it's always the quiet ones as they say! Her character Ethel actually made a dark departure from the show, dying with assisted help in a euthanasia storyline featuring fellow character Dot Cotton, who helped her to die.

I prefer Coronation Street, a bit more real and dull, everyone on Eastenders seems hell-bent on world domination, whereas Coronation Street seems relatively real, except people talking to their neighbours all day, as if anyone does that!

Back to the song, these lyrics stand out for me: "The use of [..] and your smug advertisements/Of your tendril ocean bed achievements does not/Justify your abuse of privacy piracy act" in that he seems here to be calling out telemarketers, I'm presuming the tendril ocean bed he speaks of is that old one for some bank or loan company where the lad goes diving for pearls among seaweed. Again, MES is an oracle, predicting the future, telemarketing has become a beast of epic proportions, despite the rise of mobiles and the slow death of landlines and people are still breaking the law to listen to private conversations, not quite on the level of Powder Keg here, but pretty similar.

I like the references made to this (as we now know) fictional Gretchen Franklin as a 'nosey matron type' it conjours up twitching curtains and hankerchiefs on receivers, as ever, a dark take on suburban lives from Mr Smith.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Day 29: Beach bums and politicians.

Here's an excellent Leadbelly cover, renamed from Bourgeois Blues to Bourgeois Town, the theme of the song fits with MES's less-than complimentary view of class and it clatters along like the original, as fast as a freight train.

Song: Bourgeois Town
Album: Are You Are Missing Winner?

Year: 2001

So this is less a cover, more a thematic tribute with lots in common with the original blues song, which follows a simple blues riff and some lovely vocals from Leadbelly, The Fall's reworking still has an essence of the rhythm there, but obviously sounds more Fall-like, trashy, repetitive and nonchalant.

The Fall's song begins with some excellent sampled noise from some sort of arcade machine (I presume) which kicks off the song as a modern update. Mark's vocals are cool, clipped and sound almost sung at points, the lyrics are great, he uses the refrain from the Leadbelly song, but has come up with his own lyrics which ring with a dissatisfied air. Talk of sitting on buses, trains and walking to the park are combined with some measured hate for beach bums, politicians and the like. I like the way he pronounces the word 'bourgeois', as in 'booj-wah' brilliant.

It's a simple song, but again, as I've been alluding to constantly through this blog from the very first day, the music hides the venom behind its quirky and often upbeat manner. This is something I love about the band, the music takes on an almost haunting quality as a result, no mean feat when you are playing 2-3 riffs a song. Some friends of mine say it must be really dull to be in The Fall, playing music that repeats itself so fervently, often for a full five minutes at a time, but I'd argue that this must take discipline and reaching that level of accuracy and to keep it sounding fresh is amazing. As MES often says, he almost gets people to 'unlearn' their instruments, or takes people who have never picked an instrument up before, hence this simplistic sound, but it has hidden depths, krautrock bands like Neu! and Harmonia remind me of The Fall, hypnosis and deeper meaning through almost sound therapy, its a vast spectrum hidden behind a few notes.

I've included the original by Leadbelly below, listen to both and you'll see where MES is coming from with his affectionate tribute here.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Day 28: Aftershave like mustard...

A country-tinged slow-burner that fixes you with a stare this one, off the excellent Code:Selfish, this has, yet again, a film noir feel, features some nice plonking piano and a cool American accent-tinged vocal performance from MES.

Song: Married, 2 Kids
Album: Code:Selfish

Year: 1992

The lyrics appear to focus on MES's idea of a normal, boring life, which I can dig, he lists things that seem to only affirm that we are all quite self-obsessed and love talking about ourselves, but this seems to be a man looking at himself and realising his life has come to not much: "Got a porta-fax/Aftershave like mustard/Two pints of lager do me in/And The Spirit of Man/Is a pub I go in" this was recorded in 1992 (apparently in an abandoned church in Glasgow) but I'd say the subjects aluded to still stand up today. Everyone has gone even more down this route, facebook means you are wide open to everyone, your dull hobbies, views, photos and banal information is even more tedious than it first was anyway.

I love the references to porta-faxes a very yuppy thing that doesn't really exist any more, the modern equivalent would be a Blackberry or iPhone now I suppose, but back then, it was purely for people who worked in the cut and thrust on business, not everyone and their wife. Mention must also go to the line about aftershave being like mustard, there's some really strange 'fragrances' out there these days, back in 1992 I think it was just taking off in a big way, remember the days when Brut and Old Spice were the only two affordable options? Times have changed.

This song stands out against the rest of the album, in that the rest of the album is quite dance-music heavy, taking influences from techno, its a bit of a driving album (I have this one in my car also) so this is a nice break. It also marks their last album on Phonogram Records, from which they were released from a 5-album deal, following only this album and the previous two being released (Extricate and Shift Work being the others).

I've been listening to this one on repeat while writing and I have to say I think I could carry on doing all afternoon.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Day 27: Underwear slang for superheroes...

Silly one today, off the sometimes-overlooked Bend Sinister album.

Song: Shoulder Pads 1#
Album: Bend Sinister

Year: 1986

So this is a bit of a daft one, but one that comes quite early in the Fall canon, the lyrics are delivered in a rhythm to the song, which is quite rare sometimes within The Fall, and the music is frankly ridiculous, what I presume is a keyboard being mixed really high in the production. Its really playful and sounds a bit 60s-pop to my mind, a little Monkees or early Beatles? Nice sounding guitar, but the star (as ever) is Mark and his vocals.

He kind of reads these lyrics out, there's some messy delay going on with his voice, giving an echo-chamber effect, it sounds basic and dated, but that's where the charm lies here. The lyrics seem to catalogue real life, it basically sounds like a list. Some of it sounds like self-realisation, like this: "Suppressed big romance/It was like being back at school".

I love the line "Superhero in harlequin kecks" for those not from the north or even the UK, kecks is slang for underpants, a word you hardly ever hear any more, "Keep your kecks on" was always something people said growing up, I love slang for underpants, the British have loads, undercrackers, kecks, knickers, pants, undies, gruds, all amazing, I have to wonder if there's any Fall song out there which mentions undercrackers, if there isn't, there needs to be.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Day 26: A french competition on a fluted instrument?

It's far too nice to be inside on a day like this, but here's some more Fall nonsense for you. As I mentioned before, I've listened to this album so many times I appear to have broken the CD (or my car just chewed it up) either way, incredible album.

Song: Bury! Pts 2 and 4
Album: Your Future Our Clutter

Year: 2010

So this is the second track off their latest album, which came out on Domino (although I think they've since fallen out with them or at least left the label) this song features the line "A new way of recording, a chain round the neck" which is just a cracking line anyway, but apparently refers to Domino's attitude to production values, apparently the album was recorded a year before it was released, so perhaps this is a dig in the most obvious of ways, he delivers it with such tangible venom I'm inclined to hate Domino as much as he does.

The production is something that I love about the whole album, but is fully explained and shown during this track, the muted electronics and buzzing, combined with the clear production of vocals, guitars, bass and drums makes for a modern sounding collage.

His vocals on this album ring with an angry air, the lyrics are something else, I could listen to lines like "And you will suffer all the seasons on the sides of municipal buildings" and "One day a Spanish king with a council of bad knaves, tried to come to Bury" all day, could the Spanish king be a smarmy record label exec? It seems likely.

This song also gets a personal seal of approval from me, as he mentions the small suburb of Altrincham known as Timperley where my girlfriend is from, the second song I've ever heard referencing the place, the other being the late, great Frank Sidebottom's Panic (On The Streets Of Timperley) another Manchester-centric act with obtuse lyrics, RIP.

The song has so many lines to mention, its as if MES is packing in as many fantastic lines as he can, the song gains momentum, with Elena's vocals (I'm not from Bury man) making this a real stomper.

The video, as you can see, is filmed on an ultra-HD camera, picking out all Mark's wrinkles and playing some excellent shots in slow motion, it looks incredibly stylish, but the lines written on paper and shown to the camera make me piss myself, they include: GET A FLAT, DICKHEAD/ YOU ARE AN OAF, YOUR BLOOD IS WORTHLESS/LOOK THIS UP ONT' NET YOU USELESS CROCK OF DOWNLOAD CRECK DRECK and WHY DO THEY BOTHER? PSEUDO SOCCER-LOVING PACK IT IN OR ELSE. This is fantastic, coded messages or just MES scribbles? Either way, they add to the dark menace this album and particular track build with tension.

Other lines talk of Ben Marshall of Uncut magazine whose interview with MES caused him to be investigated by the RSPCA, although I'm sure nothing has come of it, but he had boasted of chopping up red squirrels with hedge trimmers, as they were 'eating his garden fence'. He also agreed with Marshall on the subject of running over seagulls as they were a 'public nuisance'. The line in the song says: "Is the artistic Mark in fact/Got rid of vermin/Like the grey squirrels/By rooting out/Ben Marshall's articles/Or user recordings/On his vile manufacturing community" which suggests to me he just wants to document that particular episode in song.

One interesting part, which validates what I'm doing is: "This song means something/Every song means something" which I'm glad he has pointed out, makes this process seem more worthwhile if he insists there's a meaning behind every track.

So what's the meaning of this one? Well as far as I know, MES is from Prestwich, which is a good five miles from Bury itself, but people may give him that label just because its easier, its important to be specific with cities, areas are very personal to people and have specific reputations, so he's probably highlighting that, or maybe he's jsut rallying against the idea of identity and people interfering with his art, the record label stuff being a good example and the story about the squirrels is another. What do you lot think?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Day 25: A request...

Thanks to all who keep emailing, glad to know you are all enjoying it, I asked on a forum I post on quite a bit if anyone had any requests, the only one so far is this, which I've not heard much, but here's my take on it.

Song: Stephen Song
Album: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall

Year: 1984

This was actually released the very month I was born, strange to be reviewing it now, but hey ho. This was the band's first release for Beggars Banquet, a label that I've always admired, carrying bands such as The Tindersticks, The National, The Cult, Mercury Rev and The Llama Farmers, all great bands you should give a blast and see what you think.

Anyway, this particular song features vocals from former Virgin Prunes man Gavin Friday, who is an Irish singer/musician/artist who appears elsewhere on this album on "Copped It" and "Clear Off". His vocals are very folksy, you can hear his Irish lilt throughout, almost a cliched Irish sound to be honest, the drawn out, gruff stylings remind me of a number of Irish musicians, but I won't do him the insult of comparing him to lesser artists as he intertwines lines with Mark's laid-back approach here with aplomb.

The lyrics, well, they are as abstract as they come, "It was a thing with a head like a spudball" is the first line and it doesn't get much clearer than that for me here I'm afraid, it seems to be about a nameless (as ever) protagonist who sounds like he is part of a dark world, taking walks along privet hedges, mens' interest magazine The Face gets a mention, and a quick check reveals that yes, it was in publication back then (it folded in 2004, shame). I presume this is a celebrity they are talking about, or at least an artist.

The production is a bit much here, the instruments and 'two-drummer' lineup are very equally mastered, couple this with backing vocals from Brix and two almost-competing frontmen and its a claustrophobic experience. Add to this the crazy artwork from the album by Danish-born artist Claus Castenskiold and you have a full package, something which I feel is lost sometimes with music these days (old man?). the cover seems to be a face in agony from my perspective, what do other people think?

The album title couldn't be more accurate, if this was among the first few tracks I'd heard by The Fall, I'd be intrigued for sure, but maybe put off by how brash and intense the experience is, it's almost like being assaulted with images and influences in one three-minute blast. But therein lies the beauty of The Fall, they cannot be judged by one track or album alone, The Fall is a multi-faced beast which you need to approach from the right angle, this is one of the more challenging, but has its rewards.

In Fall-related news, I think I've listened to Your Future Our Clutter that much in my car that I've worn it out, that hasn't happened to me for years. Shows you how great it is though, I'll do a track from that tomorrow.

To anyone wondering what the background image to the blog is, the man on the floor of the car park (at the Forest of Dean services near Wales) is a guy called Darren Kaskie, who we were taking home after our bands toured together, the van was so hot, he had to collapse, we managed to pick the one week the whole of the UK decided to melt in 2006. He's in a band who take a similar love of repetition to new extremes, check them out here.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Day 24: Hey Hey Hey Hey.

So here's today's in all its on-time glory!

This song will be familiar to those not even into The Fall, it was on a Vauxhall Corsa advert a few years ago (I actually own a Corsa now, coincidence?) it has some incredible lines and Mark's vocals are as vital as they ever were, the refrain of "Hey Hey Hey Hey" gets me every time, love this one.

Song: Touch Sensitive
Album: The Marshall Suite

Year: 1999

So yeah, advert credentials aside, this is a pop song in the best sense, catchy and fun, as well as produced amazingly well, with some great group vocals over it, THAT chorus is one that will follow them around for years to come, can't quite believe it's over ten years old already, this would have been one of the first songs I heard by the band after some anonymous Fall fan sent me a bootleg of some gigs on a blank CD, with a simple note on the front saying "Not Appreciated!" there was a live version of this on it and it sounded so vital, I think that's where The Fall clicked with me.

Typical playful lyrics include: "And you're dying for a pee/So you go behind a tree/And a Star Wars police vehicle pulls up/I say gimme a taxi" which is just brilliant, I can just imagine a situation that inspired this, MES in a stupor doing his business only to be accosted by a futuristic cop car, brilliant. The lines about "if you smile you are a creep" could be a comment on how we are all a bit too reserved these days, I had the pleasure the other day of walking in a country park and people passing all said hello and smiled, in any other situation, I'd be freaked out, so why is it normal if you're wearing a fleece or avoiding sheep droppings? Very odd.

The video merits some mention here, really good, almost a call from the rooftops, MES with a handheld camera, and people on the wrong instruments (I presume on purpose?) which is hilarious, the drummer is beating a keyboard with drumsticks for gawd's sake! I'd like to know who the crowd are on here, I presume they are one of two groups, either Fall fans, hand-picked to enthusiastically jump about to their favourite band (yeah right) or a group of people Smith has had rounded up and paid a tenner each to look interested (more likely).

Day 23: Late, but there's a new face in hell.

Apologies to anyone religiously following this blog (if such a person exists) I was too busy to publish yesterday, however, I'm doing two songs today, therefore stretching my skills that tiny bit further, enjoy.

So here's an astonishing performance from MES, frankly a machine-gun like vocal delivery with some incredible lyrics, which read more like a film noir gone mad.

Song: New Face In Hell
Album: Grotesque (After The Gramme)

Year: 1980

So this album is another important chapter in the history of The Fall, features some of their most angry and intense work ever, including this one and Container Drivers (one of their best early songs in my opinion), the reissue actually contains two Fall classics as well, How I Wrote Elastic Man and Totally Wired, why they don't appear on the album in the first place I have no idea, but such was the nature of releasing singles and LPs back then I suppose.

Back to this particular song, it's interesting that the cover of Grotesque has some hellish artwork on the front, it's what comes to mind every time I hear this song, but the lyrics as mentioned before, have a real film-like quality to them, all double crossing and rich description, although it is all delivered in such a rapid manner, you may have trouble following it, some choice lines include: "Wireless enthusiast intercepts government secret radio band and/Uncovers secrets and scandals of deceitful type proportions" now this sets the scene, a ham radio enthusiast (following MES's obsession with British eccentricities) stumbles upon something dark, you can almost imagine an overweight, balding man in a dark room, gasping as he hears some clandestine mutterings that he shouldn't have, the song continues this man's story in its brief, but concise and accurate diatribes.

Looking at the IMDB for the film that inspired the song (P.J at the plot seems similar, jealousy, double-crossing and death, though the recommendations made are a bit dubious, Spiderman 3 and Eraser (starring Arnie?) I think something's gone amiss there.

Two things which stand out in this song are MES's vocals, not only his rattling-off of intricate verse (I'd like to hear him attempt something similar now), but the refrain of "A New Face In Hell" which he intones so fervently, he breaks his voice and it gives it a horrible, menacing quality, almost demonic, you don't hear this side of his voice much, but when you do, it's great. He uses it quite a lot on Hex Enduction Hour to great effect. The other thing worth mentioning is the use of kazoo (by Smith himself) which manages not to sound ridiculous (as kazoos generally are).

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Day 22: The whole world's a funny farm.

Another day, another Fall cover? Why not?

Thanks to everyone who has emailed me about the blog, your encouragement makes me want to carry it on for as long as I can, had quite a few views the last few days, so thanks if you've mentioned it anywhere, keep it up, it means I'm not speaking to myself!

For other Fall-related musings as well as some nice creative writing, check out this chap's site here:

Anyway, back to the task in hand, this is another cover from the 60s, and weirdly, both performances are very much of their time, The Fall's version crackles with 80s drum production, we're talking big, brash and impressive, a bit like the fashion at the time, whereas the 60s version is quirky and a bit Beatles-esque, but the lyrics are the main crux for me.

Song: Popcorn Double Feature
Album: Extricate

Year: 1990

Like a lot of 60s pop, the words sometimes get buried in the jaunty nature of the music, there was still a hangover of songs being background music for dances and the like, but if you look carefully, it's all a bit Orwellian.

Take the lines: "Coffee each mornin'/Don't park is the warnin'/ They'll tow your machine away/ There's so much confusion/That's built on illusion/What's makin' the music play?"
now to me that sounds a bit anti-capitalist, breaking free from the chains of oppression etc.

To be fair, the Fall version is pretty faithful to the original, apart from the strange line (which I get would be a big deal back in the 60s) "Black man is your teacher/Don't be alarmed" has been changed to what sounds like "Blind man is your teacher" no problem there, could be a comment on politicians or society there, but I like the fact a group in the 60s was saying "Hey, it's ok you know, the world is changing."

The chorus in the original actually has some semblance of melancholy, but the rest of the song is quite jerky and upbeat, the Fall version is (of course) a bit reserved and Mark's vocals sound a bit despondent, but they match the lyrics, so that's great. I should probably try and crowbar in that this is the first album recorded without Brix after their divorce, some people say her backing vocals and guitar parts are notably missing, but I'd disagree, this is obviously an album made by Mark alone and it sounds great in the way that every Fall album is different, if she had been in the band I can't imagine we'd have got an album so inventive as Extricate, its actually one of my favourites.

Interesting note, the Fall version features Mike Edwards of rockers Jesus Jones, you learn something new every day hmm?

Just a note to my readers, would you mind if I put ads on this blog? I hate them normally but if there's money to be made (in minuscule amounts) should I bother?

I've ranted enough, just enjoy the song, I've included the original below for comparison, enjoy.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Day 21: Hey Mark, you're messing up the paintwork.

I love this one, a mish-mash of sounds, which comes off as an abstract collage of taped sounds, as well as being a nice laid-back Fall song. It has excerpts of conversation and what sounds like a dictaphone recording of the telly.

Song: Paintwork
Album: This Nation's Saving Grace

Year: 1985

So this appears on TNSG, which is becoming one of my favourites as this blog trundles along, this is an inventive yet disorienting track, not only do we have some lovely strummed acoustic passages with Mark delivering his vocals down what sounds like a phone, but constant shifts in volume and clarity, which makes it a little bit un-nerving. There are parts where it drops out completely to give way to a snatched piece of taped sound, whether studio conversation or samples of strange strings, but it remains entirely listenable. Even when Mark overdubs some vocals in parts and some of those seem to be unintelligible mumbles, its a menagerie of sounds that all come together.

The lyrics are something else, as so often is the case, his lyrics seem to be simplistic, the repetition of "Hey Mark, you're spoiling all the paintwork" being the obvious part here, but quite honestly, you can read so much into this, is this people's comments about his ability to keep a band together for very long (ruining his paintwork?) or could it be a lyrical take on how he doesn't care what impression he is leaving, so long as he is remembered. My view is that he is almost telling people who may be trying to give him advice that he doesn't need it, he doesn't care what people think, as so often is his wont, he rarely gives away any ideas or impressions of what his lyrics are about, similarly he has no time for journalists asking him about the music or where he sees it going, often laughing or being deliberately obtuse when he gives answers (see the liner notes to the live album In A Hole, where he gives about 1% of his attention to answering any questions at all).

Again, MES can confuse and charm with one hand, striking out with the other, don't think I'll ever understand him fully, but he's a fascinating person to be writing about.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Day 20: A kink in The Fall.

Here's a jaunty one for a Sunday night! A Kinks cover, which is glorious just for the faithful version, obviously MES nodding towards his musical roots once more, but he actually SINGS on it. I'd love to have heard him attempt this more, not sure what he'd sound like now (the grumbly man of Your Future Our Clutter sounds a million miles away from this admirable attempt at singing).

Song: Victoria
Album: The Frenz Experiment

Year: 1988

The video is great, MES dressed as what I presume is Napoleon and Brix has some crazy hair here, the kind of style you used to see in big framed photos in salons in the 80s/90s. The plot I have no idea about, a cake that's set on fire, Brix being fitted into a corset, a footballer who seems to have contracted a ballet-like condition meaning he can't kick the ball. All filmed really well for a Fall video, they are usually palpably cheap and rough-shod, but this looks great (I presume because of the popularity of the album The Frenz Experiment and the fact they were getting singles in the charts at the time).

The song itself, well you can't fault The Kinks, a band who not only penned lovely pop ditties like this cover proves, but also released off-the-wall madness like The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society which is so quintessentially English, I'm not surprised MES is a fan.

I always wonder which band The Fall will cover next, there could be some fantastic ones.

The lyrics in this one are worthy of mention, full of jingoism, the lines about being 'poor but free' and the fact that 'Victoria loved them all' is a great little nod to old Queen Vic, but the slight eccentricity of the subject matter is buried under the 60s jangle of it all, something I feel MES does with a lot of his material, it's almost as if someone in his head is saying "Bloody hell Mark, these lyrics are a bit morbid, I hope you've got a chirpy melody to go over this..." see songs like I'm Going To Spain or The League Of Bald Headed Men for proof.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Day 19: Veteran's Day Poppy.

This one is one of those meta-narratives that MES is so fond of, and here's another nod to his past and a hint of his listening habits (something I wonder about a lot actually, I wonder if he keeps up with any particular music, having collaborated with some brilliant bands over the years).

Song: Scenario
Album: Reformation Post-TLC

Year: 2007

Yeah, so its a nice laid back one this, with twangy guitars, a nice flourish of keyboard here and there and a bit of melancholy from Mr Smith. The lyrics constantly reference the Captain Beefheart classic 'Veterans Day Poppy' which is off their most-mentioned album Trout Mask Replica (if you haven't heard this, more fool you, its utterly manic despite it feeling like a marathon to listen to).

Here's the original:

Now I could cover a point here that's often been touched upon by other writers, MES runs the Fall a little like Beefheart did around this album. During its recording in 1968, Beefheart's Magic Band were living together in a communal house, were made to practice for 14 hours a day, were berated until they broke down or gave in to submission and were often not told what was happening on certain songs, as a result, the music sounds unhinged, with Beefhearts's lyrics being recorded almost out of time due to his insistence on not wearing headphones whilst recording. The songs sound like acid-trip blues, skittering and unpolished, sometimes simply a cacophony of noise. The album really is amazing, though you can feel mentally drained from just a few songs.

Now while MES has never kept his band hostage or induced breakdowns, he has certainly ruled The Fall with an iron fist, but as explained in various books on the guy, he kept people in line with bizarre outbursts, fining one drummer every time he hit a floor tom, proclaiming musicians 'fat bastards' if they ate a meal on tour (a lot of Fall tours were liquids-only) and even punching Mark Riley famously in New Zealand for dancing in a club (he soon left the band).

These songs may not have much in common musically, but perhaps the lyrical matching is Smith hinting at his reputation (this album is made up of members freshly picked up after an American tour resulted in three members leaving the group midway through). This is something I would bet on, Smith is so aware of his presence despite showing the air of someone not quite there, I think people forget he is incredibly intelligent sometimes.

This song is full of regret for lost childhood friends, or perhaps the sad fact we will never see our childhoods again, he sounds genuinely remorseful here, which taken at face value could relate again to the disastrous tour the previous year.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Day 18: I'm a printhead.

Always love the songs that reference reviews in them, this one's an early one with some great lines, being an editor by trade, I can see bits in there he's alluding to that are familiar.

Song: Printhead
Album: Dragnet

Year: 1979

This song clatters along (in a worthy tribute to its title) like a dot matrix going mental. On this one, they sound very 70s punk, snotty, angry-sounding and MES's vocals are pushed very high in the mix, which is good, as this one seriously has some golden lines in.

To boggle the mind further and to make it even more obvious, he reads out lines from a review: "There's a barrier between writer and singer/Uh-huh he's a good man/ Although an easy one/ The singer is a neurotic drinker/ The band little more than a big crashing beat/ Instruments collide and we all get drunk" he then follows this with "The last two lines/ Were a quote, yeah/ When we read them/ We went to pieces" whether they did I highly doubt, but its a great piece of self-referential post-modernism at work. Deconstructing a deconstruction within a song that in turn, I'm doing the same to now and presumably countless people have done before. It's like ever-folding space.

Elsewhere he talks about his head 'increasing" which could be a portent to what followed a few years later when they chucked Mark Riley out and wrote "The Man Whose Head Expanded" which is another amazing one I haven't written about yet, can't wait (it's a doozy).

He also closes the song with a passage open to interpretation (cheers Mark, makes writing a lot easier!) which is thus: "You could substitute an ear for an extra useless eye" which to me sounds like he is giving the reviewer some gip, almost asking him if he was there and paid attention, or did he just write what was expected.

That's a personal bugbear of mine, reviewers who go a to a show, watch the band, then come back and write a review that gives nothing of the performance or the atmosphere away, reviewers that do this are lazy beyond belief. Yes we know they are probably playing stuff off their latest album, yes we know where they are from, yes we know they've caused some outrage unconnected to their music and we probably know who is there to see them.

Tell me about the MUSIC, what HAPPENED on stage? Reviewers working for the Guardian are particularly persistent offenders, often giving just one par to the music and a million to past glories or their reputation in the press (see recent reviews of Beady Eye, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Kylie etc), these aren't reviews, they are conjecture and guff. Even worse are the people commenting on these 'reviews' who haven't been to a gig in years and spout banalities like anyone else gives a hoot what they think. Nobody does, rarely do people even acknowledge each other on there, so filled with hot air are the posters that I doubt they check the replies again, simply presuming they are right.

There was an article about fried breakfasts recently, some snob posted "Why do people who eat fried breakfasts always need tea? I suppose the tannin gets rid of the grease from your mouth" a perfect example of these chumps in action, nobody asked his opinion, nobody cared, he answered his own question, amazing.

This has turned into a rant, good.