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.

1 comment:

  1. A while ago I wrote an thing on ghost story writer Arthur Machen with a Fall slant - - and as a follow-up was working on a piece on The Fall thru the glass of Machen. Leave the Capitol is a natural starting point. The piece is languishing unfinished, so here seems good place to post my impressions:

    In his introduction to A Handy Dickens, Machen commented on a moment in The Old Curiosity Shop (specifically the chapter on the death of the malignant Quilp) as describing 'a city translated into the very mystery of terror'. This translation also describes The Fall's 'capitol': the song starts with a mundane catalogue of claustrophobic detail, all delivered in Smith's edgy, unnourished voice -

    'It's a hand on the shoulder in Leicester Square,
    It's vaudeville pub back room
    And dusty pictures of white-frocked girls and music teachers,
    And the water's poison in the system...'

    - which is periodically punctuated by the urgent command to 'Leave the Capitol! Exit this Roman shell!'

    This is, however, more than a Northern display of civic contempt for London (a place Smith has often mocked, once suspiciously calling it 'too French'). Fall songs rarely follow an uninterrupted lyrical line, and here, breaking through the main narrative, is a sudden switch of character - the sonorously pompous 'I laughed at the Great God Pan' and its wretched cloven-hoofed response, 'I didnae, I didnae'. The terror that stalked the London in the 1890s has, nearly 100 years later, been resurrected.

    The terror may be ancient, but the setting is modern, a maliciously described late 20th century degradation of Machen's sinister glades and ruined temple tableaux, where 'Pan resides in Welsh green masquerade and Welsh camp caravans'.

    In fact the song is a perfect example of a central feature of The Fall, where mockery and fear combine, where the hotel maids smiling in unison is both an image of the 'polite no manners' of London and a sinister moment of confrontational terror. This successful hybridization of satire and horror is a genuine literary as well as musical achievement; it is music as (to take the title of the album released five months before) Grotesque. Typically, the sound of Leave the Capitol is as needling and alienating as the lyrics; never 'spooky' but here a sort of sinewy, modernistic rockabilly, with bass and guitars taut as bowstrings.

    Although the description of London as a Roman shell savours something of the Lucian's rapture-turned-nightmare in The Hill of Dreams, there is less melancholy, more paranoia. It's more like Lucian's delirious Saturday night excursion amongst the capital's fleshpots -

    'Here there were no simple joys of honest toilers, but wonderful orgies, that drew out his heart to horrible music...'

    Great project btw!