Wednesday, August 04, 2010

I think I own what must be about 15 albums by The Fall, yet for whatever reason, I don't believe I've ever written about 'em here before. The recent flogging of various items in The Fall's back catalogue was brought on by my witnessing of a 2005 BBC documentary on the band last week, one which had me heading for "F" in my LP/CD collection and pulling a few choice tunes out. Hex Enduction Hour is the best, of course, though since I flogged that one into the ground over a decade ago, I steer clear of it these days and instead peruse other selections slightly less shopworn. This one, 1983's Perverted By Language (my CD version is from 1998 and on Castle Music, though it's probably, as has much of The Fall's catalogue throughout the years, since been licensed to about a dozen other record companies around the world for various pointless reissuing purposes), is definitely one of their best.
Let me tell you something: I never really "got" The Fall, or got into them, until I was about 22 when I managed to score cheap, secondhand vinyl copies of Live At The Witchtrials and Totale's Turns (Live) at a record fair and the strangeness and grit the band was (in)famous for became all too present to me. Prior to that, let's talk about the late '80s. Musical heroes of mine at the time - Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins, Mike Watt (remember, this is the '80s, maaan) - were apeshit over the combo known as The Fall. The former even covered some of their songs. Firstly, I found it nigh impossible to believe that the UK actually had a contemporary band even worth listening to (call it prejudice, if you will), and secondly, my only exposure to the band was the oft-played "Victoria" video, then a reasonable indie "hit", which was played almost on loop on Rage at the time, as well as the "Hit The North" single which received frequent play on public radio. Their rendition of the Kinks classic is OK 'n' all, though it also represents the mersh peak of the band throughout their career, as does "Hit The North", a great pop song, in retrospect, but still one which, to these ears, displays major late-'80s-slump indie damage w/ even a hint of Madchester in its veins (that's not a good thing, by the way). To me, the band sounded like a slightly grittier Smiths and I slotted 'em away in the "Don't Bother" file.
And then 5 years later I finally struck gold, I scooped up pretty much all of their 1977-'83 output, and their rep as a demented, eccentric and thoroughly rocking garage band had been proven correct. To be honest, I can probably thanks (once again) Joe Carducci for my conversion (I took his word for gospel back in the day), or at least for my renewed enthusiasm to give the band a second chance; after all, he hailed the band (in Rock & The Pop Narcotic) as just about the only UK band of the '80s who fulfilled their "rock" promise consistently throughout their lifespan. What set them apart from the rest of the UK post-punk pack is that they were never "anti-rockist" (see Simon Reynolds for a full definition): they never went soft, as so many of their contemporaries have.
Even the worst Fall albums (and I'd rate 1988's The Frenz Experiment, which features their two hits just mentioned, as at least the worst Fall album I've heard) have as a minimum two or three really great songs. Perhaps not worthy of an album purchase per se, but it goes to show that even when Mark E. Smith is at his lowest, he's still better than most at their best. Despite the umpteen line-up changes the band has had in its 30+ years, there remains two constants to the band: Mark E. Smith, and his ability to always drag in a killer rhythm section into the group.
On Perverted By Language he's got the motor-driven two-drummer line-up of Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, also used to excellent effect on 1982's Hex Enduction Hour, and also it sees the introduction of his then-wife, Californian new waver, Brix Smith. Often branded as the Yoko Ono of the group, the one who saw them lose their edge, as is the case w/ Yoko, I disagree. That doesn't necessarily mean that, unlike in the case of Yoko, I want to check out any of Brix's solo records, but the band itself still rocked just as hard as before, it was simply the production which was getting cleaner, and some of the rougher, more rockabilly tendencies of the band were getting smoothed out. Not a thing to celebrate, but it definitely doesn't totally discount their post-'82 material.
The band also discovered a certain flange pedal at this point - the same one often used by the likes of Killing Joke and Siouxsie & The Banshees - which probably deducted a few "rock" points from their overall sound, though the rhythm section was as good and pronounced as before. The opener, "Kicker Conspiracy", sets the pace w/ its cluttered, percussive sound, at times resembling an amphetamine-fueled marching band w/ a Mancunian drunk yelling atop. But I guess that description sums up most of the band's catalogue.
There's only eight songs, though it possesses a sprawling, Kraut-inspired array of songs, and this CD (and perhaps other versions) also features four As and B-sides from the period, most notably "The Man Whose Head Expanded", a great, organ-driven churn which is about as purely Velvets-damaged as UK rock ever got in the 1980s. So there ya go: the cut-off point for The Fall ain't 1982. I can also vouch for This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, Middle Class Revolt, Levitate, The Marshall Suite, The Unutterable and The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click), and that's not including the dozen or so albums I still haven't heard. Folks even tell me their latest, Your Future, Our Clutter, is worth a shot.
The cut-off point still hasn't been reached, and if you're curious about the earlier (best) recordings by the band, now is probably the best time to make the purchases: through bizarre circumstances which can only be explained as a bi-product of the crumbling empire known as the music biz, they're now being reissued in deluxe 2CD sets w/ mountains of bone-arse material c/o Universal Music (Castle/Trojan was bought by Sanctuary, which has since been bought by Universal. I find this shit endlessly fascinating. You probably don't). The new-and-expanded edition of Hex Enduction Hour, in particular, is a treat.


COOP said...

the only album i've ever really dug is totale's turns. i reckon it's way more interesting than any of the other stuff.

tame rat said...

dumbest/worse thing i've ever read about 'the fall' & their back catalogue. i'm starting to think you're as much of a wanker as stigliano insists you are & i hate that fucking prick! ... PLEASE stick to stuff y'know something about ie: flack blag & sonic poop. thanks.

Dave said...

Thanks! Glad you could join me.