Fall "Fall Heads Roll" (Slogan)
Just got back from holiday. It was a welcome, fascinating, rewarding, and intriguing escape and once I've coralled all my thoughts together I'd really like to write about it, if I thought I could do it more than scant justice. The obligatory holiday compilation tape (yes I am that sad) track listing was: 1. Mussorgsky "Pictures From An Exhibition (Promenade)" 2. Tchaikovsky "1812 Overture" 3. McCarthy "Red Sleeping Beauty" 4. Raw Power "State Oppression" 5. Random Number "Arise! The Proletariat" 6. The Human League "The Dignity of Labour" 7. Redskins "Kick Over The Statues" 8. Siege "Walls" 9. The Fall "Psycho Mafia" 10. Close Lobsters "I Take Bribes" 11. Rosehips "Bloodstained Fur" 12. Saturn V "Red Star In Orbit" 13. Empress "Vodka and the Verlaines" 14. Beat Happening! "Revolution Come And Gone" 15. The Beloved "If Pennies Came From Heaven, Could Karl Marx Have Been Mistaken ?"
Oh, and some early instrumental B-side or other from Orange Juice.
Anyway. The upside of returning to the homeland was arriving at the same time as the 25th studio album by the greatest band in the world. And what else, really, can you say about the Fall ? Reviewing anything by them without tumbling into cliche is a Herculean - I would even venture to say Stakhanovite - endeavour, so suffice to say that while this is not - quite - the sparkling late career-peak of previous album "The Real New Fall LP", it is still a surprisingly raw and urgent collection, built around the handful of tracks that made up their last Peel Session (indeed, now that I'm acclimatising to "Heads Roll", I'm not even as convinced as I was that all the Peel Session versions of the tunes are superior) but again, mercifully, free from the filler which punctuated so many of the last half a dozen or so sets prior to "The Real New". Although a little light on musical creativity, and shorn of the usual barrage of random electronic noises - surely it needs be recognised at some point that the Fall invented glitch - "Fall Heads Roll" makes up for these seeming deficiencies by returning to old Fall themes such as simple, repeated, bludgeoning riffs, and allying them with surprisingly discernible vocals: a joy for those of us for whom only the Peel Session box set allowed us to catch all the intricacies and subtleties of lyrics that were lost somewhat when those tracks were subsequently re-recorded for studio albums, usually with mighty sonic meddling.
Oddly, one of the few "ish" tracks on "Fall Heads Roll" is the first. "Ride Away" gives no suggestion of the pace and power, as Alan Hansen would have it, of the LP as a whole, instead being whimsical if endearing haddock-reggae. Next tune "Pacifying Joint" begins the cavalcade, however: its poppy rhythms and Elena's bright-as-a-button keyboards giving it the feel of singles like "Free Range" or "Behind The Counter", although in line with the rest of the album, it is noticeably more stripped-down than the machine and sequencer-driven selections that peppered even the best of nineties Fall. Still higher peaks, though, arrive on track three, "What About Us": the real McCoy, the re-born snarling, pounding Fall in all their glory. Pumping up its simple chord sequence from the off, you can hear line-up #207 crashing their instruments together in a way that fair recalls the pomp of Scanlon, Hanley and Wolstencroft: from the moment that M.E.S. delivers the crucial first line, barking "I am a rabbit from East Germany" as only he can, the years are truly rolled back, as throughout, the lyrics delight and dazzle, Smith's narrative moving his rodent persona to the north of England, only to find his gambolling cut short as he sees the Harold Shipman saga played out before him. (And the backing shouts are no less addictive than the ramrod hooks of 2003's "Open The Boxtoscis" or "Sparta F.C" - what a singalong live set the Fall are building up). Next track, the slight "Midnight Aspen" is one of only two, along with the reflective "Early Days of Channel Fuhrer", which see the Fall in what, for them, is ultra-ballad mode: like "Janet vs Johnny" from last time round, there is almost an eerie beauty to these two oases of calm, and again Smith has refrained from coating the songs in the muddy studio mist which normally envelopes the band's mellower compositions. Still, back to the amp-tremblers: the great "Assume" is next. Very A Witness-like in the verse, with lurching bass and mocking guitar, it suddenly locks into a roaring groove for the chorus (this time with echoes of the better tracks on "The Unutterable"). After a Midnight Aspen reprise, it is time for the centrepiece of the record, "Blindness": over 7 minutes of musical hypnosis (repetition repetition repetition!), this time dominated by wonderfully distorted bass and brutalist drums as Smith intones things like "99% of non-smokers die": give or take a margin of error of about 1%, I suspect his stats aren't far off.
The second half of the record starts with the obligatory cover - their take on the Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow": and while it's still not a song that sets my heart afire (again: the revelation of a post-'85 Fall album where the cover version pales against the new choons), the fury of the guitars certainly puts into place what now seems the horrible anaemia of the BMX Bandits' rather sympa version. Next comes more new-style Fall, with "Bo Demmick": musically a growling Bo Diddley tribute interspliced with a Rusholme Ruffians reprise, lyrically a showcase for more truisms from Smith ("Moderninity - what is it ?" he demands, bringing up a theme from his demented solo albums). Equally great, "Youwanner" is then a "work in progress" which skews itself dreamily into an echo of "Couldn't Get Ahead" (though this time, it's "I Coulda Had A Life"...) as the guitars carry on drilling away and the protagonist regrets having settled for settling down. "Clasp Hands" follows, a rockabilly yellalong of high grade, although frustratingly without the contrast provided by the moody, trudging instrumental passages of the radio session take, which recalled the twin-speed joys of "Spoilt Victorian Child": after the interlude of "Early Days..." we then get "Breaking The Rules", which brings cheap keyboards and easy riffs to the fore - like "Pacifying Joint" the new Fall at their poppiest (btw while I hesitate to suggest they are ever destined for the mainstream, is it just me, or is the double whammy of seeing Skinner and Baddiel do "How I Wrote Elastic Man" on ITV and listening to Jonathan Ross claiming to love them on Radio 2 a faintly disturbing development ?) Things then conclude with "Trust In Me", which harks back to the low menace of "R.O.D.", at least in my brain, even overcoming what you would have thought would be the insuperable hurdle of being sung by some other bloke and not THE SMITH. All of which is to say that - despite an increasing desperation to discover young bands that excite me in the same way that a few pretty superannuated ones do - it's hard to look past the Fall at the moment, because when they are on form, you're never going to be able to overtake them.
other current listening:
The Orchids "Sigh" (LTM): Available - I think on CD for the first time - as part of the repackaged "Unholy Soul". Reminds me of when they played it live, albeit not catching fire the way it did when the various Orchids strutted around the stage in their er, Orchids t-shirts - instead, as with the rest of their "Penetration" EP, this is a subtler, sweeter treatment. A shame that the EP (it was a 12", in the unlikely event of there being any youngsters out there) will only ever be remembered as the moment that Sarah finally, allegedly, received the last downpayments on the sale of their soul to Satan. Memo to you all: they never really did sell out. That was the whole point, and to be fair it is far more obvious in retrospect than it could have seemed at the time.
Plan B "Cap Back" (from "Run The Road" CD on 679): The trouble with this CD, even though much of it is no less ace than the Red Baron, is the impossibility of putting it on and not just listening to No Lay's "Unorthodox Daughter" on repeat until (approx) you die of old age. But I just about managed to, in preparation for "Run The Road 2", of which more later. Possibly.
Forest Giants "Postcards" (from "In Sequence" album on Invisible Hands): I don't want to suck up to them too much, but I was a bit dismissive of the LP version of this, and I am now able to retract such madness. A second, heartblasting, version of a single essential song.
Saucer "3:44" (second tune from eponymous, song-titleless CD on 555): Am finally coming round to listening to Saucer properly, despite never having quite worked out who the hell they are. What I have established is that their LP is very underrated and sat on, not least by me... I fear it may be the only thing they've released, save for their vignette on 555CD55.