Friday, June 20, 2008

In Defiance of the First Day of Summer, I'm Listening to The Fall

As some people are bewilderingly dedicated to a losing sports franchise, I am a Fall fan. I even like their spotty hodgepodge songs (in some cases, even better than the the more conventional ones) and see Mark E. Smith as a model artist, a way to see things through despite logic and convention, like Buckminster Fuller saw pirates and Lester Bangs saw Lou Reed. The Fall is not about success, it is about method and perseverence. It is about allegiance to vision before anything else, even the viability of results.

My favorite albums by The Fall
  1. Hex Enduction Hour
  2. Grotesque (After the Gramme)
  3. Levitate
  4. The Infotainment Scan
  5. Light User Syndrome
  6. Perverted By Language
  7. Extricate!
  8. Bend Sinister
  9. Austurbaejarbio (Live in Reykjavik 1983)
  10. Are You Are Missing Winner?
It might be blasphemy in Fall circles to not include their tinny debut Live at the Witch Trials and its follow up Dragnet, but I think its Grotesque where the band really found its foothold. Also Are You Are Missing Winner? is an absolute unjustifiable shambles of a record, the loosest, most unformed for a band who has been pushing the lower envelope of having their shit together for 30 years or so, and I love it for that very reason.

The Fall - Light User Syndrome
I'm in the pre-process of reviewing/compartmentalizing their 30-something-th album Imperial Wax Solvent, and I figured it is like anticipating a possibly awkward family reunion; it's a good idea to firm ones resolve with fond memories. So here is one of my favorites from the tail end of the Brix years.

The band is ragged and flinty in 1996. Longtime guitarist Craig Scanlon, considered the lynchpin of the band's sound, had been sacked before the recording began, and keyboardist Julia Nagle was added to the lineup creating tension between Mark and his wife Brix. Brix walked out of the group and their marriage on the tour for the record, as did the rest of the band eventually. Supposedly, Mark only showed up on the last day of recording to contribute his vocals.

So, a train wreck; yet the Fall embraces a train wreck. The irritation seems to only stoke their engines, crank things up a notch as the group careens toward oblivion. Mark E. Smith seems to embrace this as a strategy, seeing better results under pressure. I bet it sucks to be in The Fall.

Fun fact (or rather, conjecture): "Powder Keg" contains the line

Sickening in its infection.
His radioactive
radio-head drips with powder
His aura, round halo, thin.

which I am going to put out as where Radiohead got their name from. I think I've read that they got it from Talking Heads' "Radiohead" off True Stories, but The Fall is closer to the twitchy soul of Radiohead than David Byrne's pollyanna conceptualization of The Real America as seen by an entrenched downtown Manhattanite. I'm not implying Byrne doesn;t have a finger on the pulse of some partucular American heartbeat ("The Big Country" and "Nothing But Flowers" are good examples) but I think True Stories missed the bus.

The Fall - Bend Sinister
Bend Sinister makes it here because it was the first one I got (found a casesette of it at the bottom of a box of old suit jackets in the warehouse of Here Today Gone Tomorrow, an off-circuit thrift store in Baton Rouge. It was so impossibly hidden under all those moldy tweed jackets in a room were usually forbidden to enter back then, providence was undoubtedly in play bringing it to me. Plus "Shoulder Pads (Part 1)" is the infectious pop hit that never was for the band. The cover of The Only One's "Mr Pharmacist" is pure garage genius

Bend Sinister finds this markedly unromantic band at their most romantic, twinges of nostalgia casting sepia tones upon the usual exposed nerve guitar riffs on which Fall songs are routinely built. Even when Smith barks out through a megaphone on "Dr. Faustus" it sounds like he's doing so from the pages of a scrapbook.

The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace
This is, to me now, not a great album unto itself, but it has some of their most important songs on it.

"Spoilt Victorian Child" was on a $3 Rough Trade comp tape I bought at the mall that also introduced me to Love and Rockets, Bauhaus, and a couple other staples from the era. I happen to still think this is one of the great unsung garage rock songs of all time. It's as snotty as "Pushin' Too hard", brilliantly opting to go slow and contemplative where most garage rock songs would hit the turbo switch, opening up the listener to cold self-reflextion.

And you know that servants keep their order knowledge
And as you walk on in the footsteps of steed, babe
In the encrusted green unwild
You know
you are
a spoilt

And immediately after, we shift to the glamorous world devoid of any self-awareness. "L.A." is either spot-on love letter to Los Angeles, a city that weighs heavily on the English imagination (Morrisey: We look to Los Angeles for the language we use; London is dead - "Glamorous Glue") or a perfect ironic slam of that very sentiment. It's hard to imagine these dour Mancunian speed freaks sunning themselves at Redondo Beach, but Smith's wife Brix Smith was from there and served as the hub of the band during the late 80's, so maybe she was just homesick.

The chant of this is my happening and it freaks me out lifted from Russ Meyer's Beyond the valley of The Dolls serves to further confuse the love/revulsion twist in this song.

The Fall - The Infotainment Scan
The Infotainment Scan I got for a $1 on CD from a video store here in town that was closing out its short-lived music section. It was out-of-print at that time, and finding it there unfortunately cemented my need to thumb through every box of crap cut-out CD's ever presented to me ever since. I'm in a post-object phase of music fandom, preferring digital copies or better yet digital streams from subscriptions for my fix, so that I can let whim be my only guide, which may be the exact horror imagined on this album.

Here, Smith is deepest in the mire of rock and technology (Levitate is even less a rock album than this, but he's more comfortable with it) best expressed in the cover of Giorgio Moroder's "Lost in Music" retaining its dance floor throb but instead of the original's enthrall, the narator is now frightened, scrambling in a hall of mirrors.

The demented wrecking ball set of "Paranoid Man in a Cheap Shit Room," "Service," "The League of Bald-Headed Men" and "A Past Gone Mad" are electropop interpretation of the crisis of modernity at its finest - really, I think Richard Hell might be the only other singer able to deliver this with a sharper edge than Mark E. Smith, and Smith is infinitely more loquacious - but its the oddball cover of Steve Bent's "I'm Going to Spain," involving a lummox intoning to coworkers his hopes that his unimaginative vacation will give him the recharge he so sorely needs - Cousin Norman had a real fine time last year - really nails it. It's odd that a guy who can't really sing, fronting a band that technically isn't that proficient can unearth real power in a cover song.

No comments:

Post a Comment