This week – “The Good, The Bad, and The Before Its Time”, a.k.a.“Welcome Back Karl Burns (Do You Actually Play Anything)”, a.k.a. “There’s A Storm Coming”.
I just can’t shake it, though it breaks all my own rules, so I’m going to get it out of the way now – next week already feels massive. Not necessarily good (though the chances are high), but sun-blockingly significant. So as a result we’ve ended up this week with a cheeky single and an important Peel session. We’ve also ended up – in my opinion – with something of a mixed bag, and to be frank this is the most inconsistent group of tunes we’ve had since Witch Trials, and to be perfectly honest, there’s even an element of dullness. Oh, and I've decided to be hypercritical this week simply due to the fact that otherwise I'd be carping on about 'oh, how wonderful, how innovative', and that'd be super boring for you Mariah.
So, Peel session 5 – we’re rattling through them aren’t we? That’s 5 in threeish years, and lets not forget the amount of progress that is evident in just this one example of The Fall’s output, especially when you compare it to today’s standards, when it seems to take years for a band to record yet another album that sounds like the last one (it’s just noise, you can’t heard the words, get off my lawn, etc etc). We begin with Deer Park, which is a prime example of something The Fall do better than any other band I know – sustained, unreleased tension. As in, the same thing over and over again. Now, this is fine, and in the context of Deer Park it works pretty well really, nice scabrous guitar, thudding along bass line, all well and good. And that buzzing, incessant electric piano thing, all on two notes - nice, in a nasty sort of way. But there's something about the performance that just leaves me a little cold. I can appreciate it, and certainly enjoy it, but it doesn't quite hit the heights that one feels it ought to. Perhaps this is due to my frustration at the lyrics, as while moments of it buzz me (I like "See the A&R civil servants / They get a sex thrill out of a sixteenth of Moroccan" and "Spare a thought for the sleeping promo dept. / They haven't had an idea in two years") as a whole I feel a little lost in meaning... and its worth saying that this has never fussed me generally about The Fall (or most other bands), and when it happens I often revel in the nonsense or view it as a challenge. Maybe its the fact I've not read Mailer's 'The Deer Park' which would probably have helped, maybe its just not what I want from this song, or maybe even its been my mood over the last few days, but there's something not quite here for me to hear. Humm...
And for me at least, things get a whole lot worse with 'Look, Know'. Okay, there should be nothing here for me not to like really, a typical Fall-funk bas line which has a bit of swagger and swing, a nice considered vocal, guitars, meh meh meh... lets be honest with each other, Look, Know is dull. MES knew it was dull. Steve Hanley forgets himself at one point and plays few bum notes, but bum notes that come not from the usual place of being so into it you loose yourself, but bum notes from surprise at how dull the not-bum notes are. Its a dead-end of a track, a half-arsed exploration into a type of song that The Fall have no real reason to be playing, but what is most frustrating is the fact that that repeated, creepy little refrain 'Do you know what you look like / before you go out' could spin off into something really interesting, when in fact after a while you realise that its just an 'end of the affair' song, and even worse there's an element of self-pity that has no place on a song by The Fall (I am prepared to be corrected on this point at a later date). Things like:
But I say happy memories leave a bitter tasteI'm sorry - 'messed up everything you do'? Well, that's just lazy for any number of reasons, and the stuff that precedes it isn't much better, and I could be an arse and start to bang on about mess/do or
I need a good brainwash agent to cut out this present shout of:
Do y'know what you look like before you go out?
That's why you eat crap food
That's why nobody talks to you
That's why you messed up everything you do
messed/did, but then we get "He was the first one to wear a flying jacket and go to a club / And she has the general policy of not being seen dead in a pub" which is just a nothing, nothing bit of lyrical nothingness. By the time the lyrics start nudging toward Satre (which in turn starts to make the title a little more interesting) the song is a dead fish on the end of a dead fisherman's cock. And what I find most frustrating about it all is that I know this song will be a single release, which if its not drastically better than this performance will be the slow bakers cheese flan which breaks a consistently ace run of singles since whatever came after It's The New Thing. Just poor, and I'm honestly amazed that MES allowed this to bumble along.
Now - please bear in mind my hypercritical stance this week. Deer Park is at the very least alright, and Look, Know is at the very best poor. Winter is undoubtably amazing. In fact, potentially the
most beautiful thing I've heard by The Fall thus far. In fact, in the continual yet slightly engineered debate that I'm having in my brain about The Fall/lyrics/poetry it represents the finest example of how
exceptional poetry and music can coexist, and through doing so create a whole new form of meaning, and eschew any concrete sense of 'real' without delving into the likely blind alley of 'surreal' (thought having said that, see below...). Let's break this down - effectively (after a clugging introduction at least) we have drums, bass, guitar, electric piano all playing pretty much the same thing all the way through (key note - 'pretty much'... there's so much room to manoeuvre within 'pretty much' isn't there? Classy musicians, really good musical peeps who play without self-consciousness, who drive forward without watching out for the trappings of fame, those types can find whole albums in 'pretty much'. Elgar wrote the Enigma Variations out of 'pretty much'.) And musically that's it - but then again, oh! that syncopated arpeggio on the electric piano and oh! the thuddy riff on the bass that ends each phrase and oh! all of the sodding thing basically. Like a runty, dirty four-year old singing something that just causes you to weep uncontrollably, musically Winter inexplicably whacks you right in the heart and will not let you ignore it. There's no rhyme or reason to this, you can't really explain it, it's just a base fist of a piece. Bang - listen.
But over and above all this, its the most sublime, exceptional piece of poetry this side of Bob Dylan. The poetry I like the best is usually one of two things, and the stuff I like most is often both - something that says something about something in a smart way that perhaps changes what you thought you felt, and/or something beautiful that uses English in a way that is perhaps unexpected, perhaps rhythmic, perhaps shocking, but always, always beautiful. Winter scores well on the first and supremely well on the second, though in all honesty to say what its about would be over-reaching myself. But clearly the mad kid is at the heart of it, and the fact that he demands three times 'gimmie the lead' of the black dog suggests that his tangible unruliness and yet the air of sadness seems to define the emotional timbre of the song. And that's a fairly potent mix, especially when the refrain seems so perfectly constructed, so well considered, so that its literal ambiguity ('what the fuck does it mean?') is mirrored by its emotional nullness, where positive words immediately get balanced out by darker ones.
Entrances uncoveredIt feels very very Alan Bennet, it feels very very Dennis Potter. It's bliss. 'Two white doves cross the sky' sounds like it should lift you up, but the gentle weariness of it all makes the line doubly sad, Manny in the library who appears only briefly is forever crystallised in time at the moment just before your stomach unravels and a hangover gets slightly better and I know better than most that feeling in that place, and the mad kid's "black cardboard Archbishop's hat / With a green-fuzz skull and crossbones" is so ridiculous but so pathetic... everything that is wrong with Look, Know is flipped on its head here, but most pertinently the general sense of pointlessness that infects Look, Know is harnessed by Winter, is thrown right back at the listener, is turned into something beautiful and sad. It's almost too much to bear to be honest.
Street-signs you never saw
All entrances delivered
... okay, so I don't think its up to my to decode it. But I really want to. But using words to do so seems to miss the point - I mean, if the mad kid has 4 lights, and genius only three, yet the rest of us have 2.5 (bar the mediocre) then am I illuminated enough to even try? And the mad kid has more lights than genius, what does that make him? Too insightful to even realise, to bear knowing? Here's where music and words together can strike even more pointedly into the brain, into the 'heart'. I can feel Winter, even though I don't know why. And as if by magic, as if I actually plan this gibberish ineffectual garbage which I write, now is the moment to point out a lovely little coincidence that occurred today.
I have, for some time now, been taking photos of my daughter with CDs that we've listened to, and this is the one I took today.
Winnie very much enjoyed Abbey Road, and I don't blame her as its class, but let us for a moment consider its opening track 'Come Together'. I don't have my copy of the seminal 'Revolution In The
Head' to hand, but I seem to recall that Ian MacDonald talks about 'Come Together' as being a song that (excuse my paraphrasing and potential misinterpretation) uses words and specifically nonsensicality as a tactic in the counter cultural revolution, crystallising something begun with 'I Am The Walrus' and others. Actually breaking down meaning and yet saying something regardless about how pointlessness and artificiality. 'Come Together' is powerful beyond words precisely due to its lyrical content being beyond sense, to the point where that is the point. Now, consider who makes the Nazis...
... I mean, who does make the NAZIs? It seems a daft question, but really, think about it, and don't answer Hitler. It's who 'makes', not 'made'.
... and who decided that 'fuck' upsets people?
... and why are you reading this? It's just words. It's just words about words and music, written by someone who's opinion is only as relevant as you make it. I'm nobody. Seriously - I'm a 34 year old
librarian. I take pictures of my daughter with the CDs of other people's bands. I write songs that virtually nobody hears. But those that do think they are pretty good. But what do they know? I could
write my achievements and make myself sound like a superman or a waster. You might think I've striven hard against adversity to achieve something noble, or squandered my talents when I could have changed the world. If indeed you consider my talents to be anything like worth speaking of. I could spin words back and forth and make anybody reading this believe anything. Or nothing. Or everything.
So, who makes the nazis?
Over a scatty couple of riffs MES essentially takes apart the horror and the artifice of 'nazis'. It's like that Lenny Bruce bit of standup where he goes through the audience naming them by the most offensive racial stereotypes there are, and keeps saying this words over and over again, but here its almost gibberish that smacks the power of words to bits:
Who makes the Nazis?Here we are 35ish years after the end of the second world war, and MES is illustrating to us that these archetypes are nothing more that empty vessels that we fill with meaning. This is not to say that he's
Motels like three split-level mirages
Who makes the Nazis?
Buffalo lips on toast, smiling
Who makes the Nazis?
I put a finger on the weird.
This was real Irish know.
Joe was then good as gold
And told of the rapists in the Spa Motel.
The real mould.
Who makes the Nazis?
undermining evil and terror - far from it - but the evil men do need not be labeled and indexed. I am sure that there are many interpretations of this song that take images and eek out meanings, that demonstrate connections between The Fall and history, but that's not what I hear. I hear a remarkable deconstruction of sense, which takes as its subject nazis, but it could be anything really. Who makes the Beatles? Who makes The Fall?
Phew. Heavy. Anyway, lets just touch upon probably the last great Fall single in a remarkable run Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul all thump and chippy and joyous, with a proper bridge thing and pop greatness
spilling over - we salute you Rowche-Lie Dream, good times. And before finishing up, Fantastic Life... humm... well, it's alright isn't it, but already I'm starting to hear spaces that need to be filled by something a bit more clear and clean, to cut against the mess and noise. I mean, its well played, interesting enough, but it needs a bit more spark, a bit more glamour maybe, a something to add to the brix and mortar. Wonder what that's going to be? But before that... what's this I see before me, blocking out the light, uncompromisable, scary, big...
Once upon a time there was Northen - an odd, semi-secretive regional subculture with esoteric rituals, serious fanatics and distinctive uniform. Seven inch singles as sacred relics that had somehow become weirdly divorced from their original Motor City context and transplanted to the North. Specifically Lancashire and more Specifically still, Wigan. Of course, these days where every single sub-sub genre has been mined for the reissues market, a lot of the mystique has been removed. On the plus side, anyone can now hear Frank Wilson’s incredibly rare (two known copies), and incredibly beautiful ‘Do I Love You’, but on the down side it is now forever in my head indelibly associated with a popular brand of fried chicken. Families thrust their gaping maws in bargain buckets while the soul man expounds. So it seems you can have familiarity and chicken ads or you can have obscurity and an opaque mystique.
Lie Dream of a Casino Soul does nothing to dent the mystique but it leaves us with more questions. An insight into the deranged sleep deprived Sunday mind of the 48 hour chemically assisted dancefloor athlete.
I'm a bit jagged right now‘And that just goes to show, the lie dream of the casino scene’. Ambivalent, but ready to do it again next week no doubt. Musically, we’ve immediately picked up where Slates left off. Leaning to the abrasive side of that release, we have bopping drums, and wonky, creepy keys/kazoo. From the intro we could almost be dealing with some sort of northern soul pastiche, but this is neatly side stepped by the song becoming totally fucking willfully awkward - a good thing in case you were in doubt. Yet it is still poppy in a nagging way - repetition. MES is in strong form, commanding, although a bit more serious in tone, which is at odds with the surrealism of the lyrics. Oh yes, and the thing I love most about this is the pronunciation of ‘dept’ - exactly as it is written.
In a tongue-tired, wired state
Cause Sunday morning dancing
I had an awake dream
I was in the supervision dept.
Of a big town store
Security floors one to four
They had cameras in the clothes dummies.
The B Side, Fantastic Life is even better, at least I think it is - I’m flip flopping on this one - at the moment I am all in favour. Again following in the vein of Slates, but this time the poppy Leave the Capital side of things. Driving, repetitive, shiny, with some shimmering keys and a nice bit of understated but cooly melodic guitar, where Fantastic Life really stands out for me is lyrically, in as much as I’ve got very little idea what Mark is actually banging on about, but there’s some great snippets:
The Siberian mushroom Santawhich feels like the beginning of some insane shamanic conspiracy theory that takes in the Romanovs and Jack the Ripper. Anyway, a hard one to get a handle on but I do like it, despite, or maybe because of its intangibility. Sometimes it is good to resist the urge to know something inside out and to struggle for some sort of definitive interpretation, sometimes none is available - don’t let the untidiness jar, accept it. Join us.
Was in fact Rasputin's brother
And he didst walk round Whitechapel
To further the religion of forgiven sin murder
Onto Peel Session #5, which is a cracker. Now, in past posts I’ve been inclined not to go too mad with songs that reappear in the studio form in the following week, but here we have some new songs that will do just that, but in interesting and different enough forms to give the session versions a bit of attention in their own right.
Right then - Peel Session. You know the drill. The Fall come in, record four songs of quality and distinction which we then get to enjoy for perpetuity. Thank you The Fall and thank you John Peel, even if your love of gabba was a bit trying sometimes. They never play any gabba when the BBC wheel out Zane Lowe or Lamacq to eulogise him once a year, and what we hear is the standard indie disco Love Will Tear Us Apart/This Charming Man/Blue Monday revisionism with maybe a sprinkling of The Wedding Present and maybe our heroes’ recording of Mr Pharmacist to spice things up a little. Never any gabba, Scouse house, King Sunny Ade, Bogshed, dusty old 78s and the like. We just get a Factory/Rough Trade oriented indie theme park that bears very little relation to the late Mr Peel’s incredibly varied, often delightful and on occasion slightly irritating radio show.
Major digression - back on track - it must have been great hearing these on the radio for the first time in March of 1981. This is, in my opionion, a really special Peel Session. Let’s dive in.
Deer Park. Sometimes listening to The Fall is like being given a massive reading list. Does the hook allude to Mailer's 'Deer Park'? I've read it and am none the wiser. Keeping up with Mark’s literary references can be a full time job. In previous weeks we’ve had H P Lovecraft, M R James, William Blake. Add to the list this week Colin Wilson’s ‘Ritual In The Dark’, which I’m yet to get round to. A full on drone, head down thumper. A sketch of some sort of London squat scene. ‘The English Deer Park - a large type artist ranch’, patrolled by ‘Captain Beefheart imitators with zits’ where ‘young rastas...get a sex thrill out of a sixteenth of Morrocan’. Grubby, improverished post-punk (chronologically, that it) scene. A keyboard all the way through - all on one crash victim’s head mashed against horn honking note.
It’s hard being unique and it’s very difficult creating original work that sounds unlike anything that’s gone before it. Look Know makes it look easy. Its greatness is in its insouciance. Repetitive circling bass, snare with vocal mantra breaking out into exquisite longing jangling that is perhaps reminiscent of The Cure’s more poppy moments before returning to the mantra, leading out into a more lovely jangle that harks back to Dragnet, which seems like ancient history now, but was in fact less released only around 18 months previously. Ridiculous. Lyrically weak and concerned with, I don’t know, the ritual of how you display yourself on a night out. Not amongst the best, but in a way irrelevant, as what makes this great is the delivery. A triumph of style over substance, which needn't always be a bad thing.
Winter. How to approach about writing about this? Its beautiful, shimmering, throbbing, brittle, hypnotic and again, true to the mission built on repetition. Peaks and troughs, build ups and slow downs, shifts in gear. Over the weeks we’ve had these many moments where there’s a musical bed with poetry over the top, ‘CnC Stop Mithering’, ‘Spectre Vs Rector’, ‘The NWRA’ - this is the moment where they nail it, where the words, mood, music work together in such a way as to create something really rather special.
The mad kid walked left-side south-side towards meA snapshot of a scene, a neighbourhood, characters rubbing against each other. Again - signifiers, what the Austin Maxi tells you, a very specific early to mid eighties form of radicalism, like my mum’s friends from the the Poly who used to give the seven year old me Greenpeace T Shirts with pictures of whales on and read New Internationalist. We also have a bit of weird pulp science stuff which also harks back to the ongoing thematic obsession with there being something else behind the curtain that the more attuned mind can latch onto:
He was about 7
His mother was a cleaning lady
She had a large black dog
And the mad kid said:
"Gimme the lead
Gimme the lead
Gimme the lead"
I'd just walked past the alcoholics' dry-out house
The lawn was littered with cans of Barbican
There was a feminist's Austin Maxi parked outside
With anti-nicotine anti-nuclear stickers on the side
Anyway two weeks before the mad kid had said to me
"I'll take both of you on,
I'll take both of you on"
The mad kid had 4 lights, the average is 2.5 lightsAgain, marvellous.
The mediocre has 2 lights, the sign of genius is three lights
With its heavy quotation, you could say that Totally Wired was The Fall’s big old Hunter S Thompson influenced song, but to me Who Makes The Nazis really evokes the late Doctor’s style. Short, clipped, hallucinatory, buzzing away, paranoid journalistic phrases barked into a dictaphone. Over some extreme anti-music - out of tune uke, thumping non-swinging toms, glorious dictaphonic tape hiss, serious twangs, sparseness. If you don’t make music you might say that it is completely without skill or planning, but you’d be wrong. This is a piece of music full of images - conjured up by the words and by the gaps in the music as the listener’s mind attempts, by default, to pin down some meaning or reference point. A heat haze song for dried out, brains frazzled by sun and acid.
Mark: Here’s a word from Bobby
Unidentified Fall Member: When you're out of rocks, just give them real soul (salt?)Yes. Me neither, but what I love about this exchange is the complicit deadpan delivery of Unidentified Fall Member. There’s a surrealist cabaret vibe to the whole thing. Or an aside in the script for a some sort of weird play. Unsettling. Who makes the Nazis? We all are all complicit...
Hate’s not your enemy, love's your enemy
Murder all bush monkeys
So - no straight answers, no easy narratives, no simple tunes, but many interesting facets and a high hit rate when it comes to hairs on the back of the neck moments. The single’s great, but the Peel Session is stunning - consolidating but innovating, perhaps more than they’ve ever done at this point.