Right - I don't have time for this right now. Bored of the Internet and all its myriad opportunities for speedy and seamless communication, mobile phones and their oppressive mobility, and even face-to-face communication which requires me to wash and shit, I've decided the way forward - yes, I'm into C.B. Inspired by my grandmothers worries about my Uncle 25 odd years ago I've decided that the real new way forward is hooking up with Container Drivers and adolescents with spotty exteriors, all code names and lingo, static over everything. Who needs 'lola' and 'stalks'? Who needs irritating use of punctuation to make faces which help the reader understand the tone and intent of a message (as the writer often cannot make full use of those handy tools - words - to do the job independently)? Yes, I'm whacking a whopping ariel on my roof, and am going to spend the rest of my days gibbering and increasing my use of the word 'over'. Magic.
So clearly, I'm Into CB, B-Side to that dreadful song that I shan't even name, is my favourite thing this week. Why? Well, its funny, clever, and doesn't sound like it was recorded in a Mancunians arse - a healthy dose of unremitting repetition, and a MES lyric which pleases the ear and the mind:
This is Happy Harry PlankTriffic. Will that do Ed?
from the land of waving palms
calling out to Cedar Plank
There's no Code 13
In the home of chocolate city
I'm having trouble with the terminology
But I'm into CB
No - ok then. Room To Live is such a let down. I've tried hard to get past this, but its proved to be impossible. With hindsight, and you know my feelings about this approach but its the only way with this oddity, it's the Fall equivalent of a dose of salts - thankfully, its over reasonably quickly, and clears you out ready for the next thing. To whit - post Hex its clear that the band were perilously close to making a name for themselves in something of a conventional manner by making wilfully unconventional music. The songs, sounds and sense of Hex are all so off the scale that contemporaneously you could't have foreseen this band do anything else than get more and more off the piste - the Radiohead approach post OK Computer, if you will. But The Fall, it has become clear, just refuse to pander to expectation, so if you're expecting weird from them they'll go elsewhere - Hard Life In Country could have come straight off Witch Trials, and Solicitor in Studio is poptastic. In addition, this is the last we'll see of Mark Riley. Now, aside from honking backing vocals, I think Riley has probably been a massive architect of The Fall thus far. I say 'probably' because in all honesty I find it very hard to ascertain quite who brought what to the party. Regardless, we'll see no more of him, and maybe we'll be better placed to work out what this means when we start to hear his replacement in the mix…
So anyway the most fundamental issue with Room To Live is that it is recorded so dreadfully that even for a seasoned Fall-listener the sonics of it prove to detract from the music, and even with the idiosyncratic production we've had thus far, this is the fist time is bothered me to such an extent that it spoils the songs. But having said that, aside from two I'm not even sure the songs are up to much. The aforementioned Hard Life In Country is dull, its portentous music failing to gel with its 'muss types hit rural England' lyric. You're never sure where your sympathies or concern should lie, no words spark the ear, and '[getting] a terrible urge to drink isn't far wrong. The title track just burbles along (though the sax is a nice addition to the Fall-sound) never really doing anything exciting, shifting up a key or two just to kill time, and by the time MES espouses that 'there's no hate to the point I give / I just want room to live' you start to wish there was some more aggression to alleviate the boredom. And though I know Ed is keen, Solicitor in the Studio is flat, especially which you realise that it opens with the same chords of 'Slates, Slags, Etc.', and you can't help but recall how vibrant and thrilling that whole collection of tunes was.
On the up side, Detective Instinct has some nice moments, its bass-heavy flat-foot suspicious guitar creep backing some playful notions about a naff suburban dick:
Two thugs knocked down an old tree for an old lady's whim… but even this pales after a while. The opening two tracks are by far the strongest things here - Joker Hysterical Face showcasing yet another 'best Fall riff ever' contenter, a lovely lollopy thing with a silly grin and the song manages to match up to it (though to my suporise, the line 'Ted Roger's brains burn in hell' which used to make me smile just irritates me know, especially as it's repeated), but the jewel in the real plastic gold crown is Marquis Cha Cha, a clear sign that even with the weakest production true class shines through. It's a daft little spin on Lord Haw Haw, with MES never being able to go home. In three chunky sections which plop in and around each other Room To Live saves itself. Still could be better recorded though.
They were reasonable at first, it seemed…
The man at the bar had a v-neck vest on
No, it was a v-neck waistcoat
Oh - final track is Papal Visit. Its shit. Just noise and nonsense. I suspect Ed likes it a bit. He is wrong.
Gah - sorry. Very negative I know, but necessary. Room To Live, in my opinion marks the true end of The Fall's early period. Which therefore means something new… exciting this, isn't it?
I have to admit, the last few reviews have been difficult to write. I’ve been tying myself in knots trying to convey the brilliance of the classic run of output from Dragnet through to Hex using the blunt tool that is my own vocabulary. This week has been a little easier because what we are dealing with is a little flawed, a little imperfect - although I must add not, without its substantial charms.
So - tortuous analogy time now - if Hex Enduction Hour is Thelma and Louise gunning that Thunderbird off the cliff, going out in one final blaze of glory in the expectation of being dashed to pieces on the rocks below, Room To Live is The Fall, er I mean Thelma and Louise, finding themselves bruised but miraculously alive at the bottom. And them the question is - where do you go from there after such a definitive total and final statement?
(Tune in for later installments for my Briget Jones’ Diary theory of Bend Sinister)
How do you follow up the head down single minded intensity of Hex? You don’t. You kick back, regroup, ease off, recharge. To paraphrase - get some fucking respite.
Room to Live - essentially the overspill from an extended weekend recording session for a single, we have a odd assortment of experiments collected together in a mini-album.
Don’t start improvising for god’s sake!
The line up is fracturing in unspoken anticipation of one of the more major shifts in Fall personnel since Dragnet. Marc Riley is on the way out and this will be his last appearance. This will also be the last appearance of secret weapon Kay Carroll, who is listed as the producer of most of the tracks on this album, with the exception of the two poorest ones. Credits on this record are confused - who plays what? It’s hard to know, musicians were encouraged to chop and change. There are a couple of guest players, one of whom is Arthur Cadman of Ludus, who plays for 16 seconds on a track, and gains the honour of being the shortest lived member of The Fall.
In terms of personnel, things are shifting and changing, we’ve had a solid few years and Room To Live could be viewed as snapshot of a band in flux. Possibly like the bit when Doctor Who regenerates and he’s half his predecessor and half his new incarnation and he’s going all mental and flailing around the TARDIS and gibbering and shit. See the record as half a capping off of the previous incarnation of The Fall and part a tentative searching for the new identity.
Well that’s some background and a few bits of half baked speculation. Now the music. Opener, Joker Hysterical Face is a cheeky lolloping, as oddly jaunty number. All swaggering bass, twanging guitar and swinging drums. Offsetting a depressing domestic scene of simmering resentment over the breakfast table. Notable for the marvellous line ‘Ted Rodgers’ brains burn in hell’:
A certain shortcut to a certain drab early 1980s mediocrity - crap food, rubbish TV, woodchip wallpaper, un-ironic moustaches and now defunct brands of lager. It’s a tasty little number, but it is lacking a certain something and never really takes off.
Marquis Cha-Cha is a highlight. A character study, an alter ego. The Lord Haw-Haw of the Argentines, of the Falklands War. Rumpled linen suit traitor trapped at the bar in some god forsaken South American dive. Broadcasting on behalf of his paymasters from the junta to his compatriots back home:
Hey you people over thereA rumbling, awkward funk number with marvellous bellowed hook - ‘Marquis! Cha cha!”
And those in sea and air
It has been theirs for years
It is a good life here
Football and beer much superior
Gringo gets cheap servant staff
Low tax and a dusky wife
He can never go home. This is again The Fall doing something brilliant with a well imagined character study, spotting weird tangents to jump off from, avoid the well trodden.
Hard Life In The Country. Musically it comes through like a Dragnet retread and so feels a little misplaced. Musically, I find it hard to get that excited about it. The lyrics however, are great, drawing perhaps on that vein of horror where the country can do you no good and is full of malice. What The League of Gentlemen did so well. The country is always years behind - the car parks are full of David Bowie clones. A malevolent pitchfork wielding mob of Aladdin Sanes?
The villagersTitle track Room to Live fails to hit the mark too. Evoking some of the more pastoral moments of Slates, it goes nowhere. Some words about wanting ‘Room to Live’. No can’t get into it. A misfire.
Are surrounding the house
The locals have come for their due
It's hard to live in the country
Detective Instinct, however, has real substance and real weirdness. Another character study - a character conducting character studies?
You can tell by his fashionThe Dragnet closing in. Hard boiled detective monologue? The bass is insistent, the guitar creepy sliding in from the periphery, and the percussion hap hazard. Case notes muttered into a tape recorder, in a back room, over a bottle of whisky? There is the touch of the noir. Paranoia hangs thick. Who knows what the case is, or if there is indeed a case? In short a study in uneasiness and stifling atmosphere. Which is a good thing. Alongside Marquis Cha-Cha, a highlight.
That boy's been in prison
And one final highlight is Solicitor In Studio. There’s this enthusiastic exuberant bouncy bassline with the touch of the wideboy about it - there’s the feel of the more anarchic end of kids TV around the whole thing. Although the subject is a more grown up panel show, tedious point/counterpoint talking heads, the likes of Patrick Moore and Magnus Pike - ‘Scientists and their bloody childish reading habits’. I don’t think it would be too much of a leap to imagine this is MES on the sofa, observing and making notes. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Again, a great song derived from the mundane, and of course the same-as-it-ever-was observation that ‘Young and old dicks make TV’. Also, another one of those world collapsing in on itself anti-choruses. If I recall correctly, Pete can’t stand this song, so I’d be quite interesting in hearing why - to my mind there’s nothing not to like.
The set closes with Papal Visit, which is, to be frank, totally fucking ridiculous. How ridiculous? Mark E Smith plays the violin. I’m guessing he’s had no formal training, no decades ensconced in the conservatory. Essentially it is the sound of a man who can’t play the violin scraping the strings for five minutes under a bed of thumping toms. With a pretty good poem about the Pope’s 1982 UK visit over the top of it that’s probably best off read from the page.
That’s Room to Live. A mixed bag - more good than bad and certainly nothing awful - even Papal Visit, which by the nature of it being so very ridiculous makes it is hard not to have some sort of affection for. The catharsis of Hex has in a way wiped the slate clean.Things are moving on, and a new set up is beginning to evolve. Instead of sticking to a formula that has given them success, they are going somewhere new, changing up both the music and some of the personnel in search of the new thing.