In which Pete and Ed listen to something by The Fall and then write about it.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Perverted By Language (Album) / The Man Whose Head Expanded (Single) / Kicker Conspiracy (Single) (1983)

Pete says:


There have been many pithy and quotable things said about change.  For example - a change is as good as a rest.  Clearly nonsense, because if you're lifting 25kg, and then you change to 225kg, I suspect you're unlikely to feel rested.  Also - the only constant is change, which is a quote that seems sensible, then paradoxical, and then sort of flits between the two extremes, dithering about like a prat.

These days change is something to be studied, like biology, or Kilingon.  Invariably you will find analysis of how change effects people, or groups of people, and of course, the findings of these studies are often so blindingly obvious that people who's whole careers depend on them appearing more clever than they are nod their heads sagely, gently exhaling and maintaining their cool demeanour, whilst inside their minds race and quiver and scream "I HAVEN'T A FUCKING CLUE WHAT I'M DOING!  WHAT IS THIS JOB!?  WHAT IS MY PURPOSE?!  WHO THE FUCK AM I?!".

So change is a tangible thing, at least if one defines 'a tangible thing' as something that people can make money out of.  And yes, people's responses to change can be examined and understood, and most of the time fall into recognisable patterns.  But change in relation to The Fall is different.  Whereas in most situations change is a reaction to outside stimuli, or internal ennui, in The Fall change - in personnel, sound, outlook - is a weapon yielded by the boss in order to maintain an edge, both in terms of his authority and their product.  To borrow from the changeologists for one moment, the Fall's change cycle looks like this...

So you maybe wondering what this little diversion is all about, as am I really.  I suppose in essence its a manifestation of my response to Perverted By Language - on one hand, a satisfied understanding of where we're at, and on the other a gaping lack of comprehension.  Perverted is an album of two halves, all muddled together.  One one hand we've got Fall-pop, hooky tunes that breeze along, dragging you in with an exuberant demonstration of whatever particular vibe they are purveying.  And on the other hand we have a set of long, repetitious songs, with lyrics that go on and on, music and voice unrelenting in its intent to convey something seriously difficult to ascertain.  And before we get into the nitty gritty we have to ask why.  Why is it that a stylistic division so clear has occurred?  Well, its that 'C' word banded about so wantonly above.  Perverted, it is clear to me now, is an album born from creative uncertainty though not a lack of confidence.  Post Riley, and with this new woman Brix who's influence is starting to seep into the corners of Fallworld, it seems to me that the band are audibly working out which way to go, and there are two feasible paths that have opened up to them - the long, drawn out performance poerty like dirges (a word not used pejoratively), or the snappy tunes with choruses and other discernible features.

The former category consists of Neighbourhood of Infinity, Garden, Smile, and Tempo House.  Each of these groovy little numbers has a single, or couple of sections, which pretty much repeat themselves up until MES has done rambling... and that is an oversimplification (there's texture, variety, dynamics and whatnot) but its a fair assessment.  Now on paper, at least to this listener, that doesn't sound like much to write home about, and Neighbourhood is merely alright - it's certainly got some balls - but by the time the final line "we are the Fall" comes around it feels a bit like stating the obvious.  However, the other three are fascinating and at moments breathtaking (though let me state here and now that they just aren't the kind of schnizzle to inhabit my iPod).  Garden, over a chiming guitar, is a meander into mythology, but I'm at a total loss to explain much more than that, aside from the fact that at the end of the song, when MES proclaims "He's here / He's here at last / I saw him / I swear / Jew on a motorbike / Jew on a motorbike / Jew on a motorbike..." there's a tangible sense of it meaning something very, very personally important.  Now let me be clear, I suspect it doesn't - I really don't think that Garden is MES exploring his pang for religion lying deep, deep in his heart (because I don't think he has one... a pang that is, I assume he has a heart...), but I think that's the power of this shape of song when you have a writer as enigmatically gifted with his words.

Smile is, I think, another character study though it's very hard to tell with MES at the minute.  Never has the word 'smile' seemed so terrifying as it's screeched out again and again psychotically, with the band being whipped up, up, up, UP, UP into a frenzy... in an unusual 10/4 time signature I believe... as yet another faker gets shot down:
Tight faded male arse
Decadence and Anarchy
He said, he smiled
Something to dance to
A certain style
... its a song which takes me by surprise every time I hear it.  But it's Tempo House which really takes the biscuit in this little subsection of Fall output.  A lollopy Fallfunk backing, which goes on and on and on and when it finally changes just alters how long the changes change, and with MES clearly enjoying some of the smartest one-liners he's ever come up with all in one song - "God damn the pedantic Welsh", "the Dutch are weeping in four languages at least", "Winston Churchill had a speech imp-p-p-pediment, and look what he did - he razed half of London".  It's such a weird piece of music 'cos it never launches off, it never tries to do more that it must, it just rolls long and happens.  As with all four of these tunes its an odd listening experience.  They all feel very 'arty', all determined to exist on their own terms.  The Fall of the past seemed to subvert popular music by aping it (and often doing it better), or analysing themselves as it happened (cf Dragnet), but here on Perverted - taking a cue perhaps from Winter, New Puritan, Iceland etc - they have moved beyond such frippery, and instead perhaps are sincerely creating, arts-for-arts-saking.  And this could have been the future...

... but its not going to be, and that's because of a little thing about to become massive - Brix Smith.  It's dangerous to personify, but let's do it anyway - Brix = pop and showbiz and fun and style.  And though I am jumping the gun here - after all, she's hardly on this record - the other side of Perverted, also demonstrated by the singles released around the time, is poppy and snappy and dammit, no matter how cool I'd like to pretend to be, at heart that's what I want from my music most of the time.  I want hooks all over the place, I want grooves and licks, I want words that snap and spark and giggle.

Let's gloss the dross.  Ironically, the epoch making moment that is Brix's first clear and upfront vocal on a Fall record is Hotel Bloedel, and its shit.  Don't let Ed tell you any different, it lets down the record, it's a shame.  But mercy me - hearing such a prominent female, American vocal on a Fall song is really quite shocking when up until now its been beery Mancunians.  And the final track, Hexen Definitive-Strife Knot is pretty naff too, a weird twist on country riffs that only picks up toward the end during the Strife Knot bit... and on reflection it isn't really that poppy at all, so might bridge the gap.  Badly.  So pop isn't doing so well so far really...

But the two final tracks here, especially when considered alongside the singles, point the way magnificently.  Opener Eat Y'Self Fitter, a mish-mash of observational comedy, judders along with a dumb riff, an acapella chorus, and enough verve to sink a ship.  Like Tempo House it has far more than its fair share of quotable lines, and is one of those Fall songs that pops into your head when you're not really expecting it - stuff like 'the centimetre square said it purged fear' shouldn't really stick, but it just does.  And also its worth noting that when we heard this live last time out we didn't have Brix gleefully joining in with the chorus refrain, and it makes such a difference to the song, an added element, a wash of colour.  And in my opinion, the standout track here is I Feel Voxish, a funky, groovy pop beast, which sounds a simple little thing but which is actually deceptively clever with sneaky verses and choruses, and a lovely Scanlon guitar riff that sounds like a clown, and two grumbly basses doing odd things to your bowels.  MES is on top form, shamelessly employing hooky melody and smart, sassy words:
I've been sharpening a knife in the bathroom
On a brick I got from the garden
No one will fuck with me again
And yet another Fall lyric that refuses to budge from the mind - 'Offer, offer it was more than a reasonable offer / But it made me hungry'.

Why so many quotable lines on this record, from a group that's rarely been in short supply of them?  If anything, MES is getting more and more ambiguous generally (certainly, post Grotesque and Dragnet we've not had many lyrics one could describe as straight), and I suppose that perhaps the vocals are much clearer in the mix now than they were.  Having said that, the two singles seem to have more narrative or sense in them than anything on Perverted - The Man Who's Head Expanded being some sort of horror story mixed with self-agrandisement of a sort, and Kicker Conspiracy being a state of the footballing nation address.  Even here though MES is toying with meaning and whatnot - the former has the line 'sounds like my head, trying to unravel this lot' and the accusation that t'he soap opera writer, would follow him around
and use his jewels for T.V. prime time'.  Anyway, in short its the thankful return of the mighty Fall single, and even the B-sides are ace.

So, given that to my mind Perverted is a product of a band trying to work out where to go next its an unqualified success.  It stands alone really, like Witch Trials does, not as a stopgap, but as a marker on the road.  While never the first Fall album I'd leap for, repeated listens in the right frame of mind reveal an engrossing body of work, and a band (or at least a leader) thriving off change, though maybe not uncertainty, as MES sounds a clear and focused as ever.  Let's see what happens when he gets married.

Ed says:

To begin with, apologies for the delay in getting this one together, there’s been a lot of (positive) upheaval in my life during the last month and time has been at a premium. So, I’m trying to give this the attention it deserves, but forgive me if there are elements in what follows that are somewhat perfunctory.

With its ramshackle, tinny, claustrophobic aesthetic, Perverted By Language would probably not be described as one of The Fall’s most accessible albums, but then why should that be such a bad thing? It shouldn’t be a bad thing, he says, answering his own self serving rhetorical question.

This is the post-Riley album and it is now the dawning of the age of Brix Smith, improbable new spouse of MES and improbable new Fall member. Inspired casting and a great catalyst to propel The Fall off in an interesting new direction, improbably resulting in daytime radio airplay and actual non-indie chart positions. Some people, or course, see this as being most definitely a bad thing - these people are incorrect. The Fall thrive on upheaval.

Anyway. Brix is on the scene. Glamorous, blond, American and fantastically incongruous amid the rest of the, lets face it, pretty dour looking Fall line up. Her influence on PBL is there, but compared with later releases, slight. It’s a bit early in the game really.

I struggled for a while when it came to working out how to begin with this record. For all its immediate impression of sonic murk, repeated listens yield plenty of subtlety. I realised the best course of action would to be to call in a non-Fall fan to provide an impartial assessment of the opening track, Eat Y’Self Fitter, so I asked my friend Mike who has a varied music taste but has never really got that into The Fall. This was his response:

‘Listened to the track two and a half times. I enjoyed it.

The weedy guitar and bass lead suited my tastes. It struck me that musically it was sort of a jerky track, if it was a breakbeat or sampled loop I would have thought it was chopped in half and we were only hearing the first half.

Start-stop start-stop.

Vocals. I enjoyed. Particular enjoyed the bit mid way through when he talked about panic in granada-land followed by the eat each other chorus. For me it conjured up imagery of working man being caught up in some sort of cannibal outbreak.’

Which was great because Mike has already hit on a few things that are particularly interesting about PBL. Thanks Mike!

First - the bass. One of the exciting things about this record is the sheer prominence given to the bass, either by design or happy accident, and that the actual music that Steve Hanley is wringing from it it is compelling. ‘Wringing’ almost feels like the right word - as Mr Hanley sounds, and when you see gig footage, looks, like a man who puts so much controlled force and precision into playing the bass that he is in danger of dismantling it in the process. The bass really drives this record. It wanders, it pushes, it controls.

Secondly - the weedy guitar. As mentioned before, we are now in the Brix era, but at this stage it sounds like it’s mainly (or totally) Scanlon on guitar. Its thin, skeletal, jarring, trebly and just works. There’s a nice sense of space created by the absence of Riley, although I think this actually works better on the Live in Iceland recording from last time as there is a certain crispness that is missing in the aesthetic of the PBL recording.

Thirdly - the broken loop of Eat Y’Self Fitter. We’re still in the realm of repetition, as we will always be to a certain extent, but new and sometimes more punishing exercises in the art seem to be afforded by the double drummer line up. Harsh, pounding tom assaults and late night hypnotic interweaving figures.

Finally, the vocals and the lyrics. A slight move away from the story songs, the novellas, and more towards impressions and snippets, notebook scraps and weird dream scenarios. Presented in possibly the most confident manner yet.

So, Mike’s thoughts on Eat Y’Self Fitter got the ball rolling quite nicely. To me its a particularly stern - at least at first - entry test, disorientating whirligig experimental theatre. An unrelenting hammering (the ‘broken loop’) with a combination of scenarios involving renting videos, operating early home computers and meeting your heroes, all resolving to catchy anti-hook ‘Eat Y’self Fitter!’. Its a total racket and I love it. Also, one of my favourite music videos of all time:

‘I used to have this thing about Link Wray, I’d listen to play him every Saturday. God bless Saturday’ already seems like the reminisces of an old man, or someone who’s already clocked up a lot of mileage. Neighbourhood of Infinity has that kind of motorik (argh!) buzzing ranting. Triumphantly (?) ‘We are The Fall!’. Its OK, but not particularly exciting.

And then, casually, The Fall drop one of the all time greats, the preposterously stunning Garden. A beautiful, intricate ringing simple guitar riff. A kind of reel. Weirdly folky. A great performance that is then elevated even higher by MES’ input. A sprawling, proper metaphysical fantasy narrative, touching on weird religious imagery and perhaps the second coming of ‘a Jew on a motorbike’.
‘The first god had in his garden
From the back looked like a household pet
When it twirled round was revealed to be
A three-legged black-grey hog’
A dream?

Brix pops up properly for the first time on Hotel Bloedel. Taking lead vocals with MES intoning over the top:
2013 Philippsburg Confederate graves
Are uncovered, throwing new light on
This 19th century conflict, sparking a repeat
These southern spectres were disease ridden, dusty, organic
And psychic
A slow sombre acoustic strum. Brix’s vocals are extremely out of tune and yet it works for me. (Question: do ‘we’ expect women to be tuneful when they sing but are much more tolerant of wayward notes when men do it?). And images such as:
Gregor, satiated walking thru' capitol
Stumbles on two thousand dead Thai monks in SS uniforms
get me big style. A highlight.

Smile is one of those full on martial snare heavy numbers that could fit in well during Hex era Fall, but works here too where it’s all about the drums , the bass and the changes in dynamic. An animated, barking MES presenting a picture of internal turmoil - ‘repeal gun laws in my brain’ in a claustrophobic ‘designed from above club’. Short, intense, excoriating. Although, I prefer the Peel session version.

I Feel Voxish has that slightly motorik (argh!) vibe of Neighbourhood of Infinity, but again fails to really connect with me.

Finishing up, we have Tempo House, a stunning slomo lumbering bass lead opus crowned with a commanding vocal performance from MES which seems to alternate between authoritative, whimsical (yes) and sarcastic. Also contains one of my favourite all time Fall lines: ‘The Dutch are weeping in four languages at least’ and the weird ‘God-damn the pedantic Welsh!’.

In addition, a couple of brilliant non-album singles from the same time.

The Man Whose Head Expanded. A good old fashioned Fall story song in the vein of How I Wrote Elastic Man or New Face In Hell... the grinding bass is killer. Set to an out of control Casiotone preset. Everything is right. It slows down in the middle. ‘Turn that bloody blimey space invader off’. A man is being stalked by a soap opera writer who is plagiarising his life for prime time:
The scriptwriter would follow him around,
of this he was convinced. It was no coincidence.
The lager seemed poisoned.
On the other side we have the bludgeoning charm, if that’s a thing, of Ludd Gang. Which is weirdly catchy for a piece of music of that finds a chord it likes and sticks to it. Bonus points for having a pop at Welsh Elvis, Shakin’ Stevens. Shakin’ Stevens seems like some sort of fucking weird group hallucination now.

The other double A sided single is even better. Kicker Conspiracy - rumination on football, the incompetence of the FA and ‘how flair is punished’. Includes the excellent:
Pat McGatt. Pat McGatt, the very famous sports reporter is
FANS! "Remember, you are abroad!
Remember the police are rough!
Remember the unemployed!
Remember my expense account!
A catchy, driving awkward pop song. I love it, but Northern types with who grew up with eighties football will probably get even more out of it.  The other A is the even better Wings. A tale of purchasing ‘a pair of flabby wings’ that facilitate time travel, where unfortunately due to a mishap the owner ends up getting stuck in the 1860s. Its pretty much one of the best things ever in the history of things, but I’m not sure if I could relate exactly why I think that. A combination of musical and lyrical ideas that might not gel with the right performance, delivery and recording. The chemistry is just bang on. Listen:

That’s it for this time. I hope it hasn’t been too perfunctory. However, listen to Perverted By Language. It is one of those records that actually improves with repeated listens, imperfect but full of substance. Plenty to chew on.

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