YMGTA #12: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…

“I decided to pop it up a little and alter the rhythms.”

Details:
Recorded: Focus Studios, London, mid-1984
Released: 12 October 1984

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Brix Smith – guitar, vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Paul Hanley – drums, keyboards
  • Karl Burns – drums, bass
    With:
  • Gavin Friday – vocals

Background
The Fall’s reconciliation with Rough Trade proved to be short-lived. Smith’s unhappiness regarding the ‘cheapskate’1 recording of PBL was exacerbated by what he perceived as the label’s preference for promoting The Smiths. (MES seems to have had a pretty disdainful view of Morrissey, considering him a ‘twat’2 and reportedly always deliberately addressing him as ‘Steven’.) Another bone of contention was that Grant Showbiz had been ‘poached’3 to do The Smith’s sound. Possibly more pertinently, MES was considering the ‘mound of tax bills’ that he felt were the result of ‘not compromising’4.

Smith spent much of the group’s Autumn 1983 tour negotiating with other labels5. The end result was that they signed with Beggars Banquet. This was, according to Dave Thompson, ‘The Fall’s acknowledgement that it was finally time they started selling records’6. Or, as Smith put it: ‘I like it because they’re straights… Beggars just want to have hit singles’7.

The first product from this new union was Oh! Brother. Back in 1977, this song was a driving, aggressive but fairly tuneless offering. Now, with a light and airy production, it was transformed into a piece of quirky pop. It’s certainly quite a transformation when compared to the PBL material; the chorus-heavy guitar and bass and layers of backing vocals give it a light and sugary feel that isn’t entirely my cup of tea. It wasn’t a particularly successful excursion into chart-friendly territory either, reaching only number 93 on the UK charts. It was retired from the set in 1985 after 31 performances.

Front cover

The most notable thing about it is that it was the first Fall single to be released on 12″. The 12″ featured a slightly longer version of the title track, which, as was often the way back in those days, just extends the drum and guitar patterns to no discernible benefit. God-Box, which appeared on both versions is, like Hotel Blöedel, based on one of Brix’s old Banda Dratsing songs (Can’t Stop The Flooding).  There’s a certain pleasing angularity to it, but overall it’s a little cold, flat and uninspired. It got 41 live outings, the last being in 1986.

The group’s next assault on the charts was c.r.e.e.p. An idea rescued by Brix, who found a demo tape of it behind MES’s sofa8, it fared little better than Brother, reaching only 91 on the UK charts. Although some thought it was about Marc Riley, and others thought it might be about Morrissey, MES denied that this was the case – ‘It’s bits of things. A lot of people think it’s about them.’

[EDIT: hippriestess has pointed out, quite rightly, that in her book Brix says c.r.e.e.p. is about their German tour manager Schumech, which MES twisted into ‘scum egg’.]

It’s even more poppy and accessible than its predecessor. I have to say that I’ve never been keen on this one either; it’s lightweight and flimsy in a way that even Smith’s vocals can’t cut through. It was, however, a popular set choice, racking up 70 performances 1983-87.

Front cover

This one also had a 12″ release, which featured a lengthier (by a minute and a half) version of c.r.e.e.p., entitled C.R.E.E.P. Once again, in typical 80s fashion, it rather pointlessly just extends a couple of the instrumental passages, although it does at least push Steve Hanley’s bass line forward prominently for a little while.

The b-side (on both 7 and 12″) was far more pleasing, however. Taking its title from a drug-distributing tour manager, Pat-Trip Dispenser features a grinding, catchy riff and has a lot of very effective intertwining of guitar parts. If you listen to the opening, for example, you’ve got a central choppy rhythm, a simple Cure-like line that broadly follows Steve Hanley’s bass in the left channel and a slightly distorted tinny strum in the right. Great stuff, and rather overlooked and underrated. It was played 28 times 1983-85, before making a surprise one-off return in 2009.

On the same day that the album emerged, the group also released Call For Escape Route. This consisted of a three-track 12″ (Draygo’s Guilt / Clear Off! / No Bulbs) and a two-track 7″ (No Bulbs 3 / Slang King 2).

Front cover

Draygo dated back to 1980, and had already had 25 of its 29 eventual live outings by the time of its release. Like the two preceding singles, there’s a poppiness and lightness of touch that’s certainly a long way from anything PBL or earlier; however, there’s a bit more edge and substance to its Bo Diddley-esque shuffle.

I said on the Fi5 blog that I was infuriated by not being able to pin down what the riff reminded me of (the A-Z‘s suggestion of Lou Reed’s Vicious is not a bad shout, but I’m sure there’s something closer). Sadly, I still haven’t worked it out.

Clear Off! was one of three tracks recorded with guest vocals from Gavin Friday of The Virgin Prunes. It’s a curious mixture of The Cure (the mournful, chorus-heavy lead guitar), something C86-ish (the thin, choppy rhythm guitar) and 80s synth-pop (the sparse and rather hesitant plinky keyboard line). It got 29 live outings 1983-85.

No Bulbs here is the nearly eight minute version, which allows for some nice VU-style guitar work towards the end. It’s about the ‘trash mount’ of a flat that MES and Brix shared (before they moved to My New House) where neither light bulbs or a belt for MES’s trousers were available. It lasted in the set until 1986, and was played 32 times. The version on the 7″ (No Bulbs 3) is just an edit; Slang King 2 (on the other side), aside from a little voice-over intro, isn’t radically different from the album version.

In The Wider World…
On the day of the album’s release, the IRA attempted to blow up Margaret Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. A couple of weeks later, Michael Buerk’s famous news report revealed the extent of the Ethiopian famine to the British public. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards at the end of the month. On the same day, the Catholic Church, after thinking about it for only 359 years, recognised that Galileo might have had a point about the earth revolving around the sun. In the same month, Katy Perry and Kelly Osbourne were born; Leonard Rossiter and François Truffaut died. And  John Lowe achieved the first ever televised nine-dart checkout.

In the UK charts, Stevie Wonder’s execrable I Just Called to Say I Love You had just finished its six week run at number one, replaced by Wham!’s Freedom. U2’s The Unforgettable Fire was at the top of the album charts. The episode of Top Of The Pops broadcast the day after the album’s release featured performances from Alison Moyet (All Cried Out), Limahl (Never Ending Story), Status Quo (The Wanderer) and the thankfully forgotten Eugene Wilde’s Gotta Get You Home Tonight.

The Fall Live In 1984
The group played two late 1983 gigs after the release of PBL, between which they recorded their seventh Peel session (Pat Trip Dispenser / 2 x 4 / Words of Expectation / Creep). A mark of the group’s gradual shift into more mainstream circles was the fact that they also recorded three sessions for radio shows other than Peel’s between March and September: David ‘Kid’ Jensen’s and Janice Long’s shows, and Saturday Live.

They played 28 gigs in 1984 before Wonderful & Frightening‘s release in October. Ten new songs were played for the first time: Lay Of The Land, God-Box, Disney’s Dream Debased and He Talks in March; No Bulbs, Hey! Marc Riley, Craigness and Elves in June. (He Talks was played on the first two dates of the group’s ten-date visit to The Netherlands and Germany in March/April before disappearing forever. It’s most notable for having a riff that’s largely lifted from Judas Priest’s Living After Midnight.) Stephen Song debuted in September; Slang King a week before TW&FWO‘s release.

ticket

The Album
One of the most important factors in TW&FWO‘s creation was the appointment of a new and experienced producer. John Leckie had been employed at Abbey Road studios in the 70s, working with John Lennon and Syd Barrett, and had produced albums for Magazine and XTC. Despite his somewhat hippy background (‘he had recently walked off an ashram, where everyone had to wear the colours of the rising sun and was encouraged to have group sex’10) he seems to have established a productive working relationship with the group. Steve Hanley recalls him saying, ‘I want to capture the energy of the band playing live, but with a cleaner sound than you’re used to’; also that ‘John makes suggestions about the arrangements themselves in such an unobtrusive manner it’s impossible not to engage with his ideas… Our music begins to develop another layer’11.

The album reached no. 62 in the UK Albums Chart. In the NME, Richard Cook described it as ‘particularly sharp and still terrifically crowded’; any worries that John Leckie ‘was persuading them into good taste are vapourised by this clogged, boiling sound’. In Sounds, Andy Hurt decided that yes, The Fall could indeed ‘survive the culture shock of sophisticated recording techniques and find true happiness… rough edges are still very much an integral part of the “new” sound’.

The Songs
[N.B. This is, of course, the first time that a Fall LP’s tracklist varied depending on which format you purchased. For this one, I’m treated ‘the album’ as the original nine-track vinyl release, even though I know that some people are more familiar with the lengthier version. See ‘overall verdict’ below.]

label a

Lay Of The Land
This album – and therefore this opening song – was my introduction to The Fall (again, see ‘overall verdict’ below). Although it was 35 years ago, I can still remember being startled, bemused and slightly disturbed by the introduction. At the time, the creepy, chanting voices put me in mind of some of those ‘folk horror’ kids TV shows that had been around when I was a kid – dark and mysterious tales about stone circles, witchcraft, etc. Of course, I now know that MES was inspired by the 1979 TV series Quatermass (you can hear the ‘planet people’ doing the chant here).

The main body of the song clatters along like a demented train, the guitars are frenetic and the hyperactive bass (from both SH and KB) is just remarkable. MES contributes a particularly effective scornful snarl (the repeated refrain of ‘my son’ being especially pleasing). His a capella refrain at 4:30, followed by Burns launching into a scuzzy, distorted bass solo, is an especially delighted-grin-inducing moment. A ramshackle powerhouse of a tune, and one of the best album openers the group ever did.

It was played almost constantly in 1984, and reached a total of 69 appearances by 1986. In one of their earliest and most memorable TV appearances, The Fall performed Lay on The Old Grey Whistle Test in November 1984, accompanied by Michael Clark’s dancers. It’s a remarkable sight; there’s a detailed and entertaining description here.

2 x 4
Opening with an aggressive, high-up-the-neck, staccato bass riff, 2×4 revisits the punkish rockabilly approach of Fiery Jack. Like Lay, it clatters along exuberantly, although unlike its predecessor’s wierdly dark tone, there’s an almost cartoonish atmosphere due to the repeated ‘hit ’em on the head with a 2 by 4′ line. It’s also one of those where Brix’s backing vocals are a perfect foil for MES. One of the group’s most played songs, it clocked up an impressive 126 performances 1983-88.

Copped It
Like Oh! Brother, this was an old song that had appeared in performances as early as 1977. The driving, discordant guitar riff and megaphone vocal are a joy, and Gavin Friday’s contributions contrast nicely with Smith’s vocals. A typically impenetrable lyric, full of wonderfully crafted phrases: ‘Can’t get far in land of immovable frogs’; ‘Taking out a policy for love and destruction / can’t operate with this vexation’.

Over the last minute, Craig Scanlon chucks in some excellent swirly, aquatic guitar work, and the oddly dispassionate doo-wop backing vocals are also a treat. This one also had a fair bit of staying power on the setlists, making its 63rd and final appearance in 1987.

Elves
The Fall’s recorded history is littered with both cover versions and ‘borrowings’ – some more obvious than others. Elves is definitely at the ‘shameless steal’ end of the spectrum, its riff being lifted wholesale from The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. Brix – who did the lifting – claims in her book that it was a deliberate homage, meant to be a ‘witty commentary, a send-up of punk’12. Steve Hanley’s account13 differs somewhat, suggesting that his brother pointed out the similarity and Brix’s response was that she’d never heard the song.

Whatever the actual truth, Elves is certainly  great deal more than a simple rip-off. Whilst The Stooges’ riff is prominent and recognisable throughout, the group add a completely new unearthly, disturbingly surreal and malevolent atmosphere. The simple descending guitar figure, accompanied by the shrill, swirling organ, gives you a sense of spiralling, falling out of control. The chanting, menacing vocals contribute to a dark folk horror atmosphere similar to Lay of the Land (once again, you can imagine one of those disturbing 70s children’s dramas set in a spooky village where there’s a terrible dark secret lurking amongst the standing stones…) – an impression that’s only strengthened by the lyrics: Tin-can rattle on the path / The bestial greed is on the attack / The cat black runs round the tree. In addition, the vocal explosion at 2:04 surely wins the hotly-contested ‘Best Sneeze in Popular Music’ award. Live, it had a relatively short shelf-life: 34 performances 1984-85.

label b

Slang King
Slang King had an even shorter stay on the setlist, notching up only 29 appearances before being dropped after October 1986. It’s a relatively accessible song, featuring a pretty keyboard figure; but there’s still a strange, swampish quality to it.

The heavily phased/chorused guitar line squats toad-like over the song; an incongruous trilling organ ripples in from time to time; a selection of high-pitched, breathy backing vocals drift hither and thither, and MES is at once crisp and distorted, discussing ‘lime green receptionists’ and ‘triumphant processions down the road of quease’. He also describes a scenario where some kids have insufficient funds to purchase a curly-wurly (which must be one of those many moments of lyrical confusion for non-UK listeners). As it says, all here is ace.

Bug Day
In the booklet that accompanied the album’s 2010 reissue, Steve Hanley described Bug Day as ‘a bit of a filler’, although I’ve always been fond of its random, lethargic oddness. It’s certainly a loose and experimental moment, comprised of a gently undulating bass line and various atonal guitar clippings over which MES rambles about insects (‘Green moths shivered / cockroaches mouldered in the ground’). Never played live, unsurprisingly.

Stephen Song
An upbeat and joyful song, with an infectious marching rhythm. It’s curiously uplifting, the light-footed percussion and tumbling chords and bass line capturing a spirit of playfulness. The slightly creepy gothic tone of Gavin Friday’s vocals cut across the tweeness of Brix’s voice effectively, and the passage that comes in at 1:13 and 2:25 adds a welcome bit of angular discord.

MES described it as being about competitiveness and plagiarism (the words ‘pot’, ‘black’ and ‘kettle’ spring to mind), which isn’t immediately apparent from the lyrics. As ever, some great turns of phrase, though: ‘a head like a spud ball’;  ‘his vendetta in parchment’; ‘floating grey abundance’. Perhaps because GF’s contribution was an integral part of the song, it was only ever played live six times.

Craigness
Like Joker Hysterical Face, a song about odd neighbours, this time one with ‘one eye’ and ‘maroon flares’. Smith was famously disparaging about bands who cited The Fall as an influence; regarding Pavement, he said, ‘It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it?’ Craigness would suggest that he was a year out, as its ramshackle lope seems to be what Malkmus and co. based much of their early career around.

It’s lovely: gentle, melancholy, and one of those where the group pull off that trick where they only just seem to be holding the song together in one piece. And then Smith’s unearthly screech at 2:28 launches a mad yet somehow understated spot of wig-out. Like Stephen, it only ever got half a dozen live outings.

Disney’s Dream Debased
Another piece of ramshackle minor-chord jangle, albeit one with a more sinister air than Craigness. Famously, this deals with MES and Brix’s experience of visiting Disneyland on the day that a woman died on one of the rides (you can read Brix’s somewhat breathless account in her book, pages 191-193). Whether or not this episode proves MES’s ‘pre-cog’ abilities (it doesn’t, obviously) it inspired a melancholy, melodic yet oddly oppressive song that floats along in a delightfully peculiar haze. Another relatively short-lived feature on the stage: 23 outings 1984-86.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
This was the first time where the format in which you bought the album made a serious difference. The cassette version (Escape Route From The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall) added seven tracks and over half an hour of music – Oh! Brother / Draygo’s Guilt / God-Box / Clear Off! / c.r.e.e.p. / Pat-Trip Dispenser / No Bulbs.

tape inlay

tape inlayv2

[Thanks to Saveloy from the Fall Forum for the scans of the cassette inlay.]

The album was released on CD for the first time in 1988, featuring the 16-track cassette version. The 2010 ‘Omnibus’ reissue was a 4-CD set containing rough mixes, session tracks and a live set from the Pandora’s Music Box Festival in Rotterdam, September 1984. The program (below) seems to suggest that The Fall went on stage at 3.15 am.

84sep22_schedule

The live recording is of excellent quality, sound-wise, and it’s a pretty solid performance. The opening trio of LayCraigness and 2×4 is particularly good, and overall it’s well worth a listen. Kicker Conspiracy is an especially intriguing listen, having a much more sparse, spacious sound than we’re used to hearing. Brix adds an effective new backing vocal, and it’s interesting to hear Steve Hanley’s bass line far more clearly than you can usually. No Bulbs is spirited and energetic, although it’s marred by the fact that both Brix and Scanlon’s guitars are distinctly out of tune. The group had only played the set closer, Middle Mass, once in the preceding twelve months, and it shows.

Overall Verdict
The usual assessment of this album is that Brix, after having dipped her toes in the recording process with PBL, exerted her pop-sensibility influence on W&F and made it an altogether more accessible, ‘poppy’ and commercially viable prospect. This is, of course, overly simplistic, especially when considering the 9-track vinyl version that the overwhelming majority of Fall fans would have bought at the time. This is not to say that Brix did not bring a new dimension to the group; her influence can clearly be heard on Slang King, 2×4 and Elves, for example. However, as Dave Thompson comments, ‘despite media assumptions, Brix herself was not overtly responsible for ringing the musical changes’14. MES (not, of course, always the most reliable source) indicated in Renegade15 that it was him who was behind the more accessible approach:

‘After Perverted and after Brix joined the group I thought we needed to steer it in another direction. It all got a bit monotonous… plain monotony can get fucking tedious… That’s why I decided to pop it up a little and alter the rhythms.’

In many ways, it’s the production that really marks W&F out as a departure from the group’s previous albums; John Leckie achieves a precision, clarity and spaciousness to the sound that opens up a multitude of possibilities without detracting from the group’s intrinsic character. Whoever was responsible for the group’s (relatively) more commercial sound, the notion that W&F is a shiny, poppy chart-friendly record is a red herring anyway. Despite Slang King‘s pretty keyboard melody and Stephen Song‘s jauntiness, there’s still plenty of angular, difficult Fall here: Craigness‘ discordant finale; Elves‘ hypnotic chanting; Bug Day‘s random strangeness; Lay of the Land, just from start to finish.

W&F is (not for the first or last time) the sound of the group in transition. The angles and abrasiveness are still there; but there’s this cloud of lightness and melody that’s gently floating down over everything. To what extent it’s settled depends on which version you’re listening to.

My “Version”
Much as I love this album’s wild inventiveness and variations in tone and texture, the sequencing does seem a little perverse; there’s a notable imbalance (to my ears, anyway) between the aggressive, full-on tunes of the first half and the more gentle melancholy of the second. I wouldn’t drop anything from the original 9-track vinyl version, but I would include the sparky, intriguingly layered Pat-Trip Dispenser.

Side 1 (22:44) – Lay of the Land / 2×4 / Slang King / Craigness / Bug Day

Side 2 (21:24) – Pat-Trip Dispenser / Copped It / Stephen Song / Elves / Disney’s Dream Debased

Rankings
Albums wise, it gets really tough at this point. In particular, comparing the relentless assault of Hex to W&F‘s more varied palette is a real challenge. The sheer variety and inventiveness of the latter just about tips things in its favour. Just.

  1. Perverted By Language
  2. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  3. Hex Enduction Hour
  4. Slates
  5. Grotesque
  6. Room To Live
  7. Dragnet
  8. Live At The Witch Trials

With the singles, it’s much more straightforward. Neither of 1984’s releases make much of a dent on the ‘chart’ so far…

  1. Kicker Conspiracy
  2. The Man Whose Head Expanded
  3. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
  4. Totally Wired
  5. Marquis Cha-Cha
  6. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  7. Look, Know
  8. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  9. Rowche Rumble
  10. Fiery Jack
  11. It’s The New Thing
  12. Oh! Brother
  13. c.r.e.e.p.

Regarding live albums, it was pointed out to me (thanks Sigma2!) over on The Fall Forum that I had neglected to include the live albums that make up the Set Of Ten box set that was released in December 2018. This is because when I planned out this blog, it had yet to be released. So, for the sake of completeness, I went back to posts #06, #08 and #10 (where three of them fitted chronologically) to note this fact.

The three that I’ve missed are Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham, Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans and Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester. All three feature strong performances, but sound quality-wise New Orleans is the pick of them, although it’s still a little hollow and ‘boomy’ sounding. The Manchester one is very thin-sounding, but does feature an interesting early version of Wings (pre-‘that’ riff) and an impressively frantic Prole Art Threat. None of them are exactly essential purchases though.

  1. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  2. In A Hole
  3. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  4. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  5. Totale’s Turns
  6. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  7. Live 1977
  8. Austurbaejarbio
  9. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  10. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  11. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  12. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  13. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  14. Liverpool 78
  15. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  16. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  17. Live At Deeply Vale

 

References
1Ford, p128

2Ford, p129

 3The Big Midweek, p195

 4Renegade, p149

 5The Big Midweek, p195

 6Thompson, p76

 7Thompson, pp73-74

 8The Big Midweek, p194

 9Ford, p136

 10The Rise and the Fall and the Rise, p198

 11The Big Midweek, pp203-204

 12The Rise and the Fall and the Rise, p200

 13The Big Midweek, p208

 14Thompson, p78

 15Renegade, p148

One thought on “YMGTA #12: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…

  1. Really enjoyable again, Steve.

    There’s one thing that I don’t recall having seen anywhere – and I can’t find it with an admittedly casual search now – is that the voice at the start of Slang King 2 is Kifkif (Keith Dobson) from Here and Now, doing a short monologue about touring with Here and Now and living on the bus. The original was on a Fuck Off/Street Level Tapezine. The self interview by MES that turned up of the cd of Slates was – I think – on the same tape. I used to have it. I don’t any more.

    Liked by 1 person

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