YMGTA #16: I Am Kurious Oranj

“For once we’re being disciplined by outside influences.”

Image result for I Am Kurious Oranj

Details:
Recorded: Suite 16, Rochdale / The King’s Theatre, Edinburgh mid-late 1988.
Released: 24 October 1988

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Brix Smith – guitar, vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Marcia Schofield – keyboards
  • Simon Wolstencroft – drums

Background
After the release of The Frenz Experiment in early 1988 The Fall worked with Michael Clark once again. Clark had been asked by the organisers of the Holland Festival (the biggest and oldest arts festival in the Netherlands, which takes place in Amsterdam every June) to produce a ballet to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. He turned to MES as ‘his musical and historical advisor’1 despite the fact that Smith, as he confessed in an NME interview at the time, knew ‘sod all’2 about the period. As a result, he took a similar approach to that which he had adopted with Hey Luciani – ‘I guessed a lot of it’3.

I Am Curious, Orange (the title of which was inspired by the 1967 Swedish erotic drama I Am Curious (Yellow)) gave Smith an opportunity to build further on the literary and artistic ambitions he had revealed with Luciani. He seems to have taken the opportunity seriously as well, for once forgoing his dictatorial style and partaking in ‘a true collaboration’4 with Clark. The writing of the piece also involved a significant change in approach for the musicians in terms of writing, rehearsing and recording. As the group played 40 gigs in the four months between the release of Frenz and Orange‘s first performance, much of the writing had to take place on the road. This put the group under a type of pressure unfamiliar to them. Brix:

‘It was a completely different way of writing, because we were under pressure. We weren’t just bringing whatever we had made up when inspired and presenting it to the group. We had a deadline, and there was a theme. We would frantically write in our hotel rooms, put it on a cassette and send it to Michael.’5

This approach proved to be problematic. The Fall’s style had always been to let songs evolve and develop each time they were played, but this was obviously not possible here. As Steve Hanley put it, ‘the music has to fit the dancing, it has to be exactly the same every night, to the nanosecond, so as not to throw off the dancers… for once we’re being disciplined by outside influences’6.

After the festival appearance in Amsterdam on 21 June, the piece was performed six times at the Edinburgh Festival in August and then had a run of 19 performances at London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre in September and October. The ballet featured an exploding ‘Old Firm’ derby, a giant carton of McDonald’s fries that was tipped over the stage and, most famously, Brix playing guitar sat atop a burger whilst being spun round by dancer Leigh Bowery dressed as a tin of Heinz baked beans. Simon Wolstencroft was probably not alone in finding it ‘hard to fathom what the hell was going on most of the time’7.

Reviewers from a dance background were not impressed, especially by The Fall’s contribution. The Observer’s Jann Parry, for example, objected to the ‘head-banging repetitiveness’ of the music8. The rock music press were more enthusiastic. Sean O’Hagan in the NME said: ‘This was The Fall in a new context – innovatory, exciting, iconoclastic’9.

Front cover 7 inch box

Unlike previous albums, the singles taken from Oranj came out after its release. Jerusalem/Big New Prinz was released a fortnight after the album as a double 7″ single and as a double CD in the exciting new 3″ format. Both formats included Acid Priest 2088 (simply a very slightly truncated version of Win Fall C.D. 2080) and Wrong Place, Right Time No. 2 (not noticeably different from No. 1).

Seven months later, Cab It Up (by now having lost its exclamation mark) was also released as a single. The b-side was Dead Beat Descendant, a song written for the ballet. Featuring a trademark Brix surf-twang riff, it’s a sprightly bit of garage punk-pop that certainly would have merited a place on the album. It suffers just a touch from a rather 80s drum sound; as such, there are superior live versions, for example the one on Live Various Years. The 12″ version added live versions of Kurious Oranj and Hit The North, both seemingly the same performances that appear on Seminal Live (of which more in the next post).

In The Wider World…
George H W Bush, vice-president for the last eight years, was elected as president, defeating Michael Dukakis. Pope John Paul II addressed the European parliament and was heckled and called ‘antichrist’ by Ian Paisley.

Shortly after Oranj‘s release, Enya’s soporific Orinoco Flow began a three-week stay at the top of the UK singles chart. Subsequently, Robin Beck’s power ballad First Time (on the back of a Coke advert) took over for a further three weeks. U2’s Rattle And Hum topped the album charts for the week of IAKO‘s release, but was soon replaced by Dire Straits’ compilation album Money For Nothing.

This clip of Top Of The Pops from the week of the album’s release gives you a sense of the true horror of 80s mainstream British music.

The Fall Live In 1988
The group’s first post-Frenz performance, their second of 1988, was a in-store appearance at the Oxford Street HMV on March 3, where they played Cab It Up! for the first time.

They played a further ten UK gigs in March. At Oxford on the 12th, Pay Your Rates made its first appearance for seven years. Athlete Cured received its debut on the 19th in Cambridge – this gig received an official release in 2000.

Front cover

Despite the fact that Athlete‘s first performance is missing (as is the first half of Mr Pharmacist) this is a very tidy live album and well worth acquiring, both in terms of sound quality (which is excellent) and performance. As well as an especially fast-paced L.A. and a distinctly tuneless Victoria, of particular interest is Pay Your Rates, the sole ‘oldie’, getting its sixth run-out after a seven year absence from the setlist. It works well, but it does sound odd to hear it with 80s-style drums and twinkly keyboard flourishes. There’s also an impressive version of US 80s 90s, featuring an extended instrumental coda.

The European tour in April saw Yes O Yes, Jerusalem and Bad News Girl get their first outings. May’s 13-date US tour featured Kurious Oranj for the first time in Boston on the 12th. The 26 performances of the ballet took place in June-October. The 17 August show in Edinburgh was released in 2000 as I Am As Pure As Oranj.

As can be seen from the inlay above, there were some odd spellings of the song titles, some of which were different again in the accompanying booklet (Dog LikeCabbing It Up Town). Despite this, it’s well worth owning. The sound quality is very good and the group’s performance is very tight (because, of course – as noted above – it had to be).

In general, the songs don’t differ vastly from the studio album versions. The main difference is that some of the guitar parts are more prominent here: Wrong Place features a much grungier, fuzzed-up riff which suits the song well; there’s a jangly line on Yes O Yes that’s virtually buried on IAKO. The drums on Dead Beat Descendant are a vast improvement on the studio version, although in places they are in danger of swamping Brix’s twangy riff. The most curious (pardon the pun) track is the Hip Priest/New Big Prinz merger: after nearly four minutes of the former, the latter lurches in and is just played over the top, leading to a peculiar and rather aimless cacophony. Like much of this recording, it probably made a lot (or a least a little) more sense when accompanied by the visual elements.

The Album
[As with the previous few albums – and for the same reasons – I am taking ‘the album’ to be the original ten-track vinyl LP.]

The studio album of the music from the piece was released as I Am Kurious Oranj a couple of weeks after the final performance at Sadler’s Wells. After Frenz reaching the giddy heights of the top 20, Oranj‘s peak of number 54 (the same position reached by This Nation’s Saving Grace) may have seemed a disappointment, although this was of course the group’s second album to come out in eight months. Reviews were generally positive. In the NME, Len Brown welcomed that the group had ‘retained the power to surprise, to provoke and occasionally outrage’.

In her book, Brix describes the album as ‘an overlooked gem’, the songs being ‘leagues ahead of anything on Frenz10. In his own book, Simon Wolstencroft agrees, calling Oranj ‘stronger’ than its predecessor11. As far as retrospective reviews are concerned, Brian Edge and Dave Thompson’s evaluations are typical: ‘[It] may not have been The Fall’s greatest album, but it did speak volumes for their ability and willingness to change’12; ‘Not The Fall’s most cohesive album… IAKO is nevertheless a dramatic reminder of one of the most audacious moves made by any band of the era’13.

It was only the second Fall LP (This Nation’s Saving Grace being the first) to have a gatefold sleeve.

The Songs
New Big Prinz
The album kicks off with one of the group’s finest ever moments. Opening with a gruff, throaty MES introduction (‘Rockin’ records / Rockin’ records /Rock the record’), the song is thereafter underpinned by a bouncing, punchy bass riff that’s simple but devastatingly effective, an abrasive descending guitar line and exuberantly thumping drums (that owe a little to The Glitter Band’s Rock And Roll Part 2).

An extension of or elaboration on Hip Priest (‘Drink the long draught for big priest’ who is still ‘not appreciated’), it manages the remarkable of feat of being simultaneously jaunty and sinister. It’s one of those songs that, however many times you hear it, takes you aback at just how remarkable this group was.

Unsurprisingly it was a long-standing feature in the setlist 1988-2006, clocking up a mighty 212 performances. The video below is one of those that comes close to capturing the essence of Smith as a natural, charismatic performer.

Overture From ‘I Am Curious, Orange’
A bit of an oddity, not least in the fact that, despite its title, it didn’t appear in the ballet. Its minimalist lyric consists entirely of titles of other Fall songs (plus a reference to An Older Lover Etc.‘s ‘Dr Annabel Lies’), yet this may be the Fall track that sounds least like The Fall. Its chorus-laden arpeggio jangle (especially if you take Brix’s odd, slightly manic vocal away) sounds pretty much exactly like mid/late-80s REM. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it does sound a little out of place and pointless here.

Dog Is Life/Jerusalem
Dog is an unaccompanied MES anti-canine diatribe delivered in the style of his solo albums The Post Nearly Man and Pander Panda Panzer. It’s not a theme that Smith ever really returned to (although he did reference dogs in several other songs, most notably Greenway), but he displays some seriously unbridled hostility towards man’s best friend here: ‘Dog sh*t baby bit ass-lick dog mirror / Dead tiger shot and checked out by dog / Big tea-chest-f*cker dog’.

Jerusalem itself is another of the group’s finest moments. Driven by a dark, malevolent rhythm section (reminiscent of Joy Division), it finds the perfect balance between repetition and variety. The ‘rant’ section (4:32-5:47) is peerless: the intensity of the music gradually building as MES rails furiously against an uncaring government that is denying him compensation (‘I was very let down… I was expecting a one million quid handout’).

A ‘cheeky adaptation’ (as the Reformation A-Z describes it) of the William Blake classic hymn – MES described himself as ‘a complete William Blake fan’ in a Sounds interview – Jerusalem is powerful, audacious yet tongue in cheek. Played 79 times 1988-1990, it got a one-off reprisal in September 2002. The video below features a particularly fine rendition at the Reading festival on 1990.

Kurious Oranj
A song that – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – will always remind me of the excellent Lee and Herring. A particularly joyful and uplifting tune, the sound of The Fall making an incongruous (and slightly yet charmingly ham-fisted) foray into reggae is a delight, although it possibly rumbles on for a minute or two longer than is necessary. After the theatrical performances, it was only played seven more times (all in December 1988) before being retired for good; 36 appearances altogether.

MES is on top form here, actually sounding like he’s actually having fun. It’s one of those songs where his timing is impeccable, enabling him to drag out more from the melody/lyrics than anyone else could – the alternating phrasing of or-ange and or-ange being an especially good example. The various ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ings are fun too. Also, it takes a certain kind of genius to rhyme ‘deranged’ with ‘orange’.

Wrong Place, Right Time
In a 2015 Mojo interview, quoted in the The Fall A-Z, MES claimed that: “I do think that is one of my best songs – I wrote every note and every word of it.” The accuracy of Fall writing credits is dubious at the best of times, but particularly when MES is designated as sole songwriter; however, the song’s simplicity (vocals, bass and guitar all follow the same melody) perhaps make this more believable than most. That said, Smith might well have been listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Gloomy when he came up with it.

This simplicity doesn’t detract from the song’s effectiveness though, the jointly-played/sung riff giving Wrong Place an energetic garage punk directness that sustains it happily over its three minutes. There’s also a comparatively smooth sounding middle eight around two-thirds of the way through that adds a bit of variety (and is the only bit of the album that harks back to the crisp, clean sound of Frenz).

It’s an infectious stomp, and it’s easy to see why it made it onto the setlist 149 times over nearly twenty years (although it was rested between 1993 and 2004).

Win Fall C.D. 2080 / C.D. Win Fall 2088 AD
As you can see from the images above and below, this track was titled slightly differently on the LP and CD versions. Unfortunately, this fact is pretty much the most interesting thing about it.

The Reformation A-Z site describes this as ‘a song of samplings and voice effects, based mainly on Hip Priest, which rambles on quietly in a not unpleasant way’, and it’s hard to argue with that summary. It sounds really dated; very much in the style of indie 12″ remixes of the day. (You remember the kind of thing: slap a bit of reverb on, add an incongruous plinky synth line and insert a couple of bursts of just-the-drum-track for 48 bars for no apparent reason and hey presto a 7 minute remix.) The off-kilter placement of many of the samples gives it a little bit of Fall-ness, but overall it’s a distinctly throwaway moment; perhaps just about forgivable as a b-side.

Yes, O Yes
As Tommy Mackay points out, Yes O Yes ‘sounds like the theme tune for a 60s spy series’14. It has a pleasingly sparse, delicate sound and features concise and enigmatic contributions from MES (‘An ordure from this planet that could not be extinguished’) that are, as The Annotated Fall has it, ‘resistant to too much interpretation’. It’s one that probably made a lot more sense in the context of the performance of Orange; on its own, it’s a little vague and meandering.

Van Plague?
After a rather hesitant start to side two of the album, Van Plague? picks things up a little, thankfully. There’s a restrained and melancholy tone to the song, and without there being a direct ‘borrow’, there’s more than a little flavour of early 80s Sonic Youth here, especially in the downtempo sections – for example the skewed, gently discordant, straggly guitar with a tasteful dab of feedback 1:35-1:57. To round it off nicely, Craig Scanlon contributes a restrained but emotive little solo that brings the song home very gracefully.

Lyrically, MES was apparently inspired to write about the origins of AIDS by what he described a ‘mad Catholic story’ about William of Orange bringing VD to England. Despite the somewhat gauche title, there are some rather gently poetic lines here: ‘All around is pure tension / Beliefs and tears now and again / From where has this great sadness came?’

Like Kurious Oranj, it disappeared from the setlist after a few airings in December 1988, making 32 appearances in total.

Bad News Girl
The ponderous, brooding atmosphere of the first two-thirds of the song make it feel like it could have sat quite happily on Bend Sinister, although the REM-ish guitar jangle lurking in the background is a recurring feature of IAKO. The jaunty final third emerges a little incongruously and is full of bounce if verging a little on the twee. 

In her book, Brix describes writing a ‘tune that started off like a slow lament and built into a fast-paced punchy song’. According to her, ‘It was clearly about me; this wasn’t some kind of riddle, he was putting our problems to the forefront. I knew it.15‘ Whether or not this was the case (and it’s hard not to think it was), it’s a notably bitter song: ‘Jaded lust and tiresomeness are not what I want to look at’; ‘wet sex’ll keep you anaesthetised… goodbye my dear’.

Like Plague and Kurious Oranj, it got a handful of outings in late 1988 after the ballet but then disappeared from the setlist after making 36 appearances altogether. Musically, it’s a strong tune; how much you enjoy it might depend on to what extent you can stomach the lyrical sentiment.

Cab It Up!
A spirited, uptempo romp that’s one of those that might be worth a try on a Fall newcomer. It’s driven by Hanley’s insistent virtually two-note bass line and features some energetic and choppy guitar work. As distinctly Fall as it is, it’s interesting to note some contemporary pop/indie features that crept into it: most obviously the ‘plinky’ keyboards that are reminiscent of OMD or early Depeche Mode, but also the New Order/Cure-ish guitar line from 2:38.

It’s a similarly spirited performance from MES as well, featuring effective use of the megaphone effect and some startlingly sudden high shrieks in the ‘uptown’s. It got 65 outings 1988-89, before getting a one-off revival in 2012.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The CD and cassette versions contained three bonus tracks. Guide Me Soft appeared at the end of side one of the cassette and is a curiously fragile yet sinister couple of minutes. It’s basically a couple of scratchy chords (that sound like an unamplified electric guitar), a throbbing, distorted piece of bass distortion and a ghostly, skeletal glockenspiel with Smith offering some especially off-hand and tuneless vocals.

Last Nacht is a rather pointless remix of Bremen Nacht. It adds a big whack of reverb to MES’s vocal plus a variety of wiggly sci-fi noises. Big New Priest is a rather pointless alternative version of New Big Prinz.

Overall Verdict
After FrenzIAKO feels like a bit of relief, more like a ‘proper’ Fall album; overall, it’s a lot more pleasing than its predecessor. Production-wise, it lacks the clean, sharp edges that made Frenz sound rather sterile. That said, Ian Broudie’s production does make the album feel a little cluttered and muddy in places.

It’s undoubtedly an inconsistent album, but most importantly it sounds like the group trying (albeit not always entirely successfully) to stretch their ambition rather than retreating into themselves. In particular, the quality of songwriting is vastly superior to Frenz; where things don’t quite come off here, it’s not because of a lack of effort.

My “Version”
Side 1: New Big Prinz / Cab It Up! / Bad News Girl /Van Plague? (18:34)

Side 2: Wrong Place, Right Time / Dead Beat Descendant / Kurious Oranj / Dog Is Life-Jerusalem (20:30)

Rankings
Too inconsistent to challenge any of the top six so far, I wrestled with this and Room To Live; however, IAKO prevailed as the highlights (NBP/Jerusalem) outstrip the best of RTL.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Perverted By Language
  3. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  4. Hex Enduction Hour
  5. Slates
  6. Grotesque
  7. I Am Kurious Oranj
  8. Room To Live
  9. Bend Sinister
  10. Dragnet
  11. Live At The Witch Trials
  12. The Frenz Experiment

Singles:

  1. Living Too Late
  2. Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
  3. Kicker Conspiracy
  4. The Man Whose Head Expanded
  5. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
  6. Totally Wired
  7. Marquis Cha-Cha
  8. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  9. Cab It Up
  10. Cruiser’s Creek
  11. Hey! Luciani
  12. Mr. Pharmacist
  13. Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
  14. Look, Know
  15. There’s A Ghost In My House
  16. Victoria
  17. Hit The North
  18. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  19. Rowche Rumble
  20. Fiery Jack
  21. It’s The New Thing
  22. Oh! Brother
  23. c.r.e.e.p.

Live albums:

  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 In Cambridge 1988
  7. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  8. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  9. Live 1977
  10. Austurbaejarbio
  11. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  12. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  13. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  14. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  15. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  16. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  17. Liverpool 78
  18. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  19. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  20. Live At Deeply Vale

 

References

1Ford, p180

2-3NME 17 September 1988, quoted in Ford, p180

4The Big Midweek, p301

5The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, p239

6The Big Midweek, p300

7You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p125

8-9Ford, p182

10The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, p240

11You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p128

12Edge, p91

13Thompson, p105

14Mackay, p99

15The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise, p241

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