“It’s just daft deals I signed when I shouldn’t have done.”
When Smith walked out on Permanent Records in early 1996, he proceeded to sign up to Jet Records for the group’s next ‘proper’ album. However, he also signed a deal with Mike Bennett’s Receiver Records that allowed them to put out compilations of previously unreleased Fall material. Receiver had previously been known as Pedigree Records and Speed Records and had also been a division of Trojan. Bennett had co-produced Cerebral Caustic with Smith and would go on to fulfil the same role for Light User Syndrome. In a 1995 interview, Smith claimed that Bennett had worked with glam-rockers Sweet:
‘…the producer, Mike Bennett he’s really good ‘cos he sort of used to do The Sweet when he was about 17, y’know, so he knew what I wanted, he could get the drum sounds.’
Bennett’s own website, however, suggests that his only involvement with The Sweet was to create a 1996 remix album called Solid Gold Action: 15 Alternative Mixes. According to allmusic.com, this was ‘a collection of ’90s industrial/dance remixes of 70’s party hearty glitter rock’. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be available online.
The deal with Receiver led to a slew of Fall compilations emerging in the late 90s. This series of releases, which included not only the albums Sinister Waltz, Fiend With A Violin and Oswald Defence Lawyer but also various compilations of the material on those compilations, are, understandably, not entirely well regarded. Simon Ford, for example, commented that:
‘Compilation albums obviously have their place, especially for a band of The Fall’s longevity, but rather than introduce new listeners to the best of The Fall, or document in detail the band’s development, these compilations… merely represented The Fall as inconsistent and exploitative.’1
In a 2001 interview with Q magazine, Smith did express regret (at least to a certain extent) about the releases:
‘It’s just daft deals I signed when I shouldn’t have done. And I do apologise to my fans for that… but I also look at it the Elvis Presley way: if people can’t differentiate between the real stuff and the cash-ins, that’s their lookout.’
There had, of course, been several Fall compilations released earlier in the group’s career, and by the time we get to 1998, there had actually been nineteen (see Note 2 below). Considering the sheer volume of releases that had emerged (especially 1996-98), and the fact that the group were about to descend into one of their darkest and most chaotic periods, it seems appropriate at this juncture to review the compilation albums released up to this point.
Note 1: Levitate was released in 1997 (in case anyone thinks I’ve forgotten it), but the two 1998 compilations below feature earlier material, so it seems sensible to include them at this point.
Note 2: Many Fall compilations contain a substantial amount of live material, just as several of their ‘live’ albums actually feature studio recordings. Sometimes it can be hard to tell which is which. You could argue the toss about about which album should fit into which category (just as one can debate whether Slates is an album, EP or mini-album in perpetuity), but for simplicity’s sake I have gone with the categories identified on thefall.org’s compilation and live album pages.
Note 3: I am going to give the compilations a grade on a ‘Worth buying?’ scale, using the following criteria:
- A: Worthwhile purchase, even for those who just have a few Fall albums
- B: Contains enough interesting material to make it worth a few quid to the more than casual Fall fan; or serves as a useful introduction to the inexperienced
- C: A few aspects of interest, but only for the really committed who have all of the ‘proper’ stuff already
- D: Only of interest to the really hardcore completist
- E: Even the hardcore completist should think long and hard before parting with cash
Fall Compilations 1977-93
The first Fall compilation was 77 – Early Years – 79, released on Step Forward in September 1981.
It compiles the tracks from the group’s first four singles – Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!, It’s The New Thing, Rowche Rumble and Fiery Jack – and throws Dice Man in for good measure. It was reissued as Early Fall 77-79 in 2000, adding the two songs (Stepping Out and Last Orders) that were the group’s very first appearances on record, from Short Circuit – Live At The Electric Circus.
If you’re not familiar with the group’s late 70s work, then it’s certainly a solid enough introduction. However, it’s worth noting that all of these tracks are contained in the 2004 reissues of Witch Trials and Dragnet.
Worth buying? B-
Hip Priest And Kamerads was released in March 1985. It contains both sides of the Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul and Look, Know singles, a couple of tracks from Room To Live and three from Hex. In addition, there are five live versions of Hex tracks, most of which are of good quality (although Jawbone is rather muffled and imbalanced) – this includes a version of And This Day from Hammersmith Palais in March 1982 that some consider to be the best.
Whilst you might get many of the songs here from regular releases, there’s certainly enough extra material here to make it a worthwhile purchase; plus it hangs together really well as an album.
Worth buying? A
Nord-West Gas was a German compilation from 1986. It collects together a dozen easily-obtainable tracks from the Wonderful And Frightening / This Nation’s Saving Grace era.
Anyone only just embarking on purchasing Fall albums should have these two high on their shopping list anyway, so this is only for serious collectors.
Worth buying? D-
In: Palace Of Swords Reversed was released in November 1987. A collection of album tracks and singles from the early 80s, it doesn’t contain a great deal of material that wasn’t available elsewhere, but back in the pre-internet days when it was far harder to track down music, it did serve a purpose for many people who struggled to find the group’s records.
Like Hip Priest And Kamerads, it’s a cracking album in its own right, full of top-notch material. It also features an intriguing live version of Neighbourhood Of Infinity, plus the impressively random Putta Block.
Worth buying? A-
In 1988-89, Beggars Banquet released two 4-CD Japanese box sets. Box One consisted of Wonderful and Frightening (the 16-track version), This Nation’s Saving Grace (ditto) and Hip Priest And Kamerads split over 2 CDs. Box Two contained Bend Sinister, The Frenz Experiment, I Am Kurious Oranj and Seminal Live. I’m not aware of there being anything actually wrong with them, but you’d have to be obsessed with owning everything to shell out the £40-50 they seem to go for.
Worth buying? D
458489 A Sides, released in November 1990, did what it said on the tin, rounding up the singles from the Brix era. How much you like it will depend on your opinion of this transitional period of The Fall; it’s a strong choice for introducing a newcomer; although, inevitably, it misses out on several of the more interesting moments from that period.
Worth buying? B-
458489 B Sides, also released at the end of 1990, contains a more varied and arguably more satisfying range of songs than the A-sides version. Most of the songs are available on the reissues of the relevant albums, but for someone who has only a casual knowledge of mid-80s Fall, it’s potentially a great eye-opener.
Worth buying? B
The Collection was released in 1993 on the Castle Communications label. Founded in 1983 by Terry Shand (who went on to co-found media company Eagle Rock Entertainment), Castle Communications specialised in mid-price catalogue reissues. Examples of their work include Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Adam And The Ants compilations. These releases were characterised by cheap and nasty covers and a seemingly haphazard approach to plucking songs at random from the artist’s back catalogue. This is very much the case here on both counts.
It’s mostly made up of early 80s album tracks, A and B sides, plus a few live tracks from In A Hole, A Part Of America Therein and Totale’s Turns. It also includes the group’s (sadly rather pedestrian) Beatles cover A Day In The Life (up to this point only available on the NME compilation Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father) and the previously unreleased Medical Acceptance Gate, a curious and intriguing little outtake from 1983.
Despite the naff cover, rather overblown sleeve notes and seemingly indiscriminate track selection, The Collection actually has a fair bit going for it. A Day In The Life and Medical Acceptance Gate weren’t available elsewhere until 2007 and 2004 respectively; also, the early 80s live albums were not always easy to get a hold of at the time of The Collection‘s release. In addition, like Hip Priest And Kamerads and In: Palace Of Swords Reversed it hangs together well as an album. If you were going to knock up a CD-length compilation of live/studio tracks for someone with an interest but little experience of early 80s Fall, you might well come up with something reasonably similar (although you may well not have chosen W.M.C.-Blob 59).
Worth buying? B-
The Receiver Years 1996-98
Up to this point, the provenance of the songs on the compilations had been generally straightforward to ascertain. The advent of the Receiver compilations make things a great deal more difficult to unravel, however, as the sleeve notes are – as Simon Ford puts it – ‘minimal or inaccurate’2.
As an overview:
Three Receiver compilations were released in early 1996: Sinister Waltz in January, Fiend With A Violin in February and Oswald Defence Lawyer in April. In October, the three of them were collected together as a 3-CD box set, The Other Side Of…
In 1997, two further compilations were released which simply recycled a selection of the material from the three 1996 compilations: Archive Series (May) and the double-CD The Less You Look, The More You Find (July).
It’s not clear why Sinister Waltz was chosen as the title, given that the song doesn’t appear in any of the compilations from this era: presumably it was considered to be a archetypal Fall title. By the standards of these things, it has a relatively inoffensive cover, featuring a rather pensive-looking MES. The less than informative sleeve notes are entertainingly badly written and facile:
‘All in all this CD is a catalogue of music which shows that The Fall are consistently good at what they do, yet another benchmark that all pretenders must strive to attain.’
A Lot Of Wind appears to be exactly the same as the version on Shift-Work, but does contain one minor change: the line ‘He’s the king of Granadaland’ (at 3:17) which was snipped out of the Shift-Work version is reinstated here. There’s some debate as to whether this refers to Fred Talbot or Tony Wilson. (Thanks to hippriestess for drawing this to my attention.)
Couldn’t Get Ahead is a raw and ragged but entertainingly energetic romp that feels like a live soundboard recording. Blood Outta Stone also has the feel of a live recording from the soundboard, but could possibly be a rough studio demo; either way, it has a hard, frantic edge that elevates it above the White Lightning/Dredger version.
Arid Al’s Dream is a proper obscurity. It originally appeared on a 1992 compilation called Volume 4, and was included on the 2007 reissue of Shift-Work. Its combination of scrabbling violin, twangy, reverb-heavy guitar and frantic drumming make it well worth a listen.
An instrumental version of The Knight, The Devil and Death is clearly a studio demo that lacks the overdubs and – above all – Cassell Webb’s vocal contributions that made it such an obscure gem. Chicago Now! is the Peel session version from January 1990.
Birthday was possibly the album’s greatest selling point, as the track had never been released up to this point (and never would be again other than on one of the ‘compilations of compilations’). One of the group’s typically obscure covers, it was originally done by The Idle Race (one of Jeff Lynne’s early bands – the original is here). Like The City Never Sleeps, Lucy Rimmer provides the lead vocals, with no sight of MES at all. It’s all a little bog-standard indie-jangle-rock, but isn’t without its charms. There’s an interesting video of it being rehearsed on YouTube:
Pumpkin Head Escapes seems to be a studio demo, and a distinctly muffled one. The version of Wings also feels like a studio outtake; the vocals are rather buried in a muddy mix. Dr Faustus (as it’s titled here) is a curiously lo-fi version that feels like a tape of a tape of a tape soundboard recording, although no-one seems to know from where; there is actually something quite appealing about its grinding, dirty, fuzzy sound.
Telephone Thing is a studio outtake. The sound is much more dense and murky than the album version: Steve Hanley’s bass has a deeper, more resonant sound and there’s an air of chaotic abandon that arguably makes this a little more enjoyable than the original.
Black Monk Theme is just the Peel session version (of part 1, obviously). Gut of the Quantifier is an interesting one: it features a range of interestingly squiggly keyboard effects, some rather alarming barks and yelps from MES and some sustained distorted guitar that isn’t present on other recordings of the song. There’s a little crowd noise right at the beginning that suggests it’s a live recording, but from when and where is anyone’s guess. To round things off rather disappointingly, Edinburgh Man is just the Shift-Work version.
Melody Maker dismissed the album as ‘staggeringly OK’. The NME was slightly kinder, giving it 7/10 and describing its ‘refried schizophrenia’ as ‘utterly bonkers’, although suggesting, not unfairly, that the album was only ‘for the Fall trainspotter zone’. Around half of the tracks on Sinister Waltz are worth a listen. The rest of them, however, you probably already own or are distinctly unenlightening. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has never been reissued.
Worth buying? C+
Fiend With A Violin
Fiend’s cover was a garish, bright red affair featuring lettering that appears to have been added by someone just mastering Microsoft Paint. The illustration itself (thanks to dannyno for the discovery) is an 1862 George Cruikshank illustration:
The ‘alternative version’ of I Feel Voxish doesn’t appear to be any different to the album take other than in sound quality, having a ‘taped off the radio’ quality to it. The Man Whose Head Expanded is more interesting. It’s a weirdly dark and abrasive industrial version; The Fall meet Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s hard to believe that this was from 1983 though; it sounds more like someone (Mike Bennett?) playing around with the song much later on.
The ‘alternate version’ of Ed’s Babe is basically an instrumental demo: it features a host of mildly interesting synth squiggles and effects, but is ultimately rather pointless and inessential. It’s hard to tell if What You Need is a dodgy live soundboard recording or a very rough studio outtake; the slight ‘boom’ on the vocals in places suggests the former, but it’s impossible to say definitively. Either way, it’s a pleasant enough, if rather thin-sounding grind through the song, Scanlon’s guitar in particular having a pleasingly scuzzy, distorted tone.
We then get fairly unremarkable takes of L.A. and Petty (Thief) Lout, both of which are unidentified live versions, almost certainly from 1985. Fiend With A Violin is basically a rough run through what would eventually become 2 x 4; it’s only vaguely interesting, and certainly not something for the casual listener. The live recordings of Spoilt Victorian Child and Bombast are both pretty thin and scratchy. Married, Two Kids (another live version of unknown origins) has a fuller sound, but still provokes a shrugging of the shoulders. Curiously, Haven’t Found It Yet seems to just be the Shift-Work version of You Haven’t Found It Yet with some incongruous crowd noise clumsily dubbed over the top of the intro. Gentlemen’s Agreement is yet another thin and ropy soundboard recording of unknown origin, although it is pretty clear that Craig Scanlon’s guitar is not in tune. Fiend With A Violin (vox) is little more than Smith mumbling over the demo of the 2 x 4 chords.
Whereas Sinister Waltz was a patchy offering with a few moments of genuine interest, Fiend is a pretty weak affair. Besides the unusual (although dubious) version of The Man Whose Head Expanded there’s really very little here that expands your understanding or enjoyment of the group.
Worth buying? E+
Oswald Defence Lawyer
The cover of the third Receiver compilation is rather startling: not in terms of the colour scheme or the the title font, but in terms of Smith’s attire. You didn’t often see him wear anything other than a shirt, but here he’s sporting a horrendous cable knit sweater that most charity shops wouldn’t even dare to put out on the racks.
The sleeve notes are not only less than informative, they’re also badly written and demonstrate a shaky grasp of punctuation.
Just Waiting is a pleasant enough if imbalanced (sound-wise) swagger through the Hank Williams song. Reformation only lists one known live performance of the song (3 October 1992 at Manchester Free Trade Hall), but suggests that this version might come from elsewhere. Oswald Defence Lawyer, according to a post by Stranger on the Fall Online Forum, comes from the group’s performance in Vienna, April 1988. The tinkling piano doesn’t make the song any less turgid and interminable. There follows a solid if unremarkable Victoria, date and venue unknown. Once again, the crowd noise has a curiously overdubbed feel – a recurring feature throughout the album.
The version of Frenz (again from an unidentified gig) is an interesting one. It’s a particularly sparse and fragile take on the song, and features a ‘chiselling rock’ percussive noise that has echoes of Tom Waits.
2×4, Bad News Girl and Get A Hotel are all acceptable if not especially notable live performances, most likely from 1988 though once again it’s not clear from which gigs. Guest Informant sounds a little more like a studio outtake (possibly), but once again it’s really hard to tell. Big New Prinz is devoid of any crowd noise, but there’s an underlying amplifier buzz at the beginning and a few ‘drop-outs’ in the vocals that suggest a live soundboard recording. Reformation suggests that it’s from a 1992 or 1993 gig, but yet again nobody seems to really know.
Bremen Nacht features an unfortunate mix of muffled instrumentation and ‘boomy’, overly reverbed vocals and probably comes from the same 1988 Vienna performance as Oswald Defence Lawyer. Carry Bag Man is another one to feature incongruous, overdubbed crowd noise. It also has a rather odd opening, with double-tracked ensemble vocals (that you’d almost describe as harmonies) and another spot of industrial-style percussion. Thereafter, it seems to be another (1988?) soundboard recording. It feels like a snippet of studio outtake grafted onto a live recording.
The conclusion is an energetic if rather hollow-sounding version of Bombast – a different one to that on Fiend With A Violin, whatever Reformation might say.
Overall, Oswald Defence Lawyer is nothing better than just about okay; really only for someone who owns most of the group’s material already, and certainly not worth parting with a great deal of cash for. The performances it contains are generally sound enough, but the overdubbed crowd noises especially give it rather a cynical atmosphere. The lack of information about the songs’ origins is also a frustration.
Worth buying? D
Oxymoron has a hideously curious and distinctly un-Fall-like cover. Featuring what looks like a crudely drawn diagram from a Biology text book superimposed on a piece of crocodile skin, it’s also interesting which songs are listed on the cover; presumably Italiano‘s presence is there to entice the purchaser with the promise of new, unheard material…
The sleeve notes, as per previous Receiver releases, are full of dire prose and devoid of relevant information:
‘Mark E. Smith delivering his nail bitten wit over a dense thicket of edgy and at times menacing Rock and Roll.’
Things get off to an underwhelming start with Oxymoron itself; not that it isn’t a great song, but it is just the album version. Powder Keg is technically an ‘alternative version’, in that it has minutely faster tempo than the original, but the only substantive difference is that it features eight seconds of looped bleeps and guitar feedback at the end.
White Lines is at least an actual studio outtake. It’s pretty awful though, sounding like something that Orbital might have knocked about in the studio before discarding as unfit even for a b-side. Even Reformation has nothing to say about it.
Pearl City is a live recording (date and venue, yet again unknown), and it’s a decent enough, energetic version. Birmingham School Of Business School is also a live version, presumably from 1992. It’s a little thin sound-wise, but features some interesting clattering electronica and Scanlon is on top form.
With Hostile, we finally get something new and different. It’s a slowed-down, spacey take on the song; almost like a dub version. Particularly nice use is made of Brix’s vocals, which float around ethereally. Brix is also a key feature on Glam Racket, another live recording. It’s nothing special musically or sound-wise: in particular, Wolstencroft and Burn are – as Steve Hanley described3 – working in ‘more competition than complement’. But it captures the atmosphere of the 1994-95 live performances well: MES wandering off after 25 seconds, leaving Brix (‘Take it, babe…’) to shoulder the rest of the song. Which she does with some vehemence, adding a few expletives and delivering the ‘Star’ part of the song (‘Your act has lost all its appeal’) with real feeling.
Italiano is dreadful: a hamfisted house-techno mangling of Oleano, you’re deafened by the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped.
The version of He Pep! is an alternative mix. It’s not radically different in terms of musical structure or sound, but there’s some cutting and pasting of the vocals, which come in at different points to the original. Rainmaster presumably comes from the 1995 Phoenix Festival (the only known live performance of the song) and is a sprightly enough if very brief rendition. Behind The Counter and Bill Is Dead are further examples of unidentified, satisfactory but unremarkable live performances.
At this point, the album throws a genuine curiosity at you. E.S.P. Disco is is a mellow, understated version of Psykick Dancehall with most of the rough edges knocked off and a curiously soft and gentle sound.
According to the sleeve notes, the ‘masterpiece’ Interlude/Chilinism is ‘heard here for the first time in all it’s [sic] glory’. What actually happens is that the original is padded out with a couple of minutes of vague and pointless techno-lite filler. And then things are rounded off with a brutally truncated live version of Life Just Bounces. The album’s casual disregard for one of the group’s finest songs is indicative of Oxymoron‘s overall approach: there’s a cloying sense of ‘this’ll do’ that runs throughout the whole thing.
It’s not that the album is completely devoid of recordings worthy of your attention; but there’s not much more than an EP’s worth of them here.
Worth buying? D-
Released in the same month as Oxymoron, Cheetham Hill has a slightly less horrendous cover, although it does look as though it should grace the 1983 debut album of a prog-metal band called something like Darkhammer. The image is actually one of Gustave Doré‘s illustrations for an 1866 edition of Paradise Lost (thanks again to dannyno).
The sleeve notes are once again badly written (featuring further misuse of the apostrophe) and less than informative.
The clumsy opening of Time Enough At Last sets the tone, sending you back to the days when you used to rush to hit ‘record’ to tape something off the radio. It’s yet another track that could either be a studio demo or a live recording. If it’s the latter, then nobody (including Reformation) knows where it’s from. It’s a satisfactory enough ramble through the song, the most notable feature being the ‘f*ck off’ that MES casually throws in at 2:46. A rather pointless 30 seconds of sound effect nonsense is tacked onto the end.
The compilation’s title track is almost the exact same version as that on Light User. The only difference is in the ending: in the original, the main track ends abruptly at 3:25 and we get a few seconds of heavily-reverbed voices; this ‘alternative version’ concludes instead with a very brief bit of fuzzy guitar and then a faint loop of Smith singing what sounds like ‘I’m a Brix toe’ or ‘I’m a brick stone’.
Free Range is a decent enough live version. It uses the same taped intro as the version on Live Various Years – which was recorded (possibly) in Munich in October 1993 – but despite its similarities it isn’t the same version, although it presumably comes from this period. The Chiselers is just the shortest version from the single with the intro and outro lopped off. US 80s 90s is an energetic, chaotic live version that’s from a May 1992 gig in Brussels.
Oddly, Reformation states that Spine Track (as it’s titled here) is a ‘a truncated version of the originally released track’, which it clearly isn’t. It’s a live version (of unknown origin) and a rather good one too: it rattles along at an unrelenting pace and sees both MES and Brix on fine form. Idiot Joy Showland is also a live recording, but an undistinguished and rather thin sounding one.
Oleano is moderately interesting: it’s the same as the album version for the first three minutes, but then extends it by a couple more. It doesn’t do anything radically different, but it’s a strong enough song to warrant the bit of extra play time. The Joke is another ok-ish unidentified live recording, as is Ed’s Babe, although the latter is inexplicably truncated; Hit The North is also just a brief snippet. There follows a spirited enough romp through White Lightning (date and venue again unknown), but the fact that the sleeve lists it as White Lighting is indicative of the generally shoddy nature of the release.
Secession Man is exactly the same as the original album version, other than that it omits the keyboard ‘stab’ right at the very end. Last Exit to Brooklyn (Last Chance To Turn Around) is just Last Chance To Turn Around with a tweaked title. A live The Coliseum (date and venue unknown, but it has to be from one of three) isn’t, thankfully, the excessive length of the Light User version, but it is an ungainly, awkward mess (although not without appeal). Randomly, things are rounded off with a snippet of Eat Y’self Fitter – although it’s the first minute and a half, not – as Reformation suggests – the final ninety seconds.
Like Oxymoron, there’s a handful of worthwhile material here. But there’s also a pervading atmosphere of cynicism and shoddiness.
Worth buying? D-
The Compilations of Compilations
Receiver ploughed on with their exploitation of the group’s back catalogue with three further releases in 1997-98.
Northern Attitude (June 1998) also added a few tracks from the live album 15 Ways To Leave Your Man. It’s hard to rate these three, as it depends if you already own any of the other Receiver releases. If you’re only going to buy one, then The Less You Look… is probably your best bet.
Smile…It’s The Best Of
In March 1998, Castle Communications (see above) released Smile…It’s The Best Of The Fall. It’s a totally random selection of songs from Perverted By Language, Slates, Totale’s Turns, The Light User Syndrome, A Part Of America Therein and Grotesque. For hardcore collectors only, really, although I guess if a vaguely curious buyer with little knowledge of the group came across it in a charity shop they would at least get a collection of largely very good songs.
Worth buying? D
Conclusion / My ‘Receiver Compilation’
A few of the earlier compilations – Hip Priest And Kamerads, Palace Of Swords
Reversed and the A and B-sides round-ups particularly – were perfectly decent releases that performed an obvious function, especially in the pre-internet age.
No sane person, however, would argue that the various Receiver releases contained enough material to be stretched over seven CDs, a double CD and a triple box set. And it’s a shame that they were, as this series of albums presented the group in a rather cynical and exploitative light. If the covers and in particular the sleeve notes had been of better quality, then the situation might have been improved, but there was at best a double album’s worth of worthwhile material here. And a single one would probably have sufficed:
Side 1: Spine Track / Arid Al’s Dream / Telephone Thing / The Coliseum / Frenz (22:44)
Side 2: Blood Outta Stone / Gut Of The Quantifier / Oleano / Hostile / Birthday / The Man Whose Head Expanded (21:23)
3The Big Midweek, p367