YMGTA #29 – The Unutterable

“Checklist: I never leave home without…”

Details
Recorded: Testa-Rossa Studios, Manchester; Street Level 2 Studio, London; Sonic Surgery, Manchester mid-2000.
Released: 6 November 2000

  • Mark E Smith – vocals, SFX
  • Julia Nagle – keyboards, guitar, vocals, programming
  • Tom Head – drums, percussion, vocals
  • Neville Wilding – guitar, vocals
  • Adam Helal – bass, pro tools, vocals
    With: 
  • Steve Evets – vocals
  • Kazuko Hohki – vocals (Cyber Insekt)
  • Ben Pritchard – guitar (Dr. Bucks’ Letter)
  • Grant Cunliffe – vocals

Background
On the day of The Marshall Suite‘s release, Smith made one of his increasingly frequent guest appearances, on this occasion revisiting his connection with The Inspiral Carpets. He appeared on stage with The Clint Boon Experience (the band that Boon had formed following the Carpets’ demise) in Camden, providing vocals on their cover of I Wanna Be Your Dog. This haphazard but entertaining gallop through the classic Stooges song (with an added ‘now’ prefixing the original title) was the b-side of The CBE’s August 1999 single You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down. MES puts in a fine performance, full of bite and fury.

Another August 1999 release saw Smith working with an old acquaintance. Dave Bush, now a member of Elastica, persuaded Smith to join the band in the studio. MES contributed to two tracks on Elastica’s 6 Track EP – How I Wrote Elastica Man and KB.

Justine Frischmann of Elastica described the experience in a 2000 NME interview:

‘We were in the studio and he (Mark E Smith) was in a pub around the corner. Dave bumped into him and invited him to come down. He was up for doing some stuff so we did.

I was initially too scared to come out of the control room but when I did he was charming. I think he probably can be quite scary but he chose to be the perfect gentleman when he was working with us. He was actually very inspiring to be around – really cool.

We’d had that track for a while and we didn’t know what to do with it and he walked into the studio room and plugged his mic into an amp, turned it up until it was all feeding back and started shouting ‘E!- L!-A!’ doing his cheerleader bit which was quite bizarre.’

Despite seeming to have established a relatively stable Fall line-up, Smith still had a tense and unpredictable relationship with his musicians. In a September 1999 interview with a Dutch newspaper (scroll down for the translation) he said that ‘the mistake I made in the past was getting a bit too close to them’ and described the current group as ‘a lot of reserves’.

The May tour passed off without major incident (see reviews here), but the group’s summer festival appearances saw them descend into some of their old bad habits. A bust-up with Tom Head saw Smith sack the drummer on the day of their appearance at the Reading Festival. Wilding persuaded Nick Dewey (ex-member of shoegaze band Revolver and at the time part of The Chemical Brothers’ management) to play for them, even though he hadn’t played drums for several years.

Dewey’s experience was described in Dave Simpson’s The Fallen1:

‘Dewey found himself being led on to a tour bus with blacked-out windows. Mark E Smith was on one of the tour bus benches, shirt off, passed out… Wilding tried to wake Smith and couldn’t rouse him, so punched him in the face. After two or three blows, Smith finally woke up to be informed by Wilding, “Mark, this is Nick. He’s going to be playing drums for us.”‘

By the time Smith appeared on stage, he was covered in blood, apparently as a result of being ‘at it with knuckle-dusters’2 with Wilding back stage. Head was reinstated in time for the next day’s performance in Leeds.

Two of the songs recorded for The Unutterable were linked to MES’s late 90s flirtations with the world of acting. His first screen role (although he did appear in a Jerry Sadowitz sketch show in 1992) had been in Diary of a Madman, a frankly baffling ten minute piece that appeared on BBC2 in 1997.  Based, apparently, on a 19th century Russian short story and starring Steve Evets, Smith’s appearance (at 6:56) lasts around 30 seconds and largely consists of him repeating the word ‘name’.

The following year, he appeared in Mark Aerial Waller’s short film Glow Boys, playing ‘The Caterer’. The film featured snippets of The Caterer (from The Post Nearly Man) which was re-worked as Das Katerer for The Unutterable.

In 1999, MES appeared in another Waller film. Midwatch was set in the galley of a ship returning from Operation Mosaic, nuclear tests conducted by Britain in 1956. It doesn’t appear to be online, but Waller’s own website describes the film as:

‘…an intensely claustrophobic scenario shot in infrared that depicts the plight of two individuals trapped in the galley of a ship returning from the first British nuclear test. The confined conditions reference such purgatorial works as Sartre’s play In Camera or the bleak German masterpiece Das Boot. But here the characters, played by Steve Evets and Mark E. Smith of the band The Fall, act out their frustrations with each other in a comic rambling exchange.’

Despite there being several strong candidates, the group did not release any singles to promote Unutterable – the next single to be released was the limited-edition Rude (All The Time), and there wouldn’t be another ‘proper’ one until December 2002.

In The Wider World…
October 30, a week before The Unutterable‘s release, marked the final date during which there was no human presence in space; since the day after, the international space station has been continually crewed. A couple of weeks later, Judith Keppel became the first person to win £1m on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

In the charts, The Spice Girls’ double A-side, Holler / Let Love Lead the Way was spending its one week at number one. It was preceded by Stomp by Steps, and succeeded by Westlife’s My Love. (Does anyone actually remember any of these dreadful songs?) The top spot in the album chart was filled by something equally bland and insipid: Greatest Hits by Texas.

The Fall Live In 1999-2000
The new line-up and positively-received (critically, at least) album seem to have invigorated the group a little on the live front. They played 32 dates in 1999, only 13 less than 1997 and 1998 combined. It’s a period that is well represented by bootleg recordings.

There was a trio of dates in Ashton early in 1999 and then the XFM performance in April (see previous post). After The Marshall Suite‘s release, the group embarked on a dozen UK dates in May to promote the new album.

After the opening night in Leicester, they played Leeds Irish Centre on 4 May. There’s a bootleg recording of this gig, where they played Tom Ragazzi for the first time. It’s not bad, either sound quality or performance-wise, although the group do sound a little stilted and uncertain in places. Like many recordings from this period, Smith’s vocals are frequently smothered in excessive layers of reverb. The version of Spencer is interesting, sounding (musically) rather like early Mogwai, as is the closing Status Quo-esque Ol’ Gang.

The following night, at Birmingham’s Foundry, saw Ketamine Sun‘s debut and also has a widely circulated bootleg. It’s a pretty rough recording, although the group seem on generally good form (reflected in the reviews here). Ketamine Sun is rather brief (under two minutes) and sounds oddly like a Bob Dylan/Velvet Underground hybrid.

flyer

After gigs in Brighton, Salisbury, Hastings, Sheffield, Cheltenham, Cambridge and Southend, the group played Venue 21 in Luton on 13 May, yet another one with a widely available bootleg. It opens with an intriguing version of Birthday Song that’s radically different from the album take. It’s a strange gig all round. Everything is very concise (21 songs in under an hour); Wilding sings most of Ten Houses Of EveThe Joke is played twice for no apparent reason, as is Ketamine Sun. Not exactly their finest performance, but definitely worth a listen out of curiosity.

There is also a bootleg available of the Reading festival gig from August. The recording is of a very muddy quality, and there’s lots of obtrusive audience chatter. That said, it’s another intriguing listen, especially as – considering the circumstances – it’s remarkable that the group performed at all. Nick Dewey performs heroically: the drums are (understandably) generally plodding and generic, but taking into account that he had only an hour or two to prepare for a set of unfamiliar songs, it’s incredible how he keeps it together throughout. MES sounds thoroughly inebriated, particularly on Birthday Song, where he launches into a drunken ramble that bears little resemblance to the original lyrics: ‘Backstage, the chitter-chatter of the Reading backstage camp(?) is louder than the music of the group’.

In September, the group played half a dozen gigs in the low countries. The first of these, at Doornroosje, Nijmegen on 14 September, is yet another of the discs from the 2018 box set Set Of Ten that I don’t own. I do, however, have a recording of the fifth of these gigs, in Brussels on 18 September. It’s an untidy but interesting performance, full of extemporaneous lyrics (examples here). Ten Houses Of Eve is notably thrashy and Touch Sensitive gets two outings; Big New Prinz is an unholy shambolic mess with no vocals and a brief dip into Midwatch 1953. The last of the six low countries gigs (at Leiden in The Netherlands on 19 September) is yet another one available on bootleg, and it’s an unmitigated disaster. Wilding isn’t present, Smith appears only sporadically, they play a particularly terrible version of Shake-Off and the whole sorry affair is over in only 38 minutes.

Tilburg, The Netherlands, 17/9/99 (Photo by Andre Nieuwlaat)

The group played half a dozen UK gigs to round off 1999. At the first of these, at Camden Dingwalls, Cyber Insekt, Hands Up Billy and The Caterer were debuted.

They played 26 gigs in 2000, 15 of these before The Unutterable‘s release. Two Librans was played for the first time in York on 23 March; Way Round debuted the next night at Leeds.

Untitled
Wrexham, 21/03/2000

The Fall played London’s Astoria on 24 May 2000; this is another one where there’s a bootleg available (although the sound is not great). thefall.org’s gigography states that The Crying Marshal was played live for the first time (as an instrumental) but this is inaccurate; Reformation correctly identifies the opening track as an instrumental version of SerumReformation is, however, wrong to say that Das Katerer didn’t receive its debut until 2001, as it was played at this gig (and actually received its first outing in Camden seven months earlier).

What is certainly true is that Dr Bucks’ Letter was played for the first time that night. Fan reviews at the time suggested, not unreasonably, that the new song might have been entitled Essence of Tong or even The Essence of Tom. The distinctive, treated drum loop appears briefly at the outset, but thereafter the riff is played by live bass and guitar. The lyric at this stage is largely focused on the ‘essence of Tong’ magazine interview (see the ‘more information’ section on The Annotated Fall) and does not contain the ‘I lost my temper with a friend’ element. In fact, MES reads out quite a large proportion of the article (as can be seen from the scan below), not just covering the ‘never leave home without’ checklist, but also Pete Tong’s favourite books, magazines and TV shows. If you’re a fan of this song (i.e. a sane person) then it’s an essential and intriguing snapshot of its development.

Cyber Insekt is also clearly a work in progress: it’s much more frantic heads-down garage-rockabilly in comparison to the studio version (as is true of most live versions of the track), and sounds very different without the distinctive and prominent backing vocals. Way Round is played twice. It’s all a bit of an experimental shambles, but worth a listen.

The next gig, in Ashton on June 12, saw WB played for the first time. After half a dozen more UK gigs, The Fall played the Festival de Arcos de Valdevez in Portugal, where Hot Runes was debuted. Sons of Temperance was played for the first time at the Water’s Edge Festival in Castlefield, Manchester on 13 August.

The Album
The Unutterable was recorded relatively quickly; in around a month according to Simon Ford3. Pascal Le Gras supplied the cover art again, and Grant Showbiz returned to produce, his first involvement since 1995’s The Twenty-Seven Points and his first production credit on a studio Fall album since Shift-Work.

Reviews were almost universally positive. In Mojo, John Mullen described it as ‘The Fall’s most musically exciting LP since 1990’s Extricate. An unutterable pleasure.’ Simon Goddard in Uncut thought it, ‘tight, witty and deliriously catchy’. The NME‘s Piers Martin said the album was ‘as vital and relevant as The Fall have sounded for a considerable length of time’. Dave Simpson’s Guardian review was especially glowing:

‘When Mark E Smith sacked his band in 1998 it seemed as though the old curmudgeon had finally tipped the scales from being an institution to entering one. However, it has rejuvenated the group. Last year’s The Marshall Suite – the first with his new line-up of fiery whippersnappers – was excellent, but this is a career peak.
Smith’s scattergun muse has certainly been refreshed by something, and the old vitriol is increasingly laced with delicious humour.’

This critical acclaim did not, however, transfer into sales. The album only reached number 136 in the charts, nineteen places lower than Levitate and the worst commercial performance by a Fall album for seventeen years.

The Songs
Cyber Insekt
The album opens with a sprightly, unusual piece of sci-fi skiffle. Kazuko Hohki of Frank Chickens (who apparently recorded her part without actually meeting the group) contributes the deadpan, robotic vocals that are reminiscent of several tracks recorded when Elena Poulou was in the band. The lyrics supposedly deal with the aftermath of the 1998 Brownies gig, although it’s not entirely obvious how this is the case.

It was played live 73 times, 1999-2002.

Two Librans
After the comparatively light Cyber InsektTwo Librans crashes in with a hard/garage-rock attitude reminiscent to some extent of the Cerebral Caustic material, especially in the descending thrash chords. But there’s something new here: the grizzly, monstrous bassline strikes a different note to the Steve Hanley years; a coiled, fuzzy menacing tone that the group would return to frequently in the 21st century, especially in the Dave Spurr years.

The understated, circumspect guitar line of the verse feels like it’s circling the vocals, waiting to pounce when they reach the chorus, at which point the fuzzed-up chords crash in. There’s a load of other delights chucked in for good measure: horror-movie-soundtrack piano, some up-the-neck string-bending guitar soloing and a spot of scuzzily treated Dr. Buck-like drums.

MES is on top form too, finding a perfect balance between disdainful slur and aggressive bark. There’s a hint of what was to come with the vocals too; a trace of the 21st century growl/gargle emerging, for example ‘Librans’ at 1:01. A typically opaque lyric, but not one without humour, the line about Oprah Winfrey’s interest in melittology always raising a smile. (There are some who argue that the lyric doesn’t necessarily suggest that it was Oprah studying the bees; I’m not one of them.)

It was played live 70 times, 2000-2002.

W.B.
The title refers to William Blake, and the lyrics take their inspiration from A Song Of Liberty. It’s a little loose and shapeless, but the swirling synths and looping twangy guitar are undoubtedly appealing.  Only played nine times, all in 2000.

Sons Of Temperance
As is the case with much of Unutterable, this features an exciting mix of electronics / sequencing and fuzzy garage rock. It’s a tale of two halves (or four quarters, to be more accurate) – a taut, riff-driven onslaught and a floaty, laid-back  interlude. The first is sharp, biting and fizzes with energy, especially the staccato bursts; the second is woozy, menacing and psychedelic. Both are very ably supported by a wide variety of synth swoops and squiggles.

MES deploys the full arsenal of Smith techniques: random growling, an (almost) tight double-tracked chorus refrain, a slightly disturbing and creepy falsetto; and the way he pronounces ‘temp-or-anzh’ (the best I could do to render it phonetically) is worth the price of admission alone. Played 18 times, 2000-2001.

Dr. Bucks’ Letter
One of the group’s finest ever moments, and a personal favourite. On The Fall In Fives I took the opportunity, given the song’s list theme (apologies for quoting myself), to identify ten great things about it:

1. The programmed drum sound: it’s dirty, grainy, distorted and I could listen to it endlessly…
2. …in fact, I wake up to it every day, as it’s the alarm on my phone. It’s a fine way to start to the day and I can highly recommend it – download it here if you want a joyous way to begin your morning.
3. The contrast between that drum track and the ‘live’, comparatively subtle and delicate rimshot drums is just wonderful.
4. MES’s vocals are sublime on this: the perfect mix of intriguing wordplay and modern-day-Smith growling…
5. …and there are several superbly ‘only MES could have written’ phrases, in particular ‘vulgar and arrogant abeyance’
6. Plus, there are multiple examples of specific words/phrases where MES’s enunciation is just amazingly spot on: ‘recompense’, ‘magazine’, ‘checklist’, ‘CDs’, ‘download it’.
7. The guitar sound on the little break at 3:01 is remarkable: it’s distorted yet tidy; fuzzy but perfectly contained and controlled.
8. There’s also a simple and melodic little guitar line that runs through parts of the song (e.g. at 2:20) that subtly cuts through the fuzz and distortion.
9. MES’s laughs at 4:19 and 4:36-4:38 are truly endearing
10. The ‘Pete Tong magazine article’ section overall is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in a song: I laughed out loud the first few times I heard it and it still makes me smile despite having heard the song a million times.

With uncannily prescient timing, dannyno unearthed the source of the ‘checklist’ at the exact moment I was in the middle of writing about the song. It’s from Hotline, a Virgin Trains complimentary magazine, Autumn 1999.

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Although the ‘checklist’ is the part of the lyric that most people remember, the bulk of the studio version is actually a melancholy and intriguing tale of broken friendship. Having lost his temper with a friend, who he ‘mocked’ and ‘treated… with rudeness’, the narrator ‘tried to make amends’, but is ‘depressed’ about their estrangement. He hopes that ‘one day a door will be ajar… so we can recompense our betrayal of our hard won friendship’. He read the ‘essence of Tong’ article (MES invented the title) in order to cheer himself up.

The punctuation of the title suggests that the title character’s name is Doctor Bucks. It’s not entirely clear if the Doctor and the friend are one and the same. Whether the character in question is a real friend of Smith’s, an invention or a story that he read is unclear; suggested candidates for a ‘real’ friend have included Craig Scanlon, Alan Wise and Rob Waite, editor of the fanzine The Biggest Library Yet.

On The Annotated Fall, dannyno adds this:

‘Just to add to the confusion, the second Fall Lyrics book contains what appears to be a circular letter addressed to Smith from Nutrihealth International, all about prostate problems. It includes a quote from a “Doctor Buck M.D. Sleaford, Lincs.” The company does exist.’

In addition, there’s a reference in the lyrics to ‘J. McCarthy’ which seems likely to be journalist John McCarthy.

On the album’s press release (quoted on Reformation) Julia Nagle/Adamson stated that Adam Helal constructed the track; in a 2003 interview, however, Ben Pritchard suggests it was one of his inventions:

 ‘I came up with just a little riff that ended up being “Dr. Bucks’ Letter.” So we went in the studio and I just started playing this riff, and Mark said, “Yeah, that’s it! That’s great! Yeah, do that! Do that!”‘

A later (2006) interview with Pritchard clarifies matters a little: it would seem that Helal programmed the rhythm and Pritchard added the guitar riff.

Pritchard (according to the album credits anyway) did play on the song, although he wouldn’t join the group full-time until February 2001. It was played live 102 times, 2000-05.

Hot Runes
A delightful bit of sparse rockabilly twang whose riff is not a million miles away (albeit at a much faster tempo) from Howlin’ Wolf’s Spoonful, most famously covered by Cream. MES references Alan Brazil and Derek Hatton, pronounces ‘hyperbole’ as ‘hyper-bowl’ and with typical perversity sings ‘hot June’ rather than ‘hot runes’ throughout. It feels a little slight, simply because of its truncated length – things are just getting cracking with some added distorted guitar before it fades away far too soon.

Live versions (there were 20 of them, 2000-01) were much generally more frantic and thrashy.

Way Round
More twangy guitar, but this has a much more electronic, sci-fi flavour. The synths provide squelchy oscillations and haunting, floating chords that give it an urgent and mysterious air. Tommy Mackay describes it neatly as ‘Iggy Pop meets Dr Who’4.

Fairly obtuse lyric (including the glorious phrase ‘glass disco sweatboxes’) that Julia Nagle/Adamson described as being about ‘MES having trouble finding his way round, lost in a disco’. It got 79 outings, 2000-04.

Octo Realm/Ketamine Sun
The opening 43 seconds are in the worst tradition of Fall self-indulgent p*ssing about (cf Crew Filth, North West Fashion Show), involving Rob Ayling, Julia Nagle and Grant Showbiz (hence his vocals credit under his real name). MES’s abrupt interjection (‘I’m Smith’) is an amusing moment, however.

The next minute or so sees a diversion into Post Nearly Man territory, Smith declaiming tinnily over a thin, distant drum track. It’s a great little piece of Smith invective however, including one of his best put-downs: ‘You’re a walking tower of Adidas crap’.

The main Ketamine Sun part of the song is one of the group’s clearest ‘borrows’, being heavily indebted to Lou Reed’s Kill Your Sons. It’s an atypical Fall track, a dark, brooding, hypnotic but actually quite conventional rock tune; one that most bands would probably have chosen as the album closer.

The Reformation page contains lots of detail about the song, including this interesting quotation from Julia Nagle/Adamson:

‘There was also this joking sort of fatherly thing going on between MES and Nev [Wilding]… I think the song was partly about this ‘surrogate paternal’ relationship, not sure whose idea it was initially, probably Mark’s. When we recorded the vocals at Grant’s (Showbiz) in London, Mark did this really stuttering chorus ‘k.k.k.ket…a.mine’ sounding like a seizure. It wasn’t as nice on the ears as another vocal take, but MES and I were really wanting this to be used, as it was reflective of how dangerous drug taking is, but Grant wanted the song to sound nice and when it came to the final mix this vocal take was left out.’

The Ketamine Sun section was played 59 times, 1999-2002.

Serum
A dark slab of ominous electronica that you could easily imagine sitting alongside Oxymoron and Hostile on LUS. The combination of a deep, grainy distorted drum track (reminiscent of Doctor Bucks’ Letter), the dark and disturbing synth/sequencer effects and floating, spooky Twilight Zone-esque guitar lines creates a richly oppressive and foreboding atmosphere.

The meaning of the repeated refrain ‘101’ is obscure (there are some tentative suggestions here), but the most surprising line – given that Smith rarely wrote directly about physical relationships (In The Park being a rare exception) – is ‘Many have found pleasures in curvaceous women / Their undulating curves upper and lower / But what I really need is a glass of cold water’. This is probably linked to a piece of advice from his father that MES quoted in Renegade: ‘If you’re feeling too sexy, have a glass of water and a run round the backyard’5.

It had a brief and chequered live history. It first appeared as an instrumental intro (see above) in May 2000; its next appearance was apparently ‘aborted‘; it got five more outings in 2000, the last of which was another instrumental version.

Unutterable
Dutch music magazine OOR (January 2001) described the title track as ‘no more than a minute of a grumbling Smith while somebody in the background is playing a radiator rhythmically’. Would possibly have sat more comfortably on one of Smith’s spoken word albums. His Elvis impersonation is fun though.

Pumpkin Soup And Mashed Potatoes
By which point we’ve had nearly 40 minutes of excellent stuff; but now things go a little awry…

It may well have been a bit of a laugh in the studio to have a bit of a crack at lounge-jazz, throwing in some mellow electric piano, trilling (often unbearably shrill) flute and some laid-back brassy keyboard stabs. But it isn’t much of a laugh to listen to. It might have made for a mildly diverting novelty b-side – at a stretch – but placed here it just dilutes what the album has achieved thus far. Never played live, unsurprisingly.

Hands Up Billy
One of the handful of Fall songs that don’t feature MES as main vocalist (although he does contribute the opening lines and some backing vocals), Billy is a pleasant enough little thrashy number. Neville Wilding’s vocals are energetic if not exactly subtle, and it rattles along entertainingly enough. The narrative of the song isn’t terribly clear; The Annotated Fall suggests there might be a boxing link, but it’s by no means conclusive.

It was played 17 times 1999-2000 and has b-side written all over it.

Midwatch 1953
Presumably inspired by Smith’s experience with Waller’s film (see above); although the film was set in 1956, the events depicted followed on from Britain’s earlier tests in 1953. The lyric largely consists of variations on the question ‘Who could foresee what happened in 1953?’; as The Annotated Fall comments wryly, ‘unfortunately, hindsight hasn’t made things much clearer’.

Synth strings, a random squelchy bass-line sequencer, a swing drumbeat, a strummed acoustic, some sort of plinky 80s video-game sound effect… and all at different tempos and apparently taken from different songs – somehow mangled and merged and shoehorned into five and a half minutes of woozy, disturbing, oscillating, disorientating mayhem. Nothing fits; nothing is in tune or time; there is no sense of it being within a million miles of what most people would recognise as a proper song; it’s overly long and self-indulgent.

It is, understandably, a very divisive track. It’s clear why some people hate it, but it’s also the sound of a thousand intriguing ideas colliding randomly with each other, bouncing around the studio and then p*ssing off down the pub.

Devolute
Given the title, and the reference to ‘English glasnost’, the lyric might well refer to the moves to devolve power to Scotland and Wales that took place in the late 90s (there’s also the phrase ‘since end of May’ that could possibly reference the election of the Blair government that enacted the reforms). However, it’s all rather too abstract and jumbled to interpret with confidence; something that’s made even more difficult by the double-tracking of Smith’s vocals in the first half. (Rather alarmingly, Smith sounds like he’s been locked in a cupboard and left to mumble to himself in the second half.) And whilst its connection to the rest of the lyric is unclear, Smith’s deployment of the phrase ‘fat arse’ always raises a smile. As ever, The Annotated Fall makes a noble effort to transcribe and interpret the chaos.

Musically, it consists of little other than randomly morphing synth oscillations (rather like a mangled old cassette of an early Tangerine Dream album) and odd little pieces of brittle percussive noises. But it works – just about, somehow. One of the better examples of the group’s ‘experimental’ pieces.

Das Katerer
A fleshed-out version of The Caterer from The Post Nearly Man that in turn recycled the riff from Free Range (giving Simon Wolstencroft a writing credit). It’s a pleasant enough bit of electro-pop, but the somewhat mundane and simplistic melody combined with Smith’s rather off-hand and sluggish delivery – plus the fact that it’s a retread of an already retrodden song – make it a bit of a damp squib to conclude the album. Another that should have been a b-side.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
There was a double CD reissue of the album in 2008. The second CD consisted of the ‘Testa Rossa Monitor Mixes’, early, rough versions presumably recorded at the first studio session. (If you don’t own them, they’re on Spotify.)

They’re an interesting set of recordings. Some are just early, rough drafts – for example BillyWB and Dr Bucks’ LetterKetamine Sun cuts out the intro but is pretty similar otherwise; Midwatch is just slightly longer; Serum and Insekt have added reverb; Sons Of Temperance relies more on sequencer than guitar; Two Librans is rather polite and pedestrian.

The most intriguing alternative version is Hot Rune (it becomes singular here). It features a monologue by Julia Nagle that rails against soap operas – ‘Life is so much better than that… but now these ugly, psychotic, attention-seeking crap actors scare me’ – that was dropped from the final version.

Overall Verdict
It’s easy to see why The Unutterable gained such positive reviews. Whilst there was a certain sense of renewal with The Marshall Suite, there’s a distinct sense of purpose and energy here, things coalescing into a driven, coherent piece of work.

The album is laced with electronica, but unlike the early 90s albums (which sometimes relied a little too heavily on Dave Bush’s sequences) it’s a very welcome embellishment here, adding texture and contrast. It gives the album a more organic feel than Shift-Work or Code: Selfish without retreating into the (admittedly generally effective) garage-rock bunker of Cerebral Caustic. As a result, The Unutterable achieves a successful blend of primal rock ‘n’ roll and contemporary electronica.

It’s not, however, without its flaws, and those flaws are not dissimilar to The Light User Syndrome. It’s too long for a start – the curse of the CD age – and it includes tracks that are clearly b-side material. The fact that were no singles released at the time is possibly a contributory factor – tracks such as Das Katerer and Pumpkin Soup may well have been b-sides had a couple of singles been released.

The received wisdom is that the album deteriorates towards the end; whilst this attitude is understandable, bzfgt’s comments on The Annotated Fall (regarding Devolute) are pertinent:

‘It is strong evidence, in my view, against the claim sometimes made that the album runs out of steam down the final stretch; there is plenty of steam here, but there is no doubt that the running order of the album is odd, with most of the more conventionally-structured or accessible songs in the rear view mirror at this point.’

My “Version”
It’s impossible to get this down to a 45 minute or less album by my rules without a little editing, so if you wish to listen to it then it’s here.

Side 1: Two Librans / Sons Of Temperance / Cyber Insekt / W.B. / Unutterable / Dr. Bucks’ Letter (20:30)

Side 2: Serum / Hot Runes / Devolute / Way Round / Midwatch 1953 (edit) / Ketamine Sun (edit) (22:44)

Rankings
Better than its predecessor; just short of the early 80s albums:

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Perverted By Language
  3. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  4. Hex Enduction Hour
  5. Levitate
  6. Slates
  7. Grotesque
  8. The Unutterable
  9. The Marshall Suite
  10. Cerebral Caustic
  11. I Am Kurious Oranj
  12. Room To Live
  13. The Infotainment Scan
  14. Extricate
  15. Bend Sinister
  16. Dragnet
  17. The Light User Syndrome
  18. Middle Class Revolt
  19. Code: Selfish
  20. Shift-Work
  21. Live At The Witch Trials
  22. The Frenz Experiment

 

References
1The Fallen, pp239-240

2The Fallen, p18

3Ford, p273

4Mackay, p181

5Renegade, pp173-174

2 thoughts on “YMGTA #29 – The Unutterable

  1. Aw man, I love Pumpkin Soup! It sounds like no other Fall song, is actually kinda…chill? It was a longtime running gag/shared quote between me and my friend. One time I saw a carton of pumpkin soup above a package of mashed potatoes at Trader Joe’s and lost my shit, sending a photo to said friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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