“They were swearing, throwing newspaper with snotballs… I told him that if this continued I would have to review my position.”
Recorded: Gracielands Studio, Rochdale December 2002 – January 2003.
Released: 27 October 2003
- Mark E Smith – vocals
- Ben Pritchard – guitar, vocals
- Jim Watts – bass, guitar, computers
- Dave Milner – drums, vocals, keyboards
- Eleni Poulou – keyboards, vocals
- S Beswick – keyboards (track 12)
- “The Plouty” – organ, text (track 11)
- Simon “Ding” Archer – bass (track 1)
Shortly after Are You Are Missing Winner‘s release in November 2001, the group played a short, well-received US tour (see below). However, despite the positive reception, the line-up merry-go-round continued – Spencer Birtwistle quit after an altercation with someone from a New York venue’s management1.
His replacement was Dave Milner, the drummer from Trigger Happy (see previous post). Par for the course by now, he had less than an hour of rehearsal time before his first gig, in Manchester on the 29 November 2001 (see below).
The group’s next release (June 2002) was 2G+2. Like Seminal Live and The Twenty-Seven Points, it featured a mix of live recordings and studio out-takes. The studio recordings were I Wake Up In The City (see previous post), New Formation Sermon and Distilled Mug Art (all of which I included on my ‘version’ of Are You Are Missing Winner).
New Formation Sermon (the first Fall song I ever blogged about) has a pleasing, laid-back hoe-down/honky-tonk vibe and features a typically impenetrable lyric that MES slurs through engagingly: ‘The arms outstretched / Fearsome waist / Elbows in triangle / The bracing chill of the market is no friend / Like pictures of yours from the fifties’. There’s some particularly pleasingly twangy guitar throughout. It was never played live.
Distilled Mug Art is a folky-swamp-blues stomp that has vague echoes of Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison. The Jew’s harp (?) twanging away in the background adds an interesting texture too. Smith seems to be having a rant about the indiscriminate use and manipulation of images for commercial/merchandising purposes – on mugs, ‘CD covers’ and so on. His despairing groan at 2:38 has a movingly desolate and resigned tone. Also never played live.
In September 2002, MES released his second spoken word album. Pander! Panda! Panzer! adopted a similar approach to The Post Nearly Man – lyrical fragments accompanied by snatches of Fall songs – although this album was merged into one 43 minute track. Parts of it are interesting, but it’s also hard work in places. There’s a detailed review here.
In the same month, Ruth Daniel joined the Nick Dewey ‘in-The-Fall-for-one-day club’. In a 2006 interview she described how she was approached by Ed Blaney after performing with her band Earl in Manchester and invited to play with the group. Which she did, on 22 September at King George’s Hall in Blackburn, the gig that was filmed for the DVD A Touch Sensitive (Live). This performance also saw Eleni Poulou’s debut (see Live section below).
The group’s first ‘proper’ single release for over three years emerged in December 2002. The Fall vs 2003 featured two versions of Susan vs Youthclub. Susan is an odd little neglected gem in the group’s back catalogue. It’s an intriguing tale that encompasses the famous ‘Badly Drawn Boy/false teeth’ incident and involves the eponymous Susan travelling back in time and being appalled by her 16-year-old self. Possibly inspired by an episode of Neighbours, apparently.
A review of the single in Time Out commented that, ‘Smith “sings” as if stricken by chronic toothache in a wind tunnel and the whole lurches along in a twisted disco fashion’.
The sluggish electronica and Smith’s laconic delivery are oddly appealing. The crunchy, distorted remix is also well worth a listen.
The Fall vs 2003 also included an alternative version of Janet, Johnny + James (entitled Janet vs Johnny). It’s a slowed-down, delicate and rather lovely take on the song. Susan was played live once, at the Camden Electric Ballroom on 22 November 2002. The single reached number 64 in the charts.
Towards the end of 2002, Ed Blaney resigned as the group’s manager over problems regarding visa applications for a proposed US tour. In the Manchester Evening News, he said that the group had been in Europe and hadn’t been able to attach their passports to the application because they wouldn’t have been able to get home otherwise. According to an article on Manchester Online, Blaney insisted that ‘the fiasco was not his fault and that his long-term friendship with Mark E Smith is now over’ – the article described the situation as a ‘John and Yoko-style rift’. In a letter from Eleni (who had taken over the group’s management) to one of the American venues, she said:
‘Ed just booked the tour without making sure we would have a visa… Why Ed didn’t sort that out beforehand or why none of the promoters reminded him of the petition that the promoter has to request in your country I don’t know.’
In February 2003, the group recorded their 23rd Peel session (Theme from Sparta F.C. / Contraflow / Grooving With Mr Bloe – Green-Eyed Loco Man / Mere Pseud Mag Ed) which was broadcast on 13 March.
The day before the group’s gig in Turkey on 5 March, Jim Watts was sacked. He described the events in an interview with the playlouder website (link now defunct, but it’s quoted on Fall News):
‘It was the night before Turkey and Mark came to the pub to meet us. Bought the others a drink and purposefully didn’t get me one, then came out with some nonsense saying I was off in London spending The Fall’s money… playing with a Heavy Metal band and his contacts at MI5 had intercepted my calls to book rehearsal rooms. And [he said] I could play the gig in Turkey then leave the band, and obviously I opted not to go to Turkey and just walked out.’
Watts seems not to have taken it too badly, as he said there was no ‘blazing row’ as he was ‘laughing too much’. Steve Evets filled in on bass for a couple of gigs before Simon ‘Ding’ Archer took over. Archer had acted as sound engineer on Pander! Panda! Panzer! and remixed much of TRNFLP. According to Dave Simpson2, his brief was to ‘water down’ or get rid of Watts’ parts on the album.
The summer of 2003 saw a sudden glut of Fall-related books. Simon Ford’s Hip Priest: The Story Of Mark E Smith And The Fall, Dave Thompson’s A User’s Guide To The Fall and Mick Middles’ The Fall. You can find several reviews of all three here.
Six weeks after the album was released, The Fall released a Xmas single. This was an unlikely first, although they had given their Peel session back in December 1994 a festive tinge with Jingle Bell Rock and Hark The Herald Angels Sing.
(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas was a reworking of the album track Proteinprotection. Musically a little more understated than the original, it also contained an amended Xmas lyric, ‘The feast of man in October / Menus for hampers / Why did I come back?’ possibly suggesting God’s dissatisfaction with commercialisation and overly early celebration.
The single contains another reworking of a RNFLP track, Recovery Kit #2. There’s a slightly stronger techno flavour to it, and it has a more delicate and melancholy air. Worth acquiring. (A friend of Smith’s, Rob Lally – who, according to thefall.org’s biography page was MES’s best man at his wedding to Eleni – gets a co-writing credit here, although he didn’t on the album version.)
There were also two new tracks included, (We Are) Mod Mock Goth and (Birtwistle’s) Girl In Shop. The former was a popular live choice in 2003-04, racking up 37 live appearances. Devoid of percussion, it’s driven along by two guitar parts: in the right channel, a choppy, brittle three-chord figure; in the left a fuzzy, grungy equivalent that lags just slightly behind. Every now and again, what sounds like a child’s toy piano being tortured intrudes. Smith’s double-tracked vocals are slightly disturbing. The lyrics are apparently about a specific, but not confidently identified individual – there’s a detailed discussion here.
All of the instrumentation on Birtwistle – according to Reformation – was supplied by Spencer Birtwistle, so it was presumably recorded at some point in 2001. It’s silly – sounding like a novelty 60s dance-craze single that Smith came back from the pub and shouted over randomly – but works somehow. It was never played live.
In The Wider World…
Concorde made its last commercial flight on 24 October. Ian Duncan Smith resigned as Conservative party leader on the 29th. On the 4 November, Brookside‘s 2915th and final episodes was broadcast.
In the music charts, the execrable Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love? had just been replaced as number one single by Sugababes’ Hole In The Head. Dido’s insipid Life For Rent was the number one album.
The Fall Live in 2001-03
After their October 2001 European dates, the group played one London date before heading to America. They played seven gigs in LA, San Francisco, Seattle and New York during November.
The night before the first date (at The Knitting Factory in Los Angeles), MES made a spoken word performance at the same venue. Gail Ann Dorsey (best known as David Bowie’s long-serving bass player) played, as did Lydia Lunch. A fan review:
‘MES appears after lamp & table are brought out & adjusted to his liking (everyone else had to make do with a music stand to read from). Launches into a powerful Enigrammatic Dream.
A couple of new things, along with an expanded & improved Dissolute Singer. Also read-out versions of Idiot Joy & Luc Over Lancs. Skitterings of noise & scraps of tunes as backing (maybe just a snippet of Art Bell, something about Ron Howard). MES in very good voice, enunciating clearly, maybe even a little stilted. Audience in palm of hand!’
A recording of the 14 November gig at LA Knitting Factory was officially released in 2007. It’s not of the greatest sound quality; it’s thin, hissy and rather empty sounding. In addition, there are three songs from the gig that are missing (Two Librans, My Ex-Classmates’ Kids and I Am Damo Suzuki.) The group sound like they’re on good form, but it’s one for completists only. Amateur camcorder footage of the gig was also released as disc 1 of the double DVD Access All Areas – Volume Two in 2004.
The San Francisco gig from five days later has also had an official release, which came out in 2013. It’s much better than the LA recording, although MES’s vocals are a tad over-dominant in places. The group are on top form here, Smith sounding particularly focused and vehement. Bourgeois Town (played at a cracking pace) gets a whole new lease of life; Sons Of Temperance is also delivered at breakneck speed, but the slower passages also have a delirious wooziness. Even And Therein, which by this point seems to have become a rather lazy opportunity for a breather, fizzes with gusto. Should be towards the top of your shopping list.
There’s also a decent bootleg available of the 24 November New York gig (a recording of the previous night’s performance at the same venue was included in the Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set) – see previous post). There are clearly several highly committed American Fall fans in attendance, as indicated by their frequent and enthusiastic singing along to Unutterable songs (the album wasn’t released in the US). In Enigrammatic Dream, a heckler shouts out ‘speak English mate’; MES, without deviating from the track’s delivery style, responds with ‘What does that mean? You are a complete f*cking cretin’.
2G+2, released on 10 June 2002, was a compilation of the November US tour (plus three studio tracks – see above). The sound quality is great, the version of The Joke is an absolute belter, Bourgeois Town has much more oomph that the studio take, Ibis-Afro Man has a powerful, lumbering strength and the version of Damo Suzuki is one of the few live versions that comes close to capturing the mayhem of the original.
There’s a really clumsy edit towards the end of F-Oldin’ Money (3:56) which Conway Paton suggests Smith might have ordered in order to cut out Pritchard’s ‘macho guitar-hero solo’.
Given that the three studio selections are all inventive and intriguing, overall 2G+2 should also be high on your shopping list of Fall (semi-) live albums.
On their return to the UK, The Fall played their final gig of 2001 at the Footage and Firkin in Manchester on the 29 November – Dave Milner’s debut. The bootleg is of pretty poor sound quality – ‘boomy’ and hollow, it sounds like the group are playing in an empty aerodrome. It does tell you, however, that Milner did an admirable job considering his limited rehearsal time.
After a one-off appearance in Athens in January, the group embarked on a 15-date European tour in February-March 2002. Mansion/To Nkroachment: Yarbles (which had only been used as an intro tape at the time of its release) began to be deployed as a set opener.
There’s decent enough bootleg of the Dortmund gig on 4 March. It contains some entertainingly tuneless keyboards (for example in Two Librans) that sound like the work of MES, although this review suggests that Jim Watts also played some of them. The opening section of the F-‘Oldin’ Money/Kick The Can medley is entitled Ben’s on this bootleg (as it was on the 24/11/01 New York one as well as on a few setlists from the time), but in both instances it just seems to be a slight variation on the introduction to Kick The Can.
The Fall were due to play half a dozen US dates in April, but these were cancelled over the visa problems that led to Blaney resigning as manager. They played seven (possibly eight – see below) gigs in April-May, a mix of UK and European performances.
Their 20 April gig at The Garage in London was filmed (on an amateur camcorder) and released in 2004 as one half of the double-DVD Access All Areas – Volume One, ; the recording was also released as a 2007 Voiceprint live album, Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002. Like the Knitting Factory live LP from 2001 (see above), there’s not much wrong with the performance, but it’s no better than an undistinguished audience recording. The track labelling is also fouled-up (as you can see on Spotify).
The group’s performance at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands eight days later also made its way onto a Voiceprint live LP and DVD. Amateur footage made up the second disc of Access All Areas – Volume Two (see above). As far as the live LP goes: virtually the same cover as the others, similarly messed-up tracklisting and on this occasion, really appalling sound quality. It’s a messy performance too. Only for the serious collector.
By this stage, it had been around six months since The Fall had debuted any new songs – a substantial gap by their standards. This changed in May 2002. Reformation suggests that Contraflow was played for the first time at a Danish festival on 1 May (although thefall.org doesn’t record this gig). The Past was possibly debuted at Leipzig on the 19th, and the Copenhagen setlist from 24 May (see image above) refers to ‘New One’ and ‘New New One’. This isn’t exactly clarified by thefall.org gigography:
‘Jim Watts says one of the new songs was an early version of The Past, and the “new new one” might have been an early Mike’s Love Xexagon or Contraflow, or possibly something else the band had just come up with.’
When The Fall played King George’s Hall in Blackburn, where Eleni Poulou made her debut and Ruth Daniel her sole appearance, the group (according to thefall.org’s gigography, anyway – it’s not something that’s straightforward to measure) were on line-up number 46.
The gig was filmed for the A Touch Sensitive DVD. It’s not easy to get a hold of the DVD these days (certainly not for a reasonable price), but it is on YouTube. It’s an interesting, if frequently odd performance; also a long one, around two hours. Presumably because of the DVD, the group resurrected several songs that hadn’t been played for some time, for example Mere Pseud Mag Ed, Free Range, Behind The Counter, Jerusalem, Telephone Thing, Hey! Luciani and Hit The North.
Pritchard, Watts and Milner are generally in tight and raucous form; Jim Watts is especially solid, pumping out that heavy, distorted bass sound that became so characteristic of 21st century Fall. With the older songs, they make a decent fist of Mere Pseud Mag Ed and The Chiselers; The Classical is energetic if rather lacking in subtlety; Hey Luciani , however, is strangely thin and disjointed, and Victoria (which Watts plays with a broken string) is an unholy mess – not helped by Smith’s painfully tuneless vocal.
Ruth Daniels acquits herself well in her sporadic appearances. Eleni doesn’t appear until The Classical, to which she adds some woefully tuneless accompaniment, as is the case with Jerusalem. Her contribution to Ghost is more successful.
Steve Evets makes a bizarre appearance during Touch Sensitive. Fag and can of lager in hand, he starts off by yelling ‘buy the car’ before proceeding to drown MES out by shouting out random song titles. He does, to be fair, make a much more successful contribution to Big New Prinz (before Smith ushers him off stage). Ed Blaney also makes an appearance to sing the first part of I Wake Up In The City.
Throughout, MES seems (relatively) sober, generally sings with focus and energy and also behaves himself, although he spends a lot of time squatting by the drum riser, rifling through his lyric sheets; he does also appear to unplug Pritchard’s guitar lead during Free Range.
Hit The North makes for a shambolic finale, featuring both keyboard players performing together plus Blaney and Evets taking a drumstick each to the drumkit as Milner ploughs on determinedly. The whole performance is bizarre, chaotic and well worth a watch.
The Blackburn gig was released in 2014 as a double CD, Creative Distortion, followed a week later by a single-disc version, Yarbles. Seeing as the former (which also includes the Touch Sensitive DVD) goes for around a tenner, whilst the latter will set you back around £15, you would have to be the most commited of collectors to purchase Yarbles.
There were a further seven UK gigs in September-November to round off 2002. The bootleg of the 3 October date in Gloucester is a decent one. Cyber Insekt sees MES referencing Beefheart’s Dropout Boogie towards the end; the transition from Enigrammatic Dream into a slow, woozy Ketamine Sun is strangely captivating; the muscular version of The Classical is more coherent than the one from Blackburn (although there are still some very dodgy keyboards lurking in the background); Dr Bucks’ Letter (performances of which from this period are highly variable) is here taut and focused.
At the last gig of 2002 (at The Electric Ballroom in Camden), Janet, Johnny and James was played for the first time and Susan vs. Youthclub made its only appearance. There are a few (very varied) reviews of the show here.
The group’s first gig of 2003 (just after Watts’ dismissal) was in Istanbul on 5 March. On the 4 April at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, Green-Eyed Loco Man, Contraflow, Mountain Energei and Theme from Sparta F.C. were debuted. On 1 May they played the Recession Festival in Denmark.
In June-July 2003, the group undertook a 21-date US tour. Online fan reviews suggest that the group were generally on form and MES was in good spirits. In Minneapolis, he even made a gift of a bottle of whisky to a fan who provided the group with a free breakfast.
Last Commands was played for the first time on the opening night in San Diego on 19 June. Proteinprotection was (probably) debuted in Chicago on the 28 June (although this review suggests it might have been played in San Francisco on the 21st).
At Atlanta on 12 July, I’m Going To Spain received an unlikely revival, described in this review:
‘Only MES and the drummer return, and the latter taps the high hat as the former subjects us to a bizarre, feedback-laden accapella-solo version of “Going To Spain” totally off key – even more so than the original – and marginally heartfelt. All that feedback on the one mic could have been corrected so I suppose it was intentional. Very successful as a performance art piece but musically hopeless.’
On 29 September 2003, The Fall played in Lisbon. The bootleg is a pretty dire recording, featuring their first crack at Open the Boxoctosis (which is aborted after only a minute or so) and a shambolic attempt at the Grooving With Mr Bloe /Green-Eyed Loco Man medley that they did on the Peel session earlier that year.
The most notable thing about the Lisbon gig was that it led to the track Portugal. MES described the story behind the song in an interview with The Independent in 2004:
‘Last time we played in Portugal there was this road crew. It’s completely surreal. We arrived and they sort of pissed off on the day of the show, saying we behaved really badly and all this. Somebody threw a bit of paper at them, like a plane or something. It was quite funny; they wrote, like, their excuses for running off. But if you saw these blokes you’d laugh your head off, because they were four big blokes with long hair and leather jackets, and like, I’d knocked on the door at 12 o’clock at night to ask what time they’re going down to the show. Just banging on the door. And they wrote, “he was banging on our door at 12 o’clock at night”, and I got the group to read all their letters out.’
Smith apparently wanted to put the track on the b-side of Sparta, but was told it might be libellous. It did, however, appear on the US edition of the album (see Reissues below), as well as a ‘hidden track’ (only playable via computer) on the CD version. (Apparently the wav/mp3 file was only meant to appear on the promo version, but ended up on the general release.)
There were four more gigs before The Real New Fall‘s release: two dates at Manchester’s Bierkeller (Loop 41 Houston was played for the first time on the second night); Leeds Irish Centre on 8 October; and an in-store performance at the Manchester branch of HMV, which one reviewer described as ‘surprisingly excellent’.
The album was recorded in December 2002 and January 2003. Originally entitled Country On The Click, it was originally due to come out in April, but the release date was pushed back; on July 5 Fall News reported that Amazon were listing a revised date of 4 August.
At some point in the first half of 2003 (the playlouder website suggested as early as February), Country On The Click was ‘leaked’ online, which led to the original release being withdrawn and the album being remixed, re-sequenced and re-titled.
According to this promotional online announcement:
‘The tracks were originally recorded in December 2002 and January 2003 and mixed by Grant Showbiz and Jim Watts in February 2003. Mark E Smith then remixed and rerecorded large parts of the album, and re-sequenced it, interrupted by a highly successful tour of the USA. The first mix of the album, which had leaked onto the internet under the original title Country On The Click, is easily surpassed by the final version. This is The Real New Fall LP!’
‘The internet leak was the best thing that could’ve happened to COTC because we were all really unhappy with the album especially Sparta and Recovery Kit. Mark gave us some time to go back and remix them. Hence Sparta #2 and a version of Recovery I was really happy with.’
According to the playlouder article above,
‘Mark E. Smith has taken it upon himself to remix the album diligently “rather than just going ‘ah f*ck it, that’ll do'” said an insider.’
Despite the comments above, it seems more likely that Archer and other members of the group contributed significantly to the new version, rather than it being revamped by Smith alone. Like most Fall fans (I imagine), I have a copy of the original, leaked Country On The Click, and I’ll compare those versions with the RNFLP ones in the comments on individual tracks below. The promo CD carried the warning: ‘For promotional use only – anyone abusing this will have Mark E Smith to contend with and may God have mercy on your soul!!!’
The music press were almost entirely enthusiastic. The Wire‘s John Mulvey, like many others, considered it ‘one of Mark E Smith’s perennial “returns to form”‘; Mojo‘s Ian Harrison thought it the group’s best since The Infotainment Scan – ‘This newest payload of hostile cryptic garage rock impacts so immediately with its purpose and strength’. In The Guardian, Helen Pidd gave it 4/5 and said that ‘Smith is on magnificently mad form here… incomprehensible but irresistible’. The NME‘s Stephen Dalton was a rare voice of dissent, decrying the album’s ‘workmanlike anonymity’. Despite the critical acclaim, however, the album only reached 156 in the UK album charts.
Smith was clearly proud of TRNFLP, saying so in Renegade3. Like Extricate and Hex, he felt he had ‘proved something’:
‘It does bring out the best in me when I’m forced into a corner. I don’t wilt like other people. I’m used to being up against it.’
Green Eyed Loco-Man
One of the group’s best album-openers, Loco-Man harks back to the best moments of the Infotainment Scan era, a wonderful blend of ponderous heavy rock and slinky, twisted electronica. The thundering drums and fizzing, distorted guitar are complemented perfectly by a range of warped electronic noises (the discordant section 1:34-2:04 is a notable example).
It’s dense and heavily layered; one of those songs where – especially if you have it on headphones and crank it up – you hear something new every time.
The COTC version is a little more skewed towards the electronica, lighter on the guitars and features a menacing double-tracked MES vocal (as well as jarring, clumsy edits at 2:06 and 2:55). It’s interesting, but feels thin in comparison.
The relentless, stomping drum beat sees the group once again (cf Big New Prinz and Glam Racket) taking percussive inspiration from The Glitter Band’s Rock and Roll Part 2. It’s incredibly infectious, a loping rhythm to which it’s almost impossible not to bob your head to; Watts adds a lithe, throbbing bass and Pritchard’s guitar work is careful and subtle.
Smith (supported by a mix of strikingly deep and surprisingly gentle and high-pitched backing vocals) sounds more considered and carefully paced than he has for years. The lyrics (which echo F-‘Oldin’ Money – ‘To get a mortgage you need an income’) are drily funny; the lines ‘Dear dope, if you wanna catch us / You need a rod and a line / Signed, the fish’ are adapted from the 1950 cartoon A Fractured Leghorn (0:44).
It’s a gentle, melodic piece of sparse beauty; and its delicate grace is all the more treasureable because you might well have never expected that the group – especially at this stage in their history – would produce anything like it. Just lovely.
The origins of the song can be heard in Dave Milner’s demo, 8 Clothorn Road. The COTC version is very pleasant, but is a little blurred and lacking focus in comparison to the final take.
It was a popular choice for the setlist – it was played 183 times 2003-08, before getting two final outings in 2011.
Theme From Sparta F.C.
An even more popular live choice, racking up nearly 300 appearances, Sparta is probably the non-cover Fall song that your unbeliever friends are most likely to have heard, due to its use as the theme music to the Final Score section of BBC television’s Saturday afternoon sports coverage. (This led to Smith’s hilarious performance reading the results in 2007: ‘Tottenham Hotspur postponed; West Ham United one aitch’.)
It’s sharp and crisp, the crackling guitar riff contrasting beautifully with Smith’s casual, impeccably timed drawl and the energetically bouncy backing vocals.
The song appears to be narrated by a Greek football hooligan, a supporter of the (fictional) Sparta FC. Unlike Kicker Conspiracy (the group’s other famous football song), Sparta is more focused on crowd violence (‘we live on blood’) than the gentrification of the game. That said, it does contain a reference to ‘ground boutique at match in Chelsea’ which is probably a dig at Ken Bates‘ attempts to commercialise and modernise Chelsea in the 80s and 90s.
The only problem with it is that it pales in comparison to the best version: not the one from COTC, which is rather sluggish and flat, but the 2004 single version (Theme From Sparta F.C. #2) which is simply outstanding.
An urgent, swirling assault in which MES expresses his distaste for all things bucolic. The lyric was apparently4 inspired by the group having to pick Dave Milner up via Snake Pass. To me, it always sounds reminiscent of Please Don’t Touch by Motorhead & Girlschool (although as nobody ever seems to agree with me on this, I may not include it in the next ‘borrows’ post).
The COTC take gives the electronic elements and the backing vocals a higher profile (and it all gets quite interestingly urban halfway through), but overall it’s a little incoherent.
It got 68 outings 2003-05.
Last Commands Of Xyralothep Via M.E.S.
A song that must come very high in the ‘must be a Fall title’ stakes, Last Commands is a dark, driving and sinister piece. Based around a looping three-note figure that builds in intensity throughout (the emergence of the discordant synth over the last minute adds very effectively to the drama), it’s impressively intense but restrained. It wrings everything possible out of the simplistic riff: it’s taut, urgent and impeccably paced and builds into a layered maelstrom; the ‘drop-out’ from the barrage of noise (2:54) is breathtaking.
Its only flaw, possibly, is its brevity; after the ‘breather’ just before the three-minute mark, it might have been nice to hear it all build again. The COTC version is largely similar to the finished track.
Xyralothep is most likely a Lovecraft reference. It’s one of those songs where even if you don’t have a clear understanding of the lyrics, you can appreciate Smith’s use of language: ‘Avoid fat aggressive men and handsome aggressive men / In conflict they disappear overnight with bad backs / Cod-science/cod-psychology is to be avoided.’
It was only played ten times, all in the summer of 2003.
Open The Boxoctosis #2
A popular live choice 2003-06 (making 85 appearances), Boxoctosis is based around an insistent, circular riff that’s slightly reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s The Passenger.
The lyric is intriguing, perhaps referencing Pandora’s Box, 50s/60s TV game show Take Your Pick (‘take the money… open the box!), an episode of The Twilight Zone (one of Smith’s regular sources of inspiration) or a box of toy soldiers given to MES by his sister. A slightly more prosaic interpretation is that it’s about fags (in the British sense), the line ‘I opened the box of imperial stuff / And to my surprise I found twenty five warriors’ referring to Royals cigarettes which came in 25s rather than the customary 20s.
It’s a little obvious in structure, but has more than enough vigour to sustain it. The COTC version includes an interesting little guitar line over the chorus, and the comparatively delicate second half (with acoustic guitar flourishes) makes it nearly an equally attractive alternative to the final album take, although the shouty backing vocals are a bit of an unwelcome distraction.
Janet, Johnny + James
Another hypnotic, circular guitar line, and another chord progression that’s not a million miles away from The Passenger. It’s delicate and understated, and Smith’s vocal is timed beautifully (frequently emerging just where you don’t expect it to). The pairing across the channels of two similar but distinct guitar parts – one with a folky twang, the other with just a dab of distortion – is perfectly balanced.
The Annotated Fall suggests that the riff bears a passing reference to Classical Gas, seemingly based on the notion that Pritchard played it during Enigrammatic Dream at the 22 September 2002 Blackburn gig that was filmed for the Touch Sensitive DVD; but he only actually plays it for a couple of bars, and it doesn’t actually bear that much resemblance to JJ&J.
It’s an opaque lyric (‘All that rubbish you create / In the lock / Suddenly cranking / Nepotism’) that has led to several interpretations, discussed in detail here. It replaced Susan vs Youthclub on the final remixed version of the album. It was played live 63 times, 2002-05. PJ Harvey (with Archer on bass) covered the song in 2004.
The Past #2
An energetic, concise hi-tempo stomp that contains surprisingly little guitar: you keep expecting some sort of thrash to appear, but there’s only ever a little bit of high-pitched wailing lurking in the background (the COTC version is much more guitar dominated).
Smith’s vocals are very forward in the mix, have a distinctly ‘stream of consciousness’ feel, and feature quite a bit of the gargling/growling that would become common on the group’s material in their last decade (for example, ‘but I love the justice and falling for the melancholy’ at 0:10).
Some great lines – ‘Pictureless memories dissolve in a panic / Motif: the one can see oneself’ – but as usual rather impenetrable. Contains the second reference to ‘abdominizers’ in a Fall song (the first being in Noel’s Chemical Effluence). The leaked COTC version titled it as ‘The Fast’ – the final version might (possibly) reference this in the line ‘Only humans carry their fast around’.
It was only played three times, all on the European tour of May 2002; apparently no recordings exist.
The ‘Loop 41’ part of the song is a thirty-second blast of staccato distortion and what sounds like a snippet of Trans-Europe Express that, after 30 seconds, cuts incongruously into a slurred, whisky-soaked country ramble. The opening section was used at several occasions as an intro tape.
It’s a cover of a Lee Hazlewood song that was also performed by Dean Martin (the latter version is far more entertaining). The COTC version was entitled Ho(e)uston, probably to reflect that Smith often sounds like he’s singing ‘Euston’. According to Reformation: ‘This is reinforced by the singer’s use of the word “station” in the only two live renditions of the song.’
MES actually sings this rather well. He stays remarkably close to the actual melody, and puts a bit of feeling and verve into it; he captures the song’s (admittedly rather cheesy) maudlin world-weariness with no little style. The group’s sparse and simplistic backing is just right for the song’s sat-in-a-honky-tonk-bar-down on-my-luck atmosphere, and (at 1:38) Ben Pritchard steps forward, tilts back the brim of his stetson and knocks out a nifty little country-twang solo.
Arguably should have been a b-side, but does provide a little light relief in a generally intense album. It was only played live twice.
Mike’s Love Xexagon
Opening with some heavily treated drums that resemble an uptempo version of Dr Bucks’ Letter, the most striking thing about the song is the backing vocals, a curious mix of Low and ELO.
The crunchy guitar riff and solid, no-nonsense drum track make it a formidable slab of noise. It has an unworldly sci-fi atmosphere (not unlike Last Commands) which is enhanced by the vocal’s random wandering across the stereo channels; the rapid-reverb effect at 2:12 is a delight. It has been suggested that the vocal harmonies and lyrics (‘His name was Love’) are a reference to The Beach Boys.
It was played a dozen times in 2004 (and possibly once in 2002 – see above).
From the word go, taut and full of barely-controlled menace. A relentless, aggressive bass/drums intro is soon chopped into pieces by a grainy, slashing guitar. The verse is dark and malevolent; the chorus breaks out into a joyfully abandoned thrash; the group’s control of this shifting dynamic is exemplary. The heavily phased breakdown at 1:28 is a masterful touch.
Smith is on superb form here: controlled, menacing, impeccably-timed; he sits above everything, aloof and disdainful yet utterly in sync with the group. Highlights include his enunciation of ‘abstraction’ at 1:02; the simmering anger of ‘no protein protection’ at 1:50; and – above all – the ‘hey, wuh!’ at 1:13.
Over on The Annotated Fall, bzfgt unearths several possible individual references in the lyrics, but any sort of overall meaning is hard to detect. The COTC version is one of those that varies the least from the final take. Proteinprotection was played nine times 2003-4, and once more (as an instrumental) in 2006. The sleeve credits ‘The Plouty’ (Smith’s pet name for Eleni) with ‘organ + text’, although it’s not clear why.
Revolving around a loping bass line and an insistent, driving sequencer, Recovery Kit has a mesmerising, melancholy atmosphere enhanced by gently floating synth chords. Some heavily-treated guitar and harsher electronic noise bookend the song to great effect. Smith’s performance is restrained and moving, demonstrating a level of subtle calmness that he would rarely better.
The highlight of the song, however, is Dave Milner’s drumming. The measured pace, the ebb and flow of the emphasis, the beautifully judged rolling snares (0:34 – 1:03) are reminiscent of Jaki Liebezeit at his best.
The COTC version is a little lacking in subtlety in comparison: the portentous synths are a little overdone, and the double-tracked vocals, though interesting, lack the haunting melancholy of those on the final album. The ‘Oh father’ refrain does add a certain plaintive longing to the performance, however. The Annotated Fall‘s analysis of the lyrics is one worth quoting:
‘Recovery Kit has a somewhat melancholy air, but it’s ambiguous whether the dominant emotion is sadness or calm; it’s even possible, depending on one’s reading of the song, to detect a sense of elation, as the protagonist throws off the constraints of a well-plotted life and finds a sort of vindication or redemption in the form of the “recovery kit,” whatever the latter actually is. The song is remarkable in that it is so subtle and multivalent, as the music perches on a razor edge between these three emotions (sadness, calm and elation) without betraying the lyrics by committing to one or another of them. The ambiguous entwining of all three of these, as well as the ambiguity of their joining, can be captured by the single adjective “haunting,” which is perhaps clichéd but nevertheless sees apt in this case.’
Stephen Beswick, credited with keyboards on the track, was a friend of Ben Pritchard’s. According to the fall.org biography page, he helped write the song, although he doesn’t receive a credit for this. It was used at a few gigs as an intro tape, but was never played live.
Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The US version of the album, released in 2004 on Narnack Records, featured a different cover, different track selection, and different names for many of the songs on the sleeve (see below).
It featured Mod Mock Goth and Recovery Kit #2 (from the (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas single), the 2004 single version of Sparta, plus the song the song that MES wanted to be its b-side (see above), Portugal.
Portugal is the very definition of the sadly lost art of the throwaway b-side; a classic of its type. It’s a fabulous, silly stomp with volleys of thunderous guitar riffery and the group (sans Smith) simply reading out the po-faced email of complaint (‘I told him that if this continued I would have to review my position’) in a hilariously straight fashion. The “Snotballs!” moment (1:38) is priceless.
Smith’s pride at having ‘proved something’ with this album is understandable. Not for the first time, The Fall at the beginning of the 21st century were being written off by many: an interesting footnote in ‘alternative’ music history, perhaps; a much-loved institution, possibly – but one that people were glad existed without having any great desire to actually listen to anything they’d released over the previous decade or so.
Following the group, both in terms of buying their music and attending the gigs, was increasingly being seen as the preserve of nostalgic obsessives, those who lapped up the Fall’s work simply because it involved MES. Listening to the many live recordings from 2001-02 provides some explanation of this attitude. Whilst there are many really strong performances, there are also a fair few shoddy ones; in addition, the setlist was (especially by Fall standards) in danger of becoming samey and predictable; several of the more straightforward tunes (The Joke, Touch Sensitive, F-‘Oldin’ Money, And Therein) being wheeled out with increasingly predictable regularity.
The ‘return to form’ Fall album (complete with ‘their best album since…’ reviews) has become a cliché for good reason. Throughout their forty-odd years, Smith and the group repeatedly pulled out something special when most thought that they (or, more to the point, he) didn’t have it in them/him. And never was it more the case than with Real New. The patchy, shambolic Are You Are Missing Winner (despite its occasional moments of genius) suggested that the highly-regarded Unutterable might be the last ‘renaissance’ album of which The Fall were capable.
And yet, somehow, RNFLP was one of the most consistently strong albums in the group’s history. Not only was it full of outstanding material, thrillingly well executed, it was almost entirely free of the low points that had marred several previous releases. True, it did contain the obligatory throwaway cover version, but Houston is one of the better examples of the genre. Other than that, the material is notable for the remarkable consistency of quality.
As well as consistency and coherence, the album also offers incredible variety: the direct energy and fury of Sparta, Contraflow and Proteinprotection; the surreal sci-fi spaciness of Last Commands and Xexagon; the delicate nuances of Mountain Energei, Janet and Recovery Kit. And, for once, the album’s sequencing makes absolutely perfect sense.
Real New Fall LP is also arguably the album that sees the most successful fusion of Smith’s post-punk/garage and electronica/experimental tendencies. Green Eyed Loco-Man is an obvious example – a largely straightforward rock song smothered (to great effect) in squiggly synths – but Last Commands also features a thrashy garage punk riff adorned by electronics.
If Smith had a point about having ‘proved something’, then Ben Pritchard also has one about the internet leak being ‘the best thing that could’ve happened’ to the album. It’s impossible to judge Country On The Click fully based on the ‘leaked’ version, as you don’t really know at what stage this version of the album was; judging by the version I have, anyway, it’s still a rough mix. But even taking that into consideration, the majority of tracks have clearly been more than improved; they’ve been raised to another level.
In the often random and chaotic trajectory of The Fall’s career, you can almost see some sort of pattern emerging: heavy on the dance/electronica (early 90s/late 90s) replaced by knee-jerk reaction into primal garage-punk/rockabilly (Cerebral Caustic, Are You Are Missing Winner). An interesting thought in advance of Fall Heads Roll; but that’s for another time…
This is a rare occasion when I would, by and large, leave the album how it is. The only change I would definitely make is to replace Sparta with the vastly superior 2004 single version. It’s tempting to include Portugal – perhaps at the expense of Houston – but perhaps the song should remain in its natural habitat as an obscure b-side.
The Real New Fall LP only just falls short of the top four as far as the volume of classic Fall tunes is concerned; in terms of exhilarating variety, it’s arguably only topped by TNSG.
- This Nation’s Saving Grace
- Perverted By Language
- The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
- Hex Enduction Hour
- The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
- The Unutterable
- The Marshall Suite
- Cerebral Caustic
- I Am Kurious Oranj
- Room To Live
- The Infotainment Scan
- Bend Sinister
- The Light User Syndrome
- Are You Are Missing Winner
- Middle Class Revolt
- Code: Selfish
- Live At The Witch Trials
- The Frenz Experiment
With the singles, it can sometimes be hard to distinguish what’s a great single from what’s just a good song, especially with a group so resolutely uncommercial as The Fall. Susan is an intriguing, inventive little track, but not exactly a classic single like, say, Kicker Conspiracy. (That said, Kicker comes from an era when singles mattered a great deal more.)
(We Wish You) A Protein Christmas, on the other hand, is more of a true single. Whilst it falls short of the astonishingly powerful album version, it somehow works as an A-side because it’s something crafted to stand alone; it’s its own little moment
- Living Too Late
- Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
- Kicker Conspiracy
- The Man Whose Head Expanded
- How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
- Totally Wired
- Free Range
- Behind The Counter
- Marquis Cha-Cha
- Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
- The Chiselers
- Touch Sensitive
- (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas
- Cab It Up
- Cruiser’s Creek
- Hey! Luciani
- F-‘Oldin’ Money
- Mr. Pharmacist
- Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
- Look, Know
- The Fall vs 2003 (Susan vs Youthclub)
- Telephone Thing
- There’s A Ghost In My House
- Hit The North
- Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
- Rowche Rumble
- Fiery Jack
- Ed’s Babe
- High Tension Line
- 15 Ways
- It’s The New Thing
- White Lightning
- Popcorn Double Feature
- Why Are People Grudgeful?
- Oh! Brother
- Rude (All The Time)
Live albums: quite a task with this instalment, there being seven official releases from this period. If you bought Yarbles for a couple of quid in a charity shop, you’d have a bargain, as it’s a decent recording of an interesting gig. But in the context of all the Fall live releases, there isn’t really any point to its existence. ATP Festival is a ropy performance in places, has shoddy packaging and is a poor recording.
The LA Knitting Factory and London Garage albums are decent enough if not outstanding performances and have mediocre sound quality which makes them of only mild interest. Creative Distortion doesn’t exactly capture the group at their very best, but it’s full of unusual versions (including of songs not often performed at the time) and is well worth acquiring, especially as it comes with the entertaining DVD.
2G+2 and Live in San Francisco are both crackers: good starting points if you’re just dipping your toe into the wonderful and frightening world of Fall live records.
- Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
- In A Hole
- A Part Of America Therein, 1981
- Live In San Francisco
- In The City…
- Nottingham ’92
- The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
- Totale’s Turns
- The Idiot Joy Show
- Live In Cambridge 1988
- I Am As Pure As Oranj
- Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
- Creative Distortion
- Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
- Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
- Live 1977
- The Twenty Seven Points
- Seminal Live
- Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
- Live Various Years
- Live At The Phoenix Festival
- Live In Zagreb
- 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
- BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
- Live At The Knitting Factory – L.A. – 14 November 2001
- Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002
- Live 2001 – TJ’s Newport
- Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
- Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
- Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
- Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
- Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
- Live At The ATP Festival – 28 April 2002
- Liverpool 78
- Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
- Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
- Live At Deeply Vale
1The Fallen, p271
2The Fallen, p262
4The Fallen, p270