YMGTA #44 – Postscript: RIP M.E.S.

“I love you all but cannot embrace you all.”

“I would have had an utterly different life without The Fall. It’s hard to know what will replace that.”

fs

The week after New Facts Emerge‘s release, MES was due to appear at an event at the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. It was part of an exhibition called Wyndham Lewis: Life, Art, War. Smith’s contribution was billed as Responding to a Rebel: Mark E. Smith Agent of Chaos. The promotional material for the event (according to thefall.org – the IWMN link is now dead) described it thus:

‘In this exclusive performance, agent of chaos Mark E. Smith will respond to Britain’s original rebel artist Wyndham Lewis. The Fall’s formidable frontman will share his personal response to the work of one of the art world’s most controversial figures whose ideas, opinions, and personality enticed and repelled in equal measure.

Set in the dramatic Daniel Libeskind designed Imperial War Museum North, Mark E. Smith will lead a performance of speeches, poems and ramblings driven by roaring live percussion, vintage cassette players and large-scale projections from IWM’s archive.’

As Paul Hanley described in his 2019 book Have A Bleedin Guess (buy it here at once if you haven’t already), Wyndham Lewis was ‘one of the few artists that Mark consistently cited as an influence’. The IWMN event sounded intriguing, but sadly never happened, cancelled on the day owing to Smith’s health.

The group were also booked to play a five-night residence at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn in September. Demand was such (the Friday/Saturday night dates apparently sold out in ten minutes) that two further performances were added. The Fall were also booked to play at the Cropped Out festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

Once again, however, Smith’s health resulted in cancellations. On 25 August, Pamela Vander (by now acting as the group’s manager) announced that:

‘It is with great regret to announce that Mark E. Smith & The Fall have had to cancel all upcoming U.S shows in New York (Baby’s All Right) & Louisville (Cropped Out Festival) due mostly to terrible timing, reality and a mix of bizarre and rare (true to form) medical issues that Mark is currently being treated for. Unfortunately it would be a gamble on his health to fly anywhere over the next couple of months. Mark’s current problems are connected to his throat, mouth/dental & respiratory system… so throwing all the meds together and continuing with the travel/shows would certainly harm any progress that we have made over the past few weeks.’

The group’s next actual performance was on 20 October at Unity Works in Wakefield. MES performed in a wheelchair, and sang the last third or so of the gig from off-stage. Being confined to a wheelchair did not prevent him from delivering a forceful performance of opener Wolf Kidult Man:

Blindness, however, seems tentative and restrained; it almost feels like the group are not entirely sure of how to deliver the song without MES prowling and amp-fiddling:

There was much discussion about Smith’s appearance on The Fall Online Forum. Erstatz JP provided an evocative description of his performance:

‘It felt a bit like there was a sharp intake of breath. A collective, unspoken sense of shock and perhaps sadness. And a sense of what’s going to happen now, am I going to witness something I’d rather not have seen. And once he’d been positioned, it was straight into Wolf Kidult Man. And it was OK. He had two microphones. The audience now seemed to be holding its breath. Willing him on. It was different, it seemed defiant, perhaps bloody minded.

…for me, I interpreted the choices as deliberate and valedictory. It added to the surreal sense of the night, I can’t have been the only person wondering whether this was the last gig I am going to see. They were sung clearly and confidently. Throughout the evening I felt his body might be letting him down, but in consequence his voice was stronger.’

Three nights later, the group played at The Boiler Shop in Newcastle (there are some excellent photos here).

The general consensus was that MES looked much better than he had at Wakefield, and he apparently managed over 45 minutes on stage before performing the last three songs from the dressing room. On the FOF, Fall gig veteran Philh went so far as to say that – in context – the performance ‘might be regarded as a classic’.

Newcastle 23/10/2017, photo by pranceydog

Philh also commented, ‘god does he want to get out of that chair’. You can see this at 1:01 in the video below: Smith’s glance over at Greenway (who’s been fiddling with the settings on his pedals for the last 15 seconds or so) suggests that MES is itching to work his ‘magic’ on the guitarist’s amp.

Several observers felt that Michael Clapham made little impression. To be fair, however, following the moment described above he does provide some nicely abrasive keyboard oscillations.

 

The Fall’s final live performance took place on Saturday 4 November 2017 in Glasgow. The gig had been due to take place at Òran Mór (where the group had played the previous year, with Paul Bonney in the lineup for the first of his two appearances). On the 25 August, however, it was announced that demand for tickets had been such that it was to be moved to the larger Queen Margaret Union.

There’s a popular YouTube video (57000 views at the time of writing) that captures Smith’s final entrance, but the one below is longer and of better picture/sound quality. I cannot imagine that anyone who has taken the time to read this blog can fail to be moved by the crowd’s welcome at 1:26.

Peter Ross, reviewing the gig for The Telegraph, described Smith’s entrance:

‘Smith had begun singing the opener, Wolf Kidult Man, from the wings, rising up behind a speaker stack on a wheelchair lift and then wheeled centre-stage to cheers and raised fists. It didn’t feel awkward or pitiable, it felt triumphant, a grand entrance….’

Members of the FOF who were present at the gig were almost unanimous in their praise for the performance. thehippriestess, for example, said:

‘What The Fall did for ther next hour was transcendent. It may even have been the best Fall gig I’ve ever seen. The band were absolutely bang on from start to finish – Melling punded his drums like he was gaining his vengence on the scum who attacked him, Spurr – looking mighty handsome with a bit of hair and a decent beard, pulled himself into a proud stance and began to pummel the strings.

Michael Clapham sent some wild sub bass tones through the PA and brought an organised chaos that seemed at odds with his calm, clean cut, boyishly cute appearance – he looks like someone cast Steve Morris for a Hollywood movie. Greenway scowls as he starts slashing away at Wolf Kidult Man, his demeanor more that of a bodyguard than a guitarist…the sound is a wee bit uneven but it gets sorted quickly.

Then, Smith appears, wheeled into position, hair slicked back, eyes narrowed, target identified. He belts into the song sounding clear and proud. It is dispatched quickly, Smith assuming an almost regal demeanour in his enforced throne.’

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Glasgow 4/11/2017, photo by Phil Lancaster

Several pointed out that Smith was feeling energised enough to wheel himself around the stage and indulge in some of his customary knob-twiddling. You can see evidence at the beginning of this video.

Peter Ross:

‘He was a compelling presence, crooning and barking into two microphones, rolling back and forth during the juggernaut groove of Blindness. He never spoke to the sell-out crowd, acknowledged no applause. Even when the music was at its most furious, he maintained a regal blankness, checking his nails.’

Mike Ritchie has videos of several of the songs on YouTube. The setlist – which, for once, the group actually kept to – was:

set

The encore was Stout Man. Not by anyone’s reckoning one of the group’s greatest moments, and delivered by MES from somewhere off-stage. The video below captures less than a minute of it. All of which seems somehow fitting.

The group were due to play in Portugal a couple of weeks later, but this was cancelled. They were also scheduled to perform in Bristol on 29 November: this was again cancelled, this time moments before showtime. A clearly emotional Dave Spurr announced the news to the crowd; Pete Greenway’s apparent inability to comment (1:50) speaks volumes.

The next day, Pamela Vander announced on Instagram that the 30 November date at London’s KOKO would also not go ahead. She included a message from MES himself. It’s a remarkable thing: 100 or so words that display a tenderness, humility and affection almost totally at odds with virtual everything MES ever uttered over the previous forty years; and yet, it’s still unmistakably him.

‘A Message to All, to All. From Mark E. Smith/The Fall group. As I, like Pr Rupert leave Bristol with my tail between my legs, I wish to give my great apologies to everybody. This idiotic idea to do both shows was purely my idea, against the advice of Pamela and The Fall group, agent & promoter. Hope to replace shows within 4 – 6 weeks. In the interim we have eight new songs ready to go and will try and let you hear a few before Christmas. From head patient to you, the patients. I love you all but cannot embrace you all, Mark E. Smith.’

The ‘cannot embrace you all’ phrase has been attributed to Napoleon, although it’s not entirely clear the exact words he used (see here). It features (at 9:41) in the 1970 film Waterloo. Smith had used the line himself before, back in 2008, quoted on The Quietus:

‘I LOVE YOU ALL, MEIN COMRADES, But I cannot embrace you all-because, in the main, I have pulled out the lap-top lead to use as a handy throttling device for mediaists, activists, groupies and Alan Wise(show not on ever).’

Untitled

On 24 January 2018, it was announced that Smith had died. His struggle with lung and kidney cancer (first diagnosed in 2009, although he enjoyed several years in the clear after his operation that year) was at an end.

Marc Riley was broadcasting his 6Music show when the BBC confirmed the news. The show is no longer available online, sadly, but dannyno describes it here.

‘At about 1:19:30, Marc says:
<previous record ends>
<deep breath>
OK that is Low, and You See Everything live in session for us from 2011. I just got to say that there’s been rumours flying around all evening about Mark E Smith, and we’re just getting to grips with it now. So I’m going to play you a manic Q&A from Glen Matlock and a tune, and we’ll come out the other side of it and see where we are. <sounds choked here> OK, thank you.

The Q&A segment is followed by Pretty Vacant, and then the death of MES is confirmed by Marc at around 1:28:38. Then there’s the news, which ends with the news about MES. Then without further comment straight into an uninterrupted sequence of Fall songs: It’s The New Thing; Oh! Brother; Edinburgh Man.’

The handover between Riley and Gideon Coe is, however (at the time of writing), still available online. It’s a very emotional moment. Riley’s contribution – especially given his history – is particularly dignified and heartfelt.

men

[I hope you’ll forgive the self-indulgence of this personal perspective, but I figure that I’ve put enough hours in to justify it…]

I was staying in the Parkway Spa Hotel in Cwmbran, South Wales on the evening of the 24th January (I spend a lot of time in hotels as part of my job). After dinner, I looked at my mobile and discovered that I had several missed calls from my wife. Slightly panicked (imagining that it might be some emergency regarding the kids), I rang her back, whereupon I discovered the reason for her calls. Excusing myself from dinner (none of my slightly bemused colleagues had ever even heard of Smith or The Fall), I headed up to my room and put on 6Music, where I heard the Riley-Coe discussion above.

I ordered a bottle of red wine on room service, then drank it listening to Gideon Coe. I must confess that I’ve only ever been an occasional listener to Gideon’s show, but on this night he did an absolutely superb job. A mix of LP/session tracks and songs The Fall covered (The Sonics’ Strychnine; Sir Gibbs’ People Grudgeful) interspersed with messages from Fall fans, it was a superb piece of impromptu broadcasting.

Reactions from the members of The Fall Online Forum are here.

There were, inevitably, hundreds of tributes, ranging from the detailed and analytical to the superficial and perfunctory and including lots of celebrities. There are many, many links on the Fall Online Forum and Fall News.

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The Guardian‘s Adam Sweeting offered a decent, concise summary, as did Dave Simpson.

Stewart Lee’s interview with Mark Radcliffe is one of the best.

‘I will miss the adventure of being a Fall fan and of being part of this community of people… who had this begrudging loyalty to it.

I would have had an utterly different life without The Fall. It’s hard to know what will replace that.’

Smith’s sisters released this statement on the official website:

sis

On Instagram, Pamela Vander posted two particularly poignant and touching photos.

mes

‘I can confirm that Mark was battling lung and kidney cancer, which had already spread beyond any real help… He was happy and excited and we’d found a second home a couple of years back, moved in, set up shop. Total privacy. He loved it there, wrote a lot, walked in the garden, we watched films. He was full of fresh ideas for The Fall, and the lads had his back 100% on everything. And then one terrifying diagnosis turned everything upside down.

After that, Mark said yes to every treatment, every way to stay here, and I can honestly say that he was the toughest but most loving man I’ve ever known, a real warrior. And I am so proud of him for trying so hard, for trying harder and harder even through every set-back. Pure valiance. True to himself. His mind was getting stronger and stronger so even with diagnosis, we remained hopeful that maybe something would work. He was a positive force, and despite the pain, he was always focused on getting up, and getting out. Right til the end.’

mes2

‘So thank you, near and far, for being fans of Mark E. Smith. For loving him and believing in him and his sounds and visions. We have lost a genius. Life, the written word and music will never, ever be the same. But we will feel Mark whenever it rains, and whenever the music plays.’

And so, this is where the music stops.

Which is not to take anything away from Imperial Wax or The Extricated or NOHE NOSHE – but Smith’s death brought a halt to the most inscrutable, unpredictable, provoking and infuriating collection of recorded music that ever existed.

I imagine that some might have raised an eyebrow at me leading this post with a quotation from Frank Skinner, who is not exactly held in high regard by many Fall fans. But you can’t argue with this sentiment:

‘I loved him. He was quite simply better than all the rest. I thought he’d live forever. He seemed too belligerent to die. But he has and oh the difference to me.’

The simplicity of the message posted on the official site is perhaps the best place to end:

rip

Image result for mark e smith

 

Acknowledgements
I did toy with the notion of writing two or three postscript pieces. For example, I considered revisiting the ranking of the albums – a very flawed process, I have to admit, especially when you’re judging the LP you’ve just spent several days listening to non-stop against one you’ve haven’t heard for several months. I have several ideas for this aspect of my Fall writing, but on reflection I think that they might be best suited by being revisited on The Fall In Fives at some point.

It’s more appropriate, I think, to just finish here with some well-deserved thanks for those that have supported and sustained this project. So, heartfelt thanks go to:

  • All of the people on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress who have regularly liked and commented on the posts in such a constructive and supportive fashion (even when finding my ratings baffling!) When I started writing about The Fall, my only ambition was that my views might stray into three figures occasionally. The fact that the New Facts Emerge post was viewed 600 times in its first day, and that the Peel Sessions one got over 1500 in a week is just mind-boggling, and I’m very grateful.
  • I hope I don’t upset anyone by missing them out, but particular thanks go to regular commenters Dan Lewis, Gareth John, @SeniorTwilightStockReplacer, @SkippyVinyls, @RammyDarkside, @VariousTimes, @JohnCarty1, @keepingitpeel, @GavinCGLaird, @a_v_s_p, @webbyla, @shooter_tommy, @JohnSzolscek, @BatleyBKK, @ChurchOfTheFall, @whiffoself and @kittytripp123. Special thanks to @spinal_bap for reliably pulling out the best quotations from each post, and for offering to make me Professor of The Fall at his university!
  • The good folk of the Fall Online Forum, particularly Rainmaster, Aubrey The Cat, Sigma2, Mr Marshall, academichamilton, johncoan and ffbernie.
  • Barrie from the Fall Forum, who has met me on several occasions at the City Arms in Cardiff to discuss the blog and The Fall in general – there are few finer ways to spend an evening.
  • bzfgt, both for his sterling work on The Annotated Fall, but also his ongoing commitment to sharing kraut/psych-rock albums with me.
  • The (ex) members/associates of the group who have been so supportive: Steve Hanley and Simon Wolstencroft for their regular likes/retweets; Ben Pritchard for providing lots of first-hand info; Keiron Melling for valuable details about the later years; Grant Showbiz for similarly valuable info; Paul Hanley for his very kind word about the blog and his excellent book about Hex. Thanks also to Stewart Lee for taking the time to provide a detailed response to one of my queries.
  • J. Eric Smith, for getting me started on Twitter, and being a constant source of support, despite the narrow intersection in our musical Venn diagram: Still Noel!
  • thehippriestess (aka Caroline McKenzie / @auto_tech_pilot) for her support, wisdom, knowledge, and coping with me remixing the sh*t out of virtually everything she releases.
  • My long-suffering wife, who – despite the fact that she considers The Fall to be ‘the worst band ever’ – has stoically put up with me listening to the group on an almost constant basis, rattling on about them all the time, and spending most of my evenings typing away on the subject. She is a truly wonderful woman, and I’m very very lucky to be married to her.
  • And I simply cannot thank Dan (aka dannyno / @dannyno_01) enough. Not only has he trawled through every single post, rooting out factual and linguistic errors, often at very short notice, he is also a fine fellow to sit and have several pints with and discuss the finer points of The Fall. I couldn’t have done this without him.
  • Finally, I’d like to thank MES and the entire rotating cast of musicians who produced this magnificent, perplexing, challenging and unique body of work. You must get them all. Really: all of them.

Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YMGTA #43 – New Facts Emerge

“An uncompromising, belligerent, hideous, beautiful idea… This, you imagine, is what the inside of Smith’s fogged head sounds like.”

Front cover

Details
Recorded: Chairworks studio, Castleford; 6dB Studio, Manchester; Hilltown Studios,
Colne, Lancashire
Released: 28 July 2017

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Peter Greenway – guitar, synth, backing vocals
  • Dave Spurr – bass, Mellotron, backing vocals
  • Keiron Melling – drums

Background
After being absent from the group’s previous gig, Daren Garratt was back behind the drum kit for the first performance after Sub-Lingual Tablet‘s release, in Liverpool on 13 May 2015. That night, the group played their cover of Captain Beefheart’s Dropout Boogie for the first time (although MES had previously interpolated both the lyrics and melody of the song into Dr Bucks’ Letter in a few 2004 performances). It was played again the next night in Birmingham, but only got one more outing after that.

After four more UK dates, it was festival season. First up was the Lunar Festival in Warwickshire, an ‘eclectic three day music and arts festival set in the spiritual home of Nick Drake’. Wilko Johnson, Public Service Broadcasting and Julian Cope were also on the bill. There are very brief snippets on YouTube (here, here and here).

Image result for the fall glastonbury 2015

On 28 June, The Fall performed at the Glastonbury festival; the full set, from the BBC coverage, is below. Smith’s introduction:

‘We are The Fall, from the long, long days. Not used to the countryside; they’re half asleep. The group – they’re so happy to be here. In Salford of Manchester, they think they’re… it’s such a great place. Thanks for turning the volume down, c*nt on the desk.’

Several commentators suggested that a visible stain on his trousers (see the video below at 1:26) was a result of Smith wetting himself. However, the apparent explanation is that MES had champagne thrown at him. In an interview with the Manchester Evening News (quoted here), Fat White Family’s Lias Kaci Saoudi said:

‘We met The Fall backstage at Glastonbury… My brother (Nathan, Fat White’s keyboard player) first spotted Mark. He was drinking a bottle of champagne, so my brother goes, give us a drink, and Mark threw the champagne in his face!

I thought we’d end up having a scrap with The Fall but eventually everyone calmed down and we had a good chat. There aren’t many musicians I get all fanboy about, but Mark E Smith’s one of them.’

Whatever the story behind the trousers, it’s an absolutely cracking performance. Once again, the passion and commitment of the musicians is palpable throughout. Spurr is immense: solid, implacable, thunderous. Greenway is a model of calm amongst the chaos, churning out riffs with fluidity and impeccable timing. Melling is phenomenally tight and dynamic. Garratt’s drumming meshes perfectly with Melling’s, and his impassioned vocal contributions (for example in Dedication at 15:31) give the group’s sound a whole new dimension. Eleni’s contributions are more understated, but no less vital, for example the reverberating synth line that runs through Hittite Man and the intro to Junger Cloth. Smith is on imperious form throughout.

There are several other stand-out moments: the beautifully smooth merger from Hittite Man into Junger Cloth (24:19); the two kids in the audience dancing joyfully (13:37); how much Greenway looks like he’s enjoying himself at 26:34; how delighted MES seems to be at how things are going (27:39-27:55); the heartwarmingly tender interaction between Smith and Eleni (41:58).

Glast

The group conclude with a storming Sparta (MES brings a grin to the faces of PG and Melling with his throaty bellow of ‘Greenway’ at 47:44 – 47:47) and an immense – if relatively brief – Auto Chip. When you consider how many ropy recordings have had an official release, it’s a crying shame that this performance has never received one.

photo
Catania, Sicily 4/7/2015

On 4 July, The Fall played the Zanne Preview festival in Catania, Sicily. (There’s a slightly ropy video of three songs here.)

The next festival was Green Man in Wales on 22 August (there are several videos of this one online – the opening Amorator! is here). Smith was interviewed by Ben Thompson from Mojo at the festival. MES is on superb, hilarious form (‘Ask me some Mojo questions, like “What strings did you use?”‘) and the whole 20 minutes is well worth a watch.

The next festival date was at Bognor Regis (the Rockaway Beach Festival) on 9 October:

‘It was a bizarre sight to behold: The Fall – about as unwholesome a band as they come –playing in the “Reds” venue, home to the legendary (and decidedly family-friendly) Butlin’s Redcoats. Mark E. Smith snarled, barked and yelped incomprehensibly at a slowly depleting audience (you got the feeling a lot of people had just shown up to see what was on, and they couldn’t handle what they found); but the band was tight, the fans up front clearly couldn’t believe their luck at seeing their hero in such close proximity, and Mr Smith didn’t wet himself. Which is a bonus.’

This performance saw Wise Ol’ Man get its first outing.

It was also Daren Garratt’s final gig. Daren’s departure was a big loss. He made a significant contribution to the group, despite only being the line up for just under two years. His partnership with Keiron Melling produced some real highlights that recaptured much of the spirit of the classic early-80s Burns-Hanley dual-drummer line-up (one that Wolstencroft and Burns, despite their undoubted individual talents, never quite realised together). His vocal contributions – especially on stage – were also excellent.

Image result for Daren Garratt
Daren Garratt, 2013-15

After a couple more UK dates, the group set off on a seven-date Antipodean tour. At the penultimate performance in Melbourne, Tuff Life Booogie was played for the first time in 25 years.

photo
Melbourne, 25/10/2019

The Fall played three more dates to round off 2015, at Clapham, Brighton and Buckley.

In February 2016, the Wise Ol’ Man EP was released. MES’s sister Suzanne provided the cover art. Although it’s intriguing and innovative, it wasn’t quite the same stand-alone piece of work as The Remainderer, given that that there were only two new songs (two versions of each) plus alternative takes of relatively recent songs (and one live performance of a nearly 40-year-old tune).

Front cover CD

The opening title track (an ‘edit’, apparently) is driven along by a typically tremolo-heavy three-note Greenway riff, effectively supported by Eleni’s crisp, deadpan backing vocals. It has a relatively straightforward rock structure, but Smith’s atonal croon gives it a slightly unhinged feel. It’s by no means clear who the ‘man’ in question is, although The Annotated Fall suggests (somewhat sceptically, it has to be said) a link to Alan Wise. The ‘instrumental’ version isn’t actually an instrumental: it’s a slightly different mix with less prominent vocals.

By far the most striking and original piece on the EP is All Leave Cancelled. Here, the group recapture the anarchic, clattering spirit of The Remainderer, and extend it even further. Dave Spurr’s abrupt, chunky bass line is all that’s holding the song together; otherwise, it feels like the whole thing would dissolve and collapse into itself. Grainy swirls of synth and guitar float about malevolently; the tempo stretches and contracts as nauseatingly as a dodgily-maintained fairground ride. Smith sounds on the verge of manic collapse, and makes even less sense than usual: ‘Who can’t be trusted with a one half bucket of whiskey without injecting salad’.

It’s full of shifting moods; the transitions in focus (for example the re-emergence of the main theme at 4:22) are exhilarating. All Leave Cancelled is one of those Fall songs that provides you with something new every time you return to it.

The other version, All Leave Cancelled (X), is a brief, taut and controlled mini-version of the song. As for the rest of the EP, the remix of Dedication is pleasingly unhinged (my own combination of the remix and the original is here). Venice With The Girls has a slightly sharper sound compared to the album version, and Eleni’s keyboards are more prominent. The version of Facebook Troll is an energetic one, and features gritty, distorted vocals from MES. Halfway through, it merges awkwardly into a live version of  No Xmas For John Quays (recorded in Leeds, November 2014).

Website popmatters commented that:

‘Newcomers… won’t be able to tell if Wise Ol’ Man is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders or the sound of a band coming apart. Let it be known that the Fall never makes things easy, for neither themselves nor their fans.’

The Line Of Best Fit described it as ‘not entirely pointless, but it’s far from an imperative addition to their output… it’s quite obvious that their glory days are behind them; but the sporadic glimmers of promise mean that there’s always hope for something better next time’.

The first gig of 2016 took place in Tel Aviv in March. There are a couple of videos on the gigography page (First One Today and Venice), which find MES delivering many of his vocals from the corner of the stage with his back to the audience. The most entertaining video, however, is that of Pledge, where a woman in the front row of the crowd takes a microphone from Smith (1:43) and proceeds to provide some admirably enthusiastic backing vocals while MES doodles on the keyboards.

Although her keyboards were set up on stage, Eleni failed to appear, and apparently did not even travel to Israel. Whilst she had missed gigs before (most recently in August 2014), this time it led to speculation that all was not well between her and MES. This was largely fuelled by an interview for Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (translated by dannyno here), which referred to ‘a friend of Mark’ called Pam. This was Pamela Vander, who was eventually to be Smith’s final partner.

Eleni was back in the lineup for the next gig in Berlin a few days later, however.

On 16 April, Dandelion/Ozit records released the live LP Bingo Masters At The Witch Trials. Ozit was Chris Hewitt’s label – Hewitt had been one of the organisers of the Deeply Vale festivals in the late 70s, and the label had released the Live At Deeply Vale CD in 2005. Bingo… was a rather cynical release: it omitted the studio medley included on the CD and substituted two tracks from the 1978 performance (Bingo and Brand New Cadillac) that had presumably been deliberately held back in 2005.

It was released as part of Record Store Day 2016, the LP being on orange vinyl. (As part of RSD 2016, It’s The New Thing and Bingo-Master’s Break-Out! were also both re-released pointlessly, on blue vinyl). To go with the awful title, the album had an unspeakable, almost surreally dreadful cover. The main image was from a stock image website; the hanging picture is also available online.

Front cover

The group’s next date (on the same day as the above’s release) found them in North Wales, playing at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Prestatyn (curated by Stewart Lee). They opened with – according to the setlist –  Unlimited Time Collection, which was actually the first outing for Victoria Train Station Massacre / New Facts Emerge. Daren Garratt was in the audience, and apparently had turned up not sure if he was playing or not. Smith took the group off stage halfway through for one of his ‘team talks’.

Two days later, Eleni did not appear at the group’s performance in Newcastle; she was also missing at the next night in Manchester. She reappeared for the four dates that the group played at The Garage in London, 25-28 April though. There’s a review of the first night here. On the third night, they played an extravagantly lengthy Auto Chip.

The last of the four nights at The Garage marked Eleni’s final appearance with The Fall. Reviews seem to suggest that she bowed out enthusiastically: on the Fall Online Forum, for example, Chris Goodhead remarked that she ‘was just a ball of energy. She was filming the crowd… [and] seemed to be enjoying herself’.

e1
Photos by Hanley Played a Fender P

Eleni was another sad loss. Her contribution to the Fall sound is far too often overlooked; particularly her keyboard work, which – whilst never exactly virtuosic – frequently added intriguingly creative layers of texture to Greenway/Spurr/Melling’s garage rock. Like Brix, her vocals were generally more successful when acting as counterpoint to MES rather than when she took the lead, but the part she played in The Fall’s greatest 21st century moments should never be underestimated. (One of her current projects, NOHE NOSHE, is certainly well worth a listen.)

Image result for eleni poulou
Eleni Poulou, 2002-2016

Coincidentally, in May 2016, Brix published her autobiography, The Rise, The Fall, and The Rise. I’m sure I’m not alone in having only ever skimmed the first and final thirds of the book (the last section mainly lists celebrities that she went to parties with), but the middle part of the book, to be fair, does provide some interesting insights into relationships within the group and their creative processes. In particular, she captures the horror show that was the autumn 1996 tour quite vividly.

After a couple of UK gigs in May, the group next played at Slovenia’s Sajeta Creative Camp Festival on 15 July (videos here and here). A couple of weeks later, they performed at Òran Mór in Glasgow. Paul Bonney (an unlikely choice, given that he was best known for his work with The Australian Pink Floyd Show) played as second drummer. There’s a video of Venice from this gig here; it’s edited in a rather irritating rapid-cut style, but you can best glimpse the two drummers at 2:49 and 3:24. The gig also saw Fol De Rol and Brillo De Facto get their first outings (the latter was called Brillo Filo on the setlist). The next gig, at The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen on 2 October, was Bonney’s second and final appearance with the group.

HeraldScotland:
Glasgow, 30/7/2016, photo from The Herald

The Fall played a further three UK gigs in October. At the first of these, in Edinburgh on the 3rd, Gibbus Gibson was debuted. In November, they travelled to Germany and Norway. Their final gig of 2016 took place at York Fibbers on 19 November: they opened the set with the first ever (comparatively brief) performance of Nine Out Of Ten:

The Fall played 13 gigs in 2017, ten of them occurring before NFE‘s release. The first saw them headline an all-dayer in Liverpool, where Second House Now was debuted.

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At Southampton on 27 January, the group played a much more expansive version of Nine Out Of Ten, and O! Zztrrk Man (at this point entitled Zaptrack) was debuted. At Leamington Spa on 1 February, Reece Stick (which would never receive a studio release) got the first of its half a dozen outings.

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Cardiff Tramshed, 3/2/2017

After the Cardiff gig on 3 February, it became clear that MES was not in good health. The Newcastle and Leeds gigs scheduled for 23-24 February were cancelled owing to Smith having, according to the official website, ‘influenza coupled with a chest infection’. The same thing happened with the Bristol date planned for 31 March.

On 5 March, MES turned 60. The BBC celebrated the event by mistakenly reporting his death.

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The Quietus provided a somewhat more appropriate celebration of the event, an article which saw ‘writers and guests including Brett Anderson, Stewart Lee, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Adrian Sherwood, Pat Nevin and Krishnan Guru-Murthy select 60 favourites from The Fall’s back catalogue.’ The article is here (it was republished to commemorate Smith’s death), and the 60 tracks are collected on a Spotify playlist.

They also put on a karaoke party, featuring The Fallen Women.

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Music writer Dave Haslam published a concise and thoughtful article to celebrate the event.

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Brian Edge, author of Paintwork: A Portrait Of The Fall, also produced an article to commemorate MES turning 60. It’s not a typical tribute piece by any means:

‘Anyway, with Smith having turned 60… I thought it was about time I confessed: I am estranged from The Fall.  I’ve stopped caring.  They’re not mine anymore.  I get along just fine without them.’

Edge started to lose touch in the early 90s (he’s not, of course, alone in this) and ‘let go’ after The Light User Syndrome. Despite his estrangement, the article is an interesting and thought-provoking read.

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Also in March, Keiron Melling was the victim of a vicious assault whilst travelling on a train between Manchester and Blackburn. He had intervened to defend a teenage boy from being harassed by Michael Hannan and Matthew Crompton, both of whom were jailed for the attack.

In April, Record Store Day rolled around again. This year’s pointless release was a 7″ of Masquerade, which went on sale for a ludicrous £12.

The group’s next gig was on 23 May, at Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds.

This date saw the debut of Michael Clapham (a Manchester comedy promoter) on keyboards. Pete Greenway was sporting a new ‘streamlined’ look:

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Smith’s appearance was also notable, as he seemed to be suffering from swelling to the face:

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Counterfeit website published a respectful, sympathetic but reluctantly critical review of the gig. It recognised how well the musicians performed (‘phenomenal, almost telepathically in sync, bags of energy and charisma, a faultless display’), but regretfully reported that MES seemed to struggle with his performance:

‘Despite visibly seeming uncomfortable and weary Smith manfully battled through the early part of the set, but then he seemed to reach a point of no return. Repeatedly wondering off stage, taking the microphone with him and performing his vocals away from the glare of his adoring fans. This happened on several occasions until he then departed in the middle of a track, but this time he left his microphone on stage. As the song concluded, and he was nowhere to be seen, the band, starting with bassist David Spurr, incrementally set their instruments down and ran off in search of him. A few minutes passed before they came back onto the stage having finally managed to persuade Smith to return. Smith again tried his best to continue but it wasn’t long until he was back into the cycle of disappearing at regular intervals.’

Their next performance was the Bearded Theory Spring Gathering in Derbyshire on 27 May. Pete Greenway wore a rather fetching hat:

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There’s a very brief clip of the performance here.

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Bearded Theory, 27/5/2017, photo by Bostedclog

The next night, The Fall played in Manchester as part of the Transformer Festival. John Robb wrote about the gig for Louder Than War, and it’s a review that’s worth quoting at length:

‘Mark Smith has been under the weather recently so its a relief to see him back prowling the stage again and if physically he has been taking a beating – and he looks unwell tonight, mentally he seems as acidic and on fire as ever bellowing his bellows down his two mics and stalking the stage like his vision of fiery jack finally come to life. Maybe the challenge of every great artist is to make sense of the twilight years. The Fall are a reflection of their singer’s journey.

The Fall are as brilliantly unfathomable as ever – switching from moments of clattering power to sublime sections where the arpeggio’d guitar connects with the rhythm section for some pure magic before switching to power clatter where the elusive use wanders away and then catching it again.

The Fall are never meant be easy but there is an added focus about their mithering tonight, Smith seems focussed in the maelstrom connecting directly with the audience with his baleful stares at the moshpit daring anyone to try and understand the message in his madness.

It’s impossible to hear a word he says in the reverbing room but somehow it all makes sense. You can feel his genius, you can connect with his snarky genius as he glowers, cajoles and spits his brittle poetry over the churning backbeat.

Even when he turns the amps up and down tonight he gets it spot on – delivering an onstage mix like some kind of northern Lee Scratch Perry – cranking up the Korg lines played by a new member just when they were needed, adding a colour and drone to the songs when required before turning to add a bit of clip that was needed to the bass before wondering off to stand in the corner of the stage examine his fingernails with only his band new crisp white shirt visible in the big venue gloom.

Older age suits the Fall. Mark Smith is now 60 yet veteran status has sat on those shoulders for decades, his spittle flecked hatred of youth culture piffle always made him engaging and the Fall somehow manage to retain that danger and relevance to this day.’

The Fall’s last gig before New Facts Emerge‘s release was at London’s 100 Club on 27 July, the day before the album came out. Groundsboy was played for the first time. MES did not look at all well.

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He sang much of the gig from the dressing room; new partner Pamela Vander played a prominent role on stage.

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100 Club, London 27/7/2016

In The Wider World…
A couple of weeks after the album’s release, anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer was murdered (and 19 others injured) by neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr. at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

In the UK singles chart, it’s (I imagine) yet another case of ‘Who?’ for the average Fall listener: DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller was at number one with Wild Thoughts. It spent only a week at the top spot, interrupting the five-week stay of Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber. (And if I had a pound for every reader who actually followed those links, I doubt I’d even be able to buy a pint.) Lana Del Rey (who at least I’ve heard of) had the number one album with Lust For Life.

The Album
Most of the music was recorded at Chairworks in Castleford; the vocals were done mainly at Ding’s 6db in Manchester (the two studios where Sub-Lingual Tablet was recorded). Some of the vocals were also recorded at Keiron Melling’s Hilltown studio in Colne, where the drummer mixed the album.

Pictures posted on Keiron Melling’s Instagram account suggested that the group deployed some innovative recording techniques.

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Pamela Vander provided the cover artwork. As well as the CD, it was released on vinyl as a double 10″ (the tracks being the same versions and in the same order).

There was some (admittedly minor) controversy regarding the title of Victoria Train Station Massacre. A couple of months before the album’s release, a suicide bomber had killed 23 people and injured 139 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena. A Cherry Red representative stated that this was an ‘unfortunate coincidence… The track was recorded and the artwork sent off for manufacture long before the terrible events in Manchester.’

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Photo from Mojo 28/7/2017

Reviews were, in general, very positive. In The Quietus, Harry Sword described the group as ‘a physical place, almost: some sideways dimension where you tap into coded truths, odd anomalies and sinister parallels among the static, phlegm and hard rain.’ He felt that The Fall were as necessary as ever:

‘This kind of music is needed, right now: untethered, shot through with rough-shod immediacy, anchored by punishing bass weight, grinding repetition and stark pounding rhythm.’

In Mojo, Ian Harrison awarded the album four stars:

‘New Facts Emerge could be said to be business as usual: i.e. it cannot be quantified, and pulses with raw music, stimulating confusion and a certain monstrous glee. This time, harsh metal riffs, country picking and random-sounding sonic embellishments provide the backdrop for Smith, his voice catarrhy or golem-like.’

The Fall: (from left) Pete Greenway, Keiron Melling, Mark E Smith, Dave Spurr. They’re redoubtable. Pic: Pamela Vander.
Photo from Mojo 28/7/2017

Writing in Drowned In Sound, Marc Burrows – giving the album 8/10 – described the group’s current incarnation as, ‘not just an institution, but an idea. An uncompromising, belligerent, hideous, beautiful idea; where noise pollution and bloody mindedness hover on the edge of art.’ The Fall in 2017, he felt, were ‘the purest version of the band there has ever been. This, you imagine, is what the inside of Smith’s fogged head sounds like.’

Regarding Smith’ vocals, he went on:

‘Here Smith finally lets go of the idea of singing at all. You’re sure there are fine words here, but more than ever MES is really not bothered if you can make them out or not. His voice has dropped into a guttural, tarry growl, 100% menace and 0% melody.’

Pitchfork‘s Robert Ham also commented on Smith’s uncompromising vocal style:

‘Long gone is the untrained yet undeniably charming timbre that barked, squealed, and crooned through his band’s most prominent work; it’s been replaced by a bilious and phlegmy growl struck by age (he turned 60 in March) and many, many cigarettes.’

Noting the group’s reluctance to perform any material earlier than songs from RPTLC, he went on to say:

‘The project continues to move forward with an almost cavalier disregard for their past accomplishments. Theirs is a meaty, swollen approach to garage rock that leaves ample room for diversions into exploratory psych and shredded rockabilly.’

John Robb, writing for Louder Than War, was particularly enthusiastic. He felt that ‘all the great Fall hallmarks are here’ and in particularly noted that ‘Pete Greenway is on fire on this album’. He even went as far as describing it as ‘one of the five greatest Fall albums ever’. He gave the album 9/10, wryly noting that he did so because the final track was a ‘snark attack’ (see below) directed at him, ‘otherwise it would have been a ten’.

In The Guardian, Rachel Aroesti was more lukewarm, awarding the album three stars and commenting that group ‘continues to plough a familiar, fractious furrow’.

The album reached number 35 in the UK album charts, the group’s best commercial performance since 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent.

The Songs
Segue
There’s something exceptionally Fall-like about calling an opening track ‘Segue’. Also, few artists have explored the ‘inebriated-tramp-hits-a-bottle-with-a-stick’ genre. On The Annotated Fall, Mike suggests that the track might actually be a segue between All Leave Cancelled (X) and Fol De Rol, although this suggests an unlikely amount of strategic thinking on MES’s part.

Fol De Rol
The first ‘proper’ song almost immediately launches into one of the unforgiving, bludgeoning riffs that characterise much of the album. Here, the weighty, staccato guitar line is derived from Black Sabbath via Rocket From The Crypt.

The taut, precise rigidity of the riff works well in contrast to Smith’s layered, off-kilter, snarling growl. Two-thirds through, everything is sucked into a chaotic, murky void before bursting forth again with renewed vigour at 5:15.

The Annotated Fall comments that, ‘with every album that goes by, transcribing becomes more difficult’, and it’s true that, by this stage, trying to interpret Smith’s words feels almost futile. It seems like the sound of his voice has become as much an instrument as what the musicians are playing.

There are several references to Homer (‘kitchens Homeric’ at 1:15; ‘Homeric metal’ at 2:26 are just two examples), which give the lyric a strangely epic and heroic tone. There are also several turns of phrase that are simply inexplicable: ‘You block hotel area / with metal wedge potato’. It’s basically pointless to try and surmise meaning; you just have to roll with the gloriously incongruous language: ‘Homeric cogs of steel / Imaginary / Excite plastic wheels.’

It was played live 20 times, including the group’s last ever performance.

Brillo De Facto
Another riff-driven song, but here the guitar part is less heavy/hard rock; although it’s just as relentless as Fol De Rol, it’s more supple and has a slight tinge of both funk and R&B to it. The lithe choppiness of Greenway’s guitar is vaguely reminiscent of Wilko Johnson’s work on Roxette. Spurr underpins the guitar with a full-bodied snaking bass line, whilst Melling provides a solid, unfussy foundation that still manages to provide some rhythmic complexity.

The main section is interspersed with a couple of slow, ponderous interludes that utilise the same sort of reverb-heavy, ghostly sounds to be found later on in Couples. Over the final third, the group launch into an abandoned garage punk crescendo that resolves into a wall of ominous, oscillating feedback.

As in the previous track, Smith’s voice is deployed as a shifting, textured instrument rather than providing any sort of coherent melodic narrative. In the first 30 seconds, the vocal is relatively straightforward, sitting traditionally in the centre of the mix. At 0:39, however, it descends into muffled distortion; thereafter its stereo placement, equalisation and level of distortion and reverb veers wildly across the musical background, differing versions of MES overlapping and clashing. At 1:04-1:09, for example, a bright, trebly snarl in one channel is complemented by a disturbingly deep, guttural groan in the other. At 2:18-2:30, a double-tracked, almost robotic Smith plays backing vocalist to a lead voice that switches between crisp bark and murky growl.

It’s possible that the first word of the title might be some sort of reference to facial hair (‘Brillo chin’), especially as this was a topic about which MES expressed strong feelings several times over the years. Interestingly – especially given the possible musical nod to Dr. Feelgood noted above – Smith himself suggested a link to Feelgood’s singer Lee Brilleaux. In a September 2016 Mojo interview, when asked about his lyric-writing process, MES said:

‘”You wanna know my problem?” (reaches into his man-bag for a green manila folder of lyric sheets: visible on one are the scrawled words, Homeric night, second one today, brillo-nilo). “It’s Lee Brilleaux out of Dr. Feelgood, but this track’s better than Dr. Feelgood. Imagine it played by Motörhead, with Pete [Greenway]’s guitar… The house is full of lyrics, I’m not f*cking short of words. There’s too many.”‘

The reference to ‘James Fennings’ (3:29) is at least explicable: Fennings was a DJ who provided pre-performance music for the group around the turn of the century, and a long-standing friend of MES. But most of the lyric inevitably resists any serious attempt at interpretation: ‘And the asphyxiation of the troll will finally be… all salute at the altar of filo pastry.’

Brillo De Facto was played live 19 times, and was another that was performed at the group’s final gig.

CD booklet

Victoria Train Station Massacre / New Facts Emerge
Although named as two separate songs on the album, Victoria and the title track are basically parts one and two of the same song. (It won’t surprise anyone who knows me that they are merged – via Audacity – on my ‘version’ of the album.) The main difference between the two is that Greenway’s guitar, which is relatively understated in the first section, bursts into life in the second, providing a crunchy, exuberant riff that anchors the rest of the track.

Another distinguishing feature of Victoria is the deployment of reversed vocals from around the one minute mark. Anyone who wondered whether this might contain some form of subliminal Stairway To Heaven / Judas Priest satanic message will be disappointed to learn that it’s just the ‘I crave drama’ refrain from earlier in the song.

As mentioned above, the song’s title attracted a little controversy. In a September 2017 interview for Uncut, MES elaborated on the subject matter:

‘I’m actually very fond of the architecture of Victoria Station, but it’s all been trashed to f*ck, and that’s what the song’s about. You know all that beautiful Victorian latticework, like they have at Paddington? They ripped it all off. And you know why? Because the students coming to Manchester wanted to have access to north Manchester [pauses]. We don’t want ’em here [laughs]! So they put this big canvas canopy up, and about six months ago it fell on all the passengers in the rush hour. There’s summat wrong with Manchester, they can’t leave anything f*cking alone.’

Smith is referring, it would seem, to this event. Leaving aside his Prince Charles-like views on modern architecture, the rest of the lyrics are predictably incomprehensible, largely focused around the nonsensical if weirdly charming exhortation to ‘stop shaking down those frogs’.

The indistinct backing vocals (in French) at 0:58 and 1:48 were supplied by studio engineer Christophe Bride, and the words are taken from Jacques Brel’s Les Bourgeois.

The song is a joyful, energetic stomp; its glam-rock approach is highly reminiscent of 1993’s Glam-Racket. Relentless and intense, like much of the first half of the album, it is nonetheless laced with good humour and carefree abandon. It was played live 22 times, and is another that featured in the group’s final performance in November 2017.

Couples Vs Jobless Mid 30s
Despite Smith’s oft-stated derision for the ‘dinosaurs’ of the 70s, The Fall wandered into prog territory on several occasions over their career, albeit in their own inimitable fashion. Mark’ll Sink Us, Session Musician, 50 Year Old Man and Backdrop (amongst others), whilst not exactly being prog songs in themselves, certainly demonstrated certain prog tropes.

Couples is arguably the most ‘prog’ of all Fall songs. Uncut described it as ‘an unhinged multi-part suite that veers from lumbering rock grooves complete with manic laughter to sections of chanting and detuned Mellotron’.

It opens with an intense, reverberating refrain that sounds like the Butthole Surfers jamming with Hawkwind, Smith’s vocals echoing ominously (‘Relevant in your later snap stairs…’); doleful piano accompanies references to ‘green jelly’. At 1:15, a ponderous, sludge-rock riff lumbers into view, backed by wildly oscillating synths. After a rather clumsy edit at 1:48, Spurr’s throbbing bass line backs a random assortment of layered vocals and manic cackling from MES.

After a reprise of the heavy doom-metal riff (interspersed with snatches of pulsing sequencer, off-key operatic vocals, disturbing crooning and further cackling) the song resolves into a taut, thunderous coda. The section from ‘waiting…’ (6:18) is exhilarating: the way that they suddenly navigate themselves out of the dense, swampy chaos of the first six minutes into a focused gallop towards the song’s conclusion is thrilling.

In an article entitled ‘The Fall: album by album’ in Uncut magazine, July 2019, both Keiron Melling and Pete Greenway commented on the song’s conception:

KM: ‘We started “Couples Vs Jobless” in a hotel room and recorded it with the whole band going through a guitar amp, and the vocals on a dictaphone.’

PG: ‘[It] was conceived in a hotel room. Mark came up with the idea to do this long, operatic thing with chanting, and we took him at his word and did it. A very odd song.’

Smith’s version (given in the 2017 Uncut interview) was, not for the first time, somewhat different. According to him, having left the group in Chairworks studio ‘for a week or so’, he then created Couples by ‘savaging’ three or four of the songs they’d come up with. He goes on to say:

‘They were trying to do something about Eagles Of Death Metal, and about heavy metal groups. I said, “That’s not on”, because they were the group in Paris, weren’t they? So I changed it to all this.’

Eagles of Death Metal (a Californian band co-founded by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme) were indeed the ‘group in Paris‘ – providing an interesting connection with the Victoria Train Station Massacre controversy. A reference to the group remained in Couples: you can hear their name in the faux-operatic backing vocals from 3:46.

On The Annotated Fall, bzfgt described it as ‘the most incomprehensible vocal yet’, which is a bold claim, although one not entirely without foundation. Like Brillo, Smith’s voice comes in a bewildering, overlapping variety of styles. On the FOF, TheorySwine suggested (perhaps not entirely seriously) that the mentions of ‘green jelly’ may refer to either this song, MES’s medical condition or simply that he ‘had some nice green jelly for pudding’. It’s testament to the randomly surreal nature of Smith’s lyrics at this point that each of these explanations seem equally plausible.

In his 2016 Mojo interview, MES offered a terse, concise summary of the song’s meaning:

‘This f*cking woman is shouting at her young son who owns a factory.’

This presumably refers to the lines, ‘his mother spouse / she tortures him in big house’. But what to make of ‘gargoyle legs are droopy’, ‘irrelevant to your latent sex
and shock your lizard’ or the reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Once again, it may be advisable to just not think too hard about it and simply revel in the wonderfully abstruse language: ‘clotted breath’; ‘upwardly B.T. rancid laughter’.

Unsurprisingly, Couples was never played live.

Second House Now
The first NFE track to emerge publicly (via 6Music), Second House Now opens with a minute or so of indolent, affable rockabilly that’s totally at odds with the first half of the album. At 0:49, however, the group kick into a muscular riff that echoes the approach of many of the earlier songs.

Like Fol De Rol, Brillo and the title track, SHN‘s riff is taut and punchy and contrasts effectively with Smith’s meandering delivery. However, although his voice is frequently drenched in reverb, it’s more centred in the mix than previous songs and doesn’t have quite as much emphasis on overlapping layers and effects (although there’s a nice touch of megaphone-style backing vocals at 3:25). This gives the song a more direct and forceful feel.

Spurr and Melling are customarily solid, giving Greenway the opportunity to embellish the song with several flourishes: woozy phasing (for example at 1:13), urgent shrieks (1:26 and 2:24) and overloaded, distorted bursts of solo guitar (J. Mascis style) during the last minute or so.

The Annotated Fall suggests that one of Pamela Vander’s Instagram posts after MES’s death is relevant here:

‘He was happy and excited and we’d found a second home a couple of years back, moved in, set up shop. Total privacy. He loved it there, wrote a lot, walked in the garden, we watched films.’

This review considers the possibly political messages in the song:

‘MES often hints at the social origins of Nazism – or shall we say, fascist bullshit – in his lyrics. The title ‘Second House Now’ echoes the chant popularised by the Communist Party and their adherents in UK from late 1942, ‘Second Front Now’…

Mark knows that the time of fascism in the UK is at hand – and by that, I don’t mean either the National Front or the Tory Party. No, it’s a social requirement by now, that free people are required to merge into the mass, accept what they’re given and be told what to do by the state. This ties in with the lyrics to ‘Couples vs Jobless mid-30s’ as well, the way in which large chunks of the young population are both disregarded and used as fodder, forcing their ambitions to be selfish and unthreatening to those genuinely in power.’

There’s a looping, circular quality to the lyrics; certain phrases (‘going to big city’, ‘my image in black and white’, ‘tearing of muscle years’) revolve at differing tempos like orbiting planets, as if MES is gradually zooming in on some sort of resolution. This resolution never actually arrives, and ultimately the lyric is never fully coherent; but, however one might evaluate it intellectually, there’s a distinctly visceral effect here.

The aggressive yet plaintive repeated exhortation, ‘C’mon, c’mon!’, incongruous in its adherence to traditional rock ‘n’ roll tropes, is genuinely moving because of the gleeful and apparently non-ironic way Smith delivers it. Knowing that MES knew at this point that his days were numbered makes his unfettered joy and enthusiasm even more touching.

Played live 15 times; another that featured in the group’s final performance.

O! Zztrrk Man
Lyric-wise, I’m not even going to try. All I can say is that I’m indebted to The Annotated Fall for introducing me to the term ‘auditory pareidolia‘. Smith’s voice is frankly disturbing: sluggish, fractured, disdainful, inebriated, unworldly…

The sound of several Stooges tracks being played simultaneously through a broken transistor radio, it feels like a distillation of Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Bardo Pond, The Heads, The Sex Pistols, The Thermals – and hundreds of others.

It’s dumb and pointless, but dumb and pointless in a rather uplifting way. A celebration of the joy of thrashing the f*ck out of everything; of the power of three simple but devastating chords; of the unmitigated joy of just… noise for the sake of glorious noise.

There is always great joy to be had from an impeccably timed chord change, and here, at 0:53, there’s a shift that lifts the soul. Throughout, Greenway wrestles a grimy, guttural sound from his guitar that captures the spirit of thousands of teenagers in garages and rehearsal rooms stamping on effects pedals in furrowed-brow expressions of frustration and hope.

Played live only five times, all in early 2017.

Gibbus Gibson
‘Gibbous’ means ‘(of the moon) having the illuminated part greater than a semicircle and less than a circle; convex or protuberant’. It’s a word that MES used in both Van Plague? (‘A body’s waste ‘neath a gibbous moon’) and Hittite Man (‘the gibbous morons’). With the latter song, MES suggested that he might have ‘gotten’ the word from Lovecraft. (In one of my rare forays into The Annotated Fall, I pointed out that HPL uses the word twice in the story Dagon.) Via the same site, dannyno suggests a link to Gordon Gibson of Action Records.

Greenway’s delicate, circular riff is a pleasant one, and it’s complemented well by Smith’s off-kilter croon. In the final minute, a chirpy keyboard line crops up that’s soon superseded by a some oddly incongruous 80s-style synth chords.

It’s gently enjoyable, but rather lacks substance. It was never played live.

CD Booklet

Groundsboy
Similar to Gibbus Gibson, in that it has a light-hearted, sprightly feel. There’s a shuffling, railroad-style rhythm that brings Johnny Cash to mind; the backing vocals also give it a 60s comedy-Western atmosphere. It has been suggested that the song refers to Steve Hanley’s post-Fall career as a school caretaker, although the lyric itself doesn’t really support this.

It picks up momentum over the last minute or so, as the guitar gets a little more urgent. There are also a smattering of backing vocals, presumably contributed by Pamela Vander. Overall, it’s a spot of fun, although like Gibson, it feels rather insubstantial. It was debuted the night before NFE‘s release, and was then played at the group’s two final gigs.

Nine Out Of Ten
It is undoubtedly fitting that the final song on the last Fall LP is such a difficult, challenging and perplexing one. Pared down to Greenway’s galloping, abrasive guitar (played in the style of Life’s A Riot) and Smith’s wilfully tuneless vocal, Nine Out Of Ten sees MES displaying what website theartsdesk described as ‘reckless vulnerability’.

The song was played at seven consecutive gigs, late 2016 / early 2017, but didn’t appear in the final seven performances.

John Robb, in his Louder Than War review, provided a relatively prosaic explanation of the song’s origins:

‘The final track ‘Nine Out Of Ten’ is an acidic dark humoured snark attack on yours truly for giving Fall mate Ed Blaney’s recent very good album a good review on this site and is all the better for its pointed assault on your author and probably loads of other targets in classic free form Fall style.’

This would seem to be supported to some extent by Smith’s inclusion of the line ‘I got a review from John Robb’ in the song’s third live outing at Southampton in January 2017 (it’s at 2:10 in the video below). At this stage, the song also contains percussion and some strangely random keyboard effects.

On the studio version, the words themselves are more clearly audible and much less surreal and abstract than is the case with the rest of the album. However, in some ways this makes them even harder to interpret. There’s a lengthy but interesting thread about the song on the Fall Online Forum.

If the lyric does refer to Robb, it’s not clear how it’s any sort of ‘attack’ on him. (On The Annotated Fall, bzfgt postulates that Smith might have improvised the line at Southampton having seen Robb in the audience; there’s no strong evidence for this, but it’s not a wholly unbelievable scenario.)

It’s actually far from clear who the ‘they’ that gave him 9/10 are. On a couple of occasions, it seems to be ‘the company’ that does so, but who this actually refers to (record companies? the music industry in general?) is frustratingly opaque. The ‘orphan’ references and him being awarded ‘one out of ten’ might suggest a childhood of neglect and underestimation, but this doesn’t reflect what MES shared elsewhere about his early life.

The line, ‘You don’t break rules you don’t follow them’ is especially difficult to unravel, especially given Smith’s typically unpredictable phrasing and emphasis. As bzfgt points out on TAF, ‘The meaning of this line would change depending on how it is transcribed’. It’s unclear whether Smith is suggesting that he has been unfairly criticised for following (or not following) rules, or whether he is exhorting others to follow (or not follow) said rules; it’s possible to support (if not entirely to justify) any of these interpretations. But of course, it is completely apt that MES leaves us with such an inscrutable lyric.

Nine Out Of Ten is undoubtedly as ‘difficult’ musically as it is lyrically. If you write about this group, the ‘only The Fall/MES would ever…’ (in terms of lyrics, titles, production, editing etc.) cliché is a tough one to avoid, simply because it’s so often true. Here, it’s as true as ever. Notwithstanding the roughly recorded sparseness of the vocal / guitar approach, it’s hard to imagine any other artist stopping so abruptly – and it’s a clumsy edit even by Fall standards – halfway through and then letting a lone guitar simply thrash out the riff unaccompanied for five (!) minutes. In the first half, there seem to be two guitar parts that are given a little stereo separation which alleviates the spartan harshness of the sound at least a little. This is not the case in the coda, however; this is the sound of a solitary, almost desperate guitar flailing away with no clear vision of conclusion or resolution.

Pete Greenway commented on the song’s recording in the July 2019 Uncut article:

‘We didn’t know at the time that it would be the last album and I’m sure Mark didn’t. People have drawn conclusions from the last track, “Nine Out Of Ten”, and how it ends [without vocals for the second half]. I’d met Mark for a beer and we ended up at the studio. I was too drunk to play and Mark just spouted lyrics about his life, spontaneously. I was surprised it ended up on the album.’

uncut
Uncut, April 2018
Another Uncut article, this time from April 2018, strikes a suitably poignant note when describing the song’s conclusion:

‘He was animated as he sang his final vocal for the album (“Nine Out Of Ten”), with guitarist Greenway seated beside him. The song came to a natural end. Greenway stopped playing. “No,” Smith said. “Play it again.” He got up and walked slowly around the studio, tapping bits of percussion, while Greenway strummed the chords for three, four, then five minutes.

And that’s exactly how we hear it on the record. The track ends. The guitar resumes. But Mark E Smith is now silent.’

Overall Verdict
A common criticism of NFE is that it finds the group rather bereft of new ideas; over-reliant on blunt, unsubtle, heavy riffs and lacking in intricacy and sophistication. Whilst it does have more than its fair share of direct, bludgeoning riffery (especially in the first half), this view is not entirely fair. For a start, the production on Smith’s vocals on, for example, Fol De Rol and Brillo is far from straightforward and demonstrates intriguing creativity that repays repeated listens. In addition, the second half contains much more variation and light-heartedness; it’s also true that Couples and – in particular – Nine Out Of Ten sound little like much else in the back catalogue.

It is certainly true that the sequencing is somewhat perverse, and that the album has a certain lop-sided feel (one that I have addressed – at least to my personal satisfaction – in my ‘version’ below). That said, it feels fitting that the group’s final LP should feature the puzzling approach to sequencing that characterised so many of their releases.

On The Annotated Fall, contributor ‘brownsocketspurpleseyes’ comments that:

‘A few people have commented that “New Facts Emerge” is a bit of a grab-bag Fall album – lots of homages to past career stylings, knowing it was potentially his last record…’

His comments are in particular directed at Groundsboy, especially the lines ‘He goes back now’, ‘Every day on the airstrip’ (perhaps referring to the group’s productivity and work ethic) and ‘Noticed by none’ (potentially an echo of ‘He is not appreciated’). There would certainly seem to be at least some mileage in this view. Much of The Fall’s musical past is recalled here: the garage rock of Winner and Caustic; the rockabilly shuffle of Fiery Jack; the Stooges-style Elves; the prog subversion seen in the odd b-side and obscurity (see Couples above). Of course, if we were going to extend this argument to its logical conclusion, then the album should contain some On My Own-style house, Ten Houses of Eve drum ‘n’ bass, C.R.E.E.P. indie-jangle and No Xmas old-school punk rock…

Pete Greenway felt (see above, as well as this recent interview) that Smith didn’t know that this was going to be The Fall’s last album, and I’m in no position to argue with that. That said, it’s hard to believe, given what seems to have been the growing intensity of his medical treatment, that it hadn’t at least crossed his mind that this might be his final release. Hindsight, of course, makes it very easy to look back at the album and see it as a deliberate swansong, but there’s much about it that suggests that it might have been: the uncompromising, defiant, hard-edged riffs of the first half; the abandoned, don’t-give-f*ck experimentation of Couples; the career-revisiting playfulness of much of the second half; the raw, laid-bare confessional that closes the album.

Hindsight also promotes an emotional reaction to the album. You may be in the camp that reveres the group’s the 80s work and looks ruefully on this collection of tracks with a how-did-it-come-to-this? perspective. You may be of the persuasion that the group’s 21st century work saw them expand their perimeters and ambitions and create continually challenging, innovative and remarkable music. You most likely sit in one of the myriad camps that lie in between – developing an opinion on The Fall’s back catalogue is, after all, a rather more complex process than – for example – being an REM fan but only really liking their albums up to Document or Green or Up. Whichever position you take, what united Fall fans following Smith’s death was the sense of loss on realising that you would never hear another new Fall album. No more returns to form, no more patchy ‘what-could-have-been’s, no more sudden-change-in-direction-with-a-completely-new-line-up, just… no more.

So what is New Facts Emerge? It isn’t the intricate, articulate wordplay of Grotesque; it isn’t the dense, angular aggression of Hex; it isn’t the perfect pop/post-punk cocktail of This Nation’s Saving Grace; it isn’t the forward-facing merger of garage punk and electronica of Unutterable or RNFLP. What it is, is the sound of well-deployed resources; a group that knows its strengths and limitations intimately. The sound of three men that have developed a deep, fundamental understanding of how each other play and have locked on to a forceful expression of that understanding. The sound of a man who (as Marc Burrows of Drowned In Sound commented) has ‘let go of the idea of singing at all’ but still understands the power that his voice can command.

It’s also the sound, however flawed, of the greatest and most important group that ever walked this earth.

My “Version”
Of course, the rule is meant to be 35-45 minutes. But because it’s the very last album, and frankly I have no desire to miss out any of the tracks (not even Segue), I’m going to tear up the rule book for this final ‘version’.

Side 1: Segue / Fol De Rol / Victoria Train Station Massacre-New Facts Emerge* / Gibbus Gibson / Couples Vs Jobless Mid 30s** (23:27)

Side 2: Brillo De Facto / O! Zztrrk Man / Second House Now / Groundsboy / Nine out of Ten (24:35)

*My own ‘spliced together’ version
**My own alternate version (8:29)

Rankings
Wise Ol’ Man can’t really be considered as a single, but neither does it contain enough new material (unlike The Remainderer) to be included in the albums. It’s really rather good though.

Bingo Masters At The Witch Trials is well-deserving of a place at the foot of the live albums league:

  1. Last Night At The Palais
  2. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  3. In A Hole
  4. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  5. 2G+2
  6. Live In San Francisco
  7. In The City…
  8. Nottingham ’92
  9. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  10. Totale’s Turns
  11. The Idiot Joy Show
  12. Live In Cambridge 1988
  13. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  14. Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
  15. Creative Distortion
  16. Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  17. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  18. Live 1977
  19. The Twenty Seven Points
  20. Live Uurop VIII-XII Places In Sun & Winter, Son
  21. Interim
  22. Seminal Live
  23. Live At The Knitting Factory – New York – 9 April 2004
  24. Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
  25. Live Various Years
  26. Live In Clitheroe
  27. Live At The Phoenix Festival
  28. Live In Zagreb
  29. 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
  30. Austurbaejarbio
  31. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  32. Live At The Knitting Factory – L.A. – 14 November 2001
  33. Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002
  34. Live 2001 – TJ’s Newport
  35. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  36. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  37. Live From The Vaults – Alter Bahnhof, Hof, Germany
  38. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  39. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  40. Live At The ATP Festival – 28 April 2002
  41. Liverpool 78
  42. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  43. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  44. Live At Deeply Vale
  45. Yarbles
  46. Bingo Masters At The Witch Trials

It’s hard to place New Facts Emerge. My emotional response might place it higher, but objectively there are several albums that undoubtedly outstrip it on several levels. I will revisit this whole ill-advised ranking conceit in the final (possibly) next post. But for now, having listened to it endlessly for a couple of weeks, I think it sits just outside the top ten.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Your Future Our Clutter
  3. Perverted By Language
  4. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  5. Hex Enduction Hour
  6. The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
  7. Re-Mit
  8. Levitate
  9. Slates
  10. Grotesque
  11. New Facts Emerge
  12. Imperial Wax Solvent
  13. The Unutterable
  14. Fall Heads Roll
  15. The Marshall Suite
  16. The Remainderer
  17. Cerebral Caustic
  18. I Am Kurious Oranj
  19. Room To Live
  20. The Infotainment Scan
  21. Extricate
  22. Bend Sinister
  23. Dragnet
  24. The Light User Syndrome
  25. Are You Are Missing Winner
  26. Sub-Lingual Tablet
  27. Ersatz G.B.
  28. Middle Class Revolt
  29. Code: Selfish
  30. Shift-Work
  31. Live At The Witch Trials
  32. Reformation Post TLC
  33. The Frenz Experiment

Although NFE is the final album, this is not the last YMGTA post. I aim to do at least one more (possibly two or three) to round things up and reflect. But it does feel like quite a landmark to have reached this point: many thanks to you for reading; it is, of course, much appreciated.

 

The Fall’s “Borrows” Part 3 (1999-2017)

Introduction
Just before I get to the very final YMGTA album post, it seems appropriate to do a final round-up of the tunes that MES and The Fall ‘borrowed’ from in their last couple of decades.

I should point out that I spotted only a few of these myself: many thanks go to all the assorted contributors to The Annotated Fall and Reformation who did most of the hard work.

The last few relate to songs on New Facts Emerge which, obviously, I haven’t covered yet. However, it felt like it was more appropriate to do this little off-shoot before the post on the group’s final album. Apologies for any perceived chronological incoherence.

 

There was dispute regarding the songwriting behind Touch Sensitive, but it’s also hard to ignore that the basic riff owes more than a little to Iggy Pop’s Girls, from 1979’s New Values.

The churning, pensive riff from The Unutterable‘s Ketamine Sun is distinctly similar to that deployed by Lou Reed on Kill Your Sons, from his 1974 album Sally Can’t Dance.

Another Unutterable track, Hot Runes, seemed to have taken the riff from Cream’s Spoonful and sped it up considerably. The Cream song (from their 1966 debut album Fresh Cream) was in turn a cover of a Willie Dixon tune that was first recorded in 1960 by Howlin’ Wolf.

Crop-Dust, from 2001’s Are You Are Missing Winner, is one of the group’s most blatant ‘lifts’, on this occasion from The Troggs’ I Just Sing, a track from their 1966 debut album From Nowhere.

Another Are You Are Missing Winner track, Ibis-Afro Man, took its inspiration from Iggy Pop’s lyrically dubious African Man, another tune from 1979’s New Values.

Moving to a rather different sphere of influence, the famous Blindness bass riff is not a million miles away from that deployed by Roots Manuva on his 2001 single Witness (1 Hope). According to this 2013 Guardian interview, the rapper was himself inspired by the Dr Who theme tune.

Another slightly unlikely source, but Tami Lynn’s Northern Soul track has some distinct similarities to Fall Heads Roll opener Ride Away.

The United States of America were a late 60s psychedelic band from LA. Coming Down, from their sole, eponymous 1968 album, was clearly an influence on RPTLC‘s Scenario and – especially – Over! Over!

Scenario is also indebted to Captain Beefheart’s Veteran’s Day Poppy, from Trout Mask Replica.

The keyboard riff of another RPTLC track, The Wright Stuff, owes a debt to Don Fardon’s 1970 tribute to George Best, Belfast Boy. Fardon was best known for his 1968 hit, Indian Reservation.

Cowboy George, from 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter, combines elements from both Link Wray’s 1961 single Jack The Ripper and The Seeds’ Pushin’ Too Hard, from their eponymous 1966 debut album.

Another YOFC track, Bury, bears some resemblance to Now, We’re Gonna Sing by The Howling Hex from their 2005 album All-Night Fox.

Greenway, from Ersatz GB, is lifted pretty directly from Greek metal band Anorimol’s Gameboy.

Slightly more tenuous than many of the other ‘borrows’, but Laptop Dog‘s riff does bear some resemblance to the title track of Thin Lizzy’s 1976 album.

The most unlikely Fall ‘borrow’ of all, but the melody of The Remainderer really does sound like the chorus of the theme from Baywatch. Honestly.

Add fat men pushing prams = Stout Man.

The sequencers are very reminiscent of Dedication Not Medication. Paradox Obscur are a Greek duo, so they may possibly have come to Smith’s attention via Eleni.

Although O! Zztrrk Man‘s grinding riff may feel more Stooges-inspired, melodically it has a lot in common with Gary Numan’s M.E. from his 1979 album, The Pleasure Principle.

It feels a little unconvincing to me, but some people have pointed out a similarity between this and New Facts Emerge.

No denying this one, however: Fol de Rol‘s bludgeoning riff is clearly closely related to Rocket From The Crypt’s 1995 single. However, they had in turn lifted the riff from Zero The Hero, taken from the 1983 Black Sabbath album Born Again, the only one they recorded with Ian Gillan on vocals.

YMGTA #42 – Fall Compilations 2006 – present

“Live in Zagbreb”

Front cover

Introduction
This third and final round-up of the bewildering world of Fall compilations covers all of the releases that followed 2005’s The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004.

As was the case with the previous two instalments, it’s a very mixed bag in terms of value for money, and I will be using the same A-E grades as I did in the previous two posts (1981-1998 and 1999-2004):

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

Permanent Years (Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room)
Released 22 May 2006 on Fulfill Records (CD only)

Image result for The Fall ‎– Permanent Years (Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room)

An 18-song compilation of tracks from the mid-90s; all but two were just album tracks drawn from The Infotainment Scan, Middle Class Revolt, Cerebral Caustic and The Twenty-Seven Points. The remaining two, The Remixer and Cab Driver had appeared earlier in 2006 on the reissues of Infotainment and MCR, so this release didn’t contain anything new.

The cover art work is quite pleasant, although the thinking behind it is unclear; it certainly doesn’t look like a typical Fall cover. Perhaps it’s just meant to be a representation of a cheap sh*t hotel room?

The only thing that it has going for it is that it might lead someone previously unaware of its magnificence to the relatively obscure gem that is Noel’s Chemical Effluence. The inclusion of two of Smith’s little spoken-word interludes from The Twenty-Seven Points is a little baffling though.

Worth buying? D-

The Fall Box Set 1976-2007
Released 10 September 2007 on Castle, a label of Sanctuary Records Group (5-CD box set)

box set

A companion release to the Peel Sessions box set, it certainly was – as thefall.org discography page suggests – ‘career spanning’, ranging from 1978’s Bingo-Master’s Break-Out! to a 2006 performance of The Boss.

It’s a real treasure trove, bursting at the seams with all sorts of oddities and obscurities, several of which had never appeared on an official album before, such as the alternate versions of Fall Sound and Blindness (with the latter, the creator of the video doesn’t seem to realise that it’s an alternate version).

Other highlights include: an excerpt from one of the December 1986 performances of Hey! Luciani (which almost feels like MES doing stand up); the moody shuffle of Theme From Error-Orrori; the excellent Damon Gough collaboration, Calendar; the sharply delirious version of (We Are) Mod Mock Goth from the Protein Christmas single; the unforgettably hilarious Portugal.

There’s also plenty of material of historical interest (even where the song / performance / sound quality isn’t always especially great): Pop Stickers, the title track of Perverted By Language; the incongruous cover of Deep Purple’s Black Night; the only twice-played He Talks; quirky mid-80s instrumental Countdown; prototype Chiselers intro Tunnel; ropy New York Dolls’ cover Jet Boy.

The only really notable omission from such a comprehensive round-up of obscurities is the mysteriously-only-ever-played-once (Leicester Polytechnic, 24 March 1982) Surrogate Mirage.

According to Discogs, the median price is around £36 (although the cheapest currently on eBay is £46). For 91 tracks and over six hours of The More Obscure And Random World Of The Fall (with a 60 page booklet), that still sounds like a bargain to me.

Worth buying? A

I’ve Never Felt Better In My Life – 1979-1982
Released 8 July 2008 on Great American Music Company (CD only)

Front cover

Another one of those pointless releases in the best (or rather worst) tradition of Fall compilations. A dozen already easily available tracks from 1979-82 – thefall.org, not unreasonably, dismisses it curtly: ‘This period has already been extensively compiled, making this CD rather redundant.’

Even by the generally very low standards of these things, it has a particularly naff cover, featuring a puzzled-looking and disturbingly decapitated MES floating over a selection of ugly fonts. (Oddly, it’s a mirror-image of the cover of similarly pointless 2003 compilation Rebellious Jukebox.)

Discogs suggests that it’s yours for less than a fiver. Keep your money in your wallet.

Worth buying? E

Rebellious Jukebox Volume 2 (Psycho Rockabilly Nightmare)
Released 28 September 2009 on Secret Records (double CD only)

Front cover

Speaking of Rebellious Jukebox… I’m not entirely clear about the link between Shakedown Records (who released the first Rebellious Jukebox compilation in 2003), Great American Music Company (who – see above – used virtually the same cover for I’ve Never Felt Better In My Life) and Secret Records (who released this), but if there is one then I’m fairly sure that life is too short to bother finding out. Which is what I was going to say until my editor, dannyno, intervened to say this:

Au contraire.  In 1985 Colin Newman (not the one out of Wire) bought Trojan Records.  He sold it to Sanctuary in 2001.  That same year Newman started “Trojan Two”, which within a few months was renamed Secret Records.   Shakedown was formed the same year, and Newman is also a director of that company, and it and Secret are linked.   Great American are licensed to release Secret/Shakedown material.’

It’s another horrific cover, apparently having been created with Windows XP-era Microsoft Paint. The subtitle (Psycho Rockabilly Nightmare) is rather cringeworthy and desperate too.

There’s nothing previously unreleased; it’s a pretty random assortment culled from, for example, Backdrop, Austurbæjarbíó and Live Various Years. Anyone with a reasonable Fall collection is likely to own most of the songs (if not the specific live versions) of everything other than possibly Backdrop and Dresden Dolls.

In the grand tradition of Fall compilation shoddiness, the live version of Hit The North is attributed to the album ‘Live in Zagbreb’.

Worth buying? D-

Totally Wired… Another Fall Best Of
Released 15 December 2009 on Secret Records (iTunes download)

Image result for Totally Wired... Another Fall Best Of

A download only compilation of previously released material from 1979-1990. The use of ellipsis in the title suggests that the missing word is ‘yet’.

Worth buying? E

Rebellious Jukebox Volume 3
Released 31 May 2010 on Secret Records (double CD only)

Front cover

Secret are back with another pointless compilation of already-available live tracks; the cover gets even worse, as does the subtitle (which seems to reference Dexys Midnight Runners for no apparent reason).

The tracks come from Live 1977, Live To Air In Melbourne ’82, In A Hole, Live In Cambridge 1988 and Live In Zagreb. Generally sound material, but not exactly a worthwhile purchase.

In addition, it has possibly one of the worst set of sleeve notes ever (and there is undoubtedly rather stiff competition):

Worth buying? E+

13 Killers
Released 1 May 2013 on Secret Records (CD and double LP)

Another addition to the horrendous Fall compilation cover hall of fame, this one seems to belong to some sort of late 80s glam-metal band. Secret also seem to be determined to make full use of that same orange-tinted image of Smith’s head yet again.

The sleeve notes (they’re just about visible here) are by ‘contemporary Pop Artist’ Billy Chainsaw, who also designed the sleeve. thefall.org is once again curt and to the point: ‘Another in the stream of seemingly-endless, and frankly pointless, compilations released by Secret Records of previously released material.’

Worth buying? E

5 Albums
Released 19 August 2013 on Beggars Banquet (5-CD box set)

A 5-CD round-up of Frenz, Kurious Oranj, Seminal Live, the various mixes of Hit The North and late 90s singles. Discogs suggests that you can pick this up for around £13, which is a bargain considering the range of bonus tracks (see pic below) and the general quality of much of the material.

Worth buying? B-

White Lightning
Released 19 April 2014 on Secret Records (single LP only)

Front cover

Released as part of 2014’s Record Store Day, apparently ‘pressed on 180g clear vinyl…with silver printed insert and silver foil cover’. The ten tracks seem to have been chosen with almost insulting randomness.

Worth buying? E

The Wonderful And Frightening Escape Route To…
Released 16 Jun 2015 on Beggars Banquet (single LP only)

Basically a vinyl release for the bonus tracks that appeared on the original cassette version of The Wonderful And Frightening World, although it also included Slang King 2  and No Bulbs 3. All of this had already been released as part of the ‘omnibus’ edition of TWAFW five years earlier.

Worth buying? D-

Schtick: Yarbles Revisited
Released 16 Jun 2015 on Beggars Banquet (single LP only)

A collection of TNSG-era b-sides and Peel session tracks. Hard to see the point.

Worth buying? E

The Classical
Released 16 Apr 2016 on Secret Records (single LP only)

Another pointless Secret release, again linked to the exploitative cash cow that is Record Store Day. Again, ten songs flung together in a casual, almost contemptuous random fashion. The shoddiness is well illustrated by the fact that Sing! Harpy is labelled as Sing Happy.

Worth buying? E

The Fontana Years
Released 25 Aug 2017 on Fontana Records (6-CD box set)

The three 2007 double-CD reissues of Extricate, Shift-Work and Code-Selfish compiled into a 6-CD box set. If you only had the original three albums then this would be worth buying, especially as Discogs suggests that you could do so for under £20.

Worth buying? C+

A-Sides 1978-2016
Released 24 Nov 2017 on Cherry Red (3-CD box set)

Does what it says on the tin, so to speak: all the singles. Great collection of songs, although it’s hard to see who the exact audience is. But if you were going to start somewhere, this wouldn’t be a terrible place to begin.

Worth buying? B

Singles 1978-2016
Released 24 Nov 2017 on Cherry Red (7-CD box set)

The same as above, this time with b-sides. If you’re just starting out with The Fall, and you have £40 to spend, it’s a pretty good place to begin.

Worth buying? B

58 Golden Greats
Released 7 December 2018 on Cherry Red (3 x CD)

Basically an extended version of 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, expanded to three CDs rather than two. To be fair, it’s hard (although far from impossible) to argue with the choice of songs that make up the third disc. And overall, we’d all choose a slightly different set of 58 songs; but this is an admirable attempt at an impossible task. If you were going to give one release to a novice, you couldn’t do much better.

Worth buying? B+

Medicine For The Masses
Released on BMG, 13 April 2019 (box set including 5 x 7″)

Released for 2019’s Record Store Day, it features readily available early 80s material . Unless you’re a big fan of badges (four were included), it’s rather pointless.

Worth buying? D-

[1982]
Released on Cherry Red 25 October 2019 (6 x CD).

Hex, Room To Live, In A Hole and Live To Air In Melbourne ’82, plus assorted session bonus / live / session tracks from the early 80s. Full of exemplary material, but if you’re interested enough you’ll own all – or at least most – of this already.

Worth buying? C

YMGTA #41 – Sub-Lingual Tablet

“The Fall are anti-social, anti-communal, and best experienced in the flesh, in a room full of strangers. We need it more than ever.”

Front cover

Details
Recorded: Chairworks studio, Castleford and 6dB Studio, Manchester
Released: 11 May 2015

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Dave Spurr – bass
  • Peter Greenway – guitar
  • Keiron Melling – drums
  • Daren Garratt – drums
  • Eleni Poulou – synths
    With:
  • Rob Barbato and Tim Presley – all instruments (Black Roof)

Background
The group played one final 2013 gig after The Remainderer‘s release on 9 December. The performance, which took place in Cologne on the 13th, saw Daren Garratt as the sole drummer, covering Keiron Melling’s paternity leave.

2014 kicked off with a gig in Athens on 1 February. It featured Melling and Garratt playing together on two full kits, early 80s-style. And bloody good they sounded too – see this performance of Victrola Time, or this version of Mister Rode where the two of them batter away in synchronicity that is a joy to behold:

According to the gigography, however, the second half of the set saw MES disappear, leaving Eleni and Daren to share the rest of the vocal duties.

Later that month, this cartoon appeared in The Guardian:

After three months off, the group returned the stage at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry on 1 May. Despite his long-standing aversion to facial hair (unless it was Rob Barbato’s), Smith was sporting a beard.

beard

The gig seems to have suffered from ropy sound, but was notable for the first (at this stage rather sketchy) version of Auto Chip 2014-2016, at this point just called 2014 according to the setlist.

After a gig on Cambridge on 6 May, The Fall’s next performance was in Manchester on the 15th. There’s a somewhat distorted recording of the whole gig here. The Cowboy George coda segues (at 11:58) into 2014, which starts off feeling much more coherent and forceful than its debut, but then turns out to be a mere two minute introduction to Bury.

Pledge was played for the first time (19:53); according to the gigography, Daren Garratt claimed that the song was written in the dressing room before the gig. Facebook (as it was called on the setlist at this point) also received its debut (at 42:34 in the video above).

At the end of May, the group played two gigs in France: Nimes (on the 29th – Cowboy George is here) and Le Havre (where MES seems to have done quite a bit of wandering on and off stage).

After a London date on 11 June, The Fall played an Italian festival on 18 July. On 10 August, they performed at a festival in Skipton where they were pulled off stage temporarily due to high winds after only four songs. The last of these was BAM (Student-Village), an early incarnation of First One Today. This first part of the set is here (BAM begins at 20:05):

The rest of the set is here, in which they played an energetic version of The StoogesCock In My Pocket (with Garratt providing the vocals).

At York on 30 August, Eleni didn’t play, apparently due to an allergic reaction to the freshly painted venue. Dedication Not Medication was debuted, with the working title Bumblebee. Junger Cloth was also played for the first time, at this point called Jungle.

set
Setlist. York 30/08/2014

In September 2104, Steve Hanley published his memoir of his experiences in The Fall, The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall, co-written by Olivia Piekarski. It’s a highly-recommended, thoroughly entertaining read, especially strong at exploring the changing relationship dynamics within the group. If you haven’t already, buy it.

Image result for The Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall

Steve Hanley discusses the book and his experiences here.

The group’s next gig, at Brighton on the 25 September, saw the debut of Venice With The Girls (at this point entitled Gone To Venice). The setlist indicates that Quit iPhone (Get Off The Phone) was due to be played, but the gigography suggests that it didn’t appear until the next gig the following night in Brixton, where it can be heard at 30:42 in the video below.

The Spectator published an entertaining review of the gig:

‘And blimey was this fun. The Fall are rock music as imagined by Brecht. They play, or rather attack their instruments, like five-year-olds with OCD. It’s bad – terrible! – but excitingly so. The songs (if they can be so described) were indistinguishable, though one senses such trifling things aren’t really the point. Mark E. crowed out every word like a man possessed. Every word was nonsense, granted, but more zealous nonsense you’re unlikely to hear anywhere.

MES stood louche as a sozzled Bryan Ferry and mumbled throughout, stopping occasionally to kick stuff and bully his terrified guitarist. There was no patter until the bitter end: “I’m Mark E. Smith and we are The Fall. You’ve had yer hour-and-a-half, go home now.”‘

After two nights at Lower Kersal Social Club, Salford (27-28 September), the group played at the Supermassive Festival in Helsinki on 25 October. For undisclosed reasons, Eleni performed in a wheelchair.

Untitled
Helsinki 25/10/2014

Two days later, The Fall were back in the UK, playing at The Garage, Islington (there’s a good quality video of the whole set here). On the same day, their 40th official live album was released.

Front cover

Live Uurop VIII-XII Places In Sun & Winter, Son, as well as being possibly their most eccentrically titled release, was also the first (and only) album to be credited to ‘The Fall Group’. It contained a selection of live tracks from 2008-12. It’s not exactly clear what comes from when/where – there’s some discussion here.

Wings (With Bells) is a solid version of a classic song, although it’s not entirely clear as to the point of the church bells intro. The sound quality overall is distinctly variable, but tends towards the thin and tinny – Cowboy George, for example, seems to have been recorded from the bar of the venue. The version of 50 Year Old Man, whilst it lacks the demented distortion of the album version, is a highlight.

The most interesting tracks, however, aren’t actually live recordings. Auto (2014) Chip Replace is a relatively brief take on the track, more focused on quirky electronic squiggles and random vocal interjections than driving krautrock; Amorator (here without its exclamation mark) also features much more electronica, with Eleni playing a more prominent role.

ticket

The last gig of 2014 took place at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on 28 November (there’s a video of Cock here). According to the gigography, veteran Fall recorder hanleyfender, who attended most of the 2014 gigs, declared this one to be the best of the year.

I am fortunate to possess a copy of hanleyfender’s bootleg compilation of the best of the year’s performances, entitled Two 0 One Four. It’s a thing of great joy, the nine minute stampede through Mister Rode being a particular high point.

On 31 October, Mouse On Mars released a compilation CD called 21 Again, which featured a brief spoken introduction from MES and Eleni.

Hot on the heels of Steve Hanley’s book, Simon Wolstencroft’s memoir, You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, was published in November 2014. It’s entertaining, humorous and informative throughout, and is definitely worth acquiring; Louder Than War, quite rightly, described it as ‘cracking read’. Buy it here.

Image result for Grauzone Festival, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 2015

The group performed a couple of times in early 2015. On 30 January, they played at the Grauzone Festival in Amsterdam. John Robb, writing for Louder Than War, reviewed the performance:

‘After all these decades of watching The Fall this psycho theatre never fails to engage…

There is a madness in the area, Mark sings through a plastic cup, shouts without the mic at the audience, stares into space, swaps mics around, grins when hit by a plastic glass, tries too get drummer number 2, Darren [sic], to sing the vocals and lurks behind the amps on the stage. There is a lot of humour and deliberate chaos to the proceedings and somehow in the middle of it all the band keep their shape like a giant killing football team not buckling down in an unlikely FA cup game.’

There are several videos here. On the setlist, Cock has now become Stout Man. Unusually, MES is wearing a T-shirt.

The following month, The Fall performed at the BBC 6 Music festival in Gateshead.

The Fall at the 6 Music Festival 2015
BBC 6 Music Festival 21/2/2015

The highlights video below, introduced by Radcliffe and Maconie, contains four of the seven songs from the set: Amorator!, Mister Rode, Wolf Kidult Man and Reformation! The version of Wolf is wonderfully frantic and aggressive, but the standout moment is Reformation! It’s an incredibly forceful performance, featuring MES twiddling nobs and using his mic as percussion throughout, directing both Greenway (15:45) and Melling (18:31) to sing, and even throwing a crumpled-up lyric sheet into the audience (16:00). The interaction between him and Eleni (20:11) is also rather touching.

The most impressive aspect, however, is the intensity and commitment of the group: just watch Greenway (18:19-18:26), Garratt (19:27-19:32) and Melling (19:32-19:52).

In March 2015, a court case took place regarding the royalties for Touch Sensitive. Steve Sharples (who was known as Steve Hitchcock back in 1999) had provided some string arrangements for The Marshall Suite. On the album, the songwriting credits, read ‘Smith/Nagle/Hitchcock’, but the royalties were actually split one-third MES, two-thirds Julia Nagle. Sharples/Hitchcock claimed that he was entitled to a one-third share of the royalties.

The record of the hearing is an intriguing, if complicated read. Amusingly, judge Amanda Michaels declared that:

‘I found Mr Smith to be a truthful witness, who was frank about the vagueness of his recollection of some of the events from the relevant period in 1998 to 1999.’

The discussion of the lyrics (parts 74-76) is particularly entertaining, not least the comment, ‘Mr Smith delivers the lyrics in a manner which at some points makes it hard to hear the words’.

g
The Guardian 3/6/15

In conclusion, the judge found that:

‘Mr Sharples asserted that the string sections stood on their own. In my view, that is to overstate their significance, but I accept that the strings are audible between the refrains and amount to short but discrete parts of the instrumental elements of the Album Version. In my judgment this adds texture and interest to the music absent in the earlier versions. I am unable to make a similar finding in relation to the other changes which Mr Sharples said he made to the music. There may be some changes to the bass line and the guitar parts, but on balance I do not think that these reflect a process of composition of new music or an original arrangement of music by Mr Sharples. In these respects, I prefer Mr Smith’s evidence that Mr Sharples was in that respect carrying out the task of a record producer, not acting as a composer.

I conclude that Mr Sharples did make a small but significant original contribution to the composition of the music of the Album Version by composing and adding the string sections to the work.’

However, she felt that Sharples’ contribution only entitled him to 20% of the royalties.

Brixton 24/4/15, photo from theartsdesk.com

There were four more performances before SLT‘s release. At The Electric in Brixton on 24 April, Jungle had become Junger on the setlist. According to a review by Tim Cumming, writing for theartsdesk website, the new album was already on sale at the venue. Cumming describes ‘enthusiastic moshing’, and concludes that:

‘…though it’s all but impossible to hear a word [MES] says, the way he pulls focus – amp-fiddling, abrupt walk-offs, abrupt returns, three encores (the last when the venue is emptying out) – means he remains compelling, visceral, venomous and a potent, sub-lingual antidote to the beige like-and-share community culture of these times. The Fall are anti-social, anti-communal, and best experienced in the flesh, in a room full of strangers. We need it more than ever.’

The next two nights saw the group play in Hastings and Norwich. Their gig in Wakefield on 9 May (the last before the new album’s official release) did not feature Daren Garratt.

Shortly after SLT‘s release, Vice published a Daniel Dylan Wray interview with Smith. MES was on entertaining form: cantankerously difficult, tangential and acerbically humorous. At one point, he expresses admiration for Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle (even if he can’t actually recall the author’s name, referring to him as ‘some daft c*nt’). However, there is also a long list of targets for Smith’s typically blunt and withering criticism: Northern people, especially Mancunians (‘There’s something about Manchester musicians that’s particularly f*cking irritating’), Sheffield (‘sh*t’), London (‘was always a sh*thole’), his once-beloved Edinburgh (‘a f*cking boring, yuppie place now’), older Fall fans at gigs (‘Anyone over 43 shouldn’t be allowed in’), Bitcoin (‘worth like tuppence now’) and Frank Skinner (‘I mean what does he do now? Adverts for f*cking HP Sauce or something?’)

Daniel Dylan Wray interviews MES for Vice, June 2015

In The Wider World…
Four days before the album’s release, a general election saw the Conservatives return to sole power with a majority of twelve. (When asked if he had voted, MES said, ‘I sort of did and I sort of didn’t’.) The same month, cashless payments exceeded the use of ‘proper’ money for the first time in the UK. The last day of June had a ‘leap second‘ added to it.

In the music charts, Omi began a four-week stay at number one with his single Cheerleader (once again: no, me neither). The best-selling single of the year was the horrifically ubiquitous Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Marrs. Blur’s eighth studio LP, The Magic Whip was the number one album; it was succeeded a week later by Wilder Mind by MES favourites Mumford and Sons. The best-selling album of the year was Adele’s 25, which went on to sell 22 million copies. (Looking at the tracklist, I’m presuming that When We Were Young is not a cover of Whipping Boy’s decent 2011 single.)

CD sleeve

The Album
The sleeve doesn’t provide studio credits, but it was recorded at Chairworks in Castleford (as The Remainderer had been) as well as Simon Archer’s 6db Studio. (Ding engineered the LP).

6db

As well as the CD version, the album was released as a double vinyl LP, which featured different takes of Dedication Not MedicationAuto-Chip 2014-2016Pledge and Fibre Book Troll.

In his last ever interview for the NME, in February 2015, Smith discussed the album’s title with Jon Bennett:

‘It was going to be called ‘Dedication Not Medication’ but, you know, it looked a bit like a Barclays advert.’

nme

Reviews were less polarised than was the case with the previous two albums, being more consistently lukewarm. In Dusted, though, Jennifer Kelly was relatively positive:

‘Sub-Lingual Tablet is… a lot of things: an old man raging against technology, a rabid punk deconstruction, an obscene, off-the-cuff poetry slam, a riff on the Fall’s history, a really excellent iteration of the current band (who have been together longer than most Fall line-ups), a joke, a nightmare, a conundrum. But it is not evidence of stasis. Mark E. Smith continues to morph in unpredictable ways… This is the trippiest Fall album I can remember.’

In The Skinny, Chris McCall also found a positive angle:

‘Fall fans groan whenever a new LP is hailed as a ‘return to form’, but this – their 31st – is easily the best since 2007’s Reformation Post TLC. The group have written the sort of sharp garage rock nuggets that Smith is now best suited to.’

Benjamin Bland, writing for Drowned In Sound, awarded the album 7/10, but was almost apologetic in the tone of his rather faint praise:

‘To expect something as perfect as Hex Enduction Hour or This Nation’s Saving Grace in 2015 would be ludicrous. However, this is less to say that MES’s powers have dimmed, more that the impact of The Fall’s work has effectively become cumulative rather than immediate. Each new album is an addition to their previous work, and to judge in isolation is perhaps of limited value as a result.’

the Fall band photo
Photo from The Guardian, 7/5/15

The Guardian‘s Michael Hann was more ambivalent; whilst admiring Venice and (like most reviewers) Auto-Chip, he felt that SLT ‘certainly has its share of Fall-by-numbers’. Devon Fisher, writing for Pop Matters, was frustrated by the limited scope of the lyrics – ‘the most coherent messages one can find throughout the album are that Smith thinks prescription drugs are overprescribed and isn’t particularly fond of smartphones’ – and also felt that:

‘…there’s nothing wrong with anything on Tablet, simply that Smith has been doing the same thing for so long that one starts to wonder what he might be able to do if he set his sights a little higher.’

Some reviewers disagreed with Jennifer Kelly’s assertion that the album was ‘not evidence of stasis’, and felt that the unusually settled line-up was indeed having a negative impact. Pitchfork‘s Stuart Berman, for example:

‘…in spite of their surprising stability, this iteration of the Fall is strangely lacking in audible camaraderie, and on Sub-Lingual Tablet, the distance between front man and backing band feels more pronounced than ever. More often than not, the album comes off less like a product of intuitive interaction than the group churning out rehearsal-space warm-up exercises for Smith to spew over.’

Luke Turner of The Quietus reiterated this point of view. He felt that it was ‘time for a purge’:

‘The trouble is, The Fall’s at the moment are too good. They’re capable, muscular, increasingly boring. It’s hard not to think of the times when a radical personnel overhaul has resulted in The Fall making some of their best work.’

The album reached number 58 in the UK albums chart.

The Songs
Venice With The Girls
In the long tradition of blistering, garage rock album openers (D.I.Y. MeatThe Joke), Venice bursts from the starting blocks with crackling energy. The rhythm section is as taut and robust as ever, and Greenway contributes some effortlessly fluid thrash, embellished with some excellent string-bending/tremolo work. It’s almost a traditionally-structured song, having what feels like a verse and a bridge; albeit a bridge that leads straight back into the verse, eschewing the need for a chorus. There’s a choice moment at 3:31-3.33, where the band drop out and smash back in again with impeccable timing.

That moment is made all the more effective by Smith’s strangely ghostly and atonal multi-tracked vocals. This layering of his voice is a strong feature throughout; there’s the familiar sneering, growling and semi-tuneful crooning, but there’s also an oddly robotic, dispassionate tone to some of his vocals on occasions. The combination of these disparate tones gives the song a broader, more intriguing texture than many of the group’s other heads-down rockers.

The lyric seems to have been inspired by this advert for Staysure Insurance. The ad is aimed at over-50s, and includes the line, ‘I’m off to Venice with the girls’ (although its most remarkable feature is the delivery of the word ‘bunions’ at 0:15). Given this, the song’s reference to ‘mad seniors’ might suggest that it is making fun of middle-aged Britons letting their hair down whilst on holiday abroad. The Annotated Fall suggests that the repeated refrain ‘waiting so long’ might have some link to Bowie’s Look Back In Anger or Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love, but this feels a little tenuous.

TAF also points out a much more interesting link concerning the repeated line ‘The best thing for you to do is hide’. In Smith’s appearance on The Adam & Joe Show‘s regular Vinyl Justice feature (where the duo would ‘raid rock stars’ homes, then examine their record collections for embarrassing or surprising items‘), one of the records that was played was Little Diesel Driving Devil by Don Bowman, which contains the lyric ‘He’s the fastest thing alive / When he puts that truck in overdrive / The safest thing for you to do is hide’. (You can hear the lines – and see MES, Adam and Joe dancing along – at 1:36-1:46 in this clip.)

Venice With The Girls was performed live 54 times, 2014-17.

Black Roof
Tim Presley contributed some intriguingly demented insanity to Re-Mit via Kinder Of Spine; here, he and fellow ‘Dude’ Rob Barbato add a similarly deranged note to Sub-Lingual Tablet. The two Americans performed all of the music on Black Roof, which was described by Mojo (quoted here) as:

‘…varispeed insanity [that] makes a welcome break from the band’s post-millenial, Peter Greenway-led Kraut/garage comfort zone for a thrilling anything may happen edge.’

After a brief, clattering bass/drum intro, there’s a light, jaunty little passage featuring a shrill sci-fi keyboard line, accompanied by an alternately snarling and crooning MES. At 0:22, things slow down and get a little proggy; MES here goes for the way, way down the register (slowed down?) voice he later revisited on Couples Vs Jobless Mid 30s. At this point, we get a throbbing bass loop beneath Smith in semi-megaphone mode, soon accompanied by a keyboard (or maybe guitar?) impersonating the mating call of a seagull. Then (1:18) it’s back to the original section, with a little bit of Dr Who sound effects thrown in (1:22-1:28), before it all concludes abruptly, still some distance from the two minute mark.

It’s a hell of a lot to fit in just over 100 seconds, and sounds like at least twelve unfinished ideas flung together with random enthusiasm. But, as is often the case with The Fall, it somehow, inexplicably, works.

The lyrics are so perplexing (‘You simply cannot prove your fog-accenting notions’; ‘Easter island profile and care from old inwardly truck land’) that even The Annotated Fall simply shrugs its shoulders and admits defeat: ‘I have no idea what these lyrics are about’. All I can add is that Smith’s delivery of ‘into your present delectation’ (0:29) is rather reminiscent of Napoleon XIV.

Originally entitled Black Door, it retained that title on some digital versions. It was, sadly, never played live.

dnm
Brixton 26/9/2014

Dedication Not Medication
The almost-title-track of the album (see the NME interview above); the group’s backdrop on their autumn 2014 gigs read, ‘ Dedication not medication: you decide!’ (I was going to point out that this is grammatical nonsense, then discovered that The Annotated Fall had already done so.)

It’s a disconcertingly wobbly slice of twisted funk and mutant electronica, wrapped in a deceptively calm, metronomic krautrock groove. Spurr chugs away with gritty determination, Greenway adds waves of reverberating but restrained distortion, while Eleni contributes an impressive range of deep, off-kilter oscillations. Musically, the song may owe a debt to Paradox Obscur’s Cold November.

It’s become a cliché to say ‘only MES could have…’, but in this instance, there’s definitely a case to be made for Smith’s utter uniqueness. It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else opening a lyric with anything as disturbingly odd as ‘ Pierce Brosnan how dare you prescribe / Sad grief and bed wet pills?’ It’s possible that this may refer to the ex-Bond actor’s role in promoting a product called Pan Bahar, Pan Bahar was a branded variety of Gutka, a ‘chewing tobacco preparation‘, of which one of the side effects is, apparently, incontinence.

The version on the double LP vinyl release is radically different. Almost twice as long, it’s thinner in sound, but has a frantic atmosphere that makes it no less intense. The drums are much busier (and have a distinctly Can-like quality); the other instruments are far more understated. Smith’s vocals are right at the front (almost uncomfortably so) of the mix, and he doesn’t get to the melody of the CD version until the last two of its seven and a half minutes. Most of the vocals are taken up with a rather baffling dialogue between Smith and Ding (The Annotated Fall transcribes them here).

Dedication was played live 70 times, from 2014 right up to the last gig in 2017.

First One Today
A variety of seemingly disparate elements casually chucked together: the snaking bass line, the chiming keyboards, the pair of guitar parts (one creating a taut little bluesy rhythm, the other slashing away with abandon in the background) and the skittering drums… they’re all great individually, but overall it’s all a bit messy and unfocused.

The drop in tempo at 1:29 is awkward, but endearingly so, and it picks up (led by Greenway’s crafty riff at 1:51) with well-judged timing.

The Annotated Fall points to a lyrical link with Webb Pierce’s There Stands A Glass (the greatest version of said song, though, is obviously Ted Hawkins’). The reference to ‘his social media psyche’ is a theme that MES would revisit several more times throughout the album.

Played 61 times, again from 2014 right up to the last gig in 2017.

Junger Cloth
In his review for The Guardian, Michael Hann felt that this track reflected a ‘faint but unmistakable influence of West African pop’, and there is certainly some sort of Afro-beat influence going on with the dynamic, shuffling drums. Not for the first time, you can hear a Can as a clear influence. In addition to the complex and constantly intriguing percussion, Spurr lays down one of his ineffably fluid and muscular bass lines; Greenway throws in some choppy, funky guitar work that occasionally breaks out into a pleasing but reserved thrash. Not for the first time, its Eleni who pins down the song’s overarching character with a sustained, wonky keyboard melody.

Inevitably, the words are impenetrable (see TAF for possible interpretations) but there’s definitely a sharp and aggressive tone to them – ‘Inexplicable and disgusting’; ‘Limp, yet mocking’; ‘All that is foul in man and creature’; ‘Spacious and wasteful’ – that provides an effective contrast to the taut, reined-in sound of the group.

Junger is also one of those tracks where Smith’s vocals seem to ‘float’ in an almost disassociated style over the group’s backing. Not, as was often the case with RPTLC, in a cold, artificial way; here, the dislocation between the group’s tight groove and MES’s meandering disgust creates an unpredictable and tense atmosphere that resolves beautifully with the final, definitive three chords at 4:43.

It was played live 30 times, all in 2014-15.

Stout Man
Cock In My Pocket was a Stooges song, written in around 1973, that never received a proper studio release, although it did appear on the band’s infamous live album Metallic ‘KO in 1976. The Fall first performed a cover of the song at their wind-disrupted performance at the Beacons Festival in August 2014 (see above). By January 2015, the cover had become Stout Man.

Smith discussed the song at some length in his Vice interview (see above). He seems to have attempted to establish musical experience/knowledge superiority over his musicians, challenging them to learn the relatively obscure Cock In My Pocket. Which they did. Interestingly, despite his frequently-professed obliviousness to all things internet-related, MES accused them of having ‘shazammed it’.

He went on to say:

‘They’d been tricking me, they’d been sneaking back into the studio to keep tightening it up. I couldn’t catch them out but in a car on the way down to London I was looking behind the seat and there was this CD, covered in dirt, with the original rough mix of it. I made them use that; they’d been doing about eight or nine different versions of it, it was pathetic. They must have worked more on that song more than any other on the whole album.’

All of which throws some intriguing light on MES’s attitude to recording and musicianship; sadly, though, this is all far more interesting than the song itself. Stout Man is a disappointingly pedestrian trundle, redolent of a tired pub-blues band with a pissed singer on a late Sunday afternoon. Smith gargles and growls defiantly, and Greenway in particular tries to inject some enthusiasm, but the whole thing smells of beer-soaked bar towels, brimming ashtrays and resigned desperation.

Sadly, it was the last song that the group ever performed live.

Auto Chip 2014-2016
In contemporary reviews as well as in retrospect, Auto-Chip is generally regarded as the album’s highlight. The Guardian‘s Michael Hann described it as ‘a tide washing up on the same beach over and over and over again. It’s magnificent.’ Pitchfork‘s Stuart Berman thought that its ’10 exhilarating minutes’ saw the group ‘for once, casting out with a clear destination in sight, gradually applying pedal pressure on a sun-bound motorik rhythm until it achieves lift-off’. For many people, it was the last great song that the group recorded.

The term ‘Krautrock’ is often applied to The Fall, at least as far as influences go, but they rarely actually sounded like Krautrock, either in the 70s Amon Düül/Neu! sense or the more modern Minami Deutsch/Föllakzoid approach. They do here though.

Whilst the rhythm section anchor everything with powerful precision, it’s Greenway that makes this special. The way that he takes a simple guitar line and stretches it over ten minutes through subtle variation and nuance – without ever resorting to histrionics or crude thrashing – and unwaveringly grips your attention throughout is an absolute masterclass in fluid, understated and intelligent guitar playing.

It became some sort of emblem of the group’s defiance, resilience and adherence to the ‘3 Rs‘ mantra, being played at the overwhelming majority (62 out of 78) of their gigs in their final few years. The version above, stretching to nearly 20 minutes, is one of many exhilarating recordings.

The vinyl version is not vastly different, basically being trimmed at either end (the first 42 seconds and the last 68 are missing: see my Fi5 post for more, not especially enlightening, detail).

Pledge
First performed in Manchester in May 2014, after being written in the dressing room that evening (see above), Pledge is a disappointingly plodding and unedifying grind. The mix is horrible: the guitar and bass lurk timidly in the background; the drums are thin and insubstantial; Eleni’s keyboards and (especially) Smith’s vocals are almost aggressively prominent. MES is on distinctly ‘just back from the pub’ form.

Smith seems to have come across the concept of Pledge/crowdfunding via his involvement with Ginger Wildheart’s Mutation ‘supergroup’. It doesn’t seem to have left him with much interesting to say on the subject: ‘Went to get money for download,
they said “Two Ten Pledge!”’

The vinyl version is a considerable improvement. The sound is much better balanced, and the whole thing is more concise and focused. It’s still a pretty thin idea though. The song was played live 24 times, 2014-17.

Snazzy
Fades in almost timidly, with a customarily fuzzy Spurr bass line backed by a delicate Greenway riff. It bops along pleasantly enough for nearly a minute, before it takes a pleasingly down-tempo turn. Ninety seconds in, the group strike up a rousing pace that then fades out after another minute or so.

On The Annotated Fall, contributor Dolb suggests that the lyric might reflect Smith’s cynicism toward the recent publicity regarding ex-members’ books and interviews. Lines like ‘Let me tell ya about the wee lads’ and ‘I never saw them again and if I ever do,
I’m sure it will be in purgatory’ would seem to make this a viable interpretation. That said, the inflection of Smith’s delivery is more melancholy then aggressive or spiteful.

Snazzy has an engaging swing and gentle swagger to it, but has a frustratingly unfinished feel; it’s especially disappointing that it fades just as it’s building momentum. There is a longer (4:29) instrumental out-take version floating around out there on the internet, but the uptempo part only comes in for a minute or so at the end.

It didn’t receive its live debut until after the album’s release, being played as the encore in Newcastle on 23 May. (In the video above, a wag in the audience shouts out the song request, ‘Not Mr. Pharmacist!’) Snazzy only got another half a dozen outings.

Fibre Book Troll
First recorded as far back as December 2013, the song first appeared on a various artists compilation album called Modeselektion Vol. 03. On the sleeve of this compilation, it was entitled Fibre Book Troll, although it appeared on the setlist as Facebook for its live debut in May 2014 debut and simply Troll for the next couple of outings. (To confuse things further, it reverted to Facebook Troll when it reappeared on the Wise Ol’ Man EP in 2016.) It only got 17 live outings.

The song sees the group revisit the krautrock/motorik approach of Auto Chip: Spurr and Melling provide an unfussy, solid, driving rhythm; Eleni’s malevolent three-note synth motif anchors things further; Greenway offers a varied guitar ebb and flow similar to his excellent work on Auto Chip. The group don’t quite hit the same heights here, however. The track has a pummelling intensity, but lacks the subtlety and dynamic range of Chip. It’s always a pleasure to hear The Fall grasp a basic song idea and thrash the living daylights out of it, but whereas Chip never outstays its welcome, even given its extravagant duration, Troll feels too simplistic too withstand the length to which its stretched. The 45 seconds of whistling at its conclusion only serves to emphasise the sense of space being filled.

Modeselektion Vol. 03

Smith’s vocals are impressively aggressive – in places they’re positively furious – but he doesn’t (on the album version, at least) have a great deal to say. Basically, the song is a very direct rant about people impersonating him online. MES discussed the topic in a 2015 interview for Q.

‘I had these fellas saying they were me… Three on Facebook, two on the Twitter. My Irish mates said there was one getting 14,000 hits a day.’

Bizarrely, Smith went on to claim in the same interview that he used technology invented by Richard Madeley to deal with the problem.

‘Using Richard Madeley’s technology, Smith says he called one of his impersonators and left a message for him. “I said, ‘I am Mark E Smith and every day I awake weeping over this intrusion. Please stop.’ Worked, but on the Fall websites everybody was saying what a bastard I was.”’

The Modeselektion version has rather more lyrical substance to it (see The Annotated Fall) and is more subtle, less bangingly relentless and has a pleasingly skewed atmosphere. It also features some less restrained but equally fine distorted guitar work from PG; in addition there’s more variety in Smith’s delivery, although he still sounds incandescent with rage in places. Whilst it still feels a little stretched, the chaotic breakdown over the last minute is more successful at maintaining interest than the whistling.

On the vinyl version of the album, Fibre Book Troll is simply bizarre. Long (eleven and a half minutes), resolutely lo-fi (a post on the FOF – bottom of the page – suggests that it was recorded on an iPhone) and meandering, it almost gets quite jazzy in places. Smith doesn’t just sound furious, he sounds deranged. It’s simultaneously horrifying and strangely impressive.

Quit iPhone
Quit iPhone finds MES continuing his anti-technology diatribe, this time expressed in a very simple and direct fashion: ‘Just quit using your phone’; ‘I don’t want to look in people’s home’. He does so over a rather conventional garage rock riff, that sounds like a slowed-down take on Cock In My Pocket. The group do their best to inject a bit of vigour into proceedings, but can’t really disguise the song’s pedestrian nature; at times, it sounds like Status Quo covering The Stooges. The absence of any keyboards from Eleni just emphasises the somewhat stodgy meat and two veg workmanlike nature of the song.

Eleni does still make a valuable contribution – her clipped backing vocals provide a welcome contrast to Smith’s gargly growl – but MES’s contribution feels (pardon the pun) rather phoned in. That said, his broken, drunken croon at the end (‘My eye muscle is bright as I stare into the morn / And I see the citadel of media city shining bright’) is an oddly touching moment – an approach that he would return to at the outset of the next album.

Credit: Andrew Whitton www.andrewwhitton.com
From Q magazine, July 2015 (photo by Andrew Whitton)

Overall Verdict
I find it all too easy to conflate Sub-Lingual Tablet and Ersatz GB, and forget that Re-Mit came in between. After Re-Mit‘s playfulness and invention, SLT feels a little like a backwards step, revisiting the unevenness and wilfully bloody-minded approach of EGB.

Like EGBSub-Lingual Tablet has its undoubted high points (Venice, Dedication, Junger, Auto Chip), but there’s also a comparison to be made in terms of the tracks that are flawed via their lack of development or through being thin ideas overstretched. Outside of the bonkers Black Roof and the squonky Dedication and Junger, there’s an over-reliance on obvious kraut-garage riffery, which the group pull off admirably on occasions, but not with consistency.

Smith’s praise for Dave Eggers’ The Circle – a dystopian take on the negative potential of social media – is interesting, as there is a clear thread that runs through the album of Smith’s mistrust of technology and what he referred to as ‘the Twitter’. This was, of course, nothing new – ‘What’s a computer?‘; ‘Turn that bloody blimey Space Invader off!‘ – but here, he too often falls back on an obvious and reactionary middle-aged curmudgeonly persona that verges on self-parody.

Several of the reviews quoted above reflect on the effects of the group’s unusually settled lineup, suggesting that this was encouraging stasis and mediocrity. Whilst this is possibly unfair, you can’t help feeling that Smith did not get as much out of his ‘English musicians’ as he might have done here.

My “Version”
Side 1: Venice With The Girls / Dedication Not Medication / Auto Chip 2014-2016 (19:02)

Side 2: Junger Cloth / Snazzy / Black Door / First One Today / Fibre Book Troll (Modeselektion version) (18:37)

Rankings
A frustratingly uneven album, much like Winner and LUS; it’s pretty close and crowded in the mid-20s.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Your Future Our Clutter
  3. Perverted By Language
  4. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  5. Hex Enduction Hour
  6. The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
  7. Re-Mit
  8. Levitate
  9. Slates
  10. Grotesque
  11. Imperial Wax Solvent
  12. The Unutterable
  13. Fall Heads Roll
  14. The Marshall Suite
  15. The Remainderer
  16. Cerebral Caustic
  17. I Am Kurious Oranj
  18. Room To Live
  19. The Infotainment Scan
  20. Extricate
  21. Bend Sinister
  22. Dragnet
  23. The Light User Syndrome
  24. Are You Are Missing Winner
  25. Sub-Lingual Tablet
  26. Ersatz G.B.
  27. Middle Class Revolt
  28. Code: Selfish
  29. Shift-Work
  30. Live At The Witch Trials
  31. Reformation Post TLC
  32. The Frenz Experiment

Live Uurop is distinctly uneven, but does have a couple of interesting studio versions. Not exactly essential, but a worthwhile enough purchase.

  1. Last Night At The Palais
  2. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  3. In A Hole
  4. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  5. 2G+2
  6. Live In San Francisco
  7. In The City…
  8. Nottingham ’92
  9. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  10. Totale’s Turns
  11. The Idiot Joy Show
  12. Live In Cambridge 1988
  13. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  14. Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
  15. Creative Distortion
  16. Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  17. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  18. Live 1977
  19. The Twenty Seven Points
  20. Live Uurop VIII-XII Places In Sun & Winter, Son
  21. Interim
  22. Seminal Live
  23. Live At The Knitting Factory – New York – 9 April 2004
  24. Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
  25. Live Various Years
  26. Live In Clitheroe
  27. Live At The Phoenix Festival
  28. Live In Zagreb
  29. 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
  30. Austurbaejarbio
  31. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  32. Live At The Knitting Factory – L.A. – 14 November 2001
  33. Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002
  34. Live 2001 – TJ’s Newport
  35. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  36. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  37. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  38. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  39. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  40. Live At The ATP Festival – 28 April 2002
  41. Liverpool 78
  42. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  43. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  44. Live At Deeply Vale
  45. Yarbles

YMGTA #40 – The Remainderer

“Vampirism… is a crime at the end of the day.”

Front cover CD

Details
Recorded: Chairworks Studio, Castleford
Released: 9 December 2013

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • David Spurr – bass
  • Keiron Melling – drums
  • Peter Greenway – guitar
  • Eleni Poulou – keyboards
    With:
  • Simon ‘Ding’ Archer and Tamsin Middleton – backing vocals
  • Daren Garratt – drums (The Remainderer / Amorator! / Mister Rode / Say Mama) (uncredited)
  • Martin Bramah/Craig Scanlon – guitar, Marcia Schofield – keyboards, Steve Hanley – bass, Simon Wolstencroft – drums on Race With The Devil (uncredited)

Background
Re-Mit had been released on 13 May 2013, in the middle of a 13-date spring UK tour. Four days later, the group played Clapham Grand, a gig that was reviewed by Nick Hasted in The Independent.

‘The Fall survive by moving forward, and as usual the set is drawn almost entirely from Re-Mit and other recent work. On “Sir William Wray”, the relatively young band Smith has kept together for five years now hold down a garage groove, his wife Eleni Poulou adding downbeat colour on her vintage Korg synth. Smith is an abrasive, unstable presence, one minute Les Dawson lugubrious, the next puffing his pigeon chest out as he haughtily inspects the crowd.

When Poulou takes over the vocal for “I’ve Been Duped”, Smith turns his back to her, arms folded, somewhere between a Salford Napoleon and Steptoe. Poulou can hardly contain her grins at a husband who is unusually, playfully happy and singing with proud power over the band’s thundering, relentless groove. For the encore “Theme from Sparta FC”, Smith holds the mic with his arms flung back like Christ, and prowls the stage with the exaggerated grace of a benign drunk. He clocks off on the stroke of 60 minutes: all business, all pleasure, all Fall.’

The group played a handful of festival dates over the summer, including Día de la Música in Madrid and All Tomorrow’s Parties in Iceland.

madrid
Madrid 22/6/2013

Rob Barbato re-joined the group (Dave Spurr being on holiday in Cuba) for their two Irish dates in August – Kilkenny Arts Festival and the Button Factory in Dublin. At the latter date, The Remainderer was played for the first time.

The Fall played three more European gigs in October, at Portuguese festival Outfest, Paris and Nantes. Remembrance R was possibly played (its sole performance if it was) at the date in Portugal (it was certainly on the setlist). Amorator! and Mister Rode were debuted in Paris.

In May 2012, Smith had joined Ginger Wildheart‘s ‘supergroup’ Mutation (featuring members of Napalm Death, The Sisters Of Mercy and The Cardiacs) in the studio. The resulting album, Error 500, was released in October 2013. Smith featured on two tracks, Mutations and Relentless Confliction.

ginger
MES and Ginger Wildheart, May 2012

In the John Doran interview (see below), Smith appears to have forgotten the whole thing, can’t even recall Ginger’s name and seems astonished that the album’s actually been released. There’s an entertaining video about his participation in the album’s recording here (featuring him sporting reading glasses); the most entertaining moment is captured in this clip of Smith berating the unfortunate engineer, Kevin:

The group played a one-off gig in Clapham on 15 November. There’s a very good quality video of the performance here. They played three further dates in 2013 in Utrecht, Leeds and Cologne. At Utrecht, Tim Presley joined the group for the encore. Daren Garratt (who had been in Pubic Fringe with Pete Greenway and had also played with The Nightingales) played drums alongside Keiron Melling at Leeds, and then replaced him at Cologne in December whilst Melling was on paternity leave.

Mirror: Mark E Smith

A week before the release of The Remainderer, Smith made an appearance in the ‘What I see in the mirror?‘ column in The Guardian, where he had this to say:

‘I only really look in a mirror before I go on stage, in case I’ve got anything on my face. I’ve got a comb. It’s good to look a bit straight: a clean shirt and all that. And I’ve started to wear underpants and I clean my teeth now and again. But that’s about it.’

Around the time of The Remainderer‘s release, Smith was interviewed by John Doran for Noisey, as part of their ‘British Masters series where John interviews the most influential and colourful figures from British popular music history’. Smith is on fine form and full of mirth throughout, and displays a genuine warmth (albeit in his own inimitable fashion) towards Doran.

In part one, we learn that he considers Black Francis a ‘dickhead’ and that – according to him, anyway – the group were asked for three songs for Twilight (Smith also offers the informative little gem that vampirism ‘is a crime, at the end of the day’). Doran’s question, ‘Have you been watching the Great British Bake-Off?’ (which he later described as ‘the riskiest interview gambit I’ve ever gone with on a whim’) leads MES into an incoherent but entertaining diatribe about cookery programmes, which is then broadened to take in property shows (‘that should be banned… that’s an estate agent’s job’) and some reminiscing about the good old days of daytime TV, such as Crown Court.

Untitled
MES and John Doran, December 2013

In part two, Doran asks about Smith’s health, in particular his time in a wheelchair in 2009. MES tries to brush this aside (‘It’s not This Morning programme’) and bullishly declares that ‘my liver’s replenished… my liver’s stronger than ever’. Doran raises the topic of bands reforming (in light of the EP’s title track) and MES confirms that he has been offered money over the years to play old albums in full. He also expresses a desire to take The Fall in a ‘noisier direction’, though he suggests that ‘even the group don’t like it’. The most shocking moment of all, however, comes right at the end of the interview: someone hands Smith his third beer of the interview, and… it’s a half.

In The Wider World…
In what appears to have been a rather slow month for interesting news, Nelson Mandela died, aged 95 on 5 December. In the singles chart, Under Control by Calvin Harris & Alesso (no, me neither) was spending its sole week at the top spot. It was both preceded and succeeded at number one by Lily Allen’s Somewhere Only We Know (a Keane cover of which I was blissfully unaware until I came to write this) which miraculously manages to be even more flaccid and depressing than the original. At number one in the album chart (and the best-selling album of the year) was Midnight Memories by teen heart-throbs One Direction.

The EP
The Remainderer was recorded at Chairworks studio in Castleford, a converted Victorian factory.  It was released as both a CD and a 2×10″ with gatefold sleeve. The promo CD contained different versions of the title track and Mister Rode from the official CD, and both were retained for the vinyl version (see tracks below).

According to Cherry Red, Daren Garratt – although uncredited – played on The Remainderer, Amorator!, Mister Rode and Say Mama.

10″ vinyl sleeve

The EP was described in its press release as a ‘bridging point’ between albums, although most – if not all – reviews recognised that the EP was a very different beast to Re-Mit. They were also almost universally positive about the release.

Niall O’Keeffe, writing in The Quietus, said that:

‘The Remainderer slots into a lineage of interim records that bridge different eras of The Fall, like the sprawling ‘Chiselers’ single, which telegraphed a darkening of mood in the mid-90s, or the Fall Versus 2003 EP, which signalled the band’s reinvigoration after career-low Are You Are Missing Winner?

To judge from this record, the future Fall will be chaotic, cryptic and collaborative. Its music will be shape-shifting, fragmented and fierce.’

The Line of Best Fit‘s Hayley Scott gave it 7.5/10:

‘The best thing about this band is that they are perpetually evolving, and in that respect, The Remainderer carries on triumphantly where Re-Mit left off… Abrasive but not completely inaccessible, it’s The Fall very nearly at their best.’

Stuart Berman of Pitchfork was similarly positive:

‘More than anything, The Remainderer is an encouraging sign that stability has yet to ossify into stagnation with this ongoing iteration of the band, who formidably exercise their elasticity over the course of these six wildly divergent tracks.’

The Songs
The Remainderer
The EP opens with a plaintive guitar chord and then a harshly sawing synth oscillation, after which clattering drums and insistent riffs from Spurr and then Greenway kick in. By 0:37, the song has locked onto a deep, ingrained groove that pounds away throughout the rest of the song. Daren Garratt’s contribution to the relentless percussion here makes it reminiscent of the early-80s Hanley/Burns lineup.

Smith’s vocals veer between the surprisingly (relatively) tuneful and his latter-day tendency to rely on growling and extreme sibilance; the double-tracking of his voice adds to the sense of abandoned chaos. It’s hard to pick out any clear meaning: there might be some sort of message about the futility of nostalgia (a frequent MES theme) – ‘Never forget, rememb(e)rance is worth nothing’ – but lines such as ‘But it removed his back flute / Breeding pits’ don’t exactly clarify. What is certainly true is that the moment (2:20) where the group drop out and Smith exclaims sardonically that ‘it was a good day – whatever that is’ provides a nicely judged and oddly endearing change of pace. The coda finds MES growling asthmatically in an almost Dalek-ish voice that teeters on the brink of self-parody. The Annotated Fall suggests ‘Your spots in projects’, although it sounds more like ‘spakts’ (whatever they might be) than ‘spots’.

Even given Smith’s fondness for daytime TV, this seems a little far-fetched, but there is an undeniable similarity between The Remainderer and the theme tune from Baywatch.

The vinyl/promo version (see below) launches into things much more rapidly, has a more urgent atmosphere overall and features some interestingly deadpan backing vocals. It has less subtlety than the CD version, but its blistering aggression makes it the preferable version.

It was played live 28 times, 2013-16.

Amorator!
An urgent, scrabbling piece of frantic psychobilly. It’s full of dramatic ebbs and flows: after a gentle, understated intro it breaks into a thrashier approach before gradually turning into a swirling throb.

The indecipherable words (‘Hat’s on in a spot that resembled an attempt to knit flag’) leads the Annotated Fall into a lengthy discourse regarding the unknowable quality of Smith’s lyrics: ‘You will never understand these lyrics, nor will I.’

It’s bristling with energy and potential, but feels a little like a fragment; incomplete and unresolved. It was played live 17 times, 2013-15.

Mister Rode
Opens with what sounds like Mötorhead being played at excessive volume on a broken AM radio before a menacing drum salvo leads into a melodic guitar arpeggio and a throbbing bass line; by the time you get to the minute mark it feels like you’ve had three different songs already.

Melling and Garratt are the stars of the show here, flailing and smashing and bludgeoning like their lives depend on it. The drums become the focal point of the song musically, with Greenway’s distorted, looping riff joining with Spurr’s bubbling bass to provide the track’s foundation. In the second half, Greenway adds some frantic flourishes that add to the sense of impending chaos and disintegration.

Like The Remainderer, good use is made of extra vocal tracks, but here it’s much more than double-tracking: multiple, heavily-reverbed layers of Smith’s voice create an oppressive, malevolent atmosphere. In the last couple of minutes, swathes of distorted noise (including what sounds like a snippet of The Osmonds’ Crazy Horses at 6:04) join in the fun to produce a tumultuous, discordant coda. The main body of the promo/vinyl version is slightly shorter, and it has a different but no less abandoned ending.

Smith’s main vocal is relatively melodic, revolving around the ‘I got a name, I got a say/face’ refrain. Its repetition provides a solid hook that contrasts effectively with the musical maelstrom beneath.

Once again, the lyrical content is challenging to interpret; as ever, there are many intriguing suggestions on The Annotated Fall. Antoine suggests a link with John Cooper Clarke’s I Married A Monster From Outer Space (‘each time I see her translucent face, I remember the monster from outer space’ (at 2:00)). harleyr points to the fact that there is a brand of microphones called RØDE (just as there is an effects pedal called ‘Hot Cake‘).

On the same page (comment #9), SlightlyDislocated provides a particularly detailed and intriguing interpretation, suggesting that the lyrics are ‘a meditation on identity and anonymity, from the perspectives of, first, a passenger at a subway or commuter rail station, second, a patient about to be wheeled into surgery in a hospital, and third, a soul boarding an airplane and experiencing its subsequent takeoff.’ He also points out that the line ‘Its summers were all in a day’ seems to reference Ray Bradbury’s 1954 short story All Summer in a Day.

The Annotated Fall page doesn’t really clarify anything – especially the baffling references to ‘lemon freshness’ – but it’s one of the best examples of the site being a stimulating and fascinating read.

Performance-wise, Mister Rode had a longer shelf-life than anything else on the EP, being played 43 times and staying in the set almost to the end (its last appearance being in January 2017). There’s an interestingly understated 2015 performance here. It’s a glorious, chaotic sprawl; one of the finest moments of the group’s latter-day work.

Rememberance R
Nearly 30 years on, the group return to The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog, from which Brix had ‘lifted’ the riff back in 1984. In some ways it’s a less straightforward ‘borrow’, being of a much slower tempo, but it’s also closer to the spirit of The Stooges’ track having a similarly menacing, aggressive atmosphere as opposed to the relatively lighter, psychedelic tone of Elves.

The opening, like the conclusion of The Remainderer, sees Smith deploying a phlegm-riddled gargle that verges uncomfortably on self-parody: ‘He can’t help it – he can’t’ is almost comically ridiculous. Thereafter, however, he strikes a highly successful balance between almost delicate crooning and snarling vitriol. Melling (here without Garratt) provides expansive yet sparse percussion that’s ably supported by Spurr’s lithe but muscular interpretation of The Stooges’ riff; this allows Greenway space to gradually emerge (he doesn’t appear until nearly two-thirds of the way through) with grinding, abrasive chords. Some have suggested that the guitar here is so brutal and simplistic that it might be MES himself, but this seems a little far-fetched.

Once again, the lyrics almost defy you to extract any sort of meaning from them. Who knows, for example, what a ‘canajetta’ might be? The reference to a ‘fire escape’, however, may possibly relate to the recording of Alton Towers (see YMGTA #36).

The closing monologue, delivered by ‘Ding’ is pretty clear in meaning, however. It’s a sardonic commentary on bands that reform and trade in on past glories: ‘They’re just running on remembrance, and reminiscing of encore time at the end of the 90 minutes on the stage’. Whilst the sentiment is understandable to some extent (there is something a bit sad about reconstituted bands trundling out ancient crowd-pleasers on the nostalgia circuit), there’s a rather unnecessarily sour and pedantically purist tone to the words. Smith clearly begrudges those who abandoned the music business to have lives, ‘proper’ jobs, families, etc. and then strap the guitar back on to make a few quid playing their handful of hit singles. It feels rather churlish to begrudge the Cuds and Wonder Stuffs their opportunity to make a few quid entertaining nostalgic 40 or 50-somethings though, however much it doesn’t fit with the Smith world-view.

None of this detracts significantly from a powerful, atmospheric track, which builds and drives relentlessly, although its sudden fade feels a little limp and disappointing.

Say Mama / Race With The Devil
An incongruous weak link. A minute or so of a Gene Vincent cover that’s predictable and generic enough to make you expect someone to shout ‘White lightning!’ at some point; this segues awkwardly into another version of a Gene Vincent song, this time recorded at John Peel’s 50th birthday bash.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with it, but it feels aimless and lazy and doesn’t integrate with the other much more inventive stuff on the EP.

Touchy Pad
Touchy Pad is also a diversion from the gnarly aggression of the first four tracks of the EP, but is far less incongruous and much more worthwhile than its predecessor. It makes a strangely sudden entrance, like it’s an old vinyl record that has a scratch right at the beginning of the track.

It’s much lighter in tone than most of the tracks here (featuring the rarely-spotted Fall acoustic guitar), but is no less strange and unhinged than the rest of the EP. The song is certainly more accessible than the likes of Mister Rode, thanks to the comparatively gentle strum of the acoustic guitar and the Greenway’s simple, melodic little guitar line that brings to mind those pleasant if inconsequential instrumentals that REM used to stick on b-sides in the early 90s.

This might make Touchy Pad seem sound rather bland, but this isn’t the case. Whilst it is considerably less ‘in your face’ than the earlier tracks on the EP, it still has a pleasingly skewed quality. This is achieved through the oddly lurching, off-kilter rhythm, Eleni’s deftly applied synth effects (the level of depth and texture she added to Fall recordings of this era really should not be underestimated) and Tamsin Middleton’s vocal contributions. Tamsin was, along with Ding, a member of As Able As Kane, who would go on to play as support for The Fall in 2015. Her intense, manic vocals (‘Where’s my time machine?!?’ and the impressively anguished scream at 0:32) make an effective contrast to MES’s relatively restrained delivery.

The song’s title suggests that it might be one of Smith’s anti-technology rants, on the lines of 2011’s Laptop Dog or the later Quit iPhone and Fibre Book Troll. You can very tentatively read this into the words if you try hard: ‘time machine’ could be a technological reference; MES talks about ‘AI’ (possibly) at 0:59; ‘Asians with weak bones’ might have something to do with Japanese tech companies. But it’s hard to pin down. What has any of this to do with ‘Welsh kids’ whose ‘slime leaks and mixes’? And where does the apparent Lovecraft reference (‘the tentacles of the Old Ones’) fit in?

According to The Annotated Fall, Tamsin Middleton identified the behaviour of the UK Border Agency as the inspiration behind the lyrics. She also says, ‘the narrative is somewhat obtuse in the final edit, which is how MES seems to like it!’ Whatever the subject matter, Smith is clearly not happy about something: ‘How long can we tolerate this?’ ‘Your lousy country stinks anyway’ also points to an air of bitterness and dissatisfaction.

The abrupt opening, combined with the sudden conclusion, gives Touchy Pad, like Amorator!, a rather fragmentary feel. This doesn’t distract too much from its effectiveness though; in fact it adds to the song’s ambiguous, even mysterious atmosphere. It was never played live.

Overall Verdict
In an interview for an Irish radio station, when asked if the EP was leftover material from Re-mit, Smith replied ‘That’s why it’s called The Remainder [sic]’. The record label also suggested that it was some sort of ‘bridging point’ between Re-Mit and the next album, and this was reinforced by some of the reviews, such as Niall O’Keeffe’s above.

But it actually doesn’t sound like either of those things. It certainly doesn’t feel like a Re-Mit bonus disc: the Re-Mit songs are far more taut, focused and melodic. The notion that it’s a ‘bridge’ between albums is not terribly convincing either. The overall sound of the EP is more closely aligned to Ersatz GB, but there’s a much stronger link between Ersatz and Sub-Lingual Tablet. In fact, The Remainderer, whatever Smith’s intentions were, stands quite independently as a release that has its own distinct sound. Smith’s vocals do, to some extent, hark back to Ersatz, with the increasingly familiar deployment of that Dalek/gargle effect. But otherwise, the EP has a loose and abandoned yet somehow simultaneously disciplined approach that set it apart from other releases of the time.

Whilst it’s full of thrilling highlights, it’s undoubtedly flawed. The Gene Vincent stuff is b-side material at best, and Touchy Pad and (especially) Amorator! are great tracks but cry out for further development. It’s frustrating to think what this could have been, given a bit more time. Nonetheless, it’s still a too often overlooked gem in the back catalogue.

My “Version”
What I really would have liked is for the group to have taken the time to develop this approach/sound and produce 40 minutes worth of this kind of material. But with what’s available, I’d cut out the Gene Vincent covers and sequence it slightly differently:

Mister Rode / The Remainderer / Touchy Pad / Amorator! / Rememberance R (23:39)

Rankings
As with Slates, it’s a challenge to place an EP such as this alongside lengthier releases. In fact, considering where The Remainderer fits here got me thinking about my evaluation of SlatesSlates is undoubtedly of high quality: six strong tracks, four of which are outstanding. In terms of consistency, it’s an impressive set of songs. Nonetheless, you could argue that it’s unfair on other releases (of, generally, 45-60 minutes) to judge them against something that’s less than 24 minutes long.

I did consider not including The Remainder in this list: however, as it is of similar length to Slates and has the same number of tracks, to do so felt like accepting that the earlier release was part of an accepted canon and therefore deserved special treatment. And – as I’m sure has been demonstrated fairy consistently over the course of this blog – I don’t accept that there is an irrefutable canon of the group’s best work.

And so, ‘often exciting but flawed’ finds it mid-table, although it’s pretty close to the two above it. Could potentially have been so much higher though…

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Your Future Our Clutter
  3. Perverted By Language
  4. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  5. Hex Enduction Hour
  6. The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
  7. Re-Mit
  8. Levitate
  9. Slates
  10. Grotesque
  11. Imperial Wax Solvent
  12. The Unutterable
  13. Fall Heads Roll
  14. The Marshall Suite
  15. The Remainderer
  16. Cerebral Caustic
  17. I Am Kurious Oranj
  18. Room To Live
  19. The Infotainment Scan
  20. Extricate
  21. Bend Sinister
  22. Dragnet
  23. The Light User Syndrome
  24. Are You Are Missing Winner
  25. Ersatz G.B.
  26. Middle Class Revolt
  27. Code: Selfish
  28. Shift-Work
  29. Live At The Witch Trials
  30. Reformation Post TLC
  31. The Frenz Experiment

YMGTA #39 – Re-Mit

“It’s quite horrible. The Fall have had enough and we’re coming for you.”

Front cover

Details
Recorded: January – February 2013, Konk Studios, London and Blueprint, Manchester
Released: 13 May 2013

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Keiron Melling – drums
  • Dave Spurr – bass
  • Peter Greenway – guitar
  • Eleni Poulou – keyboards
    With:
  • Tim Presley – guitar (tracks 1,3,7)
Taking no prisoners: according to one associate, Smith threatened to stab a man for waking him up. He is also reputed to have fired a sound man for ordering a salad
The Independent 13/11/2011

Background / Live 2011-13
After Ersatz GB‘s release in mid-November, The Fall played seven UK dates to round off 2011, with Tim Presley continuing to cover Pete Greenway’s paternity leave. This review by Cod Shellfish from the FOF (of the Cambridge gig on 15 November) suggests that the group were maintaining the good form they’d demonstrated earlier in the month after some wobbles earlier in the autumn:

‘MES and band on absolute top form. On stage for over an hour. MES sharp, sober, engaged, relaxed, and really enjoying himself; smiling, interacting with the crowd, and in full voice on every song (sometimes from off stage, but mostly on). Probably the most enthusiastic and on-the-money that I’ve ever seen him actually – certainly in this century. Faith restored.’

At the group’s last gig of 2011, at Chester on 28 November, they played a seasonal cover of Blue Christmas. Most famously performed by Elvis, the song has been covered by over 60 artists, including The Partridge Family, Céline Dion, Low, The Beach Boys and Billy Idol. Whilst The Fall’s version is clearly just a bit of pre-Xmas p*ssing around and not to be taken too seriously, it is undeniably horrendous: MES in full-on inebriated-uncle-embarrassing-everyone-at-the-wedding mode, the group plodding along stodgily behind and Eleni apparently having some sort of nervous breakdown on backing vocals. It is on YouTube, but you listen at your own peril…

2012 was relatively quiet as far as gigs were concerned, with only 24 being played. New material started to emerge at the first performance of the year: Damflicters (which would eventually become Victrola Time) opened the set at Athens on 10 February. The gig also saw Pete Greenway’s return:

Athens 10/2/2012, photo by The BEF

Two French concerts followed in early March; Damflicters opened the set at both Lille and Paris.

NME, 14/4/2012

In April, the NME published a joint interview with MES and Mystery Jets’ vocalist Blaine Harrison. The Mystery Jets’ recently released album, Radlands, had featured a song called Greatest Hits, which dealt with a separating couple’s division of their record collection, and referenced The Fall:

‘No way you’re having ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ you only listen to it when you’re p*ssed / But when you sober up it’s always “why the f*ck are you still listening to Mark E. Smith?”‘

In the interview, Smith describes Greatest Hits as ‘a f*cking good song’ (more than once) and displays a surprisingly paternal and supportive attitude to Harrison. He also recounts a bizarre anecdote about the 1981 US tour that involves him and Steve Hanley rescuing Karl Burns from the KKK and topless ‘birds in miniskirts’.

The theme of the interview was ‘heroes’, and one the most interesting aspects of the article is Smith’s comments on the concept of hero worship:

‘I’m not big on heroes. I never wanted to be Gene Vincent or Elvis. I didn’t want to be Damo Suzuki. I don’t want to be anybody else, and I think that’s why people respect The Fall… I’ve never wanted to be anyone else… I don’t f*cking like anybody – that’s why The Fall exist.’

Front cover

On 21 April 2012, the single Night of the Humerons was released. It was a limited edition 7″ (1000 copies – Discogs suggests that it still goes for around £20 second hand) released as part of Record Store Day. As ever, RSD divided opinions and led to some disgruntled feelings, illustrated by some of the posts on the FOF. A message posted on Fall News suggests that MES himself wasn’t entirely happy with the single’s distribution:

‘We were approached by Cherry Red to make a one-off vinyl single for Record Store Day 2012. We believed this event was created to promote vinyl and help record shops survive. What Cherry Red didn’t tell us that they were only going to send one copy to each shop and that meant that some customers were misled.

I’m just sorry they were inconvenienced.

M.E.S.’

The A-side is Victrola Time – the same version that appeared on Re-Mit (although Reformation suggests that the download version differed slightly). It’s backed by a live rendition of Taking Off. Reformation suggests that this recording is from the group’s performance at Chester on 28 November 2011, although not everyone is convinced that this is the case – thefall.org gigography page indicates that it was from Brighton, 11 days earlier.

The group only played five gigs over the summer of 2012. At the first of these (at London’s Coronet Theatre on 11 May) their cover of Jack The Ripper (see YMGTA #37) was performed for the second and final time. The next date (Newcastle on 7 July) saw Container Drivers get its first outing for 15 years; it would remain in the set for nearly all of the remaining 2012 performances.

In Dublin on 19 July, the set was opened with a new song, Gapa. This would be re-worked as Gray (occasionally Grey) and eventually become Sir William Wray.

The next night in Galway saw another new song opening the set: Defurbish, an early version of Loadstones. At the beginning of September, the group played two Scandinavian gigs; for unknown reasons, Eleni did not appear at either of these.

Two more Re-Mit songs were debuted in Salford on 22 September: Hitman (which would become Hittite Man) and Irish. There’s video of the whole gig here. Kinder Of Spine (at this point known as Spider) was played for the first time in Norwich on 10 October.

Untitled
Norwich 10/10/2012, photo by Jeff Higgott

The Norwich gig was a celebration of John Peel Day, with proceeds going towards the renovation of the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts in Stowmarket. The Undertones also appeared on the bill, and Mickey Bradley of the band tweeted:

‘Played show for John Peel centre in Norwich. The Fall great. Although Mark E Smith is channeling Alex Higgins.’

There’s a great video on YouTube of the event (although sadly not the whole set), which includes a good-humoured Smith being interviewed about Peel. At 9:35, he says:

‘I knew the minute he died… we’re never going to get played on the BBC again, that’s for f*cking sure.’

The next night in Glasgow, Hittite Man received its third outing. Having gone under the working title Hitman in its previous appearances, here it was titled Three Dreams. At the last gig of the year, in Islington, No Respects (on the setlist the title was in singular form at this point) was played for the first time. There’s an excellent, perceptive review of the gig from The Quietus‘ Luke Turner here.

The Fall took four months off from touring at the beginning of 2013, during which time they recorded Re-Mit. Despite Smith’s apparent reservations about the previous year’s release, Record Store Day 2013 saw The Fall produce another limited edition 7″ for the occasion. Sir William Wray was released on 20 April – this time restricted to 1500 copies.

Front cover

The cover suggested that the lead track and b-side Hittite Man were ‘single mixes’, but there’s no detectable difference from the LP versions.

Once again, the release divided opinions on the FOF.

2013 saw the group undertake 13 UK dates in April-June, Re-Mit being released in the middle of the tour. The first date, in Clitheroe, was released as a live album (another Record Store Day offering) in 2017 – the last official live album to be put out in Smith’s lifetime.

Front cover

It was an interesting performance. Smith performed much of the first half sitting down, and much of the second half from off-stage, which was not very uncommon. More unusually, they opened with traditional set-closer Blindness, and an audience member contributed enthusiastic backing vocals throughout Fall Sound (she also provided an excitable commentary over the opening of Jetplane‘s debut – ‘F*ckin’ hell, it’s a new ‘un… this is groovy as f*ck!’) The most unprecedented moment, however, came at the end of Hittite Man. MES wandered to the front of stage, and with the opening line ‘I embrace you all’, proceeded to indulge in what can only be described as a minute or so of good-humoured banter with the front row of the audience. As hard to believe as that is, the evidence is here (from five minutes in):

A few days before the album’s release, Smith appeared on Radcliffe and Maconie’s afternoon 6 Music show. He refers to the album being recorded at Konk and then ‘Blue Tone’, which he describes ‘the best studio in Manchester’ (he most likely meant Blueprint).

He’s a bit slurred, but entertaining and genial, and only nearly-swears once (for which he sounds genuinely apologetic). He gives an interesting insight into the creation of a Fall setlist, describing how they’re done ‘about two or three hours’ before the gig:

‘The group submit them to me… then I usually cross most of it out, about half an hour before we go on…

[I say] do you want to do this song from 1979? and one of them wasn’t even born, or he was about five.’

He also demonstrates a genuine warmth towards the current line-up: ‘I’ve got a perfect group at the moment’. He agrees with Radcliffe that the oft-described ‘granny on bongos’ attitude does them a disservice:

‘They’ve stuck with me for the last four or five years, and I’ve been in a wheelchair for about a year and a half of them. They’ve been pushing me around and that; they didn’t have to.’

radcliffe
Radcliffe, MES and Maconie, 6 Music, 6 May 2013

Despite the genial tone of the interview, Smith was later very disparaging of Radcliffe and Maconie, calling them ‘a pair of dicks’ in this interview with John Doran.

In The Wider World…
A month before the album’s release, a bomb at the Boston Marathon killed five and injured hundreds. Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke, aged 87. The next month, British soldier Lee Rigby was murdered on the street in London. Alex Ferguson announced his resignation after 27 years as Manchester United’s manager.

Daft Punk’s supremely irritating Get Lucky was in the middle of a four-week stay at the top of the singles chart. In June, Robin Thicke’s loathsome Blurred Lines also spent a month at number one. Home by Rudimental was the number one album (no, me neither); after only one week, it was replaced by The Shocking Miss Emerald by Caro Emerald (no, me neither).

The Album
Re-Mit was recorded in January and February 2013 at Konk, a studio located in Crouch End that was founded by The Kinks. The album saw Grant Showbiz (as engineer) make his final contribution to a Fall album.

Just before The Fall’s Clitheroe gig, Smith was interviewed by the Lancashire Telegraph:

‘Smith appears content with his new work and admits he was disappointed with the last album, Ersatz GB, released in 2011.

“I didn’t like it. I can say that, can’t I? But this one (Re-Mit) is what we are all about and I think it will terrify people.

It does get harder though. You’ve got to kick a lot of backsides to get a record out.

But every time I do an album it still feels like my first LP because I still have a great energy.

I want my music to be as punchy and aggressive as Black Sabbath. I don’t want it to be something simpering that sounds like Jarvis Cocker.”’

In an interview for Going Thru Vinyl (a seemingly now defunct website, quoted on Fall News) Smith offered a typically cryptic explanation of the new album’s title:

‘[It] means I need a glove when I go out.’

In an April 2013 interview for Q, MES reiterated his apparent dislike of the Ersatz GB material (‘five songs on the last record were bad’), but suggested that the songs on Re-Mit would more than make up for it:

‘Re-Mit is going to terrify people. It’s quite horrible. The Fall have had enough and we’re coming for you.’

q
Q Magazine, April 2013

The cover was designed by Anthony Frost (who had done the artwork for Imperial Wax Solvent) and Smith’s sister Suzanne, who had been responsible for the drawing on the cover of Grotesque.

Reviews were once again mixed, although not quite as polarised as had been the case with Ersatz GB. In The Quietus (generally stalwart supporters of the group) Joe Kennedy felt that the unusually settled lineup was having a detrimental impact:

‘Re-Mit is where this comfort starts to look disturbingly like stagnation.

Spurr, Greenway and Melling have gone from being great fits for the project to simply being very good musicians from the ponytailed-guy-who-works-in-the-guitar-shop school. No matter what they’re playing – and let’s face it, that ‘what’ is largely going to be barrelling Can-rock – there’s a lack of expressive wit, giving the impression that they’re just tossing this off as a demonstration of competent eclecticism before resuming their Steve Vai or Joe Satriani agendas.

Repeatedly, it feels as if Re-Mit amounts to little more than Smith and Poulou pasting overdubs onto music that has been rote-learned and then performed unquestioningly. ‘

The NME‘s Kevin EG Perry was ambivalent: he enjoyed the fact that the album had ‘a lighter touch’ than its predecessor, but felt that some songs felt like ‘underdeveloped sketches’. In The Guardian, Maddy Costa was also lukewarm. Giving the album 3/5 stars, she declared that it wasn’t ‘going to win over anyone who isn’t already a Fall devotee’.

Stuart Berman of Pitchfork was more positive. Giving the album 6.8/10, he described it as ‘a dense, unwieldy tangle of rockabilly rhythms, 60s proto-punk petulance, krautrock thrust, musique-concrete spoken-word splatter, and sci-fi synth-tones salvaged from 70s bargain-bin prog’. Hayley Scott, writing on the Line Of Best Fit website, gave Re-Mit 7/10 and said that it ‘certainly deserves to be credited as one of the most ambitious, envelope-pushing albums of the band’s discography’.

Writing for Louder Than War, John Robb enthusiastically embraced the album:

‘Every riff is so damn catchy, it’s like Nuggets on, er, acid as well as cheap booze and damp trucker speed and conjures up foul, cold winter afternoons in rainy day damp Manchester. It could be the sixties- it could be futuristic- god knows with the Fall- this is a timeless place.

Don’t panic Fall fans- the album may take some work for some of you but it’s yet another dense and strange world to enter and wander around in but with some great guitar riffs to guide you into the dense thickets of the Smith melodrama.’

J. R. Moores, writing for Drowned In Sound, gave the album 8/10, and mused on MES’s increasingly tenuous relationship with the English language:

‘Re-Mit might not be the record on which Smith finally relinquishes language altogether in favour of communicating in only a dry-mouthed hangover gargle, but it’s close. At times, not only is it impossible to determine what Smith is saying, it’s impossible to determine whether he is even attempting to pronounce any recognisable human words with his reptilian chops.’

The most succinct summary came from Ben Ratliff of the New York Times:

‘Rating among recent Fall albums: Better than “Ersatz GB” (the 29th); far better than “Reformation Post TLC” (26th); not as good as “Your Future Our Clutter” (28th) and a full mile worse than “Imperial Wax Solvent” (27th). Go get it.’

The album reached a respectable number 40 in the album charts.

The Songs
No Respects (Intro)
The first instrumental opener since Mansion on This Nation’s Saving Grace, No Respects is a sharp burst of surf-rock that clatters along energetically for about 40 seconds, before morphing into a slightly portentous and proggy fuzzed-up guitar line that then fades (incredibly rapidly – like someone leaned over the mixing desk and stuck their elbow on a slider) almost as soon as it arrives.

Co-written by Tim Presley (who also played on it), it was performed live – both as an instrumental and in its No Respects rev. form – 16 times, 2012-15.
Sir William Wray
A gutsy garage-rocker, Sir William Wray evolved from Gapa to Gray (or Grey) and has a brash, album-opener feel to it (similar to The Joke or D.I.Y. Meat). Smith launches into it from the word go, with a gabbling, distorted and downright manic introduction; thereafter he snaps aggressively at anything that moves. There may possibly be a reference here to Link Wray (an artist who MES greatly admired) – he seems a more likely candidate, perhaps, than the two English 16th/17th century politicians. However, in the 6 Music interview (see above), Smith said:

‘It’s just a wordplay … I wanted it to be anti-lyric really, anti-music with anti-lyric.’

Greenway contributes some excellent guitar work here, alternating between snaky, surf-rock lead and abandoned thrash chords, all of which snakes around the meandering synth line like the two are trying to throttle each other. It’s also a song that featured in one of my favourite batches on The Fall in Fives.

It was played – in its various incarnations – 37 times, 2012-15.

Kinder of Spine
Another track featuring Tim Presley, Kinder of Spine is, not to put too fine a point on it, bonkers. It’s a crazed mix of 60s-psych-art-garage-punk-stomp, with a lurching, menacing rhythm, stabs of abrasive, aggressive organ and a pair of guitars, one thrashing out fuzzy chords, one scratching out little bluesy solos that fight to keep their head above water.

Even by the standards of 2010s Fall, Smith’s vocals are deranged, a weird mixture of broken crooning (the odd little whimper at 1:07-1:08), angry, guttural growling (‘So there’ at 1:41), demonic cackling (2:07-2:09) and plaintive wailing (‘Oh judge, judge of the
“Persecute Me” talent show’ at 1:15-1:23).

Reformation suggests that the song was inspired by The Monocle’s disturbing 1966 single The Spider and the Fly. Presley, quoted on The Annotated Fall from an interview with now-defunct Bowlegs Music Review, said:

‘…I recorded a song, and every time I tried to put vocals to it, it sounded like The Fall. So, I gave it to them instead, and I think it’s going to be on their new record. Mark is singing something about a spider on it.’

Grasping much meaning beyond the fact the song is ‘about a spider’ is rather a challenge. On The Annotated Fall, Dan suggests that, given the line ‘One time I hurt my paw in a warren under the duvet’, the song might be narrated by a cat chasing a spider, which is as good a guess as any. On the same website, bzfgt proposes a link to the 1958 film The Fly, which contains the line, ‘Help me! Help me!

The song was played live 22 times 2012-13. Live versions tended to be more musically straightforward than the studio take, deploying in particular a less unhinged rhythm (see this example). There’s also an interesting out-take that gives the song a bit of glam-rock swagger.

Noise
An experimental interlude, Noise features a grinding, swirling mix of electronics and an insistent, trebly guitar riff. The Annotated Fall suggests that Cluster’s Rote Riki might have provided some inspiration.

Like Insult Song, the lyrics seem to be largely MES improvising about those around him in the studio: Greenway is ‘nasty noise Peter’, Spurr is ‘David, warrior of the dark forest’ and Grant Showbiz (referred to here by his real surname) becomes ‘Emperor Cunliffe’. Even the studio itself gets a mention: ‘the altar of Konk’. Unsurprisingly, never played live.

Like many songs of this era, there’s an alternative version that found its way online. It’s twice as long, instrumental and musically pretty similar to the studio take, although it’s biased slightly more towards the ‘real’ instruments over the electronics.

Hittite Man
One of the album’s highlights. It’s a sparse, tense piece: Melling’s rolling drums and Spurr’s deep rumble underpin everything unfussily, allowing Greenway to take centre stage with one of his trademark spaghetti Western/surf-rock guitar lines – it’s an especially evocative one, conjuring up lonesome desert highways. Eleni makes a strong contribution too, her random oscillations adding to the song’s unearthly atmosphere. There’s also an odd rustling/crackling/clinking lurking in the background, which increases the intrigue.

The Hittites were an ancient race, whose empire, covering much of modern-day Turkey, was at its height around 3500 years ago. In a 2013 interview, Smith explained the inspiration behind the song:

‘I read daft history books. Sometimes the books I read are a bit crackers or strange. So it sounded interesting. The Hittites didn’t believe in debt or insurance. When I first started thinking about it was when I went to Greece, because the Hittites were with the ancient Greeks. And they didn’t believe in debt or overdrafts, which sounds crazy, and I thought they didn’t believe in wrongful communication, which I believe is the cause of a lot of trouble in the world.’

There are two notable alternative versions of the song. This out-take is less urgent than the album version, and Greenway’s guitar lurks murkily in the background. This version features a prominent contribution from Eleni; when asked about it, Smith said:

‘Everybody wanted me to use that one, but I stuck with the first one. You like the wife one? It was a hard choice.’

It was a popular live choice at the time, being played 75 times, 2012-16.
Pre-MDMA Years
Another experimental interlude, and in rather close proximity to the last one. That said, it’s entertaining enough in its own way, and doesn’t overstay its welcome at just over a minute. MES rambles about ecstasy over some minimal parping synth. Rather inconsequential, but does contain some effective, if baffling lines: ‘The bone seraton unconnected composite years’; ‘the orc marrow gone down green jelly mama your kid brother than your years’.

Re-Mit CD insert

No Respects rev.
It wouldn’t have been entirely unlike The Fall to have thrown away the cracking Respects riff on a minute-long instrumental, but thankfully it returns here with a bit of space to expand and develop. Musically, the opening to the ‘full’ version is identical to the opener, but the production is a little shinier; there’s much less reverb, which gives it a punchier sound.

Like the shorter version, Greenway is to the fore, producing an effective mixture of scrabbling surf-punk runs, choppy chords and bright, Byrds/early REM-esque arpeggios. It also another one of those tracks where Eleni’s random electronic interjections provide valuable splashes of texture. A pleasingly manic atmosphere takes hold about halfway through and builds progressively, with MES’s slurring and snarling transforming into manic cackling.

As discussed in YMGTA #37, Tim Cumming (in an interview with MES for The Independent) implied that this was the song that the group put forward (and had rejected) for Twilight. This was, of course, contradicted by Imperial Wax, although No Respects rev does sound much more like ‘horror’ then Cowboy George.

It’s a challenge to make out the words in places, let alone interpret them. The Annotated Fall tries hard to make the vampire/horror connection, but there’s not much of any substance beyond the reference to Whitby (3:37), setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and mecca for the goths.

Victrola Time
A Victrola is a wind-up phonograph, one with a concealed horn (unlike that made famous by the HMV logo) that was used as a generic term in the early 1920s for any device that played records. Quite what this has to do with anything (including Smith’s apparent aversion to condoms – ‘I don’t wanna buy any johnnies’) is unclear, as the lyrics – which have much in common with those of Pre-MDMA Years – seem to be more concerned with the taking of ecstasy.

Even by the standards of 21st century MES, his opening vocal salvo is startling: a keening, broken warble that morphs into an aggressive gargling shriek, before settling down into something a little less unsettling.

It has a muscular yet restrained krautrock beat, although Melling occasionally breaks out from the taut motorik (e.g. at 1:04) to venture something a little more loose and flamboyant. Spurr’s bass line is fuzzily glutinous, but it’s Eleni that takes centre stage with some meandering, doleful synth accented with the occasional squiggle. The chime that can be heard from time to time is supplied by MES striking a glass with a teaspoon; the distorted voice at the end is Ding recorded on Smith’s answering machine.

The only thing wrong with it is that its excellent, atmospheric intro isn’t nearly long enough to do it justice. (Which is why I have I have an extended six minute version that I created with a spot of judicious looping.) It was played live 25 times, 2012-14.

Irish
In which James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem finds himself added to the long list of artists that have attracted a sardonic glance from Smith. As ever, The Annotated Fall works hard to extract some meaning from the words (it definitely is ‘The women have skins of peach’ by the way, bzfgt) to little avail. And not surprisingly either: MES admitted that it wasn’t his most thoughtful effort (‘I had to make up some lyrics quick for that one.’) He also said, in the 6 Music interview above, that ‘The tune’s better than the lyrics’. That said, ‘They show their bollocks when they eat’ always raises a smile.

Spurr kicks things off with a particularly gristly riff (one that this review – of the Live Uurop version – memorably described as resembling ‘someone shovelling through heavy mud’) while Melling clatters along with enthusiastic discipline. MES snarls and hisses aggressively throughout, accompanied in places by a disturbing low groan in one of the channels.

It verges on the messy and formless, but in a wholly entertainingly way, and there’s a well-judged balanced between the menacingly restrained verse and the more abandoned chorus, packed full of Greenway’s chunky ascending/descending chords. Only played live a dozen times, 2012-14.

Jetplane
Jetplane is similar in structure to its predecessor, featuring once again a balance between a relatively understated verse, driven by some enthusiastic clatter from Melling, and a thrashier guitar-driven chorus. (The terms ‘verse’ and ‘chorus’, of course, being necessarily very loosely-applied terms where The Fall are concerned.) It has a slightly lighter tone than Irish, however, due the lively snare pattern and Greenway’s jaunty little guitar melody.

It’s a curious little tale regarding ‘Diane Worstock’ and ‘Dr. Jeffery Henning’, who come up with an ‘innovative new idea’ whilst stuck in a queue at Milan airport. There are very few clues as to who these characters might be. According to Reformation, Smith used the line ‘Margaret Rutherford first came up with her amazing travel plan’ in one of the song’s live performances, although this reference to the esteemed British actress doesn’t exactly clarify things. On The Annotated Fall, dannyno suggests that the line ‘Dr. Dave opened a bureau which not only tattooed your return number to Heathrow on your arm,
but also squeaks if you are carrying more euros into Heathrow’ is related to this story. Another contributor, Ray, suggests that the song ‘warns of the ensuing drive by powers-that-be to institute a cashless society’.

Whatever it’s all about, the vocals are a particular highlight. Smith seems to be in conversational, almost chirpy mood; the double-tracking of his vocals with himself and Eleni is a nice touch, giving the track a busy and layered feel and suggesting the kind of hubbub you might experience in an airport. (The unidentified male voice speaking in French apparently says ‘The Milan to London flight has been delayed. Types of rap … tin foil handkerchief.’) It’s also particularly rich with those inexplicably perfectly MES-enunciated words and phrases: ‘obliterated’ (0:43); ‘the Italians certainly like their Sundays’ (1:04); ‘rock group’ (1:16). The childishly exuberant ‘whooosh’ (1:29) is an oddly touching moment.

Played 21 times, 2013-14. A very early, almost skeletal version of the song, called Suddenly, Certainly can be heard here.

Jam Song
The Fall find themselves in a bar brawl with Led Zeppelin and Orbital. Jam Song is not generally highly rated by Fall fans, the general consensus being that it’s lazy, self-indulgent and altogether too rock. It does rather sound like a rehearsal idea that everyone’s just having a first bash at, and yes, MES does sound like he’s just riffing on a couple of lines that he scribbled on the back of a fag packet in the pub earlier that afternoon. And yet…

In the first place, there’s something wonderfully, wilfully perverse and incongruous about The Fall recording a ‘jam’. You can almost hear the MES of 30 years earlier berating his future self for such self-indulgence (not least in the opening mumble, ‘Could do with a f*cking chorus, that’s the main f*cking thing, innit?’) And then, it is just such a joyfully incoherent cacophony, a collage that sounds like every member of the group is playing a different song in a different time signature and/or key. Kieron decides that it’s John Bonham tribute day; Pete Greenway thrashes and screeches away in several different directions, stomping on his effects pedals randomly; Eleni plays the keyboards like she’s not on the same planet, let alone in the same key. In amongst all of this, MES croons incoherently, plainly having fun (listen to the little chuckle at 3:30) and ‘make[s] truck with porcelain’, whatever that might mean.

It was never played live. If you don’t like the sprawling mess of the album version, then I suggest that you don’t listen to the out-take below, which spreads the joy over nine wonderfully unfocused nine minutes.

Loadstones
An album closer that has a certain affinity with IWS‘s Exploding Chimney, both featuring heavy, staccato chords. Greenway’s exuberant, almost hoe-down-ish guitar line leads the way, supported by Eleni’s variety of smooth, oscillating synth touches that form a lovely contrast to the over-arching bluesy/rockabilly sound.

The lyrical analysis on The Annotated Fall is impeccably detailed (although it really could do with some paragraphing). All I would add is that the ‘shoes for the dead’ line (in terms of delivery) seems to hark back to Gut Of The Quantifier.

It’s an excellent album closer, full of taut energy. It only got 17 live outings, all in 2012 and 2013.

Overall Verdict
I find Re-Mit to be bafflingly underrated. It is absolutely chock full of cracking tunes, for a start, but perhaps the most appealing aspect is the way that the Poulou / Melling / Greenway / Spurr line-up seem to have locked on to a particularly satisfying blend of their various attributes that brings out the best in them all. In addition, they haven’t just settled on a specific ‘sound’: across the tracks (and often within them) there’s a sense of them taking turns to lead.

Ersatz GB (despite the odd variation such as Happi Song) had a uniform, relentless, almost one-dimensional sound that led some reviewers to question whether the group’s unusual stability was breeding mediocrity. Re-Mit sees the group disproving this notion with confidence, branching out and offering much more variety: prowling horror (Hittite); heads-down garage punk (William); driving guitar-jangle (Respects); crazed beat-psych (Kinder); taut krautrock (Victrola) – even, God forbid, a spot of good, old-fashioned self-indulgent studio jamming.

There are many instances in the back catalogue where MES adds a little chuckle, or delivers a line in a manner that suggests a twinkle (albeit it a slightly withering one) in his eye. But Re-Mit may well be the Fall album where he most consistently sounds like he’s enjoying himself. Even when he descends into hissing and growling, there’s an enthusiasm and sharpness that was certainly missing from much of the album’s predecessor.

Vinyl LP sleeve

It’s not without its flaws, of course. The two ‘experimental’ tracks are pleasant enough but rather inessential; and in the case of Noise, it feels like they could have done much more with a potentially interesting piece of music. Sequencing-wise, they’re also too close together. Also, whilst there are many intriguing lyrics, Re-Mit does not have the emotional depth of YFOC. However, there’s no tossed-off cover version to shrug your shoulders about, and overall it’s an album of remarkable consistency, invention and – perish the thought – fun.

My “Version”
Nothing radical – just a little ‘tweaking’…
Side 1: Victrola Time (my 6 minute mix) / Sir William Wray / Kinder of Spine / Noise / Hittite Man (20:16)
Side 2: No Respects rev. / Irish / Pre-MDMA Years / Jetplane / Jam Song / Loadstones (20:57)

Rankings
Live In Clitheroe is a release that requires context. If you read about the gig and watch some of the videos, it becomes an intriguing document of a particularly interesting performance. Taken on its own merits, it’s a bit shoddy. Not only is the track-listing of the second half completely messed up, the sound is incredibly uneven: Smith’s vocals lurch uncomfortably forward in the mix on many occasions, and there are several examples of his ‘on-stage mixing’ (see, for example, the second half of Blindness, where Greenway’s guitar veers dramatically from the inaudible to the deafening and back again).

Back cover

An interesting record of latter-day live Fall, but not that great an album in its own right. (And before anyone writes in, I haven’t forgotten Live Uurop: as it’s a compilation of live recordings from various years – and a couple of studio tracks – I’m going to review it where it fits chronologically by release date.)

  1. Last Night At The Palais
  2. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  3. In A Hole
  4. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  5. 2G+2
  6. Live In San Francisco
  7. In The City…
  8. Nottingham ’92
  9. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  10. Totale’s Turns
  11. The Idiot Joy Show
  12. Live In Cambridge 1988
  13. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  14. Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
  15. Creative Distortion
  16. Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  17. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  18. Live 1977
  19. The Twenty Seven Points
  20. Interim
  21. Seminal Live
  22. Live At The Knitting Factory – New York – 9 April 2004
  23. Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
  24. Live Various Years
  25. Live In Clitheroe
  26. Live At The Phoenix Festival
  27. Live In Zagreb
  28. 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
  29. Austurbaejarbio
  30. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  31. Live At The Knitting Factory – L.A. – 14 November 2001
  32. Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002
  33. Live 2001 – TJ’s Newport
  34. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  35. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  36. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  37. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  38. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  39. Live At The ATP Festival – 28 April 2002
  40. Liverpool 78
  41. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  42. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  43. Live At Deeply Vale
  44. Yarbles

Victrola Time is a cracking piece of deranged space-krautrock; the only thing wrong with it is that the intro should have been a good couple of minutes longer. Sir William Wray sees the group on familiar turf – the sort of head-down garage rocker with which they often opened albums – but even if it’s a familiar furrow, it’s still one they plough exceptionally well.

  1. Theme From Sparta F.C. #2
  2. Living Too Late
  3. Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
  4. Kicker Conspiracy
  5. The Man Whose Head Expanded
  6. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
  7. Totally Wired
  8. Free Range
  9. Behind The Counter
  10. Marquis Cha-Cha
  11. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  12. Night Of The Humerons (Victrola Time)
  13. The Chiselers
  14. Touch Sensitive
  15. (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas
  16. Slippy Floor
  17. Bury
  18. Sir William Wray
  19. Reformation! The Single
  20. Cab It Up
  21. Cruiser’s Creek
  22. Hey! Luciani
  23. F-‘Oldin’ Money
  24. Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy
  25. I Can Hear The Grass Grow
  26. Mr. Pharmacist
  27. Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
  28. Look, Know
  29. Laptop Dog
  30. The Fall vs 2003
  31. Telephone Thing
  32. There’s A Ghost In My House
  33. Victoria
  34. Hit The North
  35. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  36. Rowche Rumble
  37. Fiery Jack
  38. Masquerade
  39. Ed’s Babe
  40. High Tension Line
  41. 15 Ways
  42. It’s The New Thing
  43. White Lightning
  44. Popcorn Double Feature
  45. Why Are People Grudgeful?
  46. Oh! Brother
  47. Rude (All The Time)
  48. Rude (All The Time) EP

As an album, Re-Mit is, in my opinion, criminally overlooked. Often regarded as a poor relation to YFOC (the ‘last great album’), it is in fact bursting with invention and energy, and is deserving of a top ten placing.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Your Future Our Clutter
  3. Perverted By Language
  4. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  5. Hex Enduction Hour
  6. The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
  7. Re-Mit
  8. Levitate
  9. Slates
  10. Grotesque
  11. Imperial Wax Solvent
  12. The Unutterable
  13. Fall Heads Roll
  14. The Marshall Suite
  15. Cerebral Caustic
  16. I Am Kurious Oranj
  17. Room To Live
  18. The Infotainment Scan
  19. Extricate
  20. Bend Sinister
  21. Dragnet
  22. The Light User Syndrome
  23. Are You Are Missing Winner
  24. Ersatz G.B.
  25. Middle Class Revolt
  26. Code: Selfish
  27. Shift-Work
  28. Live At The Witch Trials
  29. Reformation Post TLC
  30. The Frenz Experiment