A GUEST POSTING by JONDER
THE HOUSE IS FALLING IN: The Fall’s Third Decade
My last ICA on The Fall featured the group’s fourth decade, a period of stability anchored by Elena Poulou on keyboards. This ICA (1997-2006) captures The Fall in flux, from 1998’s onstage fistfight to the “traitors” who left Mark and Elena during a 2006 US tour. It’s all in the books: The Fallen, Mark E. Smith‘s Renegade, and memoirs by Brix, Stephen Hanley, and Simon Wolstencroft. A book on Manchester music by Paul Hanley is forthcoming.
This ICA showcases an exciting decade of sonic innovation. I think Fall members Dave Bush and Julia Nagle in particular brought a level of technical sophistication in keyboards and programming that expanded the Fall’s sound. Nagle is the only constant (apart from Smith himself) for the first five of these ten years.
1. Inch – the production team DOSE had worked with Mark on the single Plug Myself In, but DOSE was fired during the recording of the 1997 album “Levitate”. Inch begins with a glimpse of Smith’s methods as a composer: how does a man who plays no instrument communicate to musicians and producers what he wants to hear? Inch appeared on “Levitate” as the chaotic 4 1/2 Inch. This DOSE mix was not released until 1999.
2. Ten Houses Of Eve – kicking off with a jungle beat, Ten Houses was the opening track on “Levitate”. This remix is from 1998’s “Masquerade” EP. These were the last recordings to include the rhythm section of Steve Hanley and Karl Burns. Burns joined The Fall in 1977, Hanley in 1979.
3. Birthday Song – a fascinating departure from whatever one might consider “normal” for The Fall. Julia Nagle composed a stately instrumental and challenged Smith to write a love poem. Perhaps the only Fall song remotely like it is the touching Bill Is Dead. Birthday Song appeared on 1999’s “The Marshall Suite”.
4. Shake-Off – a more representative selection from “The Marshall Suite”, an album that generated a near hit with Touch Sensitive. The lyrics to Shake-Off touch on a range of unappealing topics: fixing a bathroom cistern, “eyeball injecting” chemicals, and a reunion of Simple Minds.
5. Dr. Buck’s Letter – Julia Nagle’s last album with The Fall was “The Unutterable” (2000). There are several outstanding cuts on that record, but Dr. Buck’s Letter is most beloved by fans. In the latter half of the track, Mark E. Smith reads from a magazine feature by Pete Tong, and cannot contain his amusement.
6. Crop-Dust – one of the few highlights of 2001’s “Are You Are Missing Winner”, an album recorded on the cheap with musicians from a local band called Trigger Happy. Many consider it one of the worst Fall albums. “Are You Are” is similar to the most recent Fall LP (“New Facts Emerge”) in that both were recorded after the departure of a lover, and both have an aggressive garage rock edge untempered by digital instruments. Crop-Dust, however, is built on a sample from garage rock progenitors The Troggs.
7. Janet vs Johnny – Elena Poulou joined The Fall in 2002 (as manager, keyboard player and Mark’s third wife). Poulou first appeared on the EP “The Fall Vs 2003″, which contains this psychedelic tune. A revised version entitled Janet, Johnny + James appeared on “The Real New Fall LP”. PJ Harvey has performed the song in concert.
8. The Past #2 – “The Real New Fall LP” (2003) has a strange lineage. It was originally entitled “Country On The Click”, but after the album leaked, the songs were re-recorded. There are also differences between the UK and US versions of the album. In any configuration, it ranks as one of the best long players in The Fall’s career. The Past #2 makes wonderful use of call-and-response vocals (as does the album’s centerpiece Theme From Sparta FC and earlier songs such as Eat Y’Self Fitter).
9. Blindness – the 2004 and 2005 albums “Interim” and “Fall Heads Roll” were disappointments. But the track Blindness was widely hailed by the long-suffering faithful. It conjures the menacing tone and relentless drive of the band’s Rough Trade era. This version of Blindness is from the vinyl pressing of “Fall Heads Roll”, which differs from the CD.
10. Higgle-dy Piggle-dy – from a 2006 tribute to The Monks. This is the third Monks song covered by The Fall.
BONUS TRACK: Family Feud – from the Von Südenfed album “Tromatic Reflexxions“, a 2007 collaboration between Mark E. Smith and Mouse On Mars which followed MES’ appearance on the Mouse On Mars single Wipe That Sound.