12 October 1984. A date on which The Fall again defy convention by insisting that the record label issue a new album along with a new single. But not just in any bog-standard way as the new single was to come out on 12″ vinyl, accompanied by a free 7″ single. Oh, and if you chose instead to buy the new album on cassette rather than vinyl, then you would also get just about all the music that was available on the new single, as well as the tracks that had made up the previous two singles…..
The new album was called The Wonderful and Frightening World Of….and it contained nine tracks with a running time of just over 40 minutes. Three of its tracks were co-written by Mark E Smith and Brix Smith. Of the other six, Brix was credited on three of them, which is some achievement given that her only previous contribution to a Fall album had been to co-write one track on Perverted By Language, released some ten months earlier.
It has to be said that the other band members were quite relaxed about it all. Steve Hanley is on record as saying:-
“She was good for the band. We’d reached as far as we could with fifteen-minute songs like ‘And This Day’ battering the audience. She did commercialise the band, she helped convince Mark to go that way. She was like a breath of fresh air for five miserable blokes from Manchester’
I’m not sure if MES, newly married and seemingly enjoying himself on stage like no other time previously, was all that miserable in 1984. The other four blokes were still those who had been making music together for the past couple of years – the duel drumming efforts of Karl Burns and Paul Hanley (who also played occasional keyboards), Craig Scanlon on guitar and Steve Hanley on bass, whose musical contributions were becoming even more increasingly important and influential.
I came quite late to this, and indeed, subsequent periods of The Fall, so I can’t really comment on how I felt about it all at the time. My excuse is that the new flat that I had moved into didn’t really have what you would call any other fans of the band, and so between the six of us there were just a handful of previous singles kicking around, and they weren’t on heavy rotation. Nobody bought the new album or the Call For Escape Route package. It would take until the early 90s, and me picking up a CD compilation album bringing together the singles that had been released on Beggars Banquet between 1984 and 1989 before I actually heard any of these songs. In this instance, it was No Bulbs, but it immediately became an instant favourite, and remains so all these many years later.
Call For Escape Route 12″
It’s another very fine collection of tunes, albeit more ammo to those fans of old who might have been a bit concerned about the band shifting to a sound which bordered on commercially friendly.
Draygo’s Guilt, co-written by MES and Craig Scanlon, has a tune which sounds as if it has been around since forever, with just about every kick ass rock’n’roll band having some sort of stab at it along the way. Indeed, The Fall had been playing this song, or at least a variation on it, as far back as 1980.
Clear Off! is, for The Fall, rather a light sounding track. The tune, in places, reminds me of a slightly sped-up Hip Priest and at other times, like the sort of tune New Order would pull together a little later on in time. Oh, and it also features a guest co-vocal from Gavin Friday of The Virgin Prunes (as indeed did two of the tracks on The Weird and Wonderful World Of….
The full version of No Bulbs extends to a few seconds short of eight minutes while the edited down version, given the title of No Bulbs 3, is around four-and-a-half minutes long. It is this edited version which was included on The Fall 45 84 89 compilation I mentioned above and thus offered me my first ever listen to the song. If ever you wanted to hear just how much John Leckie brought to the table in terms of his production skills, then take the time to give a listen to both, or either, versions of No Bulbs offered here today.
I still cannot get my head around it wasn’t selected as a stand-alone 7″ single, as I’m convinced it would have provided The Fall with a chart hit. It is a truly magnificent and mighty piece of music, one which wonderfully disguises that it is actually about living in squalor and poverty, as was the case with the newly married Mr & Mrs Smith in a dingy flat in Prestwich, just north of Manchester and just south of Bury. It would also justify an entry into the ‘Some Songs Are Great Short Stories’ series, with MES trying to get his hands on the one belt he owns as it is needed to hold his trousers up, only he can’t find it for the amount of junk and debris lying around the flat, and as he goes to switch on the light to assist in his efforts, the bulb blows, and they are so poor, they don’t have a spare. There is also a truly inspired closing stanza, which drives home the miserable conditions of their habitat:-
They say damp records the past
If that’s so I’ve got the biggest library yet
The biggest library yet.
Slang King 2 is a different mix of a track which was included on The Weird and Wonderful World Of…., and seemingly was written by MES and Brix, but with a rare writing credit offered to Paul Hanley on account of MES liking the way he had improvised the keyboards into the tune.
The single came into the charts at #99. The album got as high as #62. In both instances, it now feels like an absolute travesty.