Saturday, January 26, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...The Fall

I've spent a significant portion of my life listening to most of these "I'd Buy Anything" bands, but a few of them are recent discoveries. Witness "The Fall."

During my early years at university I used to hang around with an annoying guy called Monkeyboy, and he LOVED The Fall. At least, he loved the IDEA of The Fall -- an esoteric British band fronted by a hateful man who ended most of his sentences with an "-uh" sound -- and Monkeyboy used to play a handful of their songs on his CKMS radio show.

The fact that Monkeyboy liked the band was enough of a reason for me to DISLIKE them, so I never bothered to follow up in later years. But in the back of my head I was aware of this crazy cult group -- essentially just one man with a revolving roster of amazing musicians -- chugging away through the years, coming in and out of favour, following surprise hit singles with uncompromisingly unfriendly NON-hit singles...always different and yet always still the same.

So last year I bought a random used CD by The Fall -- "Extricate" -- and I couldn't believe my ears. Smith's ballsy vocals do a weird hopscotch around poetry, ranting, and singing. Sometimes he makes sense and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes he's sharp and sometimes he's a mushy mess. And in the background are some of the most disciplined musicians around, held tightly down to repetitive catchy hooks and tinkles.

Every month I try to buy another CD from their extensive history, and every month I'm delighted all over again. I have yet to find an era of the band that I don't like.

So first, here's The Fall in 1981 performing "Totally Wired" as a brash post-punk band. Note the lack of anything resembling "a solo," except for one of the oddest bass moments around. Also note the video introduction by Brix, future Fall guitarist who would inspire the band's most popular music.



In the "what the heck were they doing?" category, here's a 1988 live performance of "Big New Prinz," with Brix on rhythm guitar and wearing clothes that are...well, I don't know. This song, I think, is the distilled essence of The Fall: off-kilter, slightly shabby, high-spirited, confusing, and totally repetitious. Note the awkward host at the end. I love it.



There's certainly a point when Mark E. Smith's vocals begin to...well, MUSH. He was a speed-freak during the '80s and I suspect that he eventually just became an alcoholic. Mr. Smith doesn't look so good nowadays and he is almost unintelligible, but The Fall are very much still in operation and they still sound good.

Must-have albums? There are SO MANY of them, but I'd put "The Infotainment Scan" at the top of my list...it's the highpoint of their angry electronic period, full of unconventional keyboards and techno-crashing. Some others would recommend "Hex Enduction Hour" for the noisy two-drummers period or "This Nation's Saving Grace" for Brix-friendly rockabilly. Albums to avoid? I have yet to hear a bad one, but the more recent work has a sludginess to it that is missing something. For fans only: the huge amount of live stuff, and the 4-CD set of John Peel sessions.

2 comments:

Andrew Holmes said...

Hey Muffy, good to read a fellow Fall obsessive. Have you checked out the website? It's got just about anything Fall-related you could wish for and the forum's... well, it's just a bit unique, really...

http://www.visi.com/fall/index.html

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The website has helped me to make some sense of it all! Plus the "Beautiful and Frightening World of the Fall" documentary on YouTube gave me more of a sense of scope, as well as the brilliant liner notes in the Castle CD reissues.

Have you ever seen them live?