griminess with a clean and shiny production job, resulting in a kind of grey, industrial psychedelia. Witch Trials suggests magic mushroom tea drunk from a dir ty pub ashtray, an Ambrosian dishwater. It doesn’t taste ver y nice, but it’s probably good for you.
Although guitarist Mar tin Bramah and drummer Karl Burns were to be on-of f members of The Fall for the next two decades, neither was present on the October 1979 album Dragnet, which saw the arrival of three new members: future Radio 1 DJ Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and Craig Scanlon on guitars, and bassist Steve Hanley. Scanlon, a gifted interpreter of Smith’s often incomprehensible instructions, spent the next 15 years reining in his improvisator y tendencies to define The Fall’s majestically monolithic sound, alongside the similarly long ser ving Hanley’s overhead power cable bass boom. Both Witch Trials and Dragnet contain the kind of paper-cut, spiky post-punk currently plagiarised by contemporar y pop groups, but The Fall’s vision remains too individual to assimilate easily.
Seven live albums of extremely variable quality document the group’s 1977-80 incarnations. The best is Rough Trade’s Totale’s Turns, capturing The Fall infuriating various Nor thern working men’s club crowds as Smith audibly baits his colleagues into ever more intense per formances. “Hey,” he asks a heckler, “are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don’t make a career out of it.” This acidic put-down could be used to sum up The Fall’s own ethos. The Castle reissue (CMRCD882 CD) includes a Peel Session.
GROTESQUE (AFTER THE GRAMME) ROUGH TRADE 1980 SLATES ROUGH TRADE 1981 LIVE IN LONDON 1980 CHAOS TAPES 1980 A PART OF AMERICA THEREIN, 1981 COTTAGE “C&N music is born,” declared Smith’s Nor thern playboy alter ego R Totale on the sleeve of November 1980’s Grotesque (After The Gramme). The cover, a Friday night out Giotto fresco in lurid felt tip by Smith’s younger sister Suzanne, sums up Grotesque’s tone per fectly. This record, and its attendant singles “Totally Wired” and “How I Wrote Elastic Man” – both collected on the Castle reissue (CMRCD883 CD) – moved The Fall yet fur ther from the prevailing punk template. As Echo And The Bunnymen and their indie rock contemporaries posited a vaguely mystical post-punk psychedelia, Smith turned The Fall into kitchen sink realists who found Lovecraftian horrors lurking down the U-bend. Collapsed Countr y & Western cliches and rickety rockabilly rhythms pinned and mounted various contemporar y social archetypes – CB radio enthusiasts, long distance lorr y drivers and ambitious emigres – with an accuracy that escaped other lyricists of the era. While Paul Weller stuck ‘Kick Me’ signs on the back of be-suited businessmen and ran away, “English Scheme” explained the English disease in a hilarious stream of consciousness splurge of social theor y, with exquisitely detailed suppor ting evidence: “Your psychotic big brother who left home for jobs in Holland, Munich, Rome – he’s thick, but he’s struck it rich.” “Impression Of J Temperance”, “New Face In Hell” and “The NWRA” moved towards the expansive, narrative driven epics that would characterise The Fall’s best work in the near future.
The 10" mini album Slates, issued the following year (and augmented with a Peel Session and a single on Castle CMRCD1006 CD), pursued the same themes in less forgiving terms, with song structures sacrificed to relentless repetition, as if Smith and his cohor ts were furiously scratching the tracks into the vinyl themselves. Slates includes the incendiar y “Leave The Capitol”, a fevered vision of London at its most irritating, with buried lyrical nods to the forgotten mystic Ar thur Machen, rendered over a pulverising descending guitar rif f that never fails to excite. “I laughed at the great God Pan!”
Live In London 1980 is a sardine-tin recording of the group reaching towards ideas beyond their ability at the time, reissued by Castle with extra tracks (CMRCD 1005 CD). But A Par t Of America Therein 1981, though taped only a year later, reveals the group achieving its aims, with endless rif fs approaching trancelike qualities. It includes a definitive, hallucinator y live reading of “An Older Lover”, against which the Slates version sounds stunted. As usual, there are extra tracks on the Castle edition (CMRCD1006 CD).
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