... Issue 1
The Biggest Library Yet 10
(Scotland on Sunday)
(Independent on Sunday)
Published: January 1998 SOLD OUT
Artful press release
Subject: LEVITATE - Buy, Buy, Buy!
Levitate brings together 5 years of hard graft for the Fall. A strange sordid affair, full of tape cut outs, bootleg snippets, overloaded microphones and repetition.
Most Fall fans will recognise at least half the tracks from live shows since November , In fact some of them (10 Houses for example) seem possibly old hat. The two covers - I'm a Mummy and Jungle Rock - have all the youthfulness of the early years, Jungle Rock being a particular favourite of Smith for some years now. Spencer is radically reformed since the Peel Session, out goes Nagle's towering synth spectacular, replaced by a twangy Hanley bassline. For me the highlight of this album is Everybody but Myself - it really kicks. Its introduction is a bootleg snippet which sounds like Smith has ritually passed his microphone into the audience and a riot has broken out. Inch is renamed
4 1/2 Inch and is possibly a single contender, radically different from the version which Peel has been playing recently, Smith's voice has been given a going over by various tape cuts and dubs, this a much new and improved version - which was only completed last week! Nagle is credited as her honourable part of arranger and composer. Her finest moment comes in the form of Jap Kid and I Come and Stand at Your Door. With tracks as powerful as Ol' Gang is this Hex for the 90s?
The ltd edition CD (Artful 9 CDX) is a snippet of history given to the memory of all older fans. Powderkex - simply a DOSE working of Powderkeg, Christmastide re: Xmas with Simon. Recipe for Fascism, has Smith been reading the Futurist Cookbook? A stark warning is given here to the Fallnet. Pilsner Trail, a never released song, appears here as a raw bootleg version circa '83. And finally, a live version of Everybody but Myself, from Manchester Rockworld - a strange but certainly enjoyable mixture of old and new, asserting The Fall's place in rock history.
Levitate comes during a low patch for The Fall - skint, ignored and slagged off the last five years this album is certain to cause positive reaction from both Fans and the Press - if they can be bothered of course. It's the most *different* album they've released since Grotesque.
Falling on His Feet
Pick your way through British rock music in the last 20 years and you'll find the staging posts tend to be charismatic loudmouths from Manchester. Liam Gallagher, Shaun Ryder, Morrissey and Ian Curtis mark the passing of the guitar-rock baton from one critically-acclaimed frontman to another.
Amid the vagaries of fashion though, one particular Mancunian has remained a constant, a curmudgeonly voice of edgy antagonism. He's Mark E Smith, who with his group The Fall has provided a steady chorus of literate complaint from the noisy margins of pop.
There have been times, notably the mid-eighties, when The Fall were in danger of becoming successful, of being accepted into the fold, even into the charts. Every time, with sure-footed bloody-mindedness, Smith has pushed his music further away from fashion.
So he soldiers on, releasing about three albums of new and compiled material a year, occasionally changing the personnel of his group, the only consistent element being the trademark Smith vocal.
Into this world last year came Tommy Crooks, an artist living in West Lothian, who had spent most of his time at art college listening to The Fall. Then, one morning in Leith Walk he bumped into Mark Smith. 'I approached him and said hello,' says Crooks. 'They were my favourite band. A few days later I got a postcard from Mark, and then I sent them some photographs of my paintings and didn't hear anything for about a year. Then a letter arrived saying 'sorry for not crediting you on the album cover', with a CD of The Twenty-Seven Points album. I looked inside and there was my painting.'
Crooks kept in touch and noticed that long-time Fall guitarist Craig Scanlon was missing from one album photo. Crooks boldly phoned the group's office and suggested that he was available and could play a bit. Several months later, they called his bluff.
'I got a letter saying 'can you play in Manchester in two weeks time? Here's a list of the songs we'll be playing.' I had to learn all these songs pretty much right away. Turned out we didn't play any of them at the gig anyway, we ended up doing all these new things. It was crazy, but great, very exciting.'
Crooks slotted into a world where The Fall are a backdrop to Smith's vision, a tool for his creative gifts. Whisper the word democracy in a Fall dressing-room and you'd have the boys in the band wrinkling their brows and reaching for the dictionary.
'Steve Hanley and Simon Wolstonecroft, the bass player and drummer are the best rhythm unit you can find anywhere this side of Sly and Robbie,' says Crooks. 'But you would see them working on a tune and then Mark would just bowl in, say 'right lads, play this bit in that way, speed it up a bit there, do that like this,' and suddenly it would be The Fall. He is a genius like that.'
Probably an intimidating one as well. After all the man's a legend, and Crooks had spent most of his 20s in awe, listening to The Fall's records in his studio, while he painted. Presumably it was a little scary going out on stage as a fully-fledged band member?
'Well it was like being put into the trenches. You just had to do it, and once you're on it's The Fall, there's no way back. There's no point being scared. Mark said we're doing this this and this, songs I'd never played. Then he said 'by the way Tommy you're doing backing vocals'.
I sort of casually said, 'do you mind if I don't do the backing vocals?' Mark said 'Yeah, I do f***ing mind'.'
Crooks is now enough of a member to be able to absorb a little of the band's self-sufficiency, the sense that the Fall are above everything else that is going on in the grubby music industry.
'I noticed Oasis were saying we're the best rock band in the world,' says Crooks, 'where in actual fact it's obvious The Fall are the best.'
Tom Lappin, Scotland on Sunday, 3 August 1997
Rumble in the Jungle
Mark E Smith of The Fall on what makes 'Jungle Rock' a classic
'When I started the band in 1977 there weren't a lot of really raw records around like this, plus it was the only thing we could play. It's got those really corny jungle drums - dumma-dumma-dumma-dum - done on a floor tom that I'm always a sucker for, and the vocals are a sort of clipped, hillbilly whine.
. . . If in doubt, sing out of the corner of your mouth in a high voice - that's what I do - it's pretty unpopular. The bass line's pretty corny too, it's just running up and down the scale. It's always been one of my strengths, not knowing how to play - you can sound quite good on an instrument until you get familiar with it.
I've had 'Jungle Rock' for years and still get something out of it every time - things like that are very rare. I don't know what the words are about... something about the animals all having a party in the jungle... '
Interviewed by Joseph
Gallivan for The Independent, 1990
...a gullible obsessive writes
In November 1997, The Fall released the compilation Oxymoron, or rather, Receiver Records did. It is the latest in a series of discs chronicling lesser known live or alternate versions of Fall tracks. Apparently, the albums wouldn't be released at all if the band had anything to do with it, but they exist nonetheless, if only because fans like myself will buy them, whatever the quality. Perhaps, as optimistic devotees might hope, Receiver are doing this for reasons of archiving and posterity, and attempting to amass The Fall's equivalent to the Beatles' Anthology or some other such lofty retro-enterprise. Or maybe they're just in it for the money. Either way, Oxymoron is a strange album even by Fall standards, though again, that's more to do with Receiver than the band. So what's so weird about this album?
It is, as stated, a mixture of live and alternate takes of Fall material mostly from the 1990s. Rather than picking 'classic' material, Receiver seem to have selected merely from whatever was made available to them. Hence yet another version of Glam Racket, which would be fine, except that this one doesn't seem to feature Mark E. Smith after his (admittedly impressive) spoken intro. (Just listen to the way he snarls 'Why don't you bog off back...' etc) Instead, we have Brix taking lead vocals over a rattling lo-fi run through of the song, as though this were recorded at a soundcheck, or post storm-off at one of Mark's more stroppy gigs. Only truly mad Fall completists need a Mark-free Glam Racket, and here it is, just for them.
Also falling into the live category are an OK-but-unnecessary Pearl City, a so-so Behind the Counter (heard to better effect on In the City), the first official live version of The Birmingham School of Business School (welcome enough), and a rambling Rainmaster which redeems itself when Mark announces: 'Good evening we are The Fall - rainmasters extraordinaires', before concluding 'And that is as far as it goes. Dot dot dot...'
There's also a very ramshackle, loose attempt at Bill is Dead which, though disappointing at first, grows into an appropriately wrecked, weary and bleary take on one of their most enduring songs. The feedback leaking out into the song fits the mood perfectly, and complements the uncharacteristic emotion in Mark's delivery. This is a song that needs to sound messy, and this time, when Mark tells you these are the finest times of his life, you can really believe him. Compared with this, the studio version is far too clean and orderly.
It's difficult to determine what else here is 'live' or 'alternate', especially since the compilers have edited some of the track's ends and beginnings together. Hence, what sounds like an alternate take of The Chiselers (or Interlude/Chilinism as it's labelled here) segues weirdly into a live-sounding Life Just Bounces, but the latter is either a very short version, or merely a fragment of the whole track. (Who edited these together, The Fall, Receiver, a stray dog that wandered into the studio?) Chilinism proves a worthwhile inclusion though, as there's an unexpected, rather dancey midsection which shifts the axis of the song somewhere altogether different.
While it's undeniably peculiar, the programming does make you want to listen to the songs differently. Strangest of all is the way the fading cheers for Bill is Dead overlap with an alternate version of the 1979 classic Psychick Dancehall. (The original is on Dragnet, the single version appeared on the Fiery Jack 7" and The Early Years: 77-79.) On Oxymoron, the song has been retitled ESP Disco, which is a bit of a raw deal for punters who'd imagined it was an entirely new track. This version (live, alternate or otherwise) comes from the same period as the original(s), making it 10 to 15 years older than anything else on the album. Thus we have a 90s Fall song merging with a 70s Fall song for no apparent reason other than Receiver somehow got hold of the track and wanted
to chuck it out. Yet ESP Disco is a real treat, with different lyrics (hence the new title) and a nice keyboard line.
Generally, the alternate mixes fare better then the live tracks. There is a minimal, haunting Hostile on which Brix's vocals echo beautifully against the industrial clanking of the band. Presumably from the same sessions, Powder Keg, He Pep and Oxymoron itself are less worthy, adding little to the Light User Syndrome versions, and too recent to merit compiling in this way.
Indeed, the album often suffers from the choice of material and the apparently random track selection. This is not rectified by the inadequate 'sleevenotes' which, perhaps wisely, are not credited to anybody. Promising a 'fascinating insight' into the band, then insulting them with references to their influence on the likes of Gene. I like the phrase 'nail bitten wit over a dense thicket of energy', but it would have been nice if they could spell, and would it be too much to ask for sources of the tracks instead of vague references to 'an eclectic set of titles from classic periods in the group's career'.
Pedantic, maybe, but if the music's worth releasing, then why not present it with some care? As it is, Oxymoron, like its Receiver predecessors, has the air of a bootleg.
On the plus side, there are two 'new' tracks, White Lines and Italiano, which are nice enough but little more than half-formed instrumental backing tracks. And the compilers seem to have taken care not to repeat tracks from the 15 Ways to Leave Your Man collection. Of the albums' 31 combined tracks, only two choices overlap. Then again, it could be a complete accident.
Ultimately, Oxymoron is a bad Fall album which, by default, it means it is a good album because it has The Fall on it. There's nothing here as impressive as anything on Levitate, but all of it is pretty great compared with an average assortment of indie also-rans. Whatever the complaints about the selection of the material, the slapdash packaging, these lesser albums in no way cancel out the greater ones. Prolific as the band remain, it's good to have three or four new Fall albums a year. Being a fan means always being greedy for more. Receiver know this and exploit it shamelessly. This is why I will soon be going out to buy its follow-up, Cheetham Hill. Of course this is the nature of the record industry, but The Fall and their followers deserve better.
... beyond useless... downright misleading... utterly inconsequential... a very shoddy business... tawdry presentation ...
Tony Herrington, Wire magazine editor on Oxymoron sleevenotes
'Instead of going to Montserrat, a la Simon Le Bon, I bought a caravan in Weymouth and nearly shot my mum'
Alleged line from Elastica/MES collaboration
Communists are just part-time workers!
Picture of the Berlin Wall with this line from Container Drivers graffitied on it (yes that is what it says, I know it's hard to read)
You want to know what I read? The Daily Mail. You want to know why? Because everything is spelt correctly. I know it's a load of fuckin' bosh, but at least you understand it.
Mark E Smith
We never just go through the motions. Everyone gives it 100 per cent when we're on tour, no matter where we're playing.