Everyone goes through a phase in their life where they get into The Fall, for a greater or lesser period. Mine was the late Eighties, a small handful of albums, starting with Perverted by Language, and a couple of gigs.
I’d been listening to The Fall since 1978 and ‘Bingo-Master’s Breakdown’: well, you couldn’t listen to John Peel every night for that many years and be completely unaware of the band. But I never really took to their music: there was an ungainly, ragged angularity to it that didn’t appeal to my sensibilities, and Mark E Smith’s denunciatory voice is a taste to be acquired.
Some tracks stood out, nagging at my mental barriers, things like ‘Totally Wired’ and ‘How I wrote Elastic Man’, but even these were rushed and rough. The Fall were a band with rough edges: most of the time they seemed to consist of nothing else.
But if you are exposed to something for long enough, it’s hardly surprising that some part of their music starts to make sense. For me it was ‘Leave the Capitol’, from the Slates EP, and the Peel session version of ‘Who makes the Nazis?’, in which Smith’s sneer ceased to be repellent against the headlong rush of the band.
So I experimented: I bought Perverted by Language and struggled to get into it (though the splenetic ‘Eat Y’self Fitter’ was an instant gem).
The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall was the next album. I bought the cassette version, which included the Call for Escape Route EP, and had seven extra songs in total, a format which has been preserved for the CD. It’s the only one I’ve kept.
This is where Smith and the band – which at that point included Smith’s American wife, Brix, for a number of years before she ran off with that tit, Nigel Kennedy – came closest to being a tight, bright, melodic pop band.
Being the Fall, and being Mark E.Smith in particular, it really isn’t that close, though it’s noticeable that this is when The Fall scored their only singles hits, even if these were only two Top 40 placings and a high of no. 30 (with a cover of ‘There’s a Ghost in my House’ that never sounded anything like as good as it did in your head when the idea first appeared: they were much better on ‘Victoria’, which only got to no. 34).
And it’s not just the singles ‘Oh, Brother’ and ‘C.R.E.E.P.’ imported into the cassette/CD versions, with their chiming guitars and ringing title lines, it’s there in tracks on the vinyl itself, such as ‘2 x 4’ (what you should hit someone on the head with to attract their attention).
Even so, the ‘old’ Fall has plenty to say for itself, especially in the disjointed side one closer, ‘Elves’, a fantastic suspended gulf of paranoia and mystic leanings that suddenly gathers force and resolves into a structured chant of ‘not ever, no never no more/will I trust the Elves of Dunsinore’ that makes no sense but spits fire.
This sudden influx of conventional structure is present from the outset in the album’s best track, the lurching, bass-dominant ‘Slang King’, an epic and forceful surge that, sonically, I’ve always been tempted to bracket with such differing tracks as Neil Young’s ‘My, My, Hey, Hey (Into the Black)’ and Joy Division’s awesome ‘Dead Souls’.
The Fall’s ‘pop’ years didn’t last long, and certainly didn’t out-lived Brix’s defection, but this album represents that influence at its most coherent and consistent, and thus it survives every cull of the collection.