You, me, the music, and me.

Monday, November 07, 2005

THE FALL The Wonderful and Frightening World of...

Beggars Banquet BEGA 58 (1984)

The difference between you and us is that we have brains!

- Mark E. Smith, practicing audience etiquette on the live LP Totale's Turns (It's Now or Never)

I wish I had the ability to create a soundclip of the first thirty seconds of "Copped It", the third track on The Wonderful and Frightening World of... The Fall, so that you could hear it for yourself. Those thirty seconds are all you'd need to form your opinion of The Fall, who are one of those bands which, as the saying goes, people either love or hate. The drummer counts off two quick beats on his sticks, then the band plunges into a hammering eighth-note pattern led by the guitars in A major, while the bassist plays a sludgy blues line in A minor(!). Then singer Mark E. Smith begins ranting (in a key known only to himself) about how he ain't no millionaire but he's spent more money than you'll ever see. If this sounds like the kind of thing that would appeal to you, then you would probably like The Fall. Thirty seconds was all it took for me to decide while hearing this song on Alive from Off Center, an avant-garde TV show that ran on PBS during the mid-eighties hosted by New York performance artist Laurie Anderson. The music was used to accompany a routine by one of those new-wave dance troupes who thrusted their elbows around a lot and wore their underwear on the outside of their clothes, but what they were doing was nowhere near as strange and wonderful as what I was hearing. I proceeded to buy every Fall album I could find, eventually tracking this one down at Track Records in Halifax, N.S.

Mark E. Smith formed The Fall in his home of Manchester, England in 1976 and is the sole remaining original member (click here for a lengthy list of past and present band members). TWaFWo... features the classic lineup of Karl Burns, Craig Scanlon, and Paul and Stephen Hanley, with Smith's then-wife Brix on lead guitar. This album marked the beginning of a period for the band where their sound became more user-friendly and commercial, yet tracks such as the straightforwardly rocking "Lay of the Land" and "2 x 4" lost none of their bite as a result. The band continued to push in abstract, experimental directions; "Bug Day" features Smith rapping grotesque beat poetry over a shifting, warped musical landscape, while "Copped It" combines atonal riffing with doo-wop background vocals. Meanwhile, "Slang King", "Stephen Song", and "Disney's Dream Debased" show off the band's ability to create strangely uplifting music with strangely strange lyrics ("Bright, turn off sign/Swing, 14, turns off, between/Swingo greets lime green receptionist/All here is ace, all here is ace, all here is ace." - from "Slang King").

The Fall continue to record and tour to this day; the line-ups may change, but Smith remains at the helm. If you're curious about their music, there's no lack of it out there; they have one of the hugest discographies of any band currently together. I'd recommend their mid-eighties to early nineties albums as the best place to start your tour of their wonderful and frightening world.


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