Friday, 17 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4 Grotesque (After the Gramme)

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4. 
 Grotesque (After the Gramme) - The Fall

"The dead cannot contradict
Sometimes the living cannot"

This is the hardest choice for me to make. The Fall have an varied yet consistent body of work and there are probably ten or more albums jostling for this position. As I write I am considering Grotesque; This Nations Saving Grace and Shiftwork. Earlier I had it down to Live at the Witch Trials, Perverted by Language and Extricate. I've considered 'cheating' and using The Complete Peel Sessions. Hex Enduction Hour jostles with The Wonderful and Frightening World of. Then Slates and The Infotainment Scan raise their hands. So there is more than the usual element of pin the tail on the donkey about today's choice.

After much procrastination I have chosen Grotesque.  It is the sort of album that would insult me in a way that I would not entirely comprehend, but would fully understand. "All the English groups, act like peasants with free milk"

I love the first side of this on vinyl: Pay Your Rates; English Scheme; New Face in Hell; C 'n' C-S Mithering; The Container Drivers. All paint a grimly funny, and quite grotesque portrait of class warfare England lit by game show TVs and  warmed by the glow of fag ends. It has a sort of askance political stance but its bile fuelled rants are never obvious.
"A prickly line of sweat covers enthusiast's forehead as the
realization hits him that the same government him and his now
dead neighbor voted for and backed and talked of on cream porches
have tricked him into their war against the people"

There is a sense of a populace just accepting what they are given, and of being reduced to caricatures of themselves. The landscape is grey and unremittingly dismal. People are shuttled around by forces beyond their control. All grows mundane, habitual. "The things that drain you off and drive you off the hinge. / Boils, dirty socks, the ceilings collapse. / The Sunday morning loud lawn mower"

The backslapping mediocrity of the music scene is in the firing line, "Make joke records, hang out with Gary Bushell, / Join round table. "I like your single yer great!"A circle of low IQ's." but they fire back: "They say I rip off Johnny Rotten."

Disappointment and disillusion trail fiend-shaped from grey chimneys. Someone is framed for murder by the government, a strange birth takes place: "The new born thing hard to describe / Like a rat that's been trapped inside / A warehouse base, near a city tide / Brown sockets, purple eyes / And fed with rubbish from disposal barges brown and covered."

But the words are not even half the story. Mark E uses his voice to create textured dramas from the often disjointed words. He riffs off the music's repetition and manages that unusual thing, novelty that turns out to be originality.  His timing is constantly surprising and the music swells to hypnotic levels.

The album culminates with closer NWRA, The North Will Rise Again. It has a driving riff which repeats until it simply collapses. The song takes place in an England after some 'rising' and has an undertone of science fiction. It reflects back to Crap Rap from Live at the Witch Trials where Mark E snarls "We are the Fall / Northern white crap that talks back."

He inveigles  us all to answer back: "Too many people cower to criminals / And that government pap / When all it takes is hard slap."

The extended version has the two excellent singles How I Wrote Elastic Man and Totally Wired. The best gets better still.

And by the way, kazoo's play a big part in this album.

If any song by The Knocking Shop was influenced by The Fall I guess it's this one. A stranger approached me after a gig and said that a group of his friends had come down from the upstairs pub because they thought we sounded like a mix between The Fall and Stiff Little Fingers. This was the song.


  1. here's where we differ , the furthest reaches of our musical venn diagram. I just don't get the Fall. so Seamus - in the spirit of discovery for a non fall fan where should I start?

    1. Tempted to say just buy the lot, lock yourself into a room for a week and let yourself out when they've clicked but.. I guess This Nations Saving Grace Shift Work and Extricate would be among the more accessible Fall albums. The compilation 458489 A-Sides is also in that area.
      However I'd personally recommend either Dragnet of Live at the Witch Trials. They were the albums that hooked me, and the Early Fall 77-79 compilation. It's hard because you start to think, "Which Fall album sounds least like the Fall?"
      Grotesque is definitely one of their 'best' albums and is, I think, as representative a Fall album as there is.

    2. I tend to recommend to first timers Infotainment Scan. However, most people I recommend it to are 40-50 yrs old. I find it's a very accessible point of entry into a band that's either hated or loved.

    3. Yes, Infotainment Scan is another good entry point, although I suspect that The Fall will appeal as an accumulation rather than as just one album. They creep into unsuspecting corners of unwary minds..

  2. I only really latched on to the Fall when I heard Dead Beat Descendant on a BBC youth show from about 1990. It has that propulsive groove where they batter the song into submission. Also here in my favourite footage from all of Later with Jools Holland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dDjGVNj2Q8


    1. Enjoyed that Brendan. There is something in the way they batter songs rather than complete them that leads then into interesting places.

  3. Sorry to say that I'd put Johnny and Mark in the same box and bury them deep. I have a strange need to like or admire the people who's music I listen to. Not rational I know but...
    I'll follow the path that you've laid for David above but buttocks and teeth are clenched. Wish me luck...

    1. I have to say that I might suspect Mark E of obscurantism and incipient demagoguery and not imagine I'd like him but I do admire him for not compromising on his vision. It's pretty incredible to have been so incredibly self-destructive (apparently) and yet to be not just standing but still trading punches. 30th Fall studio album out this week.

  4. How does he make a living? I can't imagine he sells beyond his close knit fan base.
    Primary school teacher? Asda welcomer? Bingo caller?
    I'd love to see him doing the weather...

  5. Well, he did the football results - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBUiPs1PxKo

  6. Interview with MES and some raving about new album Re Mit http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/the-fall-same-old-mark-e-smith-but-different-8619816.html