Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas!

I'm sitting in the office drinking wine, which is how things should be. I'll be off to Birmingham for a few days in a bit, where I shall divide my time between paying respect to the aged parents, listening to the Fall, putting up Christmas decorations and over-indulging. And sleeping. Plenty of sleeping. Back in a week or so. Happy Christmas to all my loyal readers (both of you)!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The perils of Christmas parties.

So, we met up in the pub, then went on to the restaurant, I took my place, took off my coat, removed my jumper, and one of the lenses fell out of my glasses because a screw had fallen out. I scrabbled around on the floor, but had to accept that it was gone and I'd be spending the rest of the evening squinting. Now I must wear my old specs that make me look like Harry Potter. On the other hand, I get to spend my lunch hour tomorrow trying to find an optician who's prepared to give me a screw. Innuendo always makes things seem better.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Booze and work - the fatal combination

I have had the definite feeling lately that there is one week too many before Christmas. Surely work should have stopped last week?

The season of too many nights out on the sauce is upon us. I shall be a physical wreck by next week, even more than usual. Tonight is the Work Meal. I fear for my liver.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fall marathon 4: Room To Live

"Room To Live - Undilutable Slang Truth!" is an album I only heard for the first time a year or so ago. My mate Jason, who got me into The Fall, didn't have the album (the only one he didn't have) and it was long out of print, so until it was finally re-released last year it remained a mythical, reputedly un-listenably obscuritan beast. Which of course is a red rag to a bull as far as I'm concerned.

Now, the line-up for this album is essentially the same as "Hex Enduction Hour" (quite unusual for the Fall) and it was recorded hot on the heels of that album, so it's no surprise to find a lot of the same dense, angular feel of that album. And Smith's lyrical concerns are certainly obtuse, even for him. What's more surprising listening to it now is that it seems to be an idiosyncratic take on easy-listening music. joker Hysterical Face and Marquis Cha-Cha in particular coming across like Lounge-core from Hell. Hard Life In Country starts off as another mantra-drone minimalist Fall track, but is embellished by a guitar line which wouldn't be altogether out of place on a Spandau Ballet song. The effect of this funky disco strumming set against the oppressive repetitiveness of the rest of the song is extraordinarily disorientating, and coupled to Smith's paranoid lyrics the overall effect is one of claustrophobia. "Room To Live" is in classic Fall-rockabilly vein, but with the sort of john Barry-esque cimbalom flourishes that would later become familiar from Portishead. "Detective Instinct" is just terrifying! Solicitor in Studio comes across like an evil Madness. "Papal Visit" is not really like anything else you'd be likely to hear on a pop album, and almost seems like "anti-music"; Smith has suggested that at the time this record was meant as a two-fingered salute to the record industry (and possibly a farewell), which explains that, I guess.
Probably not the Fall's finest hour, but a neglected and underrated gem, I think.

A mild surprise

Torchwood wasn't shit last night. Is this because it was better or because my expectations have dropped that much further? This conundrum can be expressed by the equation a=e(r/e), where a represents appreciation, e represents expectation, and r represents reality. Thus, a high expectation combined with a disappointing reality will lead to a lower satisfaction than something you expect to be a steaming pile of dog shit, which turns out not to be as bad as you thought it'd be. This equation explains why it's possible to gain more enjoyment from an above-par episode of a crap sitcom than a quality period drama adaptation that's as good as, but no better, than you expected.

Unrelated: There's a post by Shane MacGowan on the Guardian blogs today noting the anniversary of the death of Kirsty MacColl. I was listening to some of her songs with Cheerful One on Saturday night. Life's full of little coincidences, not always happy.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fall marathon 3: Hex Enduction Hour

There's a moment during Hex Enduction Hour that seems like an encapsulation of everything that's great about this record. we're at the end of the near 8 minute lanquid spinning of "Hip Priest", which fades away, to be replaced by... a bontempi organ beat. This is wildly incongruous, and very funny. That is then swamped by a fierec guitar attack reminiscent of the Magic Band or Zappa, which then seques into a driving garage beat, before ending up in the same territory as the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray", wailing organ and all. And this all happens in the space of about 2 minutes. But without ever sounding like anyone other than the Fall.
This is the sound of a band on the verge of combustion, the savagery and violence of the invective on opener "The Classical" palpable. There's a story that, incredibly, The Fall almost signed for Motown during this period. It never happened, and you have to wonder what they made of the tape they were sent of this, Mark E. Smith spitting out such user-friendly lines as "Where are the obligatory niggers? Hey there, Fuck Face! Hey there Fuck Face!" As he spews out bile in the general direction of British pop culture. "Jawbone and the Air-Rifle" adopts a wryer tone... "Who'd have thought they would do harm?" asks Smith in a mild tone that belies the subject matter of war and violence. "Hip Priest" was memorably used in "The Silence of the Lambs", and it's easy to see why, its languid spinning paranoia and mantra-like delivery providing a chilling contrast to what's gone before. That's what this record's about, really - long quiet, bleak expanses punctuated by sudden violent, frenzied activity, often laced with black humour. It's like a cut-up presentation of the Apocalypse.

By the time we get to "Iceland" it feels we're on the other side of the universe from "The Classical", floating in a sparse and pallid landscape.

Then we're abruptly dragged into "And This Day", a relentless march that takes us further beyond. it makes me think of those characters of lovecraft, abandoned in the antarctic wastes, attempting to articulate the undescribable majestical horrors they have witnessed. Ai Cthuhlu! An appropriate reaction, I think, considering thast at the time the band thought this might be their final album. If it had all imploded, this would have been one hell of an exit. There's so much depth to this record, compared to the vapid posturing that makes up so many bands' output. It's a record that needs to exist.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fall marathon 2: Grotesque/Slates

One thing that keeps coming to mind as I go through these early albums, which isn't something generally associated with The Fall, is how much they groove. Everyone knows about the more angular influences - 60s garage rock, Beefheart, Can, etc. - but it's too easily forgotten that they come as much from a background of Northern Soul (and attendant amphetamine culture), and those kind of influences can be discerned in tracks like "C'n'C-s Mithering" from their third album, "Grotesque (after the Gramme)". Smith's caustic sense of humour seems to come more to the fore on this album, through such songs as "The Container Drivers" and "English Scheme", where barbed comments on the UK music scene reveal another of his perennial bugbears. All the elements from the first two albums seem to click into a greater whole on this album,

and the result is their most satisfying long-playing outing so far.

"Slates" is, strictly speaking, an E.P. rather than an album, but it's one of my favourite Fall records, so I certainly wasn't going to skip it. I remember an interview with Steve Albini In one of the inky music papers where he named it as a favourite album, describing it as "a weird band at their weirdest", and that certainly holds true, not just for the angular, atonal guitar stabs in opener "Middle Mass", but the surprisingly emotional "An Older Lover etc", as well as the heartfelt "Leave the Capitol". it's only 6 songs long, but this is as substantial a record as any they've made, and I'm tempted to say it's the first truly essential Fall record, one that belongs in everybody's collection, whether they're interested in the Fall or not. And it prepares the way for an absolutely blinding record, which is next on my pile...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Fall marathon, part 1

The Fall, who are just about my favourite band in the world, have a new album out in February. In celebration, I have decide to listen to every Fall studio album between now and then in chronological order. Today I listened to their first album, "Live At The Witch Trials", and the follow up, "Dragnet".

What's remarkable about these two albums is how complete the Fall were right from the start. There's no sense of finding feet, the sound's pretty much right there from the off. "Witch Trials" has some superficial similarity with the nascent post-punk scene (e.g. P.i.L.), but the soul of it is entirely Fall-ish, Mark E. Smith's idiosyncratic vision apparently emerging fully formed. One thing that does startle after so many years not hearing this early stuff is how clear Smith's enunciation is compared to the bilious drawl he's latterly adopted - not that that makes understanding his oblique lyrics much easier.

It's worth noting that by the time they recorded their debut album, the Fall had already been through several of the line-up changes that would become a recurring feature of their career.

Some people think all the fall's records sound the same, but then again some people think all Haydn's music sounds the same, and they're wrong too. "Dragnet", made within a year, sees the band determined to push forward and avoid repeating themselves - an admirable attitude that many bands now would do well to note. So the sound here is denser and more intense, with a harder, rockabilly-inspired edge coming to the fore. There's even an oblique nod of the hat to the disco craze of the time, evident in "Psykick Dancehall". If the core influences of '60s garage bands aren't quite as deeply ingrained as they were to become, there's always Smith's voice to lend the distinctive tone. And the grinding paranoia of "Before the Moon Falls" and "Spectre vs. Rector" needles its way into the skull in a way that many more recent bands would love to be able to do.

When I first decided to dig out these old records, I wondered how well they'd come up after all these years. I'm happy to report that they sound wonderful, incredibly fresh, and with a grating lo-fi sound that sounds positively subversive in these super-smooth digital times.

As Smith says in the intro of the excellent live album "Totales' Turns" from this era, "The difference between you and us is that we have brains!"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

But who cares when we have such lovely tasteful decorations in the office?

Even Elgar's getting into the mood!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

One in the eye for The Man

The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property has been published (if you can't face wading through the whole thing there's a good precis here), and it's good to see that it rejects the recording industry's argument for extending copyright on recordings, as well as making some other recommendations that nudge copyright law in a more enlightened direction. There's still a long way to go - I believe that the whole concept of intellectual rights needs to be radically re-thought - but, assuming the government follows the report's recommendations, this is a significant victory for creative freedom against corporate greed. And of course Mick Hucknall.

On an altogether less worthy note, here's a splendid tribute to Paris, Britney and Lindsay.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Captain America cheers me up

Some days you just wish you hadn't got out of bed. We have this irritating Nazi phone system at work which works on the assumption that all we do is sit around waiting for the phone to ring. So when you're busy doing something it sometimes feels impossible to make any headway, as you're constantly interrupted by phone calls from people who want things doing NOW! NOW!. We also had a visit from a large group of librarians today (god knows why) who spent a long time milling around right in front of my desk drinking tea, which made it impossible to concentrate on work for the feeling of being in a goldfish bowl. And also made it impossible to get at the kettle and make tea for myself. Oh, and they've put this new door in the office which you need one of those fob things to open, but as i haven't yet been given a fob thing whenever I leave the office I'm locked out and on my return have to stand at the door knocking and looking through the glass trying to capture someone's eye like an abandoned puppy. GRRRR! At least I had the mighty Fall in the CD drive to channel the irritation. And I have this splendid picture on my desktop, which makes me laugh, in that way that only rude words can :

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

pitch slack

A friend sent me this article about Robert Johnson today... I'm not sure how convinced I am, but it's an intriguing theory.

On a completely unrelated note, isn't it great once again to hear "Soul Limbo" as the theme music for cricket on telly? :)