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!"