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23 April 2014

The Fall - 'Live at the Witch Trials' (I.R.S.)

Whenever you evaluate the first release of an extremely prolific artist, it's a bit interesting to think about how there were no guarantees they would ever release any more records. What if this had been it? The Fall's first album is certainly not their best, but it's mostly great, and certainly sets the pace for what's to come. Yet the most interesting thing about it, maybe, is that it's the first of so many. All of the things are in place here by the end of the first song - the driving sound of indie future, Smith's sneering mockery with extemporaneous asides, something vaguely approaching pop form - and I can only think about what these young kids must have been like to spend time with. Certainly when bashing out 'Frightened' in some Mancunian garage, there was no certainty that 33 years later they'd be an institution, with countless albums, songs, and members. The Fall are an interesting band culturally, as I've meet lots of other casual Fall fans like myself, and we're all capable of being devoted to one particular era of the band without even dabbling in the others. I remember meeting a Fall fan whose expertise was in the Frenz Experiment era, and they had no idea what Perverted by Language sounded like -- just as I've never heard Extricate or I Am Kurious Oranj (though I'm sure they are fine records). To really sink into all 58 albums or whatever it is (72 according to discogs) requires a strength I just do not have. So I always stuck to the first handful, figuring they were the most influential and therefore the best (an arrogant assumption, for sure). Witch Trials has at least one all-time classic ('Rebellious Jukebox') and some underrated gems, such as the title track, a loose noodling sketch that serves more as an introduction to the perfect 'Futures and Pasts'. The presence of keyboards, even primitive ones, definitely separates them from Sham 96 or the Clash; they are haunting bells on 'Two Steps Back', a druggy moon hanging over the bleak 'Industrial Estate's of the North. Is this pure poetry, the birth of a new lyrical prophet? Or just another 'everything + the kitchen sink' art-school project? What I found so curious is that during my years living in Britain (2005-2008), all of the local bands still sounded like early Fall, though more like 'No Xmas for John Quays' than any of the messier bits. Whether this was direct inspiration or filtered through a few microgenerations, I'm not sure, but M.E. Smith is still royalty to a lot of people and there's not much sign that his geyser has slowed down since this.

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