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23 April 2014

The Fall - 'The Wonderful and Frightening World...' (PVC/Beggars Banquet)

This is as far as I go, or maybe to This Nation's Saving Grace - I always forget which one came out later and I'm too lazy to look it up. So my only Fall on vinyl is the first and last, at least within the era that I know. And 5-6 years later, only a bit has changed. Karl Burns is the sole survivor from the Witch Trials band and he's moved to bass (I think; the credits are CONFUSING!). Craig Scanlon is on guitar and it's generally his acidic slashing that makes this era great (arriving for Dragnet and defining a style of post-punk shredding that is timeless, like so much great art, because it's simultaneously of it's era and also completely transcendent, like This Heat or Godard or, I dunno, Animal Collective or something...). You're thrown for a loop by the opening moments of 'Lay of the Land', which begins with some austere intonation about the apocalypse or something - hey, the Fall invented the Current 93 sound too! But it's just a ruse, cause the band comes crashing in and it's the Fall as we know it, with yet another great song. Catchy, but the hooks are all in the instrumentation, and the vocals are just fenceposts to build around. The production on this record is a bit weird, making the band sound distant and lo-fi but with a bright rhythm section. Smith's voice (both his and his wife's) has some reverb glow, and, hey, I like it! It gets quite muddy on 'Copped It', especially with the digital synth sheen and a snarling Beefheartian turn, building to one of the more vocally abstract (and I daresay adventurous) songs in the early Fall catalogue. 'Craigness' rises and falls through varying levels of plateaus but ultimately gets nowhere; it's the 'frightening' part of the album title, for sure. The 'wonderful' follows, actually at the end of both sides, in both 'Disney Dream Debased' and the strange 'C.R.E.E.P.', where the harmonic clouds around the band seem strangely benevolent, and oddly in-sync with 1980s pop. The keyboards here lift the songs, for once, instead of oppressing them, and Brix's feminine voice cuts the bile somewhat. It's still a strange trip, but one that sees a way out of the endless circles of concrete and muck. We're in the darkest period of Thatcher's assault on Britain here, yet somehow the Fall are able to make sense of it, true artists that they are.

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