The Fall, Grotesque (After the Gramme) Rough Trade, 1980
Pay Your Rates
New Face in Hell
The Container Drivers
Impression of J. Temperance
In The Park
W.M.C - Blob 59
Mancunians The Fall got together in 1976. With an ever changing line-up, only vocalist Mark E. Smith remained consistently with the band. They came out of the punk scene but embraced lots of musical styles, however their sound is generally abrasive and guitar driven. They were prolific recording artists, releasing 31 studio albums stopping only with Smith’s death last year. This album, their third, was made by their “classic line-up” of Smith on vocals, Marc Riley on guitar and keyboards, Craig Scanlon also on guitar, Steve Hanley on bass and Paul Hanley, who was only 15 at the time this album was made, on the drums.
Although The Fall have a loyal fanbase, they have been described as a difficult band to get into and hard to understand due to their multi-layered poetry style lyrics and Smith’s half talking / half singing (or often just talking) vocal delivery. With a bit of trepidation then, let’s check out Grotesque
Pay Your Rates is almost spoken word, it’s got a fast and furious tune with a constantly changing pace, the lyrics are against conforming to petty rules. English Scheme is a shouty diatribe against people who have the opportunity to leave a modest home and then appear to get above themselves. A character trait that is particularly hated in the UK. New Face in Hell has some kazoo, which is fun, the tune is good with a squeaky high pitched vocal and lots of feedback used. C‘n’C-S Mithering is ridiculously long and there is 1:30 of just heavy drumming at the start. The beat is deliberately repetitive allowing the lyrics to meander through the story of a trip to the USA, there is some nice picky guitar though. The Container Drivers is the most commercial sounding song on the album, it has the strongest beat and some great drums and piano. Impression of J. Temperance is about cloning gone wrong and that’s all I’m going to say about the lyrical content - you can listen for yourself and make up your own mind, it’s got very abrasive sounding guitar, lots of reverb and a marching beat. In the Park might be The Fall’s version of a love song. It’s one of the album’s better tracks. W.M.C - Blob 59 is spoken word made to sound like a recording of a group talking in a pub. Gramme Friday has a good beat and tune, it’s our favourite thing - a track about drugs, but it’s the 1980s now so the drug of choice is speed rather than heroin. The N.W.R.A is another long rant like song. It’s about a failed fictional uprising in the north of England (N.W.R.A = North Will Rise Again) but the lyrics draw you in and it’s the most engaging song on the album.
This album felt like a slightly shouty poetry reading. I wouldn’t say I had trouble understanding it, I just didn’t really enjoy it that much. It’s the kind of music that challenges you to really listen to it. I couldn’t imagine just putting it on in the background. Lyrically it’s interesting and there is definitely a rap like quality to some of the songs in terms of storytelling rather than speed of delivery. The overriding theme of the album is the same bleak unhappy, anti-government and anti-authority Britain that we have come to expect from the punk scene that The Fall initially came out of, but they clearly have more similarity to PiL than the Sex Pistols.
The Fall might be musical Marmite but they had a significant influence on the music of the 1990s, especially on other bands from the north of England like the Happy Mondays, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Elastica and Suede. I can’t call myself a fan, but perhaps you might and The Fall remain respected players on the UK alternative scene.