Sunday, 22 April 2018

10 Albums by The Fall

I bought my first album by The Fall in a record store in Newcastle when I was 16 years of age, and this was the first song I heard:

February was the time. February and March. In all honesty, the death of Mark E Smith hit me a lot harder than I thought it would (institutions are not supposed to fall). I grappled with it the only way I could. The only way that exists, really. This time, however, it called for a much higher degree of intensity. This time, I had to go full-on. Deep dive, no knickers. Over the course of a month and a half, I chose to re-listen to every Fall record starting with New Facts Emerge and all the way back to Bingo-Master's Break-Out! With bizarre singles and barely audible live albums scattered in between. It was a ride. Hence, February was the time. February and March. 

Down below, you will find the results of this pastime (terribly unhealthy but ultimately rewarding). Ten best albums by The Fall, numbered here for your enjoyment. Three things have to be said in advance, though. One. No compilations. These are studio albums. Two. I know Smith never gave a fuck about contemporary singles, b-sides and outtakes appearing on later versions of LPs, but for the sake of convenience I chose to focus on the original track listings. Three. I still find This Nation's Saving Grace a tiny bit overrated. 


Apart from being the greatest band in the world, The Fall were the only act I know who released a classic album in five different decades. Arguably the best album of 2010 (nothing in itself, but still), Our Future Your Clutter showed the much needed urgency after the subpar Reformation Post TLC. This is deranged, intense garage rock at its best, with Mark E Smith sounding fully engaged. "Cowboy George" is something else. 

Best song: Cowboy George


If you have never read Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall, do that now. If you have, you'll know about the onstage fight during a New York concert in 1998 that resulted in several band members leaving The Fall (for the umpteenth time). The thing is, Mark E Smith was The Fall, and so The Marshall Suite doesn't break into pieces. Instead, you are greeted with the classic "Touch Sensitive" single that sounds like the band was going through some sort of momentum. What follows is brilliant Fall music, noisy ("Antidotes"), danceable ("The Crying Marshall") and oddly beautiful ("Birthday Song").

Best song: On My Own


The Infotainment Scan was one of their most accessible LPs. Also, it has the distinction of being a rare Fall record from the 90s with no filler on it. Which is to say, even a song as lightweight as "I'm Going To Spain" (a cover, obviously) is done with great conviction. Elsewhere, "It's A Curse" is hypnotic, "Ladybird" is Mark at his catchiest and the Twilight Zone inspired "Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room" is four minutes of intense Fall perfection. Really well-written stuff.

Best song: Ladybird (Green Grass)


The original title was Country On The Click, but then something or other happened and they had to rename it. Which would be a very dull thing for me to say were it not for the fact that this was The Fall's greatest album in a long, long time. The tunes are so good they make you laugh. "Janet Johnny & James" makes you cry. In a way, The Real New Fall LP gives you a rather comprehensive picture of everything this band ever was. From timeless ("Theme From Sparta F.C.") to insane ("Boxoctosis"). As ever, lyrical gems abound.

Best song: Janet Johnny & James


Named after one of my favourite novels by Nabokov, Bend Sinister seems to have a rather dubious reputation among the fans of The Fall. Too dark, they say. Too slight after This Nation's Saving Grace. I never got this. From the chilling guitar line of "R.O.D." to the sparse piano of "Auto-Tech Pilot", this could be The Fall's album I've heard the most. "Mr Pharmacist" is one of their best covers. "Dktr. Faustus" has a riff as annoying as it is genius. Both "Shoulder Pads" songs are brilliant twee pop. "Living Too Late" and "US 80's-90's" are all-time great. Trust me, Bend Sinister is better than anything released by your favourite band.

Best song: US 80's-90's         


This album starts with "The Classical", "Jawbone and The Air-Rifle" and "Hip Priest", so I don't even know what I'm supposed to be writing here. Many people consider Hex Enduction Hour to be The Fall's best album and I can't blame them. For my part, I'd say I'm slightly underwhelmed by the overly simplistic "Just Step S'ways" and the brilliantly titled but uneventful "Who Maked The Nazis?". Which is not saying much really, as even their 'somewhat flawed' beats your best. 

Best song: Hip Priest


Major label, big producer. The sound is indeed cleaner but do not confuse it with 'clean'. The songs are of course fantastic, catchy and unique, this being their classic 80s period when they could barely do wrong. Highlights include "Lay Of The Land" which is as good a Fall opener as you can imagine, the keyboard line in the addictive "Slang King", the propulsive "Elves" which is like The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" only better and of course "Disney's Dream Debased". All of them, really. Even the obligatory joke that is "Bug Day". 

Best song: Disney's Dream Debased

3. SLATES (1981)

Slates is the most perfect record by The Fall that money can buy. The EP contains six songs, each one of them an absolute classic that no decent Fall compilation should omit. I mean, "Prole Art Threat"? "Middle Mass"? "Leave The Capitol?" Perfection. In fact, the only reason this doesn't top my list is because it's only six songs. But don't let that distract you.

Best song: Leave The Capitol

2. GROTESQUE (1980)

Grotesque (After The Gramme). To be honest, when I first approached the idea of doing this article, I was sure this album would make it to number one. Ever since I first heard it, the catchy pop-rocker "English Scheme", the kazoo classic "New Face In Hell", the bass monster "Impression of J. Temperance", the lengthy spoken-word (spoken-word? they are all spoken-word) epic "The N.W.R.A.", I thought Grotesque was it. The Fall's greatest LP. And in a way, it still is, equal parts circus and punk rock. I mean, look at the cover, it's all in there.

Best song: New Face In Hell


The Fall album to be lost in. Perverted By Language is dominated by lengthy grooves that sound both addictive and repetitive. "Garden" goes on for almost nine minutes, and it's basically a few guitar patterns with Mark E Smith doing his mad poetry on top of it. But Christ do I never wish it to stop. I admit I hated "Eat Y'self Fitter" first time I heard it, but now I love the broken rhythm as well as the silly chant. I even like the Brix-flavoured (this was her first album with the band) "Hotel Bloedel" that sounds like a perfectly fine demented pop tune to me. And then of course there is "Hexen Definitive, Strife Knot", my favourite Fall song. Still, I believe that Perverted By Language should be taken as a whole. It's a singular experience. 

Best song: Hexen Definitive, Strife Knot

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Скетчи про Минск. "ART".

"Они слишком часто меняют репертуар". Так один человек описал мне однажды проблему питерских театров. При всем огромном желании, ты можешь просто не успеть сходить на постановку, о существовании которой даже не догадывался. Это не мир Нью-Йорка, но это мир с миллионом дверей, и удариться в нужную не так просто. Обшивка сорвана, дверной ручки не было в помине... Я сказал ему тогда, что в Минске тоже есть проблема с театрами: репертуар не меняется никогда. 

Афиши тлеют на солнце. Все новое кажется враждебным, неправильным, лишним. Часто подозрения оправдываются: я никогда не был так близок к чувству беспомощного отвращения, как на постановке "Мастера и Маргариты" в Театре Киноактера десять лет назад; они так отчаянно пытались быть другими. Но сегодня от пыльных названий начинают болеть зубы, и я покупаю билеты на редкую премьеру ("Юбилей ювелира"), и поздним вечером мы уходим домой ни с чем.  

Все это не отменяет чувства разочарования от пропажи "Макбета", "Translations", "С.В." или "Больше, чем дождь" (я говорю об одном театре, но это лучший театр в городе). В эти постановки я был влюблен в разные периоды жизни, и сегодня я дорого заплатил бы, чтобы увидеть их вновь. Но это невозможно, и странным образом я люблю это чувство потери. В нем есть смысл, приятное напряжение, и надежда на то, что в один из будущих месяцев на сцене появится что-нибудь совершенно гениальное.

Так, я потерял однажды купаловскую постановку "ART". Думал, что навсегда. Думал, что останется лишь вспоминать слова в начале пьесы и в очередной раз переживать сильную дрожь в спине. "Мой друг купил картину...". Эта пьеса, которую Ясмина Реза написала в 1994 году (премия Мольера, премия Лоренса Оливье, премия Тони), рассказывает о трех друзьях, один из которых купил совершенно белую картину без единой черточки или штриха. Я не смогу забыть легкого оглушения вечернего Минска, когда мы возвращались домой, а я думал о том, что увидел сегодня что-то бесконечно прекрасное. Мне было 18 лет. К тому времени я уже очень много писал, но все же не мог выразить словами то, что увидел тогда в театре. И увижу снова, через год или два.

Но затем пьеса исчезла, на несколько лет. За это время я увидел "Резню" Романа Полански, снятую по пьесе Реза и создавшую знакомое внутреннее напряжения из совершенного пустяка или абсолютной пустоты. Но я никак не мог забыть постановки "ART", камерной и непривычно холодной, без которой театр выглядел пресно и беззубо. И если бы кто-нибудь спросил, что все еще притягивает меня в этом городе, я назвал бы любимую улицу, любимый бар и пьесу, которую больше нельзя было увидеть. Страшно, когда притягивают не места, а воспоминания.

Она вернулась неожиданно, одним коротким словом на афише. Было волнительно прийти в обновленный театр и увидеть ее после долгого перерыва, и сердце готово было вылететь в воздух, когда свет наконец погас, и я услышал знакомые слова: "Мой друг купил картину...". Актеры были другие, однако нерв остался тем же. Тот же минимализм в декорациях, тот же бесконечный монолог в середине, та же выверенность реплик. Я не стал бы сравнивать постановки, между ними случилось слишком много, но "ART" остался лучшим, что я видел в минских театрах.

Теперь город умирает. Об этом страшно говорить, а еще страшнее думать, но каждый день город задыхается в однообразных барах и картонных арт-пространствах. Но мне приятно думать, что здесь все еще есть пьеса под названием "ART". Я не хожу на нее каждый месяц, я видел ее слишком много раз, но мне приятно знать, что в любой момент я могу сделать это снова. And I wouldn't even have to close my eyes. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

travelling notes (liii)

You might forget anything that has ever happened to you, but you could never forget the first walk you have in an unfamiliar city. Every smile is inflated, every tree is taller and every snowstorm is but a light drizzle. Just try to avoid a first kiss, because there isn't a heart strong enough...

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Typing 'Signs and Symbols'

In literature, there is nothing worse than rewriting what has already been written. It's embarrassing, and it's a waste of time. Unless, of course, you do it consciously and your choice falls upon the greatest story ever conceived. 

Of which there are two, Nabokov's 'Signs and Symbols' and 'The Dead' by James Joyce. However, the latter is simply too transcendental to read, never mind type, so it seemed like Nabokov's short masterpiece was the perfect choice. After all, it wouldn't require that much effort, and time, and skill, and - let's be honest - ink.

I did it over the course of one evening in early January. I did it on Princess 100, a grey 50s typewriter from Augsburg, Germany. A New Year present, the kind that dreams are made of. At the point when I spread the short story before me, the machine had barely been used and looked as intact as it did in 1958. So it was a tingling sensation in the fingers, one that intensified with each sentence of the world's most perfect English. It's that physical joy of doing something of consequence: you hit the button, and the abstract is abstract no more. I guess this point is what makes Wim Wenders so nostalgic about those 80s Polaroid shots. 

Essentially, this was a ritual but it was also an insight into the mindset of a past writer. One who had no notion of technological bells and whistles that would at some point help him skip, and tinker, and erase. One who thought in sentences rather than words. One whose imagination was a great deal more brave and sincere. One who killed his darlings at a much higher cost. 

And then, when it was all ever, and I typed THE END (I had to, there was no getting around it), I was no closer to the genius of Vladimir Nabokov. I did not smoke my cigarette like some Willian Lee and start working on my first Interzone report. I just sat there, awe-struck by the freshly baked pages and the wonderful sensation that some things can never be repeated. 

But now the typewriter was with me, and I had a new idea, and a couple of days later I was off and running.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Album of the Month: VIRTUE by The Voidz

On its own, "QYURRYUS" is pure insanity. Some fucked-up Arabic chant set to nondescript guitar patterns and filled with the sort of autotune vocals you may have heard in your nightmares. The accompanying video is 80s at their most absurd, and evil. But listen to the same song in the context of this album, and you will see why Julian Casablancas is the Renaissance man of our times. 

Like Tyranny before it, Virtue sports a tasteless cover, seventy-five musical genres and your brain clutching at straws while trying to make sense of it all. Still, my advice would be to stick with it, because the songs are largely wonderful. In fact, there's a strong sense that Virtue sounds exactly the way Julian wanted it to sound. Sloppy and all over the place, but that's if you are not paying attention. 

I'm not going to pretend that everything works, and how could it ever. "All Wordz Are Made Up" (Julian's unhealthy infatuation with the letter 'z') is somewhat one-dimensional. "Pink Ocean" is somewhat boring. "We're Where We Were" is too much noise against too little substance. But even those few missteps have their saving graces, and picking on them when the goddamn thing features fifteen songs seems a bit petty.

Because "Leave It In My Dreams" is worthy of any Strokes single (listen to it back to back with "Under Cover Of Darkness"). "QYURRYUS" is what it is. "Pyramid Of Bones" has quite a tune underneath all the cheap metal sounds. "Wink" is like a superlative Beck song from the golden Odelay period. "Think Before You Drink" is not unlike Julian's solo record from 2009. "Lazy Boy" is just a good rock song. "Pointlessness" is not quite "Human Sadness", but it's close. 

And if someone tells you ah, but what are they trying to say with this record and does it actually make any remote sense, tell them Virtue is better than Is This It and then laugh in their face. 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Brixton Radio

My favourite mornings in Brixton included waking up on Sunday, on the second floor of a suburban house, to the sound of soft rain finger-tapping on the window panes. First thing I would do was grope, sleepily, for the banged up radio (which looked like England in the 80s to me) and switch on something like BBC6. Through the crackles too deep to fix there came the sounds of "Remote Control" and "Last Train To Clarksville" and everything else I may or may not have known at the time. Still, I was too greedy to listen and kept changing the channel.

This was of course years ago, but recently it has all come back to me in the form of Paul Westerberg's 49:00 album from 2008. Delirious pop snippets ("Thoroughbred", fifteen seconds; "You're My Girl", twenty-seven seconds), genre-hopping very much insane, timeless tunes too precious to interrupt ("Kentucky Rising", "Outta My System"), noises beautiful and totally uncalled for ("Goodnight, Sweet Prince" is so charming and yet so out of reach), all-time classics ("Short Cover Medley") and all sorts of random transitions ranging from glorious to abrupt.

Most importantly, though, Westerberg's record is the perfect sound of a Sunday morning. It's rough, it's beautiful and - with another spin of a Brixton radio - it could be anything.

Friday, 23 March 2018

travelling notes (lii)

While I've had my morning share of beautiful Camemberts and godlike Bolo Rainhas, I'd say the whole point of travelling is to avoid having breakfast at the hotel. It's about going outside at some point before noon and walking into the very ordinary looking cafe on the corner. All the magic in the world, all of it, will be there.