The Fall This Nation's Saving Grace
Kevin Chanel (from ChinMusic!)
One thing that has remained constant throughout the career of The Fall has been the insistent jive-ass half-wit tendency for those to spout about how "they haven't done anything good since Brix joined." As anyone with a brain well knows, it was Brix that saved the group from perhaps reliving the horrendous Room To Live sound forever. Think of the song-pit they were mired in at the end of the (Marc) Riley era. Driven by the drudgingly average "Solicitor In Studio" and "Joker Hysterical Face," it's clear that their tree needed a big shake.
After the spotty-as-hell Perverted By Language, Brix really began to emerge as the band's life-blood by Wonderful And Frightening World... Her twangy-minimal guitar lines, compounded by the thick Karl Burns backbeat, established the new Fall sound as a complete 180° from where they were heading with Riley. Poppy, kick-ass, and extremely catchy, the tunes held you in check from start to finish. No "Papal Visit" here...
Which brings us to 1985, and the culmination of the creative talents of the Brix/Burns/Hanley-driven lineup. Where Wonderful And Frightening World... was a collection of good songs with no coherent base or focus, This Nation's Saving Grace brings each unique element of The Fall together for their best overall recorded performance.
First off, there's not a bad song on the album. Beginning with the foreboding teaser that is "Mansion," the record immediately punches into high-gear with the unrelenting "Bombast." From that point, you know they're onto something good. Indeed, the listener is being primed to feel the wrath of Mark's bombast from the 1st belt of Hanley's bass. This is pivotal to the cohesive groove pace that "Bombast" lays out for the rest of the disc.
Most importantly, the album blasts out of the gate making the unspoken declaration that The Fall (after 7 or 8 years of being led musically by M.E.S.' lyrics and attitude) had finally arrived as a band. No more of this widdling around behind Hip Preacher One; on the contrary, this time you could get through an entire Fall record only knowing a handful of phrases. Point one: When else could Mark E. have gotten away with only writing one or two lines for a song like "L.A.," and not have it miss his familiar snarl? Point two: The parenthesising "Mansion" and "To Nkroachment: Yarbles." Since when does The Fall open an album with an instrumental?
This is the sonic wall posted by Hanley/Burns/Brix. Rather than use minimalism, errr...uh, minimally, they let it dictate not only how you'll spend the next 45 minutes, but how you'll listen to what they'll present. So by the time the intro to "Cruisers Creek" breaks into the ultra-memorable guitar hook, you just know you're gonna be stuck listening for a while. So when it's time to take it down to the patented re-puh-ti-shun-uh of "What You Need" (just one of the many Twilight Zone references by Mark in Fall songs over the years) and "Spoilt Victorian Child," you're about set to whip it up again with the straight groove of "L.A."
It's wise to note by now that when I speak of this album, I am of course referring to the vinyl version. No "Barmy," "Couldn't Get Ahead" (one of the best Brix tunes to date), or whatnot. So the division of sides is central to the subtle juxtaposition of one side toward the other. As "Gut Of The Quantifier" guides the listener away from the by-now-familiar niche dug out by the intensity of side one, "My New House" brings you back to that maximum C and W sound plombed by, say, "Lay Of The Land." This is where one might notice the crafty hand of producer John Leckie working his understated mastery. What he does with the fine art of space-between-songs sequencing and that heavy-dripping acoustic guitar sound that dominates the middle of side two is pure genius. Both "My New House" and the following tape-mistake-pastiche "Paint Work" are driven by acoustic guitar the same way that side one is driven by the aforementioned Hanley/Burns/Brix troika. Do you notice a lack of power? No. Because there is none.
But "Paint Work" is a story in and of itself. Sectioned and quartered by tape-machine clicks, T.V.-as-background noise interludes, and fidelty shifts, the 7+ minute piece works beautifully as pages of a diary. I'm picturing Smith with his feet up, watching T.V., fumbling aroud with a hand-held tape recorder and a book of notes and scribbles. Simon Rogers contributes a roller-rink organ sound that moves the tune along dreamily.
In my opinion, The Fall never came close to making another album this perfect. And to climax this document, they spit out the Can-tributary "I Am Damo Suzuki," a six-minute workout which is essentially a turbo-treatment of Can's Tago Mago. For this, Burns lets fly with some serious beats while the stringers attempt to keep up, using a four-note descending scale that burrows like a mole into your nervous system. Because this tense workout has exacted so much of both band and audience alike, it's nice to bask in the lax denouement that is "To Nkroachment: Yarbles"- basically "Mansion" with some twisted Johnny Rivers lines weaved around it. Two minutes to wind down, recapture your breath, and flip it back over for another ride. And that is the best part.
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