Perverted By Language
Rough Trade Rough 62, released 01 December 1983
Fall reviews, mine included, tend to concern themselves with the various nuances and eccentricities of singer Mark E. Smith.
And I suppose I'll mention Mr. Smith once or twice here (he even gets MARRIED in this episode!) But really, this missive is meant as an appreciation for Fall bassist Steve Hanley. This album is amongst his finest hours.
As intimated last month, The Fall were/are often in state of transition. Or simply in a state. 1983 was alternately wonderful/awful (just narrowly avoided writing 'frightening'-sorry). Both press and popular response were at an all-time high with the release of Hex Enduction Hour, but had slipped upon the follow-up Room to Live, leaving fans (save your reviewer and seven others), critics, and the band (save Mark E.) either disappointed or simply disgusted. A tour of Australia and New Zealand started off with the loss of a drummer (Karl Burns due to injury, fistfight I believe) and ended with the loss of a guitarist (Marc Riley: Fall sacking #___).
Ok, so that's the story on record. The other story is that Fall had been writing (and working out live) some amazing new songs with their new 'lean and clean' (clean?) single guitar/two drummer lineup: "Man Who's Head Expanded." "Kicker Conspiracy", and most of the songs that would comprise Perverted by Language. At the end of the U.S. tour in September, The Fall added Brix E. Smith to the band, and Mark added her to his life.
I'm offering this history as a counterpoint to the accepted story that Perverted is the first 'Brix' album. And indeed it is. Or at least the first she appears on. Rather, I suggest, it's Steve Hanley's album - Brix gets her first proper turn with Wonderful and Frightening and then makes The Fall her own with This Nation's Saving Grace.
Yes, Steve. The bass player. In previous Fall reviews I've carelessly drawn
comparisons between The Fall and James Brown. Let me make myself more explicit:
if Mark E. Smith is the Godfather of Sweat (Good God-uh), then Steve Hanley
is his Bootsy Collins. And for devotees of Bootzilla, I'll offer that Hanley
was every bit his equal, and just as important to his respective band.
The development of Hanley's huge sound was a gradual one, making his first appearance on Dragnet, with his sound coming unto it's own on the dirgier numbers on Grotesque: "Impression of J. Temperance", "New Face in Hell", and especially the epic "N.W.R.A". Often his huge boogie would be tempered or obliterated by both Craig Scanlon's scratchy scrape and especially Marc Riley's countrified jangle. The paring down of the group to a single guitar mandated that the bass (and the twin drum attack) would carry much of the energy, if not the melody of the music. As Brix was only a band member for about a month before the recording, her effect is subtle, and this album owes more to the songs worked out on the tour. Which is a bit of a change from most Fall albums, usually written in the studio (and often sounding better live as they get sorted on tour.)
Like the album that came before it (Room to Live), Perverted begins with something of a novelty number, "Eat Y'Self Fitter".
Based upon a commercial jingle, it has the bungled bounce of "Marquis
Cha-Cha" without the groove, and is an inauspicious starter. Worked pretty
well live though. Things take off in earnest with the next tune "Neighborhood
of Infinity", a clanky roots rocker nailed down by the snare whack of
Karl Burns and the unison attack of Scanlon and Hanley, later reprised in
style by "I Feel Voxish", which may be in fact the first song where
Mark E. Smith actually 'sings'. Not very well, or anything, so don't worry.
"Garden". Ooooh. Very much like Hex's "Who Makes the Nazis" - tom toms, clanging single-note guitar, and a doom-intoning bass murmur. Smith muttering into a portable cassette recorder or squealing dubious non-sequiters "Jew on a motorbiyyeeek!" Trouble.
"Hotel Bloedel" is the first real hint of Brix (she sing's for one), and sound like a rather poppy tune deconstructed and reconfigured for The Fall's particular misuse. When I first heard it I shouted fears of 'betrayal' (I mean, how can it be a Fall song without Mark E. singing). Rest assured, it very much a fall song, and one that I have grown to love through the years.
Flipping the lp over to side two results in another 'lights out' affair. Though some see this album as kinda tuneful after Hex and Room, I actually find it rather dark, hence my relating it to the work of Steve Hanley. And starting with "Smile" on side two only reinforces this opinion. Perhaps the single best use of the twin drummer lineup, "Smile" rumbles and grumbles and devours the blackened northern countryside as only The Fall can. The snare rolls are amazing, as is the power of the accompanying bass.
And Mark E. squeals, shrieks, wails "Smile!" over and over and over.
I can only imagine a smile like Bela Lugosi's as the Phantom of the Opera.
"Tempo House" - a brilliant song, a tribute to Hanley, and a great example of a song that had been distilled over 50-odd gigs.
It is only drums, bass, and Mark Smith. And Smith is SO up to the task:"Jesus Christ in reverse" "Winston Churchill had a speech imp-p-p-pediment and look what he did - he razed half of London" "the Dutch are weeping, in four languages at least".
And there's more:
Tied up to posts
Blindfold so can't feel maintenance
Kickback art thou that thick?
Death of the dimwits
Businessman hits train
Businessman hits train
His veiled sex seeps through his management sloth
The journey takes one hour
Thus begins the closing medley "Hexen
Definitive/Strife Knot,", and it is a beautiful example of The Fall working
together in a singular dark language. Slow and loping, the minor chord dirge
only finds relief in the ascent of "Strife Knot", which relieves
in a similar fashion as the pinking of the skies at sunrise. The night is
over, but we are exhausted. And if not elated, at least reassured. Hanley
strums a country melody on the bass, the drums lighten their martial attack,
the knotted guitars subside.
Life is strife but you don't wanna hear it
Strife is life and that's it
And that's it, and that's it
And that's it