"Dragnet" is the 2nd album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released originally on vinyl in 1979 on independent label Step Forward Records the album features the classic line up of:
Mark E Smith - Vocals
Marc Riley - Guitar, Vocals
Craig Scanlon - Guitars
Steve Hanley - Bass guitar & Vocals
Mike Leigh - Drums
The line up is important as it was the introduction to the band of Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley who together would remain in the band for more than a decade and became a formidable songwriter partnership that would mould and formulate the Fall's trademark sound.
Scanlon's guitar style differed greatly from that of Marc Riley (who months earlier had been the Bass player!) and offered a more sprawling and unique guitar playing style. This style of playing worked perfectly with the powerhouse distorted bass grooves of Steve Hanley and the resulting sound was fearsome.
It's worth mentioning that this album was very early Fall and the music was far more punk sounding and menacing than the albums that were to follow.
The original album had 11 tracks and it's those tracks that I will review here. There have been both re-masters and re-issues of the album released which generally feature tracks from Peel sessions, outtakes and singles of the period.
The album had been recorded in a few days and the quality of the recordings sound like they have been recorded in a garage rather than a studio but this adds to the overall ambience and charm of the record. It's also worth mentioning that any spelling mistakes are not typo's and are how Mark has spelt things!
The album starts with excellent "Psykick Dance Hall". Mark shouts "Is there anybody there?" to a resounding "Yeah!" from the band. The bass is funky and the guitar thin and at times sounding like ice cream van music. The song sounds like a demented seventies disco track and Marks sneering vocals sings a tale of a medium's dancehall and muses about his own legacy "When I'm dead and gone,
My vibrations will live on, In vibes on vinyl through the years, People will dance to my waves".
The album's second track is a far more dark and moody sounding song. "A Figure Walks" is a music loop that features heavy on tom drums and bass line that repeats and repeats for over 6 minutes. The odd cymbal crash here and there and some single string guitar playing all add to the ambience. Mark delivers a surprisingly musical lyric of being followed by a shadow!
We are on garage punk trash for the next track "Printhead" that crashes and smashes along with Mark delivering a lyrical angst that Johnny Rotten would have been proud of. The song seems to be directed at the band themselves and the publicity and self promotion that was a necessity as a minor label based band. This song encapsulates the indie scene of button badges, fanzine spreads and 1 inch music paper coverage.
A three chord "Dice Man" has a slight salsa drum beat to it and is a lively and fun song. Mark sings about taking chances and staying out of the safe zone which is as relevant now as it was back in 1979.
"Before the Moon Falls" is a medium paced song that once again has a muddy and slightly loose sound and is heavily dominated by tom tom drums. Lyrically I think this is Mark setting the agenda for the band and their quest to remain different and independent from other bands of the era. This is further enforced by the first verse lyric - "I must create a new regime, Or live by another man's".
Another song that is self referencing is up next. "Your Heart Out" has an odd two step beat and a pleasant high pitched riff throughout. It's a song that sung with mark sounding in good vocal spirit. In fact the lyrics are fantastic and despite being carefully written they sound almost ad-lib in their delivery.
The next song "Muzorewi's Daughter" is a song of two parts. The verses are all slow and similar in tone to the earlier track "Heart out". The most surprising part of this song is the chorus where the whole proceedings speed up into a crescendo of guitars while Mark yelps in such a high vocal pitch that it's advisable to tape up your windows!
The two chords "Flat of Angles" is a song about murder and confinement. The songs repetition is relentless. The drums crash as though somebody has tripped over the kit and the guitars sound thin and reedy but the song still manages to sound great.
The next song "Choc-Stock" like the earlier track "Printhead" is a punk song that is a song of self observance and ridicule. Mark shouts "Choc Stock come buy my pop stock" in a style that could easily be Del Boy Trotter knocking out 6 finger gloves in the market.
The Fall classic "Spectre Vs Rector" is up next. The lyrics are delivered as a series of scenes and parts and structured like a crime novel. The sound at the start of the track is really busy with a congested audio quality that sounds like it's been recorded in a supermarket car park! Suddenly, mid song, the sound becomes crystal clear and the song gets jauntier. The guitar playing on this track is unique and at times sounds out of key and flat but somehow it works - pure genius!
The last song "Put Away" is a great track to end the album as it is an upbeat pop punk song and full of musical cheer. The lyrics are pretty repetitive and despite the happy sounding beat it's a song about 366 day ("One year and a day") imprisonment!
The difference between this album and the bands first is remarkable. The sound has started to foray into experimental waters and this is undoubtedly a result of Craig Scanlon's unique playing style.
Marks lyrics are sung clearly and have less ambiguity than his later works and make this album instantly accessible. Despite the music recording quality sounding poor and rushed there is a great ramshackle charm and fun about the album.
To my ears the album ranks highly and should be placed amongst the bands best recorded output.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Psykick Dancehall
2 Figure Walks
4 Dice Man
5 Before The Moon Falls
6 Your Heart Out
7 Muzorewi's Daughter
8 Flat Of Angels
9 Choc Stock
10 Spectre Vs Rector
11 Put Away