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"Grotesque" is the 3rd studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released on LP in 1980 on Rough Trade records the album sees the band start to evolve further from their brash punk sound and traditional musical approach and start to evolve into a far more mature band; both in lyric and musical performance.
The band feature the classic line up of -
Mark E Smith - Vocals
Craig Scanlon - Guitars
Marc Riley - Guitar
Paul Hanley - Drums
Steve Hanley - Bass Guitar
There are 10 tracks on the original album, which is what I have reviewed. There have been several re-issues of this album with single tracks and radio sessions added but all of focused around the original songs reviewed here.
The album starts with a song that could have easily been on their debut album as it is a three note punk song called "Pay Your Rates". There is no room for ambiguity here as Mark shouts with angered enthusiasm that you should pay your rates (Poll tax for the younger readers!) otherwise you'll end up in court or living on what Mark refers to a "Debtor retreat estate". The song has a shambolic edge to it which is further enhanced by the great production techniques of engineer Grant Showbiz.
The second song "English Scheme" continues in a similar fashion with a cheap sounding organ riff that is soon followed closely by trashy yet tinny sounding guitars. The mix is somewhat DIY and sounds like it's been recorded on a ghetto blaster in your living room, which further adds to the songs charm. The song is sung in a brazen fashion as he muses about the current situation of England in the early eighties -
"O'er grassy dale, and lowland scene,
Come see, come hear, the English Scheme.
The lower-class, want brass, bad chests, scrounge fags.
The clever ones tend to emigrate"
Another Fall classic "New Face in Hell" is up next and in a similar mix of sound the two chord song is laced with Kazoo playing! Again the music takes a backseat as it's all about the lyrics which tell the story of a home radio enthusiast that stumbles upon a secret government radio transmission that has material not meant for public consumption. The story develops when the enthusiast decides to befriend his neighbour and tell all he has heard; to damning consequences.
The lyric full " C 'n' C-S Mithering" is up next and this is again Mark E Smith at his lyrical best. The music plods and twangs along at quite a slow rate whilst Mark rambles over the top about everything about the musical situation at the time. The song takes a tonal change and Mark declares that experimental music had become conventional, The warehouse scene in America was a copy of UK supermarket raves (Hence the Cash n Carry title) and touches on lots of other subjects of the time such as Anarchy, Factory Records, Gary Bushell and the unjustified whining (mithering) of the assumedly better off. There is a lot to be said in this song and much more than I can do justice to in this review.
Mark's love of old rockabilly comes to a head with the next track named "The Container Drivers". It's a fast paced tune which is rumbles along a standard 12 bar pattern. The drums scuttle and crash as Mark sings a tale of Lorry drivers and their grey lives of sweat, indigestion, customs and sitting bored in ports.
The start to the next song "Impression of J. Temperance" is fantastic. A three note bass line is joined by a military style drum loop and some really cheap keyboard sounds. The lyrics are delivered in sharp succinct statements and tell the tale of a fictional character J Temperance - a disliked dog breeder. The music really makes the song another Fall classic as it looped in a semi chaotic tune that grows on you as it progresses.
The next song " In The Park" is another fast punk song that in the same vein as pay your rates is a straight four chord punk song that talks about not falling into old traps and visiting old haunts (in this the case The Park)..
The customary odd song is up next in the form of " WMC-Blob 59". It's a strange song that sounds like a tape player has been dumped in the corner of the pub. What makes it odder is that the conversation at the beginning of the track states "I've just been to The Park" despite the previous track's insistence that they would go back there! Odd.
Following this is "Gramme Friday" which similar to J Temperance has a really solid bass riff ripping through it and the song has a loose vibe to it and swings along like a shredded pop song. There aren't that many lyrics in the song though it's likely drug referenced.
The albums closing track "The N.W.R.A" is also the longest track on the album and stands for "The North Will Rise Again". The track is really two songs built into one monstrous nine minute rant. The song starts off as a slow swing beat where Mark tells a few stories of the worsening state of the North of England and how an imaginary figure Joe Totale had stated that the North would rise again. The song suddenly changes tempo and the swing drums are now a tribal tom pattern and tells of how a new character Tony (possible Factory boss Anthony H Wilson) had an alternative plan of masterminding the rebirth of the north without the aid of The Fall! As usual I could have got all of this wrong as the lyrics have been interpreted in varying different ways by many a Fall fan.
Despite being The Fall's third Studio album I think this record really marked the true birth of The Fall where intelligent and challenging lyrics are mixed with catchy punk pop tunes.
The music the band were creating differed greatly to all of the other new wave and post punk bands that were playing at the same period and somewhat ostracised the band from commercial success. Fortunately being on the successful record label Rough Trade, having lots of music paper coverage and being championed by John Peel kept the band in the public eye.
The album is probably in the top three of my favourite Fall albums due to the original lyrics and uniqueness of the sound and I would recommend it to anybody who likes their music a little off-the-wall.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Pay Your Rates
2 English Scheme
3 New Face In Hell
4 C 'n' C-S Mithering
5 The Container Drivers
6 Impression Of J. Temperence
7 In The Park
8 WMC-Blob 59
9 Gramme Friday
10 The NWRA
11 How I Wrote Elastic Man
12 City Hobgoblins
13 Totally Wired
14 Putta Block
15 Interview WIth Mark E. Smith