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Seminal Live was an album by the seminal Mancunian punk rock band The Fall.
Released in 1989 on Beggars Banquet records the 14 track album is not entirely an album of live songs (as the title would imply) and is actual a mixture on new previously unrecorded studio works and a selection of live tracks recorded in Edinburgh, Vienna and Manchester throughout 1988.
The line up of the band at the time was -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, Violin(!)
Steve Hanley - Bass guitar
Craig Scanlon - Guitars
Brix E. Smith - Guitar and backing vocals
Marcia Schofield - Keyboards
Simon Wolstencroft - Drums
The combined musicianship and overall precision of playing contributed to making this one of the band's most commercially successful periods in their 30 year plus ongoing career. The rock solid partnership of Steve Hanley's grinding precision bass and Craig Scanlon's spiralling guitar tunes are sweetened by the rocking bar chords of Brix E Smith (then Marks wife now fashion guru). In addition to this the melodic lines of Marcia Scholfield's keyboards add sweetness to the sound and the whole proceedings are gelled by the clockwork rhythms of Simon Wolstencroft's drumming.
Then there is Mark E Smith, who is indeed a different kettle of fish! His rancid rants, detuned vocals and social observations change the whole atmosphere of the music and give it an awkward edge that veers on the edges of commercial pop but is different enough to remain in the alternative genre.
As I mentioned earlier the album is made up of a selection of new studio tracks and a selection of live tracks taken from their extensive back catalogue.
The studio recorded songs are -
Dead Beat Descendant -
The song opens to a catchy guitar riff from Brix and then the whole song bursts into a straight laced rock song. It's a jaunty number and once Mark wails "You must be repellent, dance dead beat descendent" you realise that the vocals are in a different universe to the music though the two combine perfectly in a yin and yan way.
Pinball Machine -
Maybe a first appearance of a banjo in a Fall song! This track is a cover of Lonnie Irving's country song. I haven't heard the original to compare but on this track you have a hillbilly sounding country song with Mark singing the tale of lorry driver who gave up his family and love to drive a truck and spending his time shooting pinball in transport cafes. A very sad tale delivered in a tongue in cheek manner (I think!)
The lyrics are am abbreviation of History of the world. I think maybe this is a song about a power and dictatorship whether this is referring to political dictators or and overall greater being is unclear. The lyrics state that the entity can "Spin complete revolutions and not bat an eyelid" gives an idea of the ground that Mark is treading. Musically it has a very sparse sound with little lead guitar. The song is really driven by Hanley's bass riff and all of the other instruments are lost in the background mix.
Squid Law -
A great foot stomping rock riff is sadly let down by a poor mix. There is a humming frequency throughout the track that sounds like electrical interference which is a shame as it is really a great song. For the best version of this I would recommend hunting down the Complete John Peel Sessions box set where the song is in fine fettle. The lyrics lean heavily towards the Groundhogs song Junkman.
Mollusc in Tyrol -
An annoying sound loop that sounds a combination of industrial synthesizers and machinery with a mechanical drum loop whirring away. Over this you have Mark E Smith in megaphone distorted Frenzy spouting little lyrics. The band used this track frequently in live shows as an intro before they would walk on stage, this could sometimes run on for several minutes and try your patience!
The Live Songs are -
Kurious Oranj -
This live rendition of the title track of the 'I am Kurious Oranj LP' is a good rendition of the song. The track is a bouncy track and has a reggae rhythm. The song has lots of synthesizer brass samples and shuddering guitar clanks here, plus a good vocal from Mark.
This live rendition of the title track from the Frenz Experiment is a little longer than its studio counterpart due to the longer introduction. The song is another good live rendition though loses the feeling of isolation that the studio version portrays so well.
Mark sings "My friends you can count on one hand" which is quite a sad statement.
Hit the North -
This is a live rendition of one the The Fall's more commercially successful songs (it featured on ITV's Roxy which was the channels attempt at emulating Top of the Pops). The song, a popular live song, has a great up-tempo glam beat with chorus shouts of 'Hit the North' and great brass trumpet stabs. Mark was later to explain in an interview that 'Hit' meant visit!
2 by 4 -
The song is a fast and powerful rendition of a song originally from The Wonderful and Frightening world of LP. The song is lifted by vocal yelps of 'Hit him on the head with the 2 by 4" from Brix. For the curious; an excellent live version of this song was performed for Channel 4's TV show The Tube.
ELF Prefix/L.A -
This track is a story of two halves. The intro is a disturbing recording of distorted violin and Mark spouting megaphone affected lyrics about a goblin. This unreleased intro to the track leads into an average performance of L.A which appears in its studio form on the album This Nations Saving Grace. The song revolves heavily around Brix E Smiths twanging guitar riffs and lots of shouts of L.A. from Mark.
The track is live rendition of a song originally written by The Kinks. This is a good rendition of the song and is comparable in performance to their studio version of the track. This was a popular live song as being a relatively successful single release it was known to the casual gig goer who could jump around and shout Victoria in a manner common with football crowds!
Pay your rates -
A strange song for the band to play live as it originally appeared in the early 80's on the Grotesque LP. I say strange as the original was a 2 note shambled punk rattle that had relevance to the economic and political climate at the time of release. In 1988 this was less relevant and the band was also more musically proficient. Personally I would have preferred them to have left sleeping dogs lie. That said it's a good song to jump around to.
Introduction/Cruisers Creek -
A strange introductory speech from Sex Pistols shamed TV presenter Bill Grundy.
He opens the proceedings by stating "I have never before seen 5000 yobbos in my life". He continues to drone on about himself and his love for classical music and then The Fall songs starts. The live version of their single Cruisers Creek is an enjoyable listen. The song focuses heavily on a repetitious guitar riff that seems to go on for ever but is hypnotically enjoyable.
In these times -
The song is another live rendition of a track initially found on the Frenz Experiment album. The song which is a fast guitar lead track with rumbling tom drum choruses is slightly spoilt by the overly loud keyboard blasts which is a shame as it's quite a good song.
I have mixed feelings on this album. Personally I am not a fan of live albums in general and prefer to listen to band's studio works. This however changes with The Fall as Mark's tendency to improvise and lyrically ramble can add a whole new edge and meaning to a song. Regrettably, there is not much lyrical variation in the live tracks and the live versions are good but in general don't improve on their studio recorded parents. The addition of a handful of studio songs does improve the albums appeal though the recording quality is dubious on a couple of these.
To conclude, if you're a diehard fan (not Bruce Willis!) like myself then it's a must-have. If you are new to the band or fancy a punt then I would suggest purchasing a different album from the bands expansive list of releases.
Price and availability
This album was available to purchase for £7.99 from www.amazon.co.uk at date of writing (3rd September 2008).
Copyright M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dead Beat Descendant
2 Pinball Machine
4 Squid Law
5 Mollusc In Tyrol
6 Kurious Oranj
8 Hit The North
9 Two By Four
10 Elf Prefix
13 Pay Your Rates
14 Cruiser's Creek
15 In These Times