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Released in 1981 on Rough Trade Records Slates is the fourth studio album to be released by the Mancunian punk band The Fall.
The record wasn't exactly and LP more of a mini-LP as it only has six tracks. It was also only available as a 10inch vinyl which was a format that was pretty scarce back in the early 80's
The line up
The line up for this recording were -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, kazoo, tapes
Marc Riley - Guitar, keyboards, vocals
Craig Scanlon - Guitar, keyboards
Steve Hanley - Bass, vocals
Paul Hanley - Drums
Plus appearances by:
Dave Tucker - Clarinet, vocals
Kay Carroll - Vocals, kazoo
The original release had three tracks per side and I've reviewed them in the order they appeared on the vinyl -
Middle Mass -
Listening to this track today you instantly can tell its age by its mix.
The song sounds like it has been recorded in your living room which adds to its charm. The most noticeable part of the music is the ride cymbal which crisply rings throughout the song. Lyrically Mark rambles through subjects of summer, drugs and dim-witted people.
It's an unassuming yet pleasant opener to the record.
An Older Lover etc -
The music to this song is rather restrained and features a shrill guitar riff over quiet tom tom drum rolls. Lyrically Mark sings about having young and old lovers and concludes to both "You'll soon get tired of her!" The song builds and builds throughout and has a contained musical anger that threatens to erupt but remains restrained, which is the beauty of this track.
Prole Art Threat -
Of all the songs this is the most trashy and urgent song on the album. A military rolling drum beat is layered with menacing guitar chords and rumbling bass guitar patterns. The song is lyrically structured as a narrative. Mark's lyrics are as powerful as they are bizarre, who else could include the word "bbrrrrzztapppp" in a song and get away with it?
Fit and Working Again -
There is a noticeable rockabilly undercurrent to this track which scuttles along at some pace. The song has quite a happy go luck feel to it which is probably down to the acoustic guitar sound used instead of the usual distorted growl. Mark sings a chirpy tale of being healthy after a spate of illness and compares himself to the boxer Alan Minter!
Slates, Slag's etc. -
Without doubt this is an instant Fall classic. A two chord punk song that has the characteristic stamp of a typical Fall tune - repetition! Mark sings of Male slags, slates and tapes. It's an interesting song and I am assuming that Mark is discussing breaking the rules (slates). There are references to English ska bands (The Beat) and a line stating 'Kill Jokes join bands" which I assume is referring to Killing Joke who opened a BBC2 live performance by stating "We are male slags".
Leave the Capitol -
Not dissimilar in musical feel to the album opener the song is a mid tempo ambler that strolls along at happy pace. The lyrics are undoubtedly the best part of this song where Mark sings (!) a tale of leaving behind cheap hotels, hard water and the dusty pubs of London to return home to Salford.
By 1981 The Fall had really found there own distinct sound and musical originality. Mark E Smith had a different approach to his lyrics and the intelligently written ambiguity of the lyrics made for a much more engrossed listening.
It's not all about the lyrics though and the band conjures up a musical sound which was a light year away from their musical rivals of the era. The music was structured yet had a chaotic and somewhat sprawling quality to it not dissimilar to Captain Beefhearts' earlier outings. Grant Showbiz has also done a sterling work on the sound production. The musical mix does indeed sound dated when compared to some of the later work that Grant has produced, but considering that it was recorded in the analogue age it is definitely as good as it could have got.
Slates is something special; the size of the vinyl, the artwork and the songs themselves all added to its attractiveness. The whole ambience of the work has a fragrance of early eighties life. Not necessarily musical influences; more a capturing of political despair, the social climate and trodden hope. I would say that Slates is up there with the bands most prolific and essential work and well worth a listen.
Price and availability
The reissue of this mini-album is available on CD for £6.98 from www.amazon.com at the date of writing (19th September 2008).
Copyright M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Middle Mass
2 An Older Lover Etc
3 Prole Art Threat
4 Fit And Working Again
5 Slates Slags Etc
6 Leave The Capitol
7 Middle Mass
8 Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
9 Hip Priest
10 C N C Hassle Schmuck
11 Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
12 Fantastic Life
13 Medical Acceptance Gate