Having come home from university over the Christmas period, the number of singles, albums and artists I have at my disposal to write about has practically quadrupled, giving me a bit more to think about before I write.
Unsurprisingly, however, this doesn’t dissuade me from including The Fall. Having neglected them for (I think) five articles, writing about them in my last piece has made me want to write about them some more (who doesn’t love talking about their favourite band?!). Also, like my first FTR article, the writing of this piece has coincided with another purchase of Fall vinyl, which will inevitably feature to some degree.
This article is also the first time I’ve written about an American group. I’ve always had a special appreciation for American hardcore punk, with the likes of Black Flag and, especially, Mission of Burma always taking my fancy. But Dead Kennedys are, in my opinion, the unchallenged kings of 1980s US punk, and a band who I haven’t listened to in any regularity for a long time.
Before we begin, a quick thanks to Shaun from The Mighty Fall group for the new purchases, and also Paul, who I forgot to mention previously, who provided one third of my first FTR article with the Telephone Thing single.
Making Plans For Nigel B/W Bushman President + Pulsing Pulsing – XTC
XTC have always been a mixed bag for me. Their debut album White Music and their third Drums and Wires are post-punk classics, but going into the 1980s I find them a tad cheesy. One track of theirs is one of my most disliked songs ever; I cannot stand ‘Senses Working Overtime’ – it’s an earworm in the worst way possible, I have never ever managed to last the whole song, and I find it so cringey and 80s pop-rock. Frankly, it’s one of the worst songs ever written by anyone, yet XTC have written some of my favourite songs of all time.
I never write negatively about bands, so this is quite liberating in some sense. I’ll save you the hassle and end the rant here.
Anyway! ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ is a joy, one of those where when it comes on in the car there’s a quiet rumble of appreciation from everybody as the drums gently kickstart into life. It’s another song that I first encountered through the Punk Britannia documentaries, where they played (mimed) this on Crackerjack. I was quick to ask my Mum what Crackerjack was, and was slightly confused as to why a post-punk band was on a children’s TV programme. Such was the 1970s, I can only imagine.
Colin Moulding (bassist) takes over from the sometimes beautiful and sometimes demonic vocals of Andy Partridge, offering a softer and more accessible side to XTC. The whole song is a bit more dreamy and slow than the usual XTC offering, but it’s still a stunner. I love the production on it, and the slow development into the final minute or so is brilliant – the repetition of ‘steel’ leading to the final few crashes of the cymbals and slightly sombre touches of keyboard make this song the wonderful serving of mellow-pop that it is.
I’d never listened to the B-sides before, much like some singles in previous FTR articles. ‘Bushman President’ has an early OMD aura to it, but is a bit weird. A kind of ominous eeriness juxtaposed by this deceivingly upbeat keyboard line – it’s discomforting and doesn’t offer much in terms of variation, but I think it achieves it’s aim in unnerving the listener.
‘Pulsing Pulsing’ certainly takes a leaf out of the Talking Heads’ book – Partridge’s vocals are undeniably Byrne-esque, and the descending guitar line is challenging with a very strange backing, not too dissimilar to Magazine’s ‘Twenty Years Ago’, just, unfortunately, not as good. It’s short, but not very sweet.
A timeless, classic A-side that’s not backed up strongly by the supporting acts.
A-Side: 5/5 B-Side 1: 2.5/5 B-Side 2: 1.5/5 Sleeve: 4/5
Jerusalem B/W Acid Priest 2088
I Am Kurious Oranj is a standout point in The Fall’s discography. It averted the slow demise in quality of The Fall’s work after 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, completely trouncing the previous album The Frenz Experiment in terms of quality, innovation and musicality.
On the album, ‘Jerusalem’ is kicked off with a poetry reading by Mark E Smith entitled ‘Dog Is Life’, before descending into six minutes of ecstatic power. The single, which I imagine is a demo, meanwhile, is just under four minutes, with calmer and more controlled vocals and a little less instrumental power of the LP version. A safer, more accessible and less ‘Fall’ version designed for the market is probably the best way to put it.
Some of the vocals seem a bit more improvised on the single too – the number of times Smith says ‘government’ becomes a bit too many, and makes the usually illustrious lyricist stumble upon himself a little.
But still, this doesn’t tarnish my love for this song. I have to talk about the preferred LP version, where Hanley’s bass is kicked up a notch, Wolstencroft practically destroys the drumkit and the pace and power of each part is ramped up to unprecedented proportions. At the moment, I listen to it every day, and it still brings out this furious energy out of me when the song kicks back into full speed after the minute-long interlude. I love it.
‘Acid Priest 2088’ – the name is weird, the singing is weird, the music is weird, everything, you guessed it, is weird. I’m sure it was more designed for the theatrical performance that IAKO was accompaniment to, but it doesn’t do much for me. In fairness, I prefer this version to the album version titled ‘C.D. Win Fall 2088 AD’, it’s a bit more listenable and has a bit more bass to it, though this doesn’t mean I’d put it on out of choice.
A strong single when a strong single was desperately needed, especially after relying on ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ and ‘Victoria’ for the previous album to build publicity, and it shows The Fall in a resurrection of their slightly lost invention as the 1990s came ever closer.
A-Side: 5/5 B-Side: 3/5 Sleeve: 2/5
Plastic Surgery Disasters – Dead Kennedys
I was given this LP by my Uncle for Christmas in 2016 along with John Cooper Clarke, Gang of Four and Laughing Clowns albums, in a kind of ‘here’s what you’re missing’ gesture. At the time, I was only aware of JCC and Gang of Four, and had no inkling of who Dead Kennedys were, nor what their name meant, though it became disconcertingly clear when I studied American politics at A level.
By the time I finally got around to listening to PSD, I had already listened to Dead Kennedys’ debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, which I utterly adored. One song that sticks out in my mind is ‘Forward To Death’, which, similarly to my first listening of The Cure’s Pornography, was a fitting snapshot of my adolescent moodiness and general overview on sixth-form life. Poor me!
The catalyst for listening to this album, however, was when I heard ‘Moon Over Marin’ on my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify. The hook was absolutely stunning. The sort of mock-anger of Biafra’s vocals were infectious, and the general disorderliness of the raucous four minutes was utterly captivating. I had it on repeat for a very long time.
The first thing which struck me about the album was the cover. The untidy handwritten ‘Dead Kennedys’ with the picture ‘Hands’ by Michael Wells. I’m sure the typical American consumer was most aghast by the cover indeed!
The album commences with ‘Advice From Christmas Past’, with a sort of static noise and scratches of guitar, before a female voice intrudes, and announces:
Why are such a stupid asshole? Would you really like to know?
Well, pay your fee, remove your clothes and Yvette will show you how. You went to school where you were taught to fear and to obey, be cheerful, fit in, or someone might think you’re weird.
Life can be perfect, people can be trusted. Someday, I will fall in love, a nice quiet home of my very own. Free from all pain, happy and having fun all the time
It never happened, did it?
Obviously, I was totally, totally struck by this. I loved it so much. I can’t really explain it. I had to enter the whole excerpt to show how frank and up front it was to the listener. Superb.
Then in cruises ‘Government Flu’ with this gloriously smug, swaggering chord sequence, before descending into traditional Dead Kens’ craziness and speed, Biafra practically rapping as the song erupts into full velocity. It’s a ridiculously brilliant start to an album, from this disgusting, hard-hitting announcement to a powerfully arrogant and simply brilliant anthem hounding everything they thought wrong with American life.
‘Terminal Preppie’ is a nice take on the absurdity and uniformity of college life and being ‘cool’, while ‘Trust Your Mechanic’ is an acerbic take on the US healthcare system, summed up by the shout ‘And the rich eat you!’. Sorry to any readers who don’t align with the political ideology, but I can’t help but shout along to that scream.
‘Forest Fire’. What a brilliantly satirical, piss-takey song. ‘I eat weird berries in the woods/Now I’m seeing colours/I think I’m getting higher/I think I’ll start a forest fire’. The backing to this is a sort of youthful, sterile surf-rock sound with a beautiful bassline, no matter how hard they tried to be ugly.
The album continues on a fast, destructive course. Admittedly, PSD doesn’t have the charm of Fresh Fruit, but I think that comes more from second-album-syndrome than anything else. The songs on PSD do, however, follow a similar, somewhat formulaic texture and sound, which I think is wonderfully liberated by the track mentioned earlier, and album closer, ‘Moon Over Marin’.
It’s triumphant, a sort of opiate from the whole darkness and pessimism of the preceding tracks that exudes life and vitality. It shows a bit more stylistic freedom; it doesn’t stick to the traditional hardcore protocol and is actually a very listenable song when compared to other tracks on the line up.
It slows and coughs into a gradual stop, before a strong final cry from the guitar. And then our friend from the first track is back!
There, wasn’t that a nice visit?
Don’t forget, a psychiatrist is on duty twenty-four hours a day in the blue room just up from the parking garage. Drink plenty of water when you take these. Now you can relax and return to your job!
How about that for a slap in the face of all routine and custom? Simply wonderful.
As a whole, the album is very strong indeed. You can tap your feet or nod your head to every song, and there’s enough variation and experimentation to keep a fresh twang to each track and the entire record. For a second album, especially in punk, where second albums can find themselves stumbling over the three-minute-thrash routine (see The Damned, for example), it doesn’t get much better than this.
A fantastic album, and one that shows their evolution into a more musically-sound act succeeding their influential EP In God We Trust Inc. and going into their third album Frankenchrist.
Side 1: 4.5/5 Side 2: 4/5 Sleeve: 5/5