Posted by: Nick Walters | March 9, 2018

Flux Capacitors album launch

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This was originally written to go in local music press, but they ignored my emails. And me, an internationally famous author! Bollocks to them.

Anyway, better late than never…

There’s a famous quote, wrongly attributed to Elvis Costello (it was actually 1970’s actor and singer Martin Mull), that goes: ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ It’s a naff cliché now, but it does touch upon the impossibility of conveying in words a listener’s experience of music, live or recorded. And, as I overheard one audience member say after this gig, ‘I don’t know what the hell that was – but I really enjoyed it!’ Flux Capacitors are difficult to place, but easy to love. The key seems to be in their name; obviously a tribute to Back To The Future, but ‘flux’ can also mean ‘flow’, and a wealth of influences flow through this band: punk, lo-fi indie, surf rock, metal , blues, folk, even poetry.

Flux Capacitors are two singer/songwriters/guitarists, Michael McNeil and Hazel Winter. Music lovers will know Hazel from her 90’s stint in The Blue Aeroplanes and her distinguished solo career, which includes four albums. Her distinctive guitar style, confessional songwriting and often ferocious vocals make P.J.Harvey seem like Celine Deon, and she brings all that to the band, plus a mordant wit redolent of the songs of Victoria Wood (but with swearing). McNeil, aka The Commander is, or was, unknown to me (at least before this gig) and brings a surf-rock sensibility to the music, and is a direct contrast to Winter, being of the opposite gender and from a different generation.

Their album, Courtesan, launched at this gig, is a fantastic cornucopia of songs and poetic interludes, laden with wit and laugh-out-loud profanity, rip-roaring punk-pop rubbing shoulders with slower, confessional songs. To be honest at time of writing I haven’t quite got to grips with it, only having access to an incomplete download a mere few hours before the gig, but was familiar enough with it to recognise the material when presented live.

Support was ably provided by the excellent Drunken Butterfly, a short solo set from Hazel, and a storming, thunderous performance by Rita Lynch who should need no introduction here. Then, introduced by a backing tape that I’m sure I’ve heard used at several Blue Aeroplanes gigs (I think it’s from Thunderbirds), Flux Capacitors took the stage and tore into Melt, the first track on Courtesan. Connections to Bossa Nova era Pixies are appropriate here, especially as McNeil somewhat resembles, and sounds like, a young Black Francis; except the Pixies frontman never wore a flowing red/gold cape and a crown. It’s a blistering start, and they follow it up with one of the album’s highlights, My Hair Is Thinning At The Front, where Hazel finds a hilariously profane rhyme for the song title. I won’t repeat it here, because a) it’s too rude for publication, and b) it’s best discovered first-hand by yourself. Hazel imbues the subject of female hair loss with the righteous outrage it deserves, and the ordinariness of her concern reminds me of the writing of Half Man Half Biscuit’s Nigel Blackwell whose songs similarly chronicle the vagaries of everyday life.

McNeil and Winter are ably supported by Gerard Starkie on guitar and Mike Youe on bass, with Max Harrison on drums and Anja Quinn providing backing vocals. The three guitarists make a swirling wall of noise, often threatening to go out of control, but somehow staying just this side of chaos. During Paul, a song about McNeil’s former employer, Winter plays slide guitar using a switched-on vibrator (in a tribute to a certain punk band of yore, perhaps?) and the sound it makes is like an enormous, fuzzy chainsaw. Swimming, with its funky bass and catchy chorus and very rude line about what you might accidentally swallow at a swimming pool, is another example of the band’s penchant for Viz-style crudity. As well as songs from Courtesan, there are a couple of songs from Hazel’s solo albums too.

A few gremlins plague the gig. Hazel performs in near-darkness for fifteen minutes until McNeil asks the lighting man to rectify this, and even then it’s not completely sorted. The slower songs don’t translate as well as the faster, poppier material, and during Telephone Triage Assessment, Hazel’s blackly funny song about someone suicidal phoning 111 and being given the run-around, the spoken-word verses are almost inaudible in the mix.

But such is the confidence of this band that such problems don’t matter, in fact, it all seems part of the marvellous chaos. They finish with their most notorious song, Satan (Love Song For Bill Hicks), where Hazel sings about being too old to perform a certain sexual act due to dodgy knees (again too rude to repeat here!). It rocks, supremely, and the Exchange crowd responds in kind. After a brief interlude they return with three cover versions: Half Man Half Biscuit’s Vatican Broadside (to which I and many others sing along), You’re A Friend Of Mine (Clarence Clemons) and Jesse James (JD Meatyard). Though, given their feminist leanings, surely the call should have been for Jesse Jane? My coat was on the floor by the speakers at the front. And that was it – a concise hour and ten minutes of frenetic, barmy brilliance. And we’re back to dancing about architecture again. I’m off now to listen to Courtesan properly (on CD) this time and am looking forward greatly to it. And I’m looking forward to seeing the F.C.’s play live again even more.

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Posted by: Nick Walters | January 27, 2018

Ten Fall landmarks from my life

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  1. 1986, at school. Hearing U.S. 80’s – 90’s on the 6th Form ghetto blaster (it played LPs in an upright position!) and immediately feeling my life change forever.
  2. 1987, at Wolves Poly (Dudley site). Being harangued in the student union by a chap who’d seen The Fall supporting U2 about how terrible they were, he was really angry and upset, and seemed to think I personally had something to do with it. I laughed.
  3. Waiting in Wimpy in Dudley, February 1987, for the copies of The Frenz Experiment to arrive in the adjacent HMV with my fellow Fall-freak David. We kept going over all morning to check. Got so distracted I put sugar on my chips.
  4. Meeting Brix outside Birmingham Hummingbird, before their gig in March 1988. She was standing in the door of the Fall tour bus, I got her autograph.
  5. Kandi Klub, Bristol Bierkeller. The DJ stopped the music – stopped the music! – to harangue me about always requesting The Fall, who were according to him ‘a bunch of dinosaurs.’ In 1993…
  6. Meeting Mark E. Smith in the Seven Stars before their Bristol Fleece and Firkin gig in December 1999.
  7. My 2013 Fall Odyssey, 3 gigs on 3 consecutive nights in May: Cardiff, Bristol, then Fal(l)mouth. The latter was one of the best Fall gigs I have ever attended.
  8. Having to leave the February 2017 Cardiff Tramshed gig early to get the last train back to Bristol. Little did I know at the time I would never see them again.
  9. That Bristol Fiddlers gig, November 2017. The anticipation. The speculation. The devastation. The beginning of the end.
  10. Now, today. Realising that this is not the end, the music will be there forever, and although he is dead and gone, his vibrations will live on.
Posted by: Nick Walters | January 25, 2018

All the Fall gigs I have been to, and ever will:

1.    22 May 1987               Town Hall, Cheltenham
2.    7 Mar 1988                  Hummingbird, Bristol
3.    ? Sep / Oct 1988         Sadler’s Wells, London
4.    2 March 1990              Anson Rooms, Bristol
5.    26 Aug 1990                Reading Festival
6.    6 Dec 1991                 Anson Rooms, Bristol
7.    19 May 1993               Victoria Rooms, Bristol
8.    19 Oct 1993                Kentish Town Forum, London
9.    26 May 1994               Trinity Centre, Bristol
10.  28 Jan  1997              Bierkeller, Bristol
11.  9 Dec 1997                 Bierkeller, Bristol
12.  14 Dec 1998               Fleece and Firkin, Bristol
13.  17 Oct 2001                Bierkeller, Bristol
14.  3 Oct 2002                  Guildhall, Gloucester
15.  3 Dec 2004                 Bierkeller, Bristol
16.  1 Apr 2007                  Hammersmith Palais, London
17.  15 Jul 2007                 Ashton Court Festival, Bristol
18.  23 Nov 2009               Metropolis, Bristol
19.  30 Nov 2010               Komedia, Bath
20.  22 May 2013               The Globe, Cardiff
21.  23 May 2013               Trinity Centre, Bristol
22.  24 May 2013               Princess Pavilion, Falmouth
23.  12 May 2016               Marble Factory, Bristol
24.  6 Feb 2017                  Tramshed, Cardiff
25.  29 Nov 2017               Fiddlers, Bristol

 

Rest in peace, Mark.

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | January 20, 2018

Two Tales

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A quick plug for two anthologies to which I have contributed.

First up, Lethbridge-Stewart, The Havoc Files Vol. 4, a collection of short stories featuring the Brigadier and Anne Travers (from The Web Of Fear, and a major character in the Lethbridge-Stewart books (including my forthcoming book The Man From Yesterday). My story, The Runaway Bomb, features some of the characters from Mutually Assured Domination and is a homage to a certain episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.

Secondly, the second charity anthology from Pseudoscope, Time Shadows: Second Nature. I am humbled and honoured that my story, The Heart Of Inomasp, was chosen as the 11-part framing story for this, especially given the story’s humble beginning and chaotic gestation. (Spoilers follow). That beginning was me simply imagining an extra story for Season 17 of Doctor Who, and jotting down a title, The Heart of Inomasp. Yeah, I’d watch a story called that, I thought. But who or what is Inomasp? Could be a fearsome, insectile alien warlord. Could be a haughty royal, Princess Inomasp. Or maybe a computer program, INtelligent OMniscient Artificial Sentience Program or something. And then it struck me. Why not all three? So I began idly jotting down bits of the story, and wrote a scene with Princess Inomasp, then forgot about it for a bit. Then the Pseudoscope guys came a-knockin’, and I thought, well, why not? And so after a brainstorming session with Paul Leonard over meatballs in IKEA last April, The Heart of Inomasp took shape.

And then it went COMPLETELY MENTOE.

Originally, it featured only two Doctors – 4 and 10, but as the story grew, others barged their way in. In the end, there are five Doctors knocking about in The Heart of Inomasp. As I wrote, the story got more and more out of control, and I chucked in everything but the kitchen sink. I almost gave up on it, until I thought of a way to tie everything together, and turn it into a quest for the Doctor(s). It now hangs together pretty well, I think. It’s the most fun thing I have written – I had a lot of fun writing it, and hopefully, you will in reading it!

And I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Proxitine Inomasp Beshesh-Delta-Sidian (despite the events of the story). Oh no. She’ll be back.

Posted by: Nick Walters | December 2, 2017

Mr Rock’n’Roll

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Selfie with Brix Smith Start backstage at the Thekla

Blimey, I haven’t updated this blog for over 2 years! That’s because since January 2016 I have been busy on my next novel, The Man From Yesterday, another entry in the Lethbridge-Stewart series for Candy Jar Books. It should be out sometime in the new year.

2017 saw me take some (admittedly small) steps into music journalism. Mainly, or should that be exclusively, for We Are Cult. In January, I reviewed The Blue Aeroplanes’ excellent album Welcome, Stranger! and also interviewed frontman Gerard Langley.

In July I reviewed The Fall’s latest album, New Facts Emerge. It’s been a troubled year for the band, largely because of Mark E. Smith’s health issues. Their Bristol gig on 29 November was cancelled right at the last minute. I was there, and it was devastating. Mark issued a message after the gig that somewhat allayed our fears, and we all hope he gets better soon. Listening to the album, however, you’d never know anything was up. It’s brilliant, one of their very best.

In October I, Ludicrous released a new album, hot on the heels of their last one (which I  reviewed but only on this blog.) Entitled Songs From The Sides Of Lorries, it’s one of those albums you wish everyone could hear. Funny, mordant, and catchy as hell, it’s well worth your time.

The highlight of my year, however, was when I was asked to interview Brix Smith Start, whose band Brix And The Extricated played Bristol Thekla on 9 November. Brix is an all-time heroine of mine, having written the songs that got me in to The Fall. I was, understandably, rather nervous of meeting her, but she was warm, friendly,  funny, and very passionate about music. She was extremely impressed with my work (I reviewed the album and the gig as well) and phoned me afterwards to rave about it. This has made me very happy.

I don’t know how much more music journalism will come my way in 2018, as I have another novel on the horizon, and a short story or two; though I expect I will do the odd album review for We Are Cult, if they’ll have me. Currently in my CD player and on my phone are new albums from Morrissey and U2, musicians I have been following since my teenage years, and who aren’t exactly ‘trendy’ anymore (especially the former who seems to be the subject of a modern-day witch hunt), so expect my views on those in due course.

And I will try to keep this blog updated, as a New Year resolution!

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | November 21, 2015

Mutually Assured Domination – in the shops NOW!

MAD cover

My sixth (okay, five and halfth) novel, Mutually Assured Domination, is in the shops now!

It’s the fourth in the new series of Lethbridge-Stewart novels from Candy Jar Books.

The series tells the story of Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart before he became ‘the Brig’ and employed the Doctor as his scientific advisor in UNIT. Set after The Web Of Fear, the books explore Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart’s battles against various alien menaces without the assistance of the good Doctor.

Mutually Assured Domination (or MAD for short!) is a good old-fashioned romp which sees the return of the Dominators and their robotic servants the Quarks, first seen in the Patrick Troughton era of Doctor Who. Set in the late 60s in the ‘flower-power’ era, the story alternates between Dartmoor and London as Lethbridge-Stewart – aided and abetted by journalist Harold Chorley  (seen in The Web Of Fear) –  uncovers the Dominators’ fiendish plot to unleash MAD… but finds out that not everyone is on his side.

MAD is available from  Candy Jar Books, Amazon, and all good bookshops!

 

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | September 15, 2015

I, Ludicrous: Dull Is The New Interesting

The TARDIS has seen better days…

I, Ludicrous form a sort of Holy Trinity with The Fall and Half Man Half Biscuit, and it warms the cockles that all three bands are still going strong. I’ve been following the Luds since I first heard Preposterous Tales on John Peel in 1987. I was hooked instantly, and it is still the best song ever written about someone called Ken. This is the first I, Ludicrous album since 2003’s Museum Of Installation; prolific, they are not. Brilliant, they certainly are.

Often wrongly dismissed as a comedy band, I, Ludicrous – though funny – are far more than that. Their songs chart the lives of normal people, with a particular focus on football, and the targets of their satire are the rich, the famous and the pretentious. Past classics include Three English Football Grounds, Stuck In A Lift With Noel Edmonds, Moynihan Brings Out The Hooligan In Me, Argument In The Launderette, and I’ve Never Been Hit by Mark E. Smith. Singer Will Hung (not his real name!) is, or was, a civil servant (in DWP I think), and Clerking Till I Die, included here, will ring bells with anyone trapped in a boring dead-end job.  ‘The knowledge that my salary on the 28th is guaranteed and I have no dirty habits to feed means I’m clerking till I die’ drones Hung over a backdrop of clanking drum machine, rumbling bass and spiky guitar.

The rest of the album explores themes of work, celebrity, academia and politics. Opening track We’re Signed is a bouncy number in which Hung throws in his job because his band has just signed with a record label, a scenario which has the ring of truth about it. Second track and single Cheer Up is a fantastic pop song which would be No. 1 in a parallel universe. ‘Come on everyone let’s twist and shout – and there’s a new Stooges album coming out!’ George Jenkins is a mellow, touching, barbed ballad about the sad plight of an ex-miner. Hacky’s Wine Bar, a live favourite for decades, is a hilarious rant about a seedy drinking venue where ‘the blue neon sign may not look appealing and when it rains it drips through the ceiling.’  And if you want to know what happened when Amanda Knox met Oscar Pistorius, the tale is told in Opportunity Knox via a series of ‘deplorious’ rhymes.

The album’s centrepiece is the spoken-word 6-minute Old Professors Vs Young Professors, in which I, Ludicrous reveal the not very surprising truth behind the science industry. Later in the album the Global Business Man is accused of creating the recession via a very Fall-like track, and the whole thing ends with a suprisingly angry (and extremely rough) live cover version of Third World War’s Ascension Day. Overall, a brilliant, mordantly funny album. Sleaford Mods? PAH!

 

Posted by: Nick Walters | August 20, 2015

DOMINEX INDUSTRIES – KEEP OUT – TRESPASSERS WILL BE DESTROYED

MAD cover

Dominex Industries are pleased to announce the opening of their new nuclear waste processing facility on Dartmoor, Devon, England, Earth, Mutters Spiral.

Using our innovative new process of Negative Mass Flux Absorption, Dominex will provide cheap energy for the entire United Kingdom – and, eventually, the whole world!

Dominex are co-operating fully with the police in the investigation into the mysterious and unfortunate disappearances in the vicinity of their moorland base.

And rumours that we are secretly and illegally constructing weapons of mass domination are, we assure you, completely without foundation.

Watch Panaroma tonight for an exclusive interview with Dominex Chief Executive, Dominic Vaar!

DOMINEX – YOUR FUTURE IS OUR BUSINESS.

Posted by: Nick Walters | August 4, 2015

Summer 2015 album round-up

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I know I said I would stop doing album reviews, except for ones by e.g. The Fall, but I somehow happen to have knocked some words together for these:

PAUL WELLER: Saturns Pattern

I’ve not much liked Weller’s recent output. After the rather humdrum dadrock of Illumination and As Is Now, 2008’s sprawling, pastoral 22 Dreams was a refreshing change, but the following Wake Up The Nation was a brash, ugly mess, with no tunes. 2012’s Sonik Kicks was even worse, an unlistenable, clattering, embarrassing ‘experimental’ nightmare with only one decent tune buried within (Study in Blue). I wasn’t, therefore, expecting much from Saturns Pattern, and the apostrophe fail didn’t help, but I was pleasantly surprised. The first track White Sky is as brash and ugly as anything off Sonik Kicks, and the title track is similar, but after that the album settles down into a series of lengthy grooves that recall The Style Council at their best. (I always preferred them to The Jam). The production is warm and deep, a relief after the harshness of Sonik Kicks and its predecessor. There is still the odd experimental flourish, but it doesn’t overshadow the songwriting and actually enhances the ‘spacey’ mood of tracks like Phoenix. Lyrically, Weller is in contemplative mood, and at 58 seems to have found inner peace, as he sings on I’m Where I Want To Be. Are You Going My Way is, hurrah! a pretty standard Weller love song the like of which hasn’t been seen round these parts for ages. In The Car is a bluesy groove in which Weller ridiculously but apparently seriously eulogises the M25 – you can imagine Alan Partridge driving and singing along to this. The album closes with the 8-minute These City Streets, a slow, bluesy, soulful groove, the equal of anything The Style Council put out. Lovely. So, despite the lack of apostrophe which will bug me every time I look at the album cover, this is easily Weller’s best album in some considerable time.

ASH: Kablammo!

After 2007’s rather lacklustre Twilight of the Innocents, Ash said they were never making another album, declaring the format dead. They then went on to release 26 singles in 2009-2010, some of which were sublime (True Love 1980 and Joy Kicks Darkness in particular), some of which were not quite so sublime. Rather ironically, all these singles were collected on two albums released in 2010. Even more ironically, Ash have now released a proper new album, having presumably realised that the format is far from dead. It’s far better than Twilight, and – though not quite reaching the dizzy heights of 1977 or Free All Angels – it’s a fine, entertaining album of turbo-charged guitar pop that more than lives up to its title. (Oh God, I sound like a bad music journo!). There’s more to it than first meets the eye – there’s a an all-too-brief instrumental, Evel Knievel, and a couple of gorgeous ballads, e.g. Moondust, which recall the days of Goldfinger. The album ends, rather surprisingly, on a quiet note: the slow burning For Eternity and the woozy electropop of Bring Back The Summer – a song I know I will be playing in the autumn whilst gazing mournfully at the rain!

MUSE: Drones

Muse’s last couple of albums have been rather hit and miss. This is better, but it is completely lacking in originality – there is not a note here we have not heard on previous Muse offerings, or in the music of other bands e.g. Queen. That said, it’s rather fun – an overblown concept album about the ‘dehumanisation of modern warfare’, it tells the story of one man’s indoctrination and eventual defection, with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledgehammer to the face. The music, purported to be ‘back to basics’, isn’t all that different to the usual Muse fare, only sharper and harder, with an 80s rock sheen. Opener Dead Inside is a chill slab of electropop that sounds like an amped-up Depeche Mode B-side. Second track Psycho (preceded by a vocal interlude that mimics a scene from Full  Metal Jacket) is huge, dumb fun with one of the heaviest riffs Muse have ever laid down (man). Mercy is far too much like Starship from Black Holes and Revelations to deserve a place on the album. Reapers and The Handler, however, are absolutely stunning – two of the best songs Muse have ever recorded, they are the twin highlights of Drones. After that, the album loses its way somewhat with a brace of weaker tracks. As with most Muse albums, it ends with portentous, pretentious, preposterous epic – The Globalist, which rips off Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and segues into the title track, a strange, almost Christmassy choral piece. Muse fans will lap this up, others will remain to be convinced.

SARAH CRACKNELL: Red Kite

This is the Saint Etienne singer’s second album, coming almost twenty years after her first (Lipslide in 1997). It’s a collection of gentle, folky pop songs influenced by 60s psychedelia and folk. Now pushing 50, Cracknell’s voice is still as smooth as ever, perhaps a tad huskier and worn around the edges. There’s a dark undercurrent to her lyrics – Hearts Are For Breaking is a deliciously cruel song about a love triangle, set to a deceptively jaunty tune, and Favourite Chair seems to be about contemplating death. On Underneath The Stars Cracknell takes the mick out of all those pop songs that go on about ‘stars shining for you’ by drily observing that they actually don’t – but ends the song on a glimmer of hope by saying ‘but could they shine for you?’ after all. Perfect listening for the lovely summer weather we’re (not) having.

Posted by: Nick Walters | July 12, 2015

The Fall: Sub-Lingual Tablet

Me with the new Fall album!

Taking the tablet

(This is a review of the CD version; there is a vinyl version which features different mixes of some of the tracks, which I haven’t yet heard).

This is, quite simply, a fantastic Fall album, up there with their very best. That’s all you really need to know, and all I really need to say. There is, simply, nothing better than a top album by the best band ever to exist. All hail the glory of The Fall! I’ll say more, though, otherwise this would be a very short review. Sub-Lingual Tablet is the 30-somethingth album by The Fall and the fifth from the current line-up, the longest serving in the band’s history (2007-now): Mark E. Smith (of course), Eleni Poulou (synths), Dave Greenway (guitar), Kieron Melling (bass) and Dave Spurr (drums). This year they are augmented by a second drummer, Daren Garratt. They are on fantastic live form, as their performance at Glastonbury demonstrates.

The title is typically Fall-esque and cleverer than at first meets the eye. A ‘sub-lingual tablet’ is a pill that you pop beneath the tongue, there to dissolve – but the phrase also has connotations with language and technology. Indeed, social media and its associated gadgets are a theme on this album, popping up in the lyrics and forming the subject matter of closing tracks Fibre Book Troll and Quit iPhone. These latter two titles are uncharacteristically unequivocal for Mark E. Smith, and unusually topical… for 2008. Get with it Mark, you wrote I’m Into C.B. at the height of the 1980s UK Citizens Band Radio boom, you’re getting slack in your old age! But then he also wrote Telephone Thing well over century after the invention of the telephone, so I’ll let him off.

The album cover shocked me when I first saw it. There have been some spectacularly bad Fall album covers, most notably Re-Mit, which is just plain ugly. At least that one looked like it took some effort – effort perhaps better spent elsewhere, but the cover of Sub-Lingual Tablet looked, at first, lazy. I didn’t believe that it was the actual cover, just a fan fake, and I hated it, but I have come to like it, even love it. Note the OCD-baiting way there is a gap between the text at the top and the image, but not at the bottom. The image appears to be lighting rig in a nightclub, which suggests a electronic/dance influences – and indeed, this record is far more ‘techno’ than anything since The Unutterable. The image and the stark lettering also have surveillance/ Orwellian overtones. Once loaded onto my ancient Nokia N8 (no iPhones here, Mr Smith!) the cover really stands out when browsing through my music library, and I wonder if it was deliberately designed that way, or is it just serendipity? The back cover, however, is truly, truly horrendous. The image of pills, admittedly, does fit with the album title, but those fonts! Glarg.

So, to the music. I liked the last two Fall albums, Ersatz G.B. (2011) and Re-Mit (2013), and they are still great albums, but they are completely blown out of the water by this. Sub-Lingual Tablet is certainly the best album this line-up have produced, just edging Your Future Our Clutter (2010) which seems a little staid in comparison, and trumping Imperial Wax Solvent (2008) by being a much better sequenced, more complete album experience. Sub-Lingual Tablet was produced by Mark E. Smith himself, which, history teaches us, can go one of two ways. Fortunately, this time, it’s gone the right way, and then some.

The album opens strongly with Venice With The Girls, a song based on this infamous insurance advert. ‘Me? I’m off to Venice with the girls! Well, why should I be a golf widow? Not when StaySure have it covered!’ Mark E. Smith does seem to find his inspiration in the most unlikely places! Rather interestingly, the lyrics are from the husband’s point of view, as he waits mournfully for his wife (and, presumably, daughters) to return. ‘He’s been waiting so long,’ sings Mark. Yes, sings! It’s his best vocal performance in ages. Musically, it’s fairly standard Fall-pop with a catchy riff and pounding drums. The production is interesting –  despite its crisp clarity, there’s a lot of murk and grime in there, giving the track a muddy sheen. This recalls the 1979 album Dragnet, which was remastered in 2004, only to reveal that the apparent murkiness and grit wasn’t due to previous poor remasters, but was in the actual music itself. Much of Sub-Lingual Tablet has a similar tone.

Second track, Black Roof, is a weird one. Written and performed by Rob Barbato and Tim Presley, the ‘Dudes’ who worked with Mark E Smith on 2007’s Reformation! Post TLC, it’s a brief, barmy, Beefheartian blast that takes more than a few listens to get a handle on. it’s great to hear that The Fall can still put out such disconcerting music.

Then comes Dedication Not Medication, one of the album’s highlights. It’s like the mutant offspring off L.A. from 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace. A juddering bassline of satisfying sinisterosity underpins alarming synth contributions from Eleni and shuddering guitar shenanigans from Pete Greenway. After a minute or so it breaks into a startling cacophonic crescendo, which subsides back into the main riff, only for M.E.S. to shout ‘PIERCE BROSNAN! How dare you prescribe sad grief and bed-wet pills!’ One of the hilarious high points on what is an extremely entertaining album.

First One Today follows and the TNSG comparisons continue as this sounds like a B-side recorded around 1985, with shades of album track Barmy. Even Mark’s vocal sounds as if it was were recorded thirty years ago. A bouncy bass interlude gives the track a personality of its own. Four tracks in, and four wildly differing styles – and yet it all flows perfectly.

Another change of style next on Junger Cloth. This follows in the vein of Chino and Hittite Man from recent albums, but somehow manages to be more primal. The bassline is brilliant, and hard to describe; it’s vaguely African, and addictive in a specifically Fall way that mere words cannot convey. The lyrics seem to be about Mark deciphering a Satanic inscription on a parchment or cloth: ‘It encapsulates all that is foul in man and creature.’ Careful listening reveals a scratchy guitar riff in the left channel that recalls Can.

Stout Man follows, a cover of The Stooges’ Cock in my Pocket. There’s a story going round that M.E.S. challenged the band to learn this song – and  that this version is an early take from a CD which M.E.S. found on the floor of a tour bus, and he decided to use that rather than later, polished versions. A brief but illuminating insight into the way he works! The track is rough and ready and completely hilarious, Mark’s voice is right at the front of the mix, as he gnarls and gurgles his way through lyrics about a ‘a big fat man, pushin a little pram!’ The excellent guitar solo at the end is surprisingly trad for The Fall.

Then comes the album’s centrepiece, and not just one of the best Fall tracks of recent times, but ever. Ten minutes off utter, utter, utter joy: Auto Chip 2014-2016. Now, I had heard a nascent version of this on last year’s live album, and wondered how it would sustain over a whole ten minutes. I should not have worried – it fills its time beautifully and in fact whilst listening to it you wish it could go on longer, or forever! So what’s it like? Imagine Television’s Marquee Moon railroaded by Neu! and you’re halfway there. A monotonous, propellant bassline, a three-note guitar riff, and fantastic drumming, over which Mark E. Smith  declaims in his unique inimitable style. That could describe any Fall song – and is the key to the genius of this track. Always different, always the same, as John Peel once said.

The genius of Auto Chip is the way it builds and builds and builds, sometimes cutting back, and then returning at full force. Argh! Mere words aren’t enough! It is indescribably good. Lyrically, Mark seems to be mourning the plight of English musicians: ‘How bad are English musicians… suffering?’ At the end he growls ‘What else you get for Christmas boy? Well done!’ as if congratulating Greenway on his performance. And rightly so – his chiming guitar resonates back into Fall history to the Peel session version of New Puritan. Oh, this is The Fall all right, cock. At their very, very best.

Next, Pledge!, another long track (over six minutes), and one of their weirdest. Up there with Mollusc in Tyrol or Papal Visit in the WTF? stakes. Good – the Fall should be weird. A whole album like this would be hell, but in this context it works perfectly and adds another dimension to the album.  It starts with the fartiest synths this side of Rubberband Man by Yello, and chunders on in a sludgy morass of bass, atonal synths and churning, malformed guitar. Mark E. Smith is having a go at crowd-funding – ‘When you ask for creative money – pledge!’ At one point, he shouts, alarmingly and hilariously, ‘KIDNAP BONO PLEDGE!!!’

After two such mammoth epics, Snazzy comes as something of a respite. A brief, poppy, jazzy, even funky number, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is soon elbowed out of the way by another mammoth epic, Fibre Book Troll (aka Facebook Troll). There is an earlier version of this which is very good, if rather polite, but this version – wow. It’s utterly impolite, and rips its way out of the speakers. ‘I wanna fuckin’ Facebook troll!’ shrieks Mark, his voice sounding speeded up (in the technical rather than pharmaceutical sense). It all builds to an overpowering crescendo and ends with thirty seconds of ear-piercing whistling, which is hilarious on first listen, but becomes rather annoying on further exposure. But hey, this is The Fall, they aren’t here to make you feel comfortable – quite the opposite.

Quit iPhone ends the album, and musically it’s cut from the same cloth as Venice and Stout man, even sharing some of the same riffs. On first listen it seems out of place but it’s a good way to wrap up the album and is a great pop song in its own right, and a curmudgeonly rant against tablet-obsessed twats: ‘Why can’t you just leave it alone? Why can’t you just quit that iPhone?’  The song and the album ends with Mark E Smith crooning: ‘My eye muscle is bright as I stare the morn, and I see the citadel of Media City shining bright,’ and the track cuts out on an intake of breath, as did 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter.

And then you play it again, and again, and again, because it’s brilliant. I say once more, Sub-Lingual Tablet is a fantastic Fall album, up there with their very best. They, and their leader, show no sign of slowing down. The Fall remain a wonderful and frightening work in progress, an ever-growing (and growling) body of work unmatched in its creative drive, scope and vision. Pah, words! Just buy it, and listen to it, loudly! If you’re lucky, you’ll be in; if not, well, I pity thee.

All hail the glory of The Fall!

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