Saturday, March 16, 2019

Northern White Crap That Talks Back

The Fall : Frightened

On March 16, 1979 The Fall released Live at the Witch Trials, a debut album recorded and mixed in a Camden studio in just two days. On the album's second track, "Crap Rap 2/Like To Blow" founder Mark E. Smith declares "We are the Fall, Northern white crap that talks back." The band, an instant cult sensation, would be talking back for nearly 40 years before Smith's death in 2018.

The album begins with "Frightened", a creeping five minute tune that takes us into the dark streets of Manchester with Smith explaining why he'd rather go home than interact with girls on a dance floor: "I feel trapped by mutual affection /And I don't know how to use freedom/ I spend hours looking sideways/ To the time when I was sixteen." (NOTE: Trying to interpret any Mark E Smith line is a huge gamble. If Smith were still alive, he's tell me I was full of shite.)

The early reviews of the album were mostly positive. Record Mirror giving it a full five stars and describing the album as "a rugged, concerned, attuned, rebellious jukebox". Sounds reviewer Dave McCullough also gave it five stars, calling it "an album of staggeringly rich, mature music, inner questioning hand in hand with rock and roll at its fiercest, its finest, its most honest, rock and roll at its naked, most stimulating prime." The Village Voice's  Robert Christgau gave it a B+ rating, writing " in this icky pop moment we could use some ugly rebellion."

We'd be hearing a lot of ugly rebellion from the Slang King and his come and go troop of band mates. They would average two to three releases a year, evolving into an almost pop band when Smith fell in love with a California girl named Brix. Time has been kind to Live at the Witch Trials, which was released on Miles Copeland's Step Back label.

 A legendary band's first album is almost always a fascinating listen, just to hear how fully formed they were at the stop.  Here, Smith is already enunciating those "Ah's" at the end of words, forming rhymes where there were none just so that he could continue his cantankerous diatribe against the music industry or other powers that be. Some bands never make a better record than their debut. I believe The Fall did, but here is where the search began for the real thing to fill their rebellious jukebox.

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