Graham Lock, "The Fall Land On Their Feet"
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS, March 24, 1979
Crash ! Smash ! It's The Fall. The missing link between The Doors and Spherical Objects (sound), the Velvet Underground and O Level (vision). The accessible face of modernistic pop. Not quite in the mainstream, not very far away. You can dance to it and pretend it's avant-garde. Mark Smith knows; "Eggheads and Boneheads queue".
CRASH ! RING ! This is the way The Fall begin, not with a whimper but a BANG!
"Frightened'. Brooding, alert, scary. The one track here to equal the stature of "Various Times":
I feel trapped by mutual affection / I don't know how to use freedom / I spend hours looking sideways / To the time when I was sixteen / Cos I'm in a trance / And I sweat some / I don't wanna dance / I wanna go home / I'm frightened
The music builds, retreats, turns in doomy, foreboding circles. A brilliant beginning.
The rest is a mixture of the good, the slight and the slightly scrappy. Mostly, it's the good ranging across the edgy, infectious pop of 'RebelIious Jukebox', 'Underground Medicine; the hypnotic sway of "Two Steps Back" the speedy disconcerting statement of 'No Xmas For John Quays', 'Futures & Pasts'.
Karl Burns excepted, The Fall are not accomplished musicians. His superb drumming holds them together, drives it along, rescues it from the possibility of formless repetition (and I wonder how they'll fire/fare now that he's gone). The others function well within their limitations, the resonant, minimalist bass of Marc Riley ; the catchy three-chord swell of Yvonne Pawlett's keyboards; the versatile spikey-to-screech guitar of Martin Bramah.
When they really coalesce-- 'Frightened', 'Rebellious Jukebox', 'Two Steps Back'-it works beautifully. Solid, intriguing music, full of quirky touches and basic power. When sometimes they don't things tend to drag clatter or fall apart.
There are disappointments. The too-long, too-negative 'Music Scene', the too-cryptic 'Mother-Sister'; the too-dreary 'Industrial Estate' (is this parody or what?).
And there's also the strange title track -- Mark Smith announcing "but we're still one step ahead of you. 'I still believe in the R and R dream, in R and R as primal scream", even though his own singing is flat, as in deadpan (it's not true the songs are humourless eg the humour line hilarious line about free festivals as being, "like cinema's without films" -- it's just the way Mark Smith sings them.
The Fall are reputed to being sensitive to criticism (thus the title) and they do play one or two silly defensive games. Like 'Crap Rap 2' or the opening of 'Mother- Sister' where a voice asks "er, what's it all about?" and Mark Smith replies, "err, nothing".
But if 'Frightened' and "Various Times', 'It's The New Thing' and 'Rebellious Jukebox' are indicative of the directions they're taking, The Fall have little to worry about (and incidentally the album contains only previously unrecorded material, so do buy the last single).
And buy this. It's flawed, but at its best 'Live At The Witch Trials' has that true rock energy. That spark inside. The nicest way there is of wasting time.
CRASH ! SMASH ! CRASH ! RING !
The Fall have landed on their feet.