Curiosities of The Fall - No 10 of 15(ish) - Blindness
"Blindness"? A curiosity? For sure it is…
It’s less a song than a bass riff and, as Jim Watts later admitted, said riff is copped from “Witness (1 Hope)” by Roots Manuva. The Fall pitch it down a semitone and sharpen the note at the 7th beat, thus avoiding a lawsuit and adding a sense of menace their inspiration lacked.
The version given here is from “Interim” and sounds as if it has a synth bassline, thus connecting it even more closely to “Witness” - it’s a loose dubwise thing, speculative but exploratory. It’s a good lead into the classic recording of the song, made for their 24th (and sadly final) Peel Session. The song has no structure as such - the same 8 bar measure is simply repeated throughout but the arrangement is what makes this the essential cut. Taken at a light skip, Spencer Birtwistle’s drumming is magnificent, his cymbals a dramatic device, his toms deployed to add weight and density (ie. at 1m 37s). Steve Trafford keep the bass fuzzy and dark, dropping out completely at 2m 28s only to roar back in 20 seconds later to superb effect. Watts persues a mock-backwards e-Bow guitar line which allows Ben Pritchard to do what he does best, chug away tightly to the left of the sound picture, just out of the spotlight. If there are any keyboards on the track, they are mixed so low as to be inaudible to me. Anyway, presented with such an impressively dense brew, Smith brings his game, running his trusty tape machine around the group to brilliantly disorientating effect and providing a lengthy, winding, curious lyric, full of knots and side-references (“from Narnack Records it came”). His performance is superb, especially where he meets the group as theycoming out of one of Birtwistle’s tom-dominated sections at 4m 10s, wherupon Smith ramps up the tension with a panicky, high-pitched verse which is absolutely thrilling. It was rightly picked out as the highlight of the session and as proof that The Fall were fit and working again. The news - and indeed mp3s - spread quickly and the group’s rehabilitation continued.
It would be over a year before the song made its way to an album “proper” and this is where “Blindness” becomes a curiosity. The rendition on “Fall Heads Roll” falls completely flat. The sound is too empty, the arrangement too sparse, totally lacking all those character touches that made the Peel take such a joy. Smith has pared his lyric back to a few disconnected phrases with only the observation that “99 percent of non-smokers die” raising even so much as a vague chuckle. Watts, of course, is gone with Elena Poulou taking over his lead line on synth but it doesn’t quite connect in the same way. Smith left his tape machine at home too. They sound, well, a bit bored. And I suspect this is the problem - Peel 24 catches the song new, fresh, evolving, open. By the time we come to “Fall Heads Roll”, they know the form that bit too well and result feels like Take 159, like hard work, a chore. An alternate take on the US vinyl LP fares a little better with an extra guitar adding some crunch and noise but it still doesn’t quite catch light. Smith complained in a contemporaneous interview that he was being pressurised into releasing “Blindness” as a single. He didn’t sabotage it on purpose, did he?
"Blindness", of course, gave us that hilarious appearance on Jools Holland’s "Later" and remains a highly popular and effective encore (the rendition on "Last Night At The Palais, taken at a higher pace by the "Reformation Post TLC" line-up is a blast) but what it proves most of all is how quickly MES moves on and that his core strategy of capturing songs (and indeed musicians) quickly and early can be not just effective but defining.
New Puritan (Peel Session, 1980) (Youtube)
I think this may be my favourite Fall song. I usually listen to it when I’m two pints down — and out on the streets, heading towards my next one.
This is the Grim Reefer
The smack at the end of the straw
The optimum level of alcohol flowing through my veins gives me a new energy and purpose, with almost supernatural walking speed and a gleeful disregard of any grotesque peasants who might get in my way. These others aren’t like me. I’m in the right and I have the right of way. I have fire crackling along my nerves and sparking out of my fingertips. The glow comes from within, like I’ve been eating my fucking Reddy Brek.
The conventional is now experimental
The experimental is now conventional
I become consumed by uncontrollable Akira-like power, stomping all over Neo-Tokyo’s new Olympic stadium* in a righteous maelstrom. My booze-fuelled determination is focused on one goal: Go directly to pub, do not pass go.
All hardcore fiends will guide by me
Our decadent sins will reap discipline
I find the propulsive effect of that never-resolving riff works best on long straight roads, free of shoppers or tourists and with few junctions that require pausing, preferably downhill for extra magical momentum: City Road = yes, Oxford Street = no.
Occasionally I will time it just right, so that the furious climax of the song coincides with my arrival at the pub, so I can tear my headphones from my ears and greet my fellow drinkers with a hearty “I CURSE YOUR SELF COPULATION! OF YOUR LOUSY RECORD COLLECTION!" It then takes me several minutes to calm down.
Basically, I am a bit of a dickhead when I’m pissed, but when I listen to “New Puritan”, at least I have something to blame it on.
*Which is actually now happening in 2020! I don’t think they’ve thought this through?
Coming up: The Fall
Thank you, Dayna!
Next week, we’ll talk about the Mark E Smith-led English post-punkers The Fall, and the highlights & the legacy of the band’s long and prolific career.
She also previously appeared on this blog writing about Elastica.
See you tomorrow!
The Velvet Underground - “Sunday Morning”
The Velvets do not deal in abstractions but in states of mind. Their songs are about the feelings the vocabulary of religion was invented to described — profound and unspeakable feelings of despair, disgust, isolation, confusion, guilt, longing, relief, peace, clarity, freedom, love — and about the ways we (and they) habitually bury those feelings, deny them, sentimentalize them, mock them, inspect them from a safe, sophisticated distance in order to get along in the hostile, corrupt world. For the Velvets the roots of sin are in this ingrained resistance to facing our deepest, most painful, and more sacred emotions; the essence of grace is the comprehension that our sophistication is a sham, that our deepest, most painful, most sacred desire is to recover a childlike innocence we have never, in our heart of hearts, really lost. And the essence of love is sharing that redemptive truth: on the Velvets’ first album, which is dominated by images of decadence and death, suddenly, out of nowhere, comes Nico’s artless voice singing, ‘I’ll be your mirror / … The light on your door to show that you’re home / When you think the night has seen your mind / That inside you’re twisted and unkind / … Please put down your hands, ‘cause I see you.’
Once in a while I was listen to this song, “Third Uncle” by Brian Eno, just to marvel at the fact that it was recorded in 1974. Only Brian Eno could invent post-punk before punk existed.
I have very conflicted feelings about The Smiths (I hate Morrissey, basically, but like everyfuckingbody else The Smiths were a high school staple) but this Peanuts/Smiths thing is brilliant and I can’t pick a favorite, though this one is definitely up there.
Secondhands is a new column that examines music of the past through a modern lens. This first edition takes on freewheeling post-punk originals the Raincoats.
Here’s a willfully sideways take on the decade.
Q:What is the best echo and the bunnymen song?
My favorite is "Clay", because it’s exciting, melodramatic, and actually quite therapeutic when I read lyrics as an elaborate exercise in cognitive defusion. “I’ve got to be one with all my halves,” Mac confronts the fragmentary nature of the self and tries to reconcile his many selves. I don’t know if he succeeds in his self-help, but it reminds me to keep unhelpful thoughts at arms-length: "If we exercise just some control / when we exercise our sum control”.
Coming up: Morrissey (solo & The Smiths)
Thank you, Danice!
How did we ever manage to get to almost a hundred and twenty weeks of tales of fandom and devotion without talking about the one who inspires those more than (most) any other!?
Well, we’ll be rectifying that next week. Kimberly Huston will pick her favourite moments from Morrissey’s career both with The Smiths and solo.
You can find Kim on her Tumblr.