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.
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?
“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.’”—
Ellen Willis, “The Velvet Underground” (from Out of the Vinyl Deeps)
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”.
“Well, the difference is, Pixies wrote wild albums that challenged the imagination, that mixed science fiction with nautical themes, and The Smiths wrote complaint slips that nobody read. Morrissey’s influence is so crippling that it could even deteriorate the flower of modern creative thought. It’s like a pungent death shroud over the future and the past.”—
“The Fall are an example of the extent to which indie music has become a kind of commentary on pop—a system which purports to represent us, but in fact excludes most of our experience. Indie-pop is a kind of parallel system, unacknowledged by POP, but bound in reaction. Like, say The Smiths, The Fall write about all the matter - squalor, maladjustment, antagonism - written out of pop’s script. If Mark E. Smith represents anything it is bloodymindedness, a recalcitrance towards those who would improve us out of our bad habits and prejudices.”—Simon Reynolds reviewing Bend Sinister (via t33j)
I’m so excited. If you want to skip right to the app, go here.
Our friend and previous contributor Maura Johnston has started a weekly pop-culture magazine available for iPhone and iPad, featuring contributions from fellow OWOB alumni such as Brad Nelson, Michele Catalano and Katherine St. Asaph.
Have a look at the website or check it out on the AppStore, if you want. Good luck to everyone involved!
Hi :) I realy like your blog here, great stuff! I have one question: You had this 26 Min. Version of I would die 4 u by Prince. It´s now offline :( I cant find it anywhere. Is it possible do upload this track? thanks!
Anybody have an mp3 or an alternate link to that godly performance? (It was on SoundCloud before.)
“The only thing I’ve got in common with Mark E Smith is that Morrissey was once asked which one of us he’d shoot, and he said he’d put one in front of the other and shoot both of us.”—Robert Smith (via rockspeaks)
(Okay, scratch what I said earlier. One last bit of Love and Hate bonus content… because I know better than to deny Chris Ott. -h)
Once a song ingrains itself in the historical record of Pop—once it becomes part of the landscape of Pop, helping define and expand its boundaries—we are often incapable of ever listening to it again without at once recognizing it as a milestone, memory, or at base, a “classic.” You’re all but guaranteed to hear “classics” in the course of your life, whether you want to or not. Most songwriters will never pen a classic. Memorable acts—the ones critics and attuned fans invoke whenever they’re asked about a particular style or sound—will write two or three. A select set of masters have individually concocted dozens of timeless tunes.
Robert Smith never cracked that canon, but owing to endurance, the Cure is more than simply memorable. The Cult is memorable. Love and Rockets are memorable. The Cure posted two Top 10 hits in America, despite wearing a great deal of makeup and Smith’s quizzical and on occasion even feminine affability. “Lovesong” and “Friday I’m in Love” have established themselves as FM-stroke-licensing standards in America, but the latter is a day-of-week novelty romp, and has endured more as a giddy drive-time bit of sunshine.
Owing to recent covers by Adele and Blake Lewis, “Lovesong” has enjoyed a substantial resurgence, and we are far enough away from the Cure’s heyday that it no longer plays (as I once put it) as one of those “great grey Anglican classics,” like “Pretty in Pink,” “I’ll Melt With You” and “The Killing Moon.” For Smith, “Lovesong” was the most personal and honest composition in a then ten-year discography of self-loathing, antisocial dejection, and see-saw silliness. It was written for and very publicly dedicated to his wife, Mary Poole, who has been by his side since they were fifteen years old.
One test of whether a song has really achieved classic status is whether or not it can be ruined. Hundreds of artists have probably covered “Lovesong” in concert—as a singer-songwriter standard, as emo treacle, as a pop-punk gag—but it wasn’t until 311’s infamous tiki torch rendition of 2004 (from the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore vehicle 50 First Dates) that “Lovesong” demonstrated its impervious eternality. It worked as dorm-room reggae. The identical-twin pro-lesbian hip-hop duo Nina Sky fashioned a sort of Rihanna redux of “Lovesong” during a fallow period spent battling their record label, and even that worked quite well.
“Lovesong” has all the elements of a classic single: a smooth, memorable guitar lick, a haunting, yet hummable verse melody, and even a fairly ripping solo. Oddly—and this is the case with nearly all of the Cure’s upbeat singles—it was never very good live. “Charlotte Sometimes” was probably the closest thing to a single that the Cure made better in concert. As with “Close to Me” and “The Walk”, “Lovesong” always suffered for the grating, untreated synthesizers that failed to recreate the finessed studio ambience, and sunk the whole piece.
Despite Smith’s assertion that “Lovesong” was an anniversary present to his wife, it plays for the rest of us like a letter to the one that got away, to that dream girl or boy we gave ourselves to, whether in the boundless naivety of young love, or as part of a commitment we hoped would last a lifetime, but somehow disintegrated.