Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace

This Nation's Saving Grace (1985) ****1/2

Another 16 Falltunes, same as the last time, but this one recieves a much higher grade because a) the tunes are much better, and b) the tunes don't all sound the same - this one's got variety.  Variety up the wazoo, in fact; critics often list this as the best LP entry point for neophytes into the wackily wonderful world of the Fall, and to quoth another noted Manchester poet, Morrissey, "they were half right."  The half they got right in that it's as brilliantly inconsistently consistent as any Fall release, Exile on the White Album covering nearly all their sides up to that point and tantalizingly pointing in a few new directions as well (particularly the ace "L.A." which blossoms out the interest in electronica that Mark would pursue so relentlessly in the '90s; "Paint Work," as well shifts the Fall into an interestingly dreamy corner of the pop universe that they'd never before explored).  There's a nagging sense, however, and I may be alone in this (judging by every other review on the net, I probably am), that there's something missing:  there doesn't seem to be any unified sense of purpose or vision as on previous Fall albums, which love it or loathe it, the likes of Hex Enduction Hour certainly had.  What you get instead is a collection of sixteen unrelated Fall songs, randomly distributed throughout the album in terms of quality and style:  this album would flow just as well on random play, which is to say not at all.  This is no doubt due to the fact that, like the last album, the original LP has been padded with A/B-sides from contemporaneous singles thrown on as bonus tracks at random.  But I'm quibbling, aren't I - this consolidation of strengths allows the first-time listener to sample nearly all facets of the Fall in one place, and even if I personally find Dragnet more compelling, it would be sheer perversity for me to not rate this one a smidgen bit higher.  Because this is, after all, technically the most accomplished Fall album, their second definitive album, after the debut (they have three in total, but you'll just have to wait another 18 years before you get to the third definitive Fall LP).

There's precious little punk, but plenty of Fallabilly, Fallpop, Fallvamps, Fallrock, and even a bit of Fallprog ("I Am Damo Suzuki", a tribute that lifts and stitches parts of various Can songs).  The Fallrepetition works well on the irresistably chorus-y "Spoilt Victorian Child," but not so well on the draggy "What You Need," or Brix's annoying, "Vixen."  The James Brown-meets-Led Zeppelin "Gut of the Quantifier," rocks and classic rock riff-monsters "Cruiser's Creek," and "Bombast," pummel the listener into aural submission.  The uproarious "Couldn't Get Ahead," ranks as my favorite (this week), a rollickingly bouncy poetryabilly number in which Mark stumbles around in Armani clothes pretending that he's blind and acting like E.T.  Humor?  The Fall?  I'd say that "Rollin' Danny," is almost as good an example of Mark's wit, only to find that this yet another bouncily rollicking number is a cover.  Well chosen obscurities?  The Fall?  Of course!  It is a weird Fall record in that the most commercial track (and the closest they ever came to an American hit, on MTV at least), "L.A.," is practically verseless, with only the stuttered two-syllable chorus and a few unintelligible mutters in the background as the sole words.  You do get to hear Brix saying, "It's my happening and it's freaking me out," as the tune fades out, however.  It's a total departure from their sound and no less welcome for it.  For years this and most other Fall albums were difficult to find outside of Greater Manchester, but now in this digital age we're all spoilt Victorian children and every Fall album is a click and a hop away on MP3 blogs.  If you're curious about the band, this is finemighty entry point.


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