A Journal Of The Dark Arts
The Fall ring in a new decade with a new lineup, a new label, and Grotesque (After The Gramme), a firm fan favourite.
The Fall’s third LP, Grotesque (After The Gramme), is a curious beast. On one hand, it’s a step forward for the band, who were ushering in a new decade with a transition to a new label, Rough Trade, and a slightly improved fidelity. On the other hand, it’s more of the same, with many of the details Fall fans know and love – the endless two-chord jams, the broken boogie bass, the rinky dink bingo hall organ, the drunken polka beats and, of course, the endless ranting of the hip priest himself, Mark E. Smith.
It begs the question – “What do you look for in a Fall record?” How one answers likely reveals a triptych of Fall listeners. There’s the already converted, those who’ve already fallen under the Salford misfits’ blank-eyed spell. Then there’s those who are just getting into the band, like discovering the existence of some underground cabal in your hometown, when things begin to click into place and make sense. Then there’s the third camp who are most likely appalled by the lack of so many redeeming musical qualities usually requisite for a band, such as musicianship, recording quality or perhaps even talent.
Grotesque (After The Gramme) will no doubt delight listeners of the first two camps, bringing the new acolytes further into the fold, falling futher under the pall of Mark E. Smith’s insane Northern English worldview.
This is when you really gotta start to worry. When it all starts to make sense is when you begin to suspect it may be too late. There may be no turning back.
I’ve been a fan of Grotesque (After The Gramme) for some time, but i’d already put in some time with their first two studio LPs, Live From The Witch Trials and Dragnet after Mark E. Smith died a few years ago. I’d fallen in love with their sorta cheap, deranged Northern English madness, like somethng crawling out of the shadows of the chimneys of Salford where The Fall fell from. It’s more devoid of singles than its predecessors, however. There’s no “Rowche Rumble” or “Spector Vs. Rector” or “Psychick Dancehall.” Yeah, “New Face In Hell” is a boogie but i wasn’t certain if it was enough to entice a new wave of acolytes.
Imagine my surprise, then, to find a number of Fall aficinados claiming Grotesque (After The Gramme) as one of, if not their most, favourite Fall LP. Looks like Mark E. Smith was right about the ‘three Rs of rock ‘n roll – repetition, repetition, repetition. Its like their music gets into yr clothes like coal smoke frm smokestacks or cheap, sudsy beer fumes from the pub up the way. And once it sets in, there’s no going back.
Getting into The Fall is like listening to some mad speedhead muttering to himself in a pub booth. At first it seems nonsense, paranoid ramblings… After a while, though, you find yrself nodding along, agreeing, conceding points… Before you know it yr helping him pour over the whitepages in search of evil wizards.
Mark E. Smith’s vocals fall somewhere a rambling speedfreak and an over-enthusiastic guidance counselor. Much of Grotesque (After The Gramme) reads like someone recommending a local butcher shop or pontificating on the best brand of transistor. That makes the occasional class commentary all the more striking, when you realize this bloke is on about something, that he might have a point and know what he’s talking about. It’s on you to decide for yrself which is which.
That’s how it goes for almost every aspect of Grotesque (After The Gramme). None of it sounds like something you’d hear on Top Of The Pops. Neither Marc Riley nor Craig Scanlon‘s guitars are particularly virtuosic – both sound more like a garbage truck than anything approaching a “solo”. Steve Hanley’s bass lopes along endlessly like a country & western bar grinding on into the A.M. And yet, and yet, it is compelling listening, winning you over in the longrun if you put in the time and meet The Fall on their own terms.
Grotesque (After The Gramme) deserves its place among the great post-punk records as it both illustrates what is great about the genre as well as some of its shortcomings. Some post-punk bands/albums had a tendency to lean into the artiness of the genre, bringing a whiff of pretention that sometimes yields some interesting music but can also sometimes be rather cringe-worthy. Grotesque, on the other hand, leans into the low brow while accentuating some of post-punk’s less-cited influences. You can hear shards of Beefheartian atonal blues in the guitars, as well as some garage psychedelia courtesy of the keyboards. It totally shreds the notion that post-punk needs to be totally earnest, po-faced, serious, sincere…
“People say i rip off Johnny Rotten,” confesses Mark E. Smith on “C ‘N C Mithering Lyrics,” one of Grotesque’s finest moments. We contend that John Lydon would’ve done well to pay more attention to Mark E. Smith, toning down the condescension and amping up some actual proletariat uprising. It wouldn’t have mattered, though. There is and can only be one Mark E. Smith. Grotesque (After The Gramme) makes for a good introduction to the wonderful, frightening world of The Fall, for the unimitated.