Where do you begin? This is The Fall. Four decades of irreverant, seminal, anti-pop music. 26 albums and countless compilations and collections, world wide critical acclaim and respect. The Fall were always too far left of the mainstream to achieve mega-success. Their brand of "pop" rallied against the commodification of consumer culture and the commercial music industry. Lead by the only band constant, Mark E. Smith. He IS a founding father of punk. Legendary for his demons; anger, alcohol, drugs and violence fueling his rebel stances, stabbing lyricism and sneering vocal style. Smith's story has all the rock and roll cliches but there is never anything trite or cliche about The Fall.
Slates came out in 1981, 25 years ago (YIKES). At that time, Mark E. declared the release, "something totally unfathomable, neither an EP nor an LP". It was a 10". Physically it was different. Another way to show that they were not like everybody else. After the release of Slates their relationship with Rough Trade was done. The Fall went back to the more confusing earlier sounds but with clearer production and more concentration on muscianship. Originally intended to be a two track recording the record evolved to include tracks that were only being performed live. They all seemed to all relate. Divided into an Objective and Subjective side, Slates was just 24 minutes. 24 minutes that brought the world some of their most enduring cuts and stalwart live tracks.
Middle Mass is the opening track. A song about soccer violence and vandalism. Pure Fall with more dilineated production. Mass has that "horse trot" beat and open chord guitar washes and weird "off-key-boards" and Mark E's vocal self-dueling harmonies. This is a sound that endures.
The next track, An Older Lover, continues on these themes but is far more gloomy and sinister sounding. The guitars are now sour notes, repetitive and building to an angry and acrid crescendo.
Fresh today as it was then, Older Lover is a classic. Then, right into another classic. Prole Art Threat. The song was the most talked cut on the album. It's got a beat like a train rolling down the tracks, a slicing, whining guitar riff accentuated by "angry Mark" swiping at Rough Trade, the media, London culture and NME (whom had recently decalred Smith a "nutcase" in an interview with Gang of Four's guitarist, Andy Gill). In Smith's words, "The Prole Art Threat is what the whole thing is about, the destruction of these liberal views which perpetuate the system".
Finishing the classic tryptich that opens this CD, Fit and Working Again. A song that seems ironic coming from the hard partying Smith, not known for fitness. It trucks along with a country flare mixed with neat little guitar slides and note bends and toy-like piano playing. This tune is so quirky and catchy it is addictive. It proves the real pop roots of their music. It is no wonder it has classic Fall status.
Loaded with four tracks from the early and numerous John Peel Sessions, The Fall were practically residents of Peel's sessions, the first of these tracks is an alternate version of Middle Mass, the opening track. The second "Peel" track is Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul. It is a parody of the band Coast to Coast's Do The Huckleback. You also get the 7" Kamera release in this compilation with the B-side, Fantastic Life. The high point of the "sessions" tracks is the first recorded rendition of the song Hip Priest. A slow and scary number that has a drumbeat resemebling a dripping faucet in a dark, dank room. Bordering on the blues you get sultry bass, tense (almost improvisational) guitar work that turns to hateful lashes emphasizing Mark E's spitting vocals. One of The Fall's greatest tracks. It captures the live feeling perfectly and portends the amazing studio version to come.
These recordings mark a solidifying moment in The Fall's sound. It is the shape of things to come. A backlash from the novelty status of Totally Wired (the most well known Fall song) this is a crystal ball gaze into the future of their music. The die hard collector/fan of The Fall will find this to be a must have. The listener may opt for other collections that contain some of the tracks but more of the well known material. But for all that listen you will find fine remastering and true Fall pleasures. You also get great liner notes that contain old posters, articles and reviews from the time of this release. Mark E. still says that Slates remains one of his favorite Fall releases that opened him up to a new world of imagination and lyrical approach where, truly, anything goes. He could say and do what he wanted and felt. This bolstered a huge surge of creativity and vision that continues today with Smith being one of the most enduring and prolific artists to come from the mid-seventies English punk movement.