“Slates” by The Fall - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1981Album Chart of the Decade: 1980s

TJR says

5 months on from “Grotesque”, the Fall delivered a new mini-album in April, 1981, bearing the front-cover taunt of “cost: TWO POUNDS ONLY U Skinny Rats”. Ah, the old treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen tactic, eh? They remain a five-piece: Mark E. Smith (vocals, piano, harmonica), Marc Riley (electric guitar, electric piano, vocals), Craig Scanlon (electric and acoustic guitars, piano), Steve Hanley (bass guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals) and Paul Hanley (drums, percussion). The ten-incher played at 33⅓ RPM, side one being labelled as the objective side and side two the subjective, whatever that's supposed to mean. Me? I only do subjective. It's immediately apparent that the production is crisper and clearer, evidenced early on by the close-miking techniques enabling whispers to be most audibly with us.

The evil is not in extremes, it's in the aftermath, the middle mass” whispers our frontman over the bed of a midtempo swing beat, as “Middle Mass” opens the set intriguingly, taking great delight in looping the phrase “The Wehrmacht never got in here”, with a derisive reminder before we get too self-gratulatory that “it took us six years!” At least we're not fucking Switzerland, eh? The mocking one is at again on “An Older Lover Etc.” in which he humourously warns that, by taking an older lover, you better get ready for old stories of teenage sex from the early sixties. The solution could be problematic though: “You'd better take a younger lover, You'll miss your older lover, Her love was like your Mother's, With added attractions.” Mark's current lover and group manager, Kay Carroll, 11 years his senior, was not best pleased as you might imagine. He's a very naughty boy. As normal, the narrative veers off in strange tangents, the oft-repeated phrase “Dr. Annabel Lies” setting an altogether more sinister tone, alongside guitars which nervously scratch and rumble in support. Closing side one with middle class liberals in the firing line, album highlight “Prole Art Threat” is thoroughly unprecedented, The Fall sounding more menacing than ever, as this two-minute sensory assault pummels into your brain with a confusing barrage of phrases accompanied by a rhythm section of once mortal men who've suddenly become evil black riders, their threatening gallop terrifying all before them. It is, in fact, the very prole art threat personified.

Lightening the tone, side two re-opens proceedings with a spring in its step, as “Fit And Working Again” embraces the rockabilly, coming complete with a budget-level, but nonetheless entertaining, one-fingered piano tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis. The Fall's joy of repetition is underlined on the exciting “definitive rant” of “Slates, Slags, Etc.” during which the group leader has his whip at the ready, unnecessarily cracking the line: “Don't start improvising for God's sake…” despite the group having marched like highly disciplined North Korean soldiers for 5½ minutes up until that point. But would we have him any other way? NO! I'm always impressed by well-controlled feedback, and that adds to the enjoyment here. Closing the set, “Leave The Capitol” rocks agreeably with the memorable chorus: “And you know in your brain, Leave the capitol! Exit this Roman Shell! Then you know you must leave the capitol”, which leads me to acquire the knowledge that London (then Londinium) was built from scratch by the Romans in the mid-1st century.

And there we have it, 6 top tracks spread over 24 action-packed minutes for merely two of your English pounds. The skinny rats were happy, but this release marked the end of The Fall's brief alliance with Rough Trade, their attempted interference with lyrical content going down like a lead balloon with MES. Leave the record label! Exit this shallow hell!

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:32] 8.4.png The Fall - Middle Mass (Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley) Post-Punk
A2 [04:36] 9.2.png The Fall - An Older Lover Etc. (Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Paul Hanley) Post-Punk
A3 [01:57] 10.0.png The Fall - Prole Art Threat (Mark E. Smith, Marc Riley) Post-Punk
B1 [02:59] 8.8.png The Fall - Fit And Working Again (Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Marc Riley, Paul Hanley) Rock n Roll / Rockabilly
B2 [06:34] 9.1.png The Fall - Slates, Slags, Etc. (Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley, Paul Hanley) Trance Rock
B3 [04:07] 8.9.png The Fall - Leave The Capitol (Mark E. Smith, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley) Proto-Punk

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