Week Sixteen: This Nation’s Saving Grace
This is another big’un, isn’t it? People like This Nation’s Saving Grace in the same way they like Hex. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fan favourite from my experiences with Fall fans so far, but it seems to be one that non-Fall fans can actually stand to listen to. It charted higher than Hex and, on listening to it, has a lot less wince-inducing moments. There’s no massively obvious racial slurs, and a lot less fucking about – apart from an intro (and outro) track that sounds more or less like the theme tune to the horror-themed level in Banjo Kazooie, This Nation’s Saving Grace gets right down to it and is pretty fuckin’ relentless throughout.
It’s best moments may not be as good as the biggest hooks on Hex, and the production’s a little shoddier than some of their other efforts, but it’s definitely more consistent. Bombast in to Barmy is the best one-two punch of the Fall discography so far, both of them fucking rule. Both of them are contenders for my new second favourite Fall song too (because nothing can knock Papal Visit off that throne), and even the slightly more annoying What You Need, which follows, doesn’t quite ruin it, it just makes things slightly more definably “Fall-like”. Once the backing gang vocals kick in, things only get better. The whole album just rattles along fairly relentlessly with very few missteps, and any missteps that do actually happen (My New House) generally manage to get caught up in the energy and rhythm of the record. This is the thing with The Fall I guess – the repetition does actually work, but only when it’s carried out at a fast enough pace to stop it from grating. When they actually keep moving, they become a truly great band.
Much like on Hex, they’ve just settled in to a groove where they’re making genuinely exciting and actually listenable music. It’s odd, because it’s kind of a turbulent moment in The Fall history – they lose both of the Hanley brothers at various points, going back down to one drummer, and they’re probably still getting to grips with writing with Brix, who drafts in her mate to fill on on bass. But somehow, despite (or maybe because of?) all of this, they pull it out and write some great songs. Spoilt Victorian Child starts out like it’s gonna be a punishing Fall endurance test but quickly settles down in to one of their most dynamic and melodic pieces before bouncing back to being abrasive again, and it kicks right in to L.A., which could well be their poppiest number yet. It just doesn’t stop moving. When you actually get caught up in the album, it’s a killer. The first half is better than the second half, yeah, but the second half certainly doesn’t lack.
This is definitely one I’ve been glad to have repeat listens for, too. The first play was sort of underwhelming, possibly because I was already aware of the otherwise high opinion of it, but there was still enough there to make me want to return to it more than albums I actually enjoyed more on the first spin. If that actually makes any sense. It’s pretty clear from the start that This Nation’s Saving Grace has hidden depths, is worth sticking with, in a way that they’ve not quite managed anywhere else.
Context is important, though. I actually made a point of listening to it when I was in Manchester to see Laura Stevenson at the Cornerhouse on Good Friday (sidebar: oh my god she was perfect in a way I’m not sure I knew was possible), and when I was walking through the streets it really started to grow on me. As soon as I got to the venue, though, which is a sort of upmarket theatre/art venue, and settled down with a £4.20 (ouch) pint to wait for my friends, I immediately kind of went off it. The Cornerhouse isn’t my usual kind of show space, and the bar before the gig space doors opened was dotted with fellow punks looking sort of out of place, and I think this says something – it’s so far from the Manchester that surrounded Mark E. Smith and the band when they will have been writing and recording this record that it just didn’t fit. Catch it at the right time, though, in the right place, and it becomes more than just a great Fall album – it’s truly a great album in it’s own right. I think that’s the difference between it and Hex – the earlier one is just a great Fall album, whereas this is the first time they’ve truly broken through that barrier for me. It’s definitely my favourite by them now and will definitely be returned to.
I’d say that this is hopefully a turning point for The Fall, and that after this they keep making records of this quality, but I’d probably be deluding myself, eh? We’ve been through it before - even if Room To Live was pretty good, it’s still not really as good as Hex by quite a wide margin. But This Nation’s Saving Grace definitely gets added to the list of essential Fall albums I made at the end of the first quarter, starting with Witch Trials, continuing with Hex, and ending so far with this one. If they’d released those three back to back, then The Fall would probably be legends in a way they’ll never manage now, but they didn’t, they released them over the course a nine years as a band. It’s kinda weird, actually, they came out more or less three years apart each time - does this mean The Fall release a good album every three years? I guess I’ll let you know once I’ve listened to The Frenz Experiment and I Am Kurious Oranj, cause both of those came out in 1988. I’d put my money on Frenz, though, because both times they’ve put out two albums in one calendar year previously, the first one has always been the better one.
Still! Shit! Big result on this one. I’m as shocked as you are.
We are through the looking glass here, people.