why you need what you need…

this nation’s saving grace (omnibus edition) – the fall

in praise of mark e. smith’s finest hour

i’m always trying to push the fall on people. i don’t know why; i mean, they’re not for everyone. in fact, they’re not for most people.

it’s okay, i understand; you’re afraid.

i, too, was once afraid.

by your average fall fan’s estimate, i’m a lightweight; i’ve only been obsessed by this odd and phenomenal band for seven years or so. i am a fall amateur. but i own all 28 of their albums, have seen them almost as many times (frontman and sole constant presence, mark e. smith, is nothing if not prolific), and am proud to say…i’m getting there.

and i’m here to tell you: there’s no need to fear the fall.

people are afraid of mark e. smith and his ever-changing crew, because they don’t know where to start. their catalogue’s too vast, too varying in quality and style to just…dip into. but i’m writing this to ask you, oh music lover, to give the fall a chance. right here, right now, in the company of the seminal this nation’s saving grace. i’ve even provided the original album tracklist for your listening pleasure.

go on. all you’ve got to lose is…well, your interest in most other bands. after the fall, nothing else quite sounds the same, you see.

there’s a reason i’m pimping out this nation’s saving grace, by the way. following their loving re-issue of the fall’s the wonderful and frightening world of… (which i raved about here a few months back), beggars banquet have recently released this nation’s saving grace (omnibus edition). it’s the final word on what, to me, is the fall’s finest hour; 3 discs, comprising of the original album, a clutch of revealing rough mixes / alternative versions, non-album singles and peel session tracks, all lovingly packaged and complete with a seriously detailed booklet. three hours of hell, basically, for your average pop fan; bliss for us few fall fans.

this isn’t the place for me to tell you what makes this nation’s saving grace so great, so essential; others have done so far more eloquently than i could ever do, especially here and here, on the fall-lovin’ quietus site. i’m simply writing this because i bought the box set two weeks ago and have barely played anything else since (not bad, considering i was already so familiar with the album)…and i think you owe yourself at least one listen to this brilliant and bizarre album.

released in 1985, this nation’s saving grace was the fall’s ninth studio album, and documents the band at their creative peak. many fall fans will cite other albums as the ultimate fall sound – the majestic hex enduction hour, perhaps, or the dense perverted by language – and argue that tnsg is just that little bit too accessible and polished…but i’d argue that, by any standards, this particular album is endlessly rewarding. it’s the ideal place for a fall novice to begin as, though it may take its sweet time winning you over, once you penetrate the sonic insanity and lyrical intensity, you’re hooked. it is no less unhinged or primal than other classic fall releases but – perhaps thanks to relative stability within the band, and the commercial nous of smith’s glamorous wife / guitar star, brix – this nation’s saving grace is relatively easy to fall in love with. it’s by turns dark, aggressive, hilarious, moving, gentle, belligerent, familiar, experimental, exciting, pioneering, primal and, unmistakably, the sound of a band channelling chaos with enviable confidence.

i won’t go on too much about the songs themselves; after all, i’ve invited you here to discover the album’s greatness for yourself. but i can’t resist telling you that:

‘bombast’ is amongst my favourite songs – pure sonic brilliance, a mesh of brilliant bass, boogie-woogie keyboards, yelps and mark e. smith’s near-tourettes-style abuse, culminating in some of the most exhilarating guitar noise i’ve ever heard. “bastard! idiot!…feel the wrath of my bombast!”

an unfairly underrated track, ‘barmy’ lives up to its name. great lyrics and a fantastic riff, frequently scuppered by a sinister chorus and increasingly unhinged piano, it’s the aural equivalent of manic depression. it’s also one of the few tracks on the omnibus edition that sounds markedly different in its alternative versions; there’s an extended take that by no means outstays its welcome, and a rough mix which somehow further accentuates that great tune.

‘gut of the quantifier’ is a huge, rollicking bruiser of a song. “stick it in the gut”, smith snarls, and that’s right where you feel the song’s force. a sucker-punch rock beast, with some of the best build-up and break-out moments you’ll ever witness. it’s like a vengeful, vicious version of ‘twist and shout’, and all the better for it.

hardcore fall fans often consider the triple-whammy of ‘my new house / paintwork / i am damo suzuki’ the ultimate fall fifteen minutes. i’m not sure i’d go that far, but all three songs are spine-tinglingly good. ‘my new house’ brims with smart(-alec) lyrics about, of course, his new house – “according to the postman / it’s like the bleeding bank of england” – and ‘i am damo suzuki’ is a fine achievement; brooding yet beautiful, soaked in atmosphere. but the real prize – on this nation’s saving grace and, arguably, in the whole fall library – is ‘paintwork’. the song defies description (though there’s a fantastic account of it here, thanks to the quietus) so just listen, enjoy, and stop “fucking up the paintwork”.

and that’s it. this is your nation’s saving grace. cherish it.

you’d be barmy not to.

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