This Nation's Saving Grace
|This Nation's Saving Grace|
|Studio album by|
|Released||23 September 1985|
|The Fall chronology|
This Nation's Saving Grace is the eighth studio album by English post-punk band the Fall, released in 1985 by Beggars Banquet. The lyrics and singing melodies were written by vocalist Mark E. Smith, with a portion of the music composed by his newly wed wife American Brix Smith, who joined the band just before their previous album The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... (1984).
The album emphasises Brix's pop sensibilities and guitar hooks, emphasised by Leckie's accessible production, and stands in contrast with the band's earlier recording. TNSG was produced by John Leckie and promoted by the singles "Couldn't Get Ahead" and "Cruiser's Creek" and tours of Europe and America.
It is widely considered one of the Fall's best albums, both by critics and by Brix and bassist Steve Hanley. According to The Guardian, it shows the band "operating just on the edge of the mainstream and at the peak of their accessibility and yet strangeness". In 2002, Pitchfork ranked it as the 13th best album of the 1980s.
Background, line-up and recording
Paul Hanley left the Fall in November 1984, leaving Karl Burns as the sole drummer and ending the band's classic dual drummer lineup. His brother, longtime Fall bassist Steve Hanley, took four months of paternity leave in late 1984. He was replaced by Simon Rogers, a classically trained musician whom frontman Mark E. Smith knew from an earlier collaboration with the dancer-choreographer Michael Clarke.
Music and lyrics
John Leckie produced the band's 1984 album The Wonderful and Frightening World Of... and had built a strong working relationship with Smith. His approach to the project was to both retain the Fall's rough edges and solid rhythm section, while emphasising Brix's more pop orientated guitar parts. Leckie's production created a heavier wall of sound than their earlier releases and Smith praised his ability to bring forward the drum and bass parts. Smith later said that what he and Leckie were trying to achieve was a "well produced bedroom sound".
On earlier albums Steve Hanley was often the group's main riff writer, but had been absent during the lead up to the album. Thus Brix and rhythm guitarist Craig Scanlon wrote most of the foundation riffs for the songs. Hanley later said that on earlier recordings the whole group had contributed music, but for This Nation's most of the work was done by Brix and Scanlon, in a 60/40 ratio by his estimation. As Brix had begun her career as a bass player, most of her musical ideas were simple one-string riffs played on lead guitar but closely resembling bass lines. Although in awe of his playing when she had joined the band in 1983; on his return she told Hanley "I'll show you the bass line on my guitar and you Steve Hanley it up."
The album opens with "Mansion", one of the Fall's few instrumentals, which the band often used as live set opener. It is built around a muscular bassline by Steve Hanley. The second track "Bombast" is again dominated by Hanley's bass. Smith's vocals promise to "bring wrath" to "bastard idiots" (including Lloyd Cole, whom Smith described as having a "brain and face...made out of cowpat. We all know that)", and are at times sung through a megaphone.
The title of "What You Need" and its line "slippery shoes for your horrible feet" are taken from an episode of The Twilight Zone. Another lyric, "a bit of Iggy Stooge," refers to Iggy Pop of the Stooges who was a significant influence on the band. The song is formed around a circular guitar riff by Craig Scanlon.
"Spoilt Victorian Child" incorporates unused lyrics intended for the Fall's 1979 debut album Live at the Witch Trials, but had been held back until the band found a suitable musical hook. Smith described the words as utilising "really daft English".
Side one ends with "L.A.", Brix's spectral ode to her hometown, written while the couple spent an extended stay in the city. He had a poor impression of the city, and later said that he "Hated it...Horrible town. If you like a beer, you are regarded as a tramp." The track was described in 2011 as an "electro-goth groove" by critic Martin Aston. It contains prominent keyboards by Simon Rogers. While the lead vocals are sung by Brix, Smith added backings which he said reflect his impression of the city as "more haunted than any old place". Dave Haslam ranked it as "the sexiest song of 1985" in City Life, an assessment Smith disagreed with yet claimed to understand; he credited its sex appeal to Brix's contribution and noted how the song was popular among women—"Except," he clarified, "that the Fall are probably the most unpopular group among women ever. We've never had a good review from a woman journalist in the whole world."
"My New House" details the Smith's purchase of a semi-detached in Sedgley Park, Prestwich, close to childhood home, where his parents still lived. A number of visitors remarked how unusual the house was, in particular the blue/grey colour scheme used in all the rooms. The lyrics are humorous and sardonic, and include lines such as "no rabbit house about it, I bought it off the Baptists, I get the bills, and I get miffed". For the Daily News' David Hinkley, the song is "near-hypnotic".
The album's widely considered highpoint, "Paint Work" is a semi-acoustic tape collage dominated Smith's stream of consciousness lyrics, Karl Burns' cymbal crashes and Craig Scanlon's meandering lead guitar line. Credited to Smith, Scanlon and Rogers, it blends studio recordings with sections recorded on a four track in Roger's flat and audio from Smith's dictaphone. During the mixing, Smith took the master tape home and accidentally erased part of the track with a section from a documentary he was listening to from an Open University lecture by the astronomer Patrick Moore on "red giants stars". The sudden jump between Low fidelity home taped and studio recordings fitted the mood of the track, and he and Leckie decided to include on the finished version. The track was described in 2019 as "absolutely sublime" by Vulture, and as "mildly psychedelic" in 2011 by critic Mick Middles.
The drum heavy "I Am Damo Suzuki" is a tribute to the Japanese ex-pat vocalist Damo Suzuki of the Krautrock group Can, who Smith described as an early and major influence. The lyrics describe and evoke Suzuki's stage presence and singing style and are accompanied by Brix's descending chords and drummer Karl Burns metronomic drums. The music is heavily influenced by the 1971 Can song "Oh Yeah", but also contains elements (especially the descending chords, which are similar to their earlier track "Elves" (also written by Brix) and based on the Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog") of other Can tracks such as "Bel Air" (1973), "Gomorrah" (1974) and "Midnight Men" (1977). The song was described in 2022 as a "hypnotic art-rock anthem befitting of [Can's] name", while in 2019 Suzuki biographer Paul Woods wrote that "MES took the 'Oh Yeah' riff and overrode it with a speed-freak surrealist tribute to Can and Damo himself while throwing in an oblique reference to Fritz Leiber, one of a number of supernatural horror authors who also obsessed him."
The word "Yarbles" in the title of the bitterly nostalgic song "To NK Roachment: Yarbles" is borrowed from the novel A Clockwork Orange as Nadsat for testicles or bollocks. The song's lyrics "Every day you have to die some/Every day you have to cry some" is an allusion to the Arthur Alexander song "Every Day I Have To Cry Some" or possibly to similar lines in the Lou Reed 1983 song "Home of the Brave".
1988 bonus tracks
Two bonus tracks were included on the 1988, 1990 and 1997 CD releases. The music for the album's second single "Cruiser's Creek" is built around another circular and twangy guitar riff by Brix, while the lyrics detail a debauched office-party. Writing for The Guardian in 2014, critic Dave Simpson described the song as "leftfield and outsiderly, yet the insistent tune is surely as catchy as anything by the Beatles." For Hinkley, the song is reminiscent of Dire Straits. The single was released on 11 October, 1985, and was accompanied by a music video directed by both Mark and Cerith Wyn Evans, and stars Leigh Bowery in a role Smith described as resembling "a clerk on acid, like he was from some alternative world". The second bonus was a cover of Gene Vincent's rockabilly song "Rollin' Dany"; critic Tim Riley, the Fall's interest Vincent w "to explore [its] obsessive undercurrents of unrequited desire than to honor rock tradition".
A second bonus track "Couldn't Get Ahead" was recorded before Steve Hanley rejoined, and has Rogers playing bass.
This Nation's Saving Grace was released on 23 September 1985 by Beggars Banquet Records. The label took out full page adverts in the UK Music press, showing the album's bleak city-scape of Manchester's center designed by Claus Castenskiold. It reached number 54 on the UK Albums Chart.
After tours of the north of England and the US, the Fall recorded the double A-sided single "Couldn't Get Ahead"/"Rollin' Dany" and subsequent single "Cruiser's Creek" with Rogers standing in on bass guitar.
|Contemporaneous reviews (1985–86)|
|The Sault Star|||
|The Village Voice||B+|
This Nation's Saving Grace highly praised by the UK music press on release. The NME's David Quantick wrote the Fall had managed to create "one of their most accessible LPs yet" which he described as "infinitely more peculiar than almost anything else released this year." In contrast to the prevailing view of the Fall's development after recruiting Brix, Music Week suggested the album offered more of the same but lacked potential for mainstream crossover.
American critics generally praised Brix's direction and songwriting. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice noted how the "Yank guitarist...righted husband Mark E.'s feckless avant-gardishness" and said that the record was "cunningly sloppy, minimally catchy Hawkwind/Stooges with each three-chord drone long enough to make an avant-gardish statement but stopping short of actual boredom." In a 1986 article on the band in Creem, Renaldo Migaldi said "The Fall have been around since 1977, but only in the last couple of years have they achieved their fullest creative flowering" on This Nation's Saving Grace and their preceding album, noting that her contributions had been "integral to how the band sounds now. Namely, better." Conversely, a blurb on the album in Cashbox was dismissive: "This is post wave rock 'n' roll for the depressed teenager."
NME placed the album as that year's sixth best. Listeners of John Peel's BBC Radio 1 show voted six songs from This Nation's Saving Grace to the annual Festive Fifty list: "Cruiser's Creek" (no. 3), "Spoilt Victorian Child" (no. 23), "Gut of the Quantifier" (no. 33), "Couldn't Get Ahead" (no. 39), "L.A." (no. 42), and "Rollin' Dany" (no. 55). Jim Sullivan of The Boston Globe and Kristine McKenna of the Los Angeles Times also ranked the album in their top ten best albums of the year.
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide||(1992) (2001)|
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||10/10|
Bruce Tiffee of Pitchfork described the album as "one of the strongest" Fall releases and "perhaps the best record to emerge from the Beggars Banquet Fall era". In 2011 Dave Simpson of The Guardian wrote that the album showcased the Fall "thrillingly subverting the notion of what pop music is", while John Mulvey of Uncut wrote that it contained the band's strongest configuration "in all their menacing and utilitarian finery".
In 2002, This Nation's... was listed by Pitchfork as the 13th best album of the 1980s. It was ranked at number 46 on Spin's list of the 100 greatest albums from 1985 to 2005. Slant Magazine placed the record at number 93 on its 2012 list of the best albums of the 1980s.
NME placed the album as number 400 on their 2013 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The record was ranked number 441 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000), a list based on a poll of more than 200,000 people. Per Larkin's Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Brix's "partly melodious sheen ... brought an air of 60s subculture to the group's post-industrial rattle", without compromising the band's "stubbornly maverick" roots, as the album "shows the Fall extending stylistic barriers without sacrificing their individuality."
James Murphy—best known as the frontman of New York dance-punk band LCD Soundsystem—purchased This Nation's Saving Grace the year of its release and said its aesthetic initially "terrified" him. He later cited it as a formative influence on his artistic outlook:
I was completely blown away. At the time, all I could hear on the radio was synth pop and then here comes this band that sound broken and wrong. I'd never heard anything like it—the idea of someone taking the time to go into a studio and record a singer [who] may or may not be in tune. It opened a lot of abstract paths to me because before that I was looking at abstract art and saying, 'This is garbage! What's the point?' But I started to get into abstract art because of the Fall ... I started to realise that people's aesthetic goals were not necessarily to achieve perfection.
Murphy said the album inspired him to take greater risks in his music and, more specifically, noted its impact on the lo-fi intro to "Yr City's a Sucker" from LCD Soundsystem's 2005 self-titled debut album, akin to the tape experimentation of "Paint Work". On the band's 2017 album American Dream, the song "Other Voices" alludes to "L.A." with the line, "This is what's happening and it's freaking you out".
An extended version of the album was issue in 2011 on Beggars Banquet Records reissue imprint Beggars Archive. The 42-track box-set was accompanied by a 48-page colour booklet and two discs of rough studio mixes and Peel sessions.
Original UK LP
|2.||"Bombast"||Steve Hanley, Mark E. Smith||3:08|
|3.||"Barmy[n 2]"||M. Smith||5:21|
|4.||"What You Need"||Craig Scanlon, M. Smith||4:50|
|5.||"Spoilt Victorian Child"||Simon Rogers, M. Smith||4:13|
|6.||"L.A."||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:10|
|7.||"Gut of the Quantifier"||Karl Burns, Rogers, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:16|
|8.||"My New House"||M. Smith||5:16|
|9.||"Paint Work"||Rogers, Scanlon, M. Smith||6:38|
|10.||"I Am Damo Suzuki"||Burns, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:41|
|11.||"To Nk Roachment: Yarbles"||B. Smith, M. Smith||1:23|
Cassette and CD
|2.||"Bombast"||Hanley, M. Smith||3:07|
|4.||"What You Need"||Scanlon, M. Smith||4:49|
|5.||"Spoilt Victorian Child"||Rogers, M. Smith||4:12|
|6.||"L.A."||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:09|
|7.||"Vixen"||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:01|
|8.||"Couldn't Get Ahead"||B. Smith, M. Smith||2:35|
|9.||"Gut of the Quantifier"||Burns, Rogers, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:15|
|10.||"My New House"||M. Smith||5:16|
|11.||"Paint Work"||Rogers, Scanlon, M. Smith||6:38|
|12.||"I Am Damo Suzuki"||Burns, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:40|
|13.||"To Nk Roachment: Yarbles"||B. Smith, M. Smith||1:23|
|14.||"Petty Thief Lout"||Scanlon, M. Smith||5:20|
|15.||"Rollin' Dany" (single A-side)||Joe Steen, Paul Edwards||2:23|
|16.||"Cruisers Creek" (edit) (single A-side)||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:16|
2011 Omnibus Edition
Disc 1 – This Nation's Saving Grace
- As per original UK LP
|1.||"Demo Suzuki" (rough mix)||Burns, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:54|
|2.||"Wonderful and Frightened Pt 1" (rough mix)||B. Smith||1:22|
|3.||"Wonderful and Frightened Pt 2" (rough mix)||B. Smith, M. Smith||1:46|
|4.||"Gut of the Quantifier" (rough mix)||Burns, Rogers, B. Smith, M. Smith||5:31|
|5.||"Bombast" (rough mix)||Hanley, M. Smith||2:48|
|6.||"Barmy" (rough mix)||M. Smith||4:51|
|7.||"My New House (Mark's Mix)" (rough mix)||M. Smith||5:52|
|8.||"Paintwork" (rough mix)||Rogers, Scanlon, M. Smith||7:08|
|9.||"Ma Riley" (rough mix)||M. Smith||3:48|
|10.||"Spoilt Victorian Child" (rough mix)||Rogers, M. Smith||4:26|
|11.||"L.A." (rough mix)||B. Smith, M. Smith||5:16|
|12.||"What You Need" (rough mix)||Scanlon, M. Smith||4:57|
|13.||"Edie" (rough mix; backing track) (feat. The Adult Net)||B. Smith||4:00|
|14.||"Cruiser's Creek" (extended version)||B. Smith, M. Smith||7:35|
|15.||"L.A." (take 2)||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:24|
|16.||"Bombast" (Blackwing version)||Hanley, M. Smith||3:05|
|17.||"Paintwork" (gloss)||Rogers, Scanlon, M. Smith||7:03|
|1.||"Couldn't Get Ahead" (single A-side)||B. Smith, M. Smith||2:37|
|2.||"Rollin' Dany" (single A-side)||Steen, Edwards||2:26|
|3.||"Petty (Thief) Lout" (single B-side)||Scanlon, M. Smith||5:23|
|4.||"Cruiser's Creek" (single A-side)||B. Smith, M. Smith||6:08|
|5.||"Vixen" (single B-side)||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:03|
|6.||"Ma Riley" (previously unreleased)||M. Smith||3:28|
|7.||"Barmy" (long version) (previously unreleased)||M. Smith||6:02|
|8.||"Cruiser's Creek" (edit version)||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:20|
|9.||"Spoilt Victorian Child" (Peel session; recorded 14 May 1985)||Rogers, M. Smith||4:58|
|10.||"Gut of the Quantifier" (Peel session; recorded 14 May 1985)||Burns, Rogers, B. Smith, M. Smith||4:44|
|11.||"L.A." (Peel session; recorded 29 September 1985)||B. Smith, M. Smith||2:36|
|12.||"What You Need" (Peel session; recorded 29 September 1985)||Scanlon, M. Smith||5:53|
|13.||"Couldn't Get Ahead" (Peel session; recorded 14 May 1985)||B. Smith, M. Smith||4:36|
|14.||"Cruiser's Creek" (Peel session; recorded 14 May 1985)||B. Smith, M. Smith||5:53|
- The Fall
- Mark E. Smith – vocals, violin on "I Am Damo Suzuki", guitar; harmonica on "Couldn't Get Ahead"
- Brix Smith – guitar, vocals
- Steve Hanley – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Craig Scanlon – guitar, backing vocals
- Karl Burns – drums, backing vocals
- Simon Rogers – keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, drum machine, backing vocals
- John Leckie – production, engineering
- Joe Gillingham – engineering
- Michael Pollard – cover
- Claus Castenskiold – cover
- Smith marked Hanley's reappearance with the inscription "S Hanley! He's Back" on the run-out groove on Side 1.
- The original US LP follows the UK LP track listing, but swaps "Barmy" for "Cruisers Creek" (B. Smith, M. Smith) – 6:06.
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