Friday, January 26, 2018

The Fall - Country On The Click (Bootleg Version)


In the aftermath of the infamous April 1998 punch-up at The Fall's Brownies gig in New York, when most of the band (including longtime stalwarts like Steve Hanley and Karl Burns) permanently departed the group, Mark E. Smith and remaining member (and his then-girlfriend) keyboardist Julia Nagle quickly cobbled together some replacement musicians (including bass guitarist Adam Halal, drummer Tom Head and guitarist Neville Wilding) to constitute a 'new' Fall. This hastily assembled lineup somehow managed to coalesce
into a unit, and released two well-received and critically acclaimed albums, 1999's The Marshall Suite and 2000's superb The Unutterable.

But, as usual and true to form, Smith just couldn't leave well enough alone. Due to either real or contrived reasons (some reports suggested that there was a royalty payment dispute among band members, although Halal later denied this), he sacked all of the new members in early 2001, reducing The Fall to just himself and Nagle once again. After another chaotic, haphazard scramble for new members (which was apparently too much for Nagle; she too left the band that spring), another group lineup (consisting of guitarists Ben Pritchard and Ed Blaney, drummer Spencer Birtwistle and bassist Jim Watts) was assembled. I assume that in doing so, Smith hoped he could once again recapture the same sort of creative magic he got just two years earlier, from musicians not fully initiated into the whys and wherefores, the history and mythology of The Mighty Fall. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way, initially.

Although The Unutterable was superior to its predecessor and got outstanding reviews, its sales and chart position were significantly below that of The Marshall Suite. This was probably due to the lack of support from the band's new label; Smith attempted to parlay the success of The Marshall Suite into a better recording deal, and moved from Artful Records to Eagle Records (a division of Universal Music Group) in late 1999/early 2000. But the English label (home to ancient prog-rock groups like Deep Purple, Yes, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer) didn't quite know how to market The Fall, with predictable results.

The result of this was that the band was in dire financial straits in 2001. So while it was necessary to get an album released that year to generate some much-needed revenue for the group, they really didn't have the funds to do a top-notch job of producing it. Feeling that they had been mismanaged and underpromoted, The Fall had left Eagle for Voiceprint Records earlier that year (the latter label had acquired Smith's own Cog Sinister imprint in 1997) - but this label wasn't exactly rolling in money either (Voiceprint's holding company ended up going insolvent a few years later). As a result, the first album with this latest lineup was recorded on the cheap, very quickly in subpar conditions. Ben Pritchard later described the wretchedness of the situation:
"It was a very miserable experience making that album. We were recording it in a studio where there were rats running around. There was a weightlifter's gymnasium above us, you'd be recording a take and suddenly you'd hear BOOM dropping barbells and dumb-bells on the floor and you'd have to stop and start again... I wasn't there a lot of the time they were recording that album. Just cos I couldn't deal with it. Ed Blaney, Jim, Spen, Mark, Steve Lloyd the producer was there. I didn't really know anyone, it was my first time recording and it was a miserable, horrible experience... [It was] rushed. Two or three weeks, it was done. He needed the album out, the group needed the money for it."
The resultant disc, Are You Are Missing Winner (released in November 2001), frankly sucked, in my opinion - full of (mostly) bad songs ill-conceived and poorly executed, recorded with a wildly uneven mix; apparently the album was pushed out the door so fast, there was little time spent properly mastering the tracks. Even Pritchard, who played on it, referred to it as a "horrible album". The critics savaged it, and it was the first Fall album since 1983's Perverted By Language to completely miss the British Top 200 charts. Are You Are Missing Winner was a trainwreck from start to finish.

In serious trouble now, the group responded by touring relentlessly during the latter part of 2001 and the first half of 2002. These shows included an extensive U.S. tour in the fall of 2001, the first in this country by the band since the Brownies debacle nearly four years earlier (I saw them play at the Knitting Factory in New York that November, during their three-night stand at that venue), along with two full-scale
European tours.  This intense series of concerts produced 2G+2, a June 2002 release (on yet another new label, Action Records) consisting mostly of live material culled from their U.S. shows, along with three new studio songs ("New Formation Sermon", "I Wake Up in the City" and "Distilled Mug Art"). This album actually charted in Britain this time; no great heights (#116), but high enough to keep the wolf from the band's door for a bit.

The scheduling of this multitude of shows, one on top of the other, had another more salubrious effect; it transformed this version of The Fall into a cohesive group, with chops honed from dozens of live performances. This group was more than ready for their next challenge; to improve upon their debut studio recording debacle.

The Fall entered Gracieland Studios in Lancashire in December 2002 to begin work on this latest release, sessions helmed once again by longtime band producer Grant Showbiz. After eight weeks of recording and a month of remixing by Showbiz and Watts, promo copies of the new album, titled Country On The Click, were made from the mixing reference discs and forwarded to selected reviewers, with an eye towards an early spring 2003 release date.

However, an unnamed and unidentified individual, for reasons of his/her own, leaked these demo versions onto the Internet shortly before the scheduled release.  As Jim Watts recalled in a post on The Fall Forum about three years ago:
"I found one of the reference CDs in a drawer recently. The leak came from those CDs and if I remember correctly there were only a handful ever made. I think I worked out exactly who leaked the album in the end. I know they meant well but at the time I was just as annoyed as Mark about the leak. I think they thought by getting it out there it reinforced our version versus Mark's but it just made a bad situation worse.

The leak version was pretty much mine and Grant Showbiz's vision. We edited and mixed all the tracks. I followed Grant's lead as at that point he was the named producer of the album and I thought we had Mark's blessing. I really wanted the album to be a lot more solid than [Are You Are] Missing Winner musically and sonically. I slept on the engineers drafty living room floor for 5 days while we were mixing in London."
The unauthorized release of these album tracks enraged Smith; just as Watts mentioned above, Mark saw it as a power move by the producer to subvert his "artistic vision" of what he wanted the release to sound like:
"Mark heard that CD and was really unhappy with it. I totally understand why, me and Grant had painstakingly gone through every single utterance of Mark's from the tapes then edited the vocals very heavily. Obviously after all my effort I was quite upset too. We fell out and Mark took the album into Dingo's studio and they worked on it."
In his rage, Smith commandeered the basic album tracks from Showbiz and, as Watts mentioned, took them to Simon 'Dingo' Archer's 6dB Studios in Salford (Mark's hometown), whereupon he proceeded to remix and partially re-record the disc (Archer's bass-playing skills were utilized in the new recordings of four songs, including "Green Eyed Loco Man" and "Mad Mock Goth"). These efforts took up most of the summer (during which The Fall made another swing through the U.S., to make up for a planned late 2002 tour that fell through). At the end of this, Smith used
his remastered tracks to re-sequence the entire album, and renamed it The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click). The disc was released in England in October 2003.

The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click) was greeted with near-ecstatic reviews by the critics. A few examples of the praise for this album:
"If The Fall... have not just released their best record in a decade, they have certainly released a more consistent and accessible one, just in time for the tail-end of the post-punk renaissance."

"This is the sound, throughout, of a remarkable institution doing all the things they do best and sounding as alive as they ever have."

"Great by Smith's standards. Practically genius by everybody else's."

"It's brilliant."
Smith completely disowned the leaked version of this album, and as time has passed, this initial mix has faded into the background, obscured and buried beneath the torrent of praise the released version engendered. But that isn't to say that the Showbiz/Watts version is without merit. There are significant differences in the music featured on both versions, but in my opinion not enough to sway one's overall preference from one to another. I think BOTH versions are superb. And in that, I completely agree with Watts' assessment:
"I 100% support the released version as the definitive album... But I suppose more than enough time has passed now for the leaked version to be accepted for what it is without stealing the official version's thunder now."
And here it is, for you all to listen to and accept for yourself: the bootleg version of Country On The Click, the alternate mix of The Real New Fall LP, released under shady circumstances onto the Internet in early 2003. Enjoy, and as always let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

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38 comments:

  1. It's great to be able to hear this and compare it to the official release.

    Many thanks for your words of expantion as to how it came about.

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  2. Thanks a lot for your recent Fall posts and for the full story

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  3. Thank you so much for this you have made someone very happy.Great writing by the way!

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    1. Thank you, sir! I TRY to make the narrative interesting, to convey some background on what's being offer... I appreciate your good words!

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  4. Massive thanks for this-its superb!

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  5. its a story i had a vague memory of, and im still not sure what from this original mix made it to either the uk or us mixs of the finally released version, but looking forward to comparing. i apreciate you going into the full backstory of this release as is always been in the back of my mind

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  6. I deeply appreciate you sharing this album and the story that goes with it. I had read somewhere that the original mix of COTC was pirated off the soundboard in a US club during the tour that preceded the official release. This story (and its timeline) makes more sense.

    Listening to COTC, I am struck not only by the "heavily edited vocals" but by the prominence of Eleni's keyboards in the mix. I love both versions. Cheers to Jim Watts (and all involved) for their dedication to making this album so much better than the lackluster Are You Are Missing Winner. And cheers to you, Mr. Heckhole.

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    1. I love both versions as well... although some songs I prefer on different albums. For example, I think the version of "Mike's Love Xexagon" on the boot is superior to the released version. Conversely, I like the official "Mountain Energei" to the one on the Showbiz/Watts mix. Hadn't really noted the prominence of the keyboards on the bootleg; guess I'll have to have a closer listen. Thanks for commenting!

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    2. "Xenagon" is one of the songs where the synthesizer on the COTC version is more up front in the mix than on the official release. "Boxoctosis" was much improved when it was re-recorded. I'm glad they got rid of the guitar line from the COTC version.

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  7. very interesting & too bad the grant showbiz version wasn't finished. his production on the unutterable is the absolute best. would have loved to heard this seen all the way through and mastered. still, really great. cheers to you!

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  8. As a devoted Fall fan (still in mourning), I really enjoyed reading your informative and well-written post. Thank you for shedding light on the details behind the aborted original mix. I look forward to hearing it!

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  9. This is great read and great listen thanks. Have you seen this apparent front cover design. https://trevoirio.wordpress.com/portfolio/music-design/ If it is kosher, I reckon it would’ve been one of the group’s better sleeves. Cheers for the post, I’ve long been curious.

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    1. That IS a pretty cool cover... However, I've never heard of Trevor Mill before in association with The Fall - they usually use Pascal De Gras for most of their artwork/covers. So, I'm not sure this cover design was done at the band's/label's request. I'll have to look into this.

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  10. Been waiting years to listen to this... and wonderful review/analysis. Thanks, it is greatly appreciated.

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  11. It's great to be able to compare this original version with the official release. Thanks, man!

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  12. Thanks! The live tracks are an unexpected bonus.

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  13. Thanks very much for the link.

    Although not superior to either the officially released UK or US versions (the latter my preferred version), the original draft is well worth hearing. Question is, if this had been released in its original form, would it be the album as highly rated in fan circles?

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    1. A good question... My personal opinion is that, yes, I still believe that the Showbiz/Watts version of COTC would have garnered a similar sort of critical and fan praise. True, there are some significant differences in some of the songs on this version and the "official" release. But Grant Showbiz isn't known for half-assing anything, and I feel that if he had been allowed to complete his edits/mixing, his product would have been as great as what MES produced. Even as it stands, the boot version we have here is good enough to look the official version in the eye.

      Thanks for the great comment!

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  14. thanks a lot for these files, friend! much appreciated

    long live The Fall!

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  15. Many thanks for the link, been looking for this for a while! Good to read the real (Real?) background too.

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  16. Only know the Narnack release, great to listen to this, and compare.

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  17. Great to read the background on this recording, thanks for the link too.

    Ben

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  18. What an absolute treat! Thanks for the link and the fascinating backstory, PPSHH. Great to finally have the version of Sparta FC used in the video!

    Jeff

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  19. While not my favorite Fall album of the 2000s -that would probably be Your Future Our Clutter- it is a good one and it's great to be able to compare the versions. Thank you so much!
    Mark

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  20. There's something hilarious about the idea of a producer trying to get the better of MES - a man who has demanded albums be mastered off cassettes. Thank you for sharing this :)

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  21. Thank you for sharing this. It makes an interesting contrast with the final version and is enjoyable in its own right. All the best.

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  22. More Fall. Thank You - keep up the great work!

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  23. I've managed to resist tracking this down all these years, however now that MES has lost his vote I feel it's safe to have a peek (what is the aural equivalent of peek?). If we had never had the official version I would be more than happy with this but on balance I think the official version is superior and MES is vindicated. Having said that I am generally at odds with the critics in preferring the rough and ready to the polished so it does not surprise me that many prefer the bootleg version. It would be nice to know how finished Showbiz & Watts considered the leaked version.
    POv

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    1. Well, considering that (as per Watts) these were promo reference versions that they had farmed out to selected reviewers for comment/critique, that indicates to me that Watts & Showbiz considered their version as no less than almost complete, if not finalized. But that's just my opinion, based on the available information/evidence.

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  24. Many thanks for this rarity! Very cool to compare with "Real New Fall Album" / "COTC"... open the box, open the box...

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  25. Hi P.P. Soaked Heckhole, thank you very much for allowing me access, it is greatly appreciated. As a fellow completist you know I mean this. I am and shall be playing this on heavy rotation for at least the next week, starting now at 2am UK time. Thank you.

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  26. Thanks for this! Had never heard the outtake of 'Dramatic' before, nor the 'Iodeo' demo of 'Green-Eyed Loco Man'. Much appreciated!

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  27. Interesting stuff, thanks for the post

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  28. This is great. Thank you for the link. I'm looking forward to an A/B listen.

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  29. Very cool to have this, thanks very much.

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  30. Many thanks! Been looking forward to hearing this!

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