Covering the Un-coverable (uh)

50,000 fall fans big

Oh, the Fall. How can you not love them? Mark E Smith may have been spurred to form a band by seeing the Sex Pistols in Manchester, but you can’t imagine him pursuing any career path other than the one he’s on. (Although “career” sounds so …yuppie-ish, something MES is decidedly not. Pardon.) To paraphrase the late, great John Peel, the Fall may always be different (they’ve gone through more band members than Spinal Tap) but they’re always the same. MES’s intimidating presence is hard to live up to (to say the least), which may be why covering Fall songs is a dicey proposition. There’s the tricky diction for one thing, and the way it melds so unerringly with the angularity of the lead guitar. Thern there’s MES’s inimitable, splenetic delivery, which only the deeply foolhardy would try to imitate.

It takes a strong band to wrangle a Fall song out of the long shadow of the original. But it can be done, as Dymaxion and Terry Edwards prove here.

Dymaxion was a short-lived but fantastic NYC band whose songs had a marked Scwhitters quality of culling beauty out of junk —rarely has a retro-futuristic collage aesthetic yielded such playful, layered results. This Fall cover is from their marvelous Duophonic singles collection, “4+3=38.33.” The band does a brilliant thing here: they rework the song into a kind of 50s infomercial jingle for an alternate (possibly totalitarian) universe, taking the shambolic low-end pulse of the original and performing a most cunning feat of transubstantiation. “No cigarettes, no whiskey, no style.” intones a crisp voice, and the next thing you know, you’ve woken up on a tropical desert isle populated by smiling, blank-eyed faces, all of whom look at you with recognition but you’ve never seen them before in your life. Then you bump into Number 6 and you know something is very, very wrong…

I don’t know much about Terry Edwards other than he’s worked with Gothy divas Pinkie McClure & Lydia Lunch and improv genius Lol Coxhill; he was part of Blast First’s Disobey Club, and he was the band leader for the San Francisco premiere of the Tom Waits/Robert Wilson/William S Burroughs production The Black Rider (which featured Marianne Faithfull and Mary Margaret O’Hara in lead roles). I’m not even sure where this cover of the Fall classic “Totally Wired” came from (another bounty from the vast reaches of the internet?) but it’s become a favorite of mine. We all needed to hear the Fall tune as a dubtastic rave-up didn’t we? Surely.

MP3The Fall, “U.S. 80s-90s”

MP3Dymaxion, “U.S. 80s-90s”

MP3The Fall, “Totally Wired”

MP3Terry Edwards, “Totally Wired”

The Dymaxion collection is available from Duophonic Mail Order. You can order the Fall collections (including the excellent Rough Trade comp Totally Wired) via Other Music, the Rough Trade shops, and Twisted Village, among others. Terry Edwards CDs can be purchased via the Sartorial Records online store.

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9 Comments

  1. jon

    Very cool. I thought the Fiery Furnaces’ cover of “Winter” was awful. The Sonic Youth covers of the Fall are available at SY’s website.

    • I knew I’d come across some SY Fall covers somewhere …thanks for the tip!

      I don’t quite understand the appeal of the Fiery Furnaces. I’m waiting for enlightenment —or something.

  2. jon

    I am REALLY digging this Terry Edwards track. According to AllMusic, he was once a member of the Higsons and has played with the Tindersticks, Gallon Drunk, Drugstore, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave, and many more. He also did a cover of “Bingo Master’s Breakout” on a Peel Sessions thing. I like your description of MES’ vocals as “splenetic”!

    • Terry’s has played with everyone, which is why I wasn’t too diligent about listing his CV. He seems equally at home with diverse kinds of material, which is how he can play with the Bad Seeds and also conduct a full-scale orchestral theatrical production.

  3. And there’s the Dustdevils’ mind-blowing cover of “Hip Priest” (the first track of “Struggling Electric + Chemical”) which is, I have to say, a lot better than the original.

    (Ping me if you want to listen to it.)

    • I don’t know that one but I’d love to hear it. You can never have too many Fall covers I’ve found…

  4. JiggaDigga

    Great reading, keep up the great posts.

    Peace, JiggaDigga

  5. David

    And don’t forget early Pavement!

  6. WaltDe

    Keep up the great work on your blog. Best wishes WaltDe

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