There are many lyrics books on the market, but most amount to little more than page after page of words dislocated from their music. With the plethora of internet lyric sites available on the web these days there would seem scant need for many more collections of this kind. Something more is needed, whether it be extra reading material, pictorial excellence of some kind, high production values, etc. The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics was first published in 1969 and featured the fab four songs' along with pictures by the likes of David Hockney and Ralph Steadman. Bob Dylan Lyrics 1962-1985 contained a fair sprinkling of his own drawings and sketches. The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics contains art and commentary, Nick Cave's King Ink books have stories, essays and artwork to go along with the lyrics. And The Cure (Collected Lyrics 1979-1996) have been translated into Russian in an edition which also contains photos and drawings. So what we have before us is not by any means groundbreaking, but this is not to disparage it. In look and tone, it is very Fall-like; excellent choice of illustrations combined with somewhat cheapish paper to print them on; seemingly random organisation hiding of hours and hours of careful planning.
David Luff did a magnificent job in putting this book together, and though there is no particular order of songs in the volume it's perhaps the very scrapbookish and random nature of the enterprise which is most fulfilling. Different fonts are used, various ways of setting out the lyrics are tried (typewritten, in block capitals, original manuscripts, etc.) There are entertaining interludes, as in "The MES Guide to Writing Guide"and "Old Friends", (a short play set in Düsseldorf), We find some very entertaining (and sombre, as in the one which is reproduced alongside "Tommy Shooter") drawings by the likes of Elaine Will which perfectly complement the lyrics they accompany. The paper used for the book is, let's not beat about the bush, crap; but anyone who knows and loves The Fall will find no problem with this. It's not how expensive the instrument you use to make the sound with is; it's the noise you make that's the important thing. So with this book.
I say that there is no particular order to the book; but towards the end of the 207 pages a tone of seriousness begins to dominate. Free Range, My Door, Tommy Shooter and Scenario (the final lyric reproduced) all hint at something darker in the air, and one of the last items in the book is a description of the Second World War Chindit campaigns, in which Luff's father played a part. There is an obvious pride in the son which is most touching to see. The same pride combined with passionate care, despite the apparent anarchic approach, have all combined to make this book the delight that it is.
There are no grand revelations here, with the exception of the explanation for Dr. Buck's Letter and a few lyric surprises which I'll touch on later. What we do find are letters concerning old utility bills, original drawings, reproductions of old paintings, photos of everyone from MES himself to footballing maverick Jimmy Hill, Manchester City in the 1913-14 season, pages of illustrations of Salford pubs, a Burma Star pennant, a German-English guide to telephoning, and much, much more. In these ways, the lyrics are re-stimulated. Divorced from the music, it's natural they lose some of their force, but this is one fine alternative, showing them to possess both comtemporary and historical power. These are mighty lyrics, never failing to entertain, cause laughter, make us ponder, and generally confirm the opinion held by many that MES is one of the major lyricists of his time. You only have to consider some of the songs left out of this volume to understand this. In those which do find a place within these pages only a handful, such as the slight "Hilary", disappoint. But then you read lyrics such as those of "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul" or "Free Range", and the rich imagery and the sheer control of MES's writing is plain to see.
There are, interestingly, several instances in the book where a lyric is shown to be different to that in The Fall Lyrics Parade, which is of course to say nothing negative against the many people who struggled to transcribe sometimes garbled words. Some examples are: Pay Your Rates, where the line "no multi-racial estate" appears; I'm Into CB, with the line "no coke or nicotine" added; an unused lyric of Lie Dream of a Casino Soul which asserts that "all England was a university town"; "M42" and not "M14" in So What About It? The line "stalk treacherous ravines" is new in Living Too Late; My Door has the words "the keys and a 1918 penny/that opened a door to a heart" added. Big New Prinz contains the extra line, "check the log track". In Spectre vs. Rector, "Chorazina" is rendered as "Jerzina". In The Early Days of Channel Fuhrer, the lines "And the man who brushes against me/In the un-Vienna midweek" are transformed into "And the man who brushes against me/in bien bienniale with me". The lyrics for Hilary include a complete bowdlerisation of the "three cups of speed" line. Just how many of these changes are mishearings, how many are transcribed from dodgy handwriting, how many are deliberate attempts by MES to obscure things, how many are simply due to Mr Luff's illness? We may never know.
All of the lyrics from Shiftwork are included in the book, nearly a quarter of the 50 songs reproduced. On the other hand, there is nothing from Cerebral Caustic or The Light User Syndrome, nor from Are You Are Missing Winner; and very little from The Unutterable, The Marshall Suite or Levitate. As to how much imput MES had into the selection of the songs is, of course, another matter, but the inclusion of so much Shiftwork material, an album which he is on record as putting on a par with Hex Enduction Hour as one of the best Fall albums, is significant in this respect. Something from The Real New Fall LP would have been nice to have, such as "Last Commands of Xyralothep Via M.E.S.", but it would be churlish to complain about what is not present instead of concentrating on the many fine songs which do find inclusion.
We are all guilty of over-analysing MES's lyrics, at times until the stuffing and the magic is knocked out of the songs and we are left with a feeling of "Is that all there is to it?" This book manages to restore some of that magic, giving the lyrics a new lease of life in unfamiliar and at times unlikely surroundings. The book is a much richer pictorial experience than the original lyrics volume, though without the German translations on this occasion, and one which adds nicely to the ongoing Fall library. Such a tragedy that there won't be any more from this particular source.