Julian Cope told me it’s French nuns incanting at the start of this record (sorry, Julian, doesn’t sound French to me) while someone else has declared it’s a Swedish reciting of the Corinthian Letters, 13:3: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The title of the song suggests an apocolaypse and the religious chanting at the beginning sets up an almost Exorcist type atmosphere for what follows. As the incanting subsides, drums and guitar take over to be joined by the most prominent of the instruments, Una Baines’ organ which, more than anything, deploys a 1960s psychedelic sound, specifically that of ? and the Mysterians.
Baines and Martin Bramah had just become the first of many to realise the impossibility of working with Mark E Smith of The Fall and left to form their own band. ‘The Flood’ was the first record they put out and marked a different path to the one they had previously trodden in The Fall, altogether more trippy, more psychedelic with clear links back to The Velvet Underground (indeed they claimed to have recorded it under the influence of psychoactives). Whilst Bramah’s vocals are more in key than Smith’s ever were in The Fall, they teeter on the edge of losing the tune completely but always manage to regain some degree of control. And that is the beauty of this single. It sounds as if any second, total chaos is about to ensue but the discipline (possibly the influence of producer Mayo Thompson from Pere Ubu) is there to bring it all together. From the very first line, Bramah is invoking the Lord and with “one foot in the ocean / Here it comes / Here comes the flood,” it seems we are on the brink of apocalyptic destruction. The chaos in the music is reflected in the lyrics with “Cymbals (symbols?) crash / atoms smash.” And then, just to add to the surreal nature of the record, the frantic pace drops to allow Una Baines to recite a totally indecipherable poem before the song kicks in again. It shouldn’t work but it’s judged to perfection, a moment of calm before the final storm , the final apocalypse. The last verse is screamed by Bramah at the top of his lungs. It doesn’t matter that you cannot make out the individual words: the whole builds to give a sense of impending doom. The song finishes on one long sustained organ note as if to emphasise the flood’s devestation and unchanging nature – it has subsumed us all silencing even Bramah’s anguished yells.
Bramah himself said the song was “about handling the rush of all these psychedelic drugs, the flood of emotions and impressions, the rush of paradox.” Later in their career, after touring with Nico, that scourge of Northern artists, heroin would put a blight on their creativity. If this song is about drugs, it’s almost as if Bramah has put ‘one foot in the ocean’ with psychedelics but can foresee an apocalyptic end with the flood of heroin. If ever a band predicted their own impending doom with their very first single, it is here, in ‘The Flood.’