During my time becoming an unhealthy obsessive of The Fall over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a distinct ‘turning off’ from followers during the early 90s. This probably owes to the move in sound to (allegedly) accommodate a more Madchester feel, and the fact that The Fall had perhaps become, dare I say it, ‘cool’ – #9 in the album chart isn’t to be snuffed at!
I think it’s also fair to contend that there was a ‘glossier’ production on the likes of Extricate and Middle Class Revolt, which caused an unsurprising departure from the Hex Enduction Enthusiasts.
However, I find myself with no alternative but to say that the years from I Am Kurious Oranj to Levitate are my favourite of The Fall’s innings. Granted, me looking back in total retrospect as opposed to being a follower of the band through their various incarnations removes any context of me ‘being there’, and I will wholeheartedly say that, in terms of objective quality, 1980-85 is much stronger. However there’s something so perverse and abnormal about their evolution throughout the 90s that I find myself utterly entranced to these years.
This is evidenced by my Last.fm, which tells me that my most listened to album of all-time is Code:Selfish (I’ll explain), my second-most Levitate, and my third-most Infotainment Scan. Light User, Shift Work and MCR are eight, ninth and tenth respectively, with Extricate and Cerebral at twelfth and thirteenth.
I should emphasise that these listening rankings are of all the albums by all the artists that I’ve listened to. This is the reality of my musical existence.
Anyway! We are focusing on ’90 to ’95 in this edition, a period which I feel is quite easily overlooked by many, and has some wonderful offerings. I imagine these selections will probably be the most contentious, and this has certainly been the most difficult to whittle down to twelve tracks…
I’m Frank (1990)
A cruiser that maintains a Fall-ness through its insistence on not changing in anyway whatsoever for its duration. One part of the production on Exrtricate I appreciate hugely is the power and emphasis given to Wolstencroft’s percussion, which really helps in establishing an anchoring force throughout the LP, and ‘I’m Frank’ is archetypal of this. Of course, it isn’t the most powerful song going, but for what it’s worth, ‘I’m Frank’ is an excellent groover.
Black Monk Theme Part 1 (1990)
On the topic of powerful songs, how’s this? A bluesy track full to the brim with authority and confidence. Again, there’s no specific destination musically, but it holds such a relentless punch that it’s impossible to resist nodding your head along, at the very least. And, of course, Mark’s ‘don’t you know I hate you’ opening gambit is utterly sublime.
Arms Control Poseur (1990)
How did this not make it onto the album? A number of real, real maturity. Wolstencroft takes charge again, and it’s an oddly understated number. Amongst the jangly discord of the early minutes Mark is extraordinarily restrained in his delivery, and the less forceful pace of the track allows a true appreciation of the soundscape presented to you. And then the chorus. It’s a flourishing wonder, a gentle lift from the (wonderful) disjointedness of the verse. Utterly stunning.
Idiot Joy Showland (1991)
Fast, somewhat chaotic and undeniably combative, ‘Idiot Joy’ sees Mark’s lyrics take a more biting, observational and humorous approach. There’s something refreshing about a track that slags the living daylights out of Madchester and Britpop, even for someone like myself who is a huge fan of the two. Some of the lines are such great put-downs and dismissals, I’ve always welcomed any chance to re-listen to the track. It certainly isn’t the most smoothly arranged, but it showcases its attributes through poetic, rather than musical, force.
A really interesting and enticing track. The awkward collision of Scanlon’s gentle chords, Hanley’s more obvious bass and the abrasive keys of Dave Bush work an absolute treat, giving an unsettling darkness to the track. The beat is addictive and determined, while Mark’s ramblings of “I thought shift work would work / but it’s good as broken us apart” are oddly tender and add another dimension to the output of this time, alongside the likes of ‘Rose’ and the wonderful ‘The Mixer’.
Free Range (1992)
I said earlier about Code:Selfish being my most listened to album of all time, and that I would explain this most uncommon of phenomena. Old-time readers of the blog will know that ‘Birmingham School of Business School’ is my favourite track ever, and all Fall fans will know that with every listen of ‘Birmingham’, ‘Free Range’ follows on Code:Selfish in imperious fashion.
Of the 547 plays of Code:Selfish‘s tracks, ‘Birmingham’ and ‘Free Range’ make up 391 of these (188 and 203 respectively). For those who are interested, this equates to 2,068 minutes of just these two songs. It’s not repetition, it’s discipline.
That should be enough to illustrate my love, but I’ll discuss the song a tad. It’s just so rampant, hectic and unforgiving. As mentioned, the way it flies in straight after ‘B’ham’ is immense, and it simply doesn’t let up. Mark dictates proceedings with reverberating, all-encompassing commands, the highlight of his lyricisms being “This is the spring without end / This is the summer of malcontent / This is the winter of your mind“. Glorious.
The Knight, The Devil and Death (1992)
More of an elegant soundscape, this is a true display of the musical and textural depth The Fall could reach. Scanlon takes centre-stage in this – his guitar is triumphantly distorted and messy amongst the calm that surrounds, while his understated chords during the verse are an excellent feature that allow the fruition of the wider instrumentation to truly take hold. This is an absolute belter, and so unlike anything else released in any era of the group.
Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room (1993)
A darker and more sinister realisation of the sounds achieved on The Infotainment Scan. The demented rambles of Mark are utterly befitting of the song’s atmosphere, and a particularly apt accompaniment to the fuzzy riff provided by Scanlon. The song develops into a borderline-club vibe with Smith’s “Go down to the dance” segment, with Dave Bush utilising the opportunity to work in some intricate electronic bleep-bloops wherever he sees fit (I really love them, though the tone may not suggest it). A real highlight of the album.
The Reckoning (1994)
My second most listened to track of all time (last stat, I promise). To get to the point, this is one of the more beautiful moments in The Fall’s output. There is genuine anger and tenderness in Mark’s voice and so many wonderful lines scattered throughout, while the accompaniment is gently restrained without losing the urgency that characterises their sound. The best moment comes at around 2:!5, when a fuzzy distortion is introduced to Scanlon’s guitar and lifts the melancholic nature of the track even further. This song doesn’t get the credit it deserves, though I imagine many Fall fans are less partial to soppier sounds than other musos out there.
M5 #1 (1994)
A cacophonous throwing together of electronics and post-punk that results in something so independent and unique. In many ways it calls back to the jarring sounds of early 80s Fall – the electronic sounds are discordantly invasive and exuberant, while the repetitive nature of the track adds another layer of (good) inaccessibility.
This track excels in its underproduced sparsity. Every aspect of the instrumentation seems so distant, but this allows a real hearing of each part. One side of the room holds the underpinning riff, while the other holds the jagged, muted chords. In one corner is Wolstencroft slamming the drums, and in the other is Mark, who seems not particularly bothered about his lack of lyrics to accommodate the track. Hanley seems to join them all about a minute or so late, but this subtle development and introduction of his sharp bassline is such an excellent feature of ‘Rainmaster’. This is a gem on an album which is easily dismissed by many.
Life Just Bounces (1995)
This song is the personification of exuberance. It’s got so much more going for it than it’s more stagnant original release. The lyrics are sung passionately and shamelessly, the pace is immense, and there is a genuine happiness exuding from this number. I nearly went for ‘wholesome’ in describing this, but perhaps that’s a slight stretch considering who we’re talking about here. Still, this is an absolute favourite and another track that is tarnished by its featuring on an album as marginalised as Cerebral Caustic.
There are so many in this edition. So, so many.
Extricate: Sing! Harpy, Bill is Dead, Telephone Thing, Hilary, Chicago Now, Littlest Rebel, And Therein…
Shift Work: So What About It?, Edinburgh Man, Book of Lies, War Against Intelligence, You Haven’t Found It Yet, The Mixer, Rose.
Code: Selfish: Return, Time Enough At Last, Everything Hurtz, Just Waiting.
Infotainment Scan: Ladybird, Lost In Music, Glam Racket, I’m Going To Spain, It’s A Curse, Service, Past Gone Mad.
Middle Class Revolt: Behind The Counter, Surmount All Obstacles, Middle Class Revolt, You’re Not Up To Much, Hey! Student, City Dweller.
Cerebral Caustic: The Joke, Don’t Call Me Darling, Pearl City, I’m Not Satisfied, The Aphid, One Day, North West Fashion Show.
The 27 Points: Return, Bill Is Dead (narrowly missed out on the 12),
Non-album: White Lightning, Blood Outta Stone, Don’t Take The Pizza, Arid Al’s Dream, Kimble (narrowly missed out on the 12), Noel’s Chemical Effluence, Why Are People Grudgeful?