Smith has often been (mis)represented as a ranting anger monger. But this new...
Nick Reynolds 2002-11-20
A man works night shifts while his wife works regular hours. They never see each other so their marriage breaks down. A simple, sad tale. And not the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from the larynx of Mark E Smith, leader of the Fall. Smith has often been (mis)represented as a ranting anger monger. But this new compilation shows he can be tender as well as abrasive.
The Fall racks in record shops are clogged with shoddy compilations. In their quarter century of existence they've released a minimum of an album a year. They change labels more often than most bands change their underwear. This offers a field day for unscrupulous record companies to chop it all up and keep repackaging it.
But this one is better than most. It has excellent art work and good, detailed sleeve notes. And the period surveyed (1990 - 1992, three albums for Fontana records), is one of the group's most interesting.
Smith's ex wife Brix had just left the band. They moved in a conventional, accessible direction: orthodox pop rock with an unorthodox sensibility. There are verses and choruses, and the songs are tightly edited, and rarely ramble. "High Tension Line" and "Hilary" have great hooks, funny lyrics and a vaguely sixties feel. There's quiet, reflective material like the touching "Bill Is Dead", "Gentleman's Agreement" and "Shiftwork" and pretty electronica ("The Mixer"). The Fall as easy listening? Well, perhaps meditative listening.
And there are two of the Fall's greatest. "Free Range" is a fractured portrait of war and anarchy; Nostradamus proclaiming over a great garage band riff. "Blood Outta Stone" is a dark, polished gem: a bleak, sad pop song, immaculately played, produced and sung.
There are always quibbles: no "Edinburgh Man"? No "Arms Control Poseur"? No "Life Just Bounces"? Why include the dull "Littlest Rebel" and "Immortality"?
Here, Smith showed signs, perhaps misleading signs, of growing old gracefully. If you can't get "Extricate", the best album from these years, this will do.