Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Fall marathon 7: The Frenz Experiment/ I Am Kurious, Oranj/ Extricate/ Shift-Work/ Code: Selfish/ The Infotainment Scan/ Middle Class Revolt

Frenz=Friendly? The Frenz Experiment seems on the surface to take the Fall sound into a more mainstream, even chart-friendly place (it's even got a hit single on it!). It's not that simple, of course.

Slightly un-nerving that "Athlete Cured" shares a riff with Spinal Tap's "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock you tonight".

This isn't one of my favourite Fall albums, really. Not that it's bad, it just seems a bit too polished for my taste. It's got a vibe that could almost be described as amiable (almost!).

I Am Kurious, Oranj, on the other hand, crackles with malevolance. I guess the ballet theme got M.E.S. worked up good and proper, not least in his corruscating take on "Jerusalem". Add in such delights as the title track's warped reggae, and the reworking of "Hip Priest"'s line "He is not appreciated" into a battle cry, and you've got a splendid album, perhaps smaller in scope than a typical Fall record, but none the worse for that.

I'm trying (somewhat perversely) to avoid talking about lyrics in these posts, but there's no escaping the fact that Extricate was recorded in the aftermath of M.E.S.'s split from Brix, and there's a bilious quality that comes from that. I see the Amazon review reckons tht the Brix/pop influence disappears here, but I don't think I'd agree with that - it's certainly more abrasive than "The Frenz Experiment", but there are plenty of hooks there. Once again the Fall are ahead of the pack in their collaboration with Coldcut. And there's some wonderful humour amongst the bile, not least Smith's explanation of the origin of the title "I'm Frank". I've always loved this record, and it's still a corker.

Falling as it does btween two of my favourite albums, Shift-Work has always slightly fallen between the gaps in my perception too, as it were. So it's good to return to it and be reminded just how much good stuff there is on it, ranging from the angry (Idiot Joy Showland), the funny (A Lot of Wind) to the tender and moving (Edinburgh Man, Rose). Anyone who thinks the Fall are just about beligerence and bloody-mindedness should listen to these last two in particular. This album came out in the middle of the "Madchester" scene, and effortlessly appropriates those beats while surpassing the young upstarts. Overall, though, I can't shake the feeling tht this sounds like a transitional record.

I make no excuse for loving Code:Selfish purely for the reason that it has a song that namechecks Birmingham (albeit not in a flattering manner - though what else wopuld you expect?!). The electronic sound that has ben developing through the previous two albums blosoms here, and what you have is a dance-rock album, but about a million times better than such a thing has any right to be. Bizarrely, I found myself thinking of Bob Dylan when listening to "Just Waiting", not a connection I've made before. This album's obligatory field recording, "Crew Filth", appears at the end, which seems unusual in that I'd expect such a "difficult" track to be put in the middle where it's harder to skip. "Free Range" is as fine a single as The Fall have ever released, and retains its relevance in our world of continuing misadventures in Iraq, sad to say.

The last three albums were released by Fontana, but the label then sacked the band, who responded by scoring a top 10 hit with the first single from their next, The Infotainment Scan. This is where the dance/rave experiments blossom fully, industrial-strength production giving the whole album a meaty feel. It also features possibly their most unlikely cover version, Sister Sledge's "Lost In Music". Probably the nearest the Fall ever came to a party album.

Middle Class Revolt seems to take a step back from the dance influence, there are several songs here (e.g. "Hey! Student") that mark a big swing back to the rockabilly influenced side of the Fall. I remember being slighty disappointed with this at the time, partly due to the version of "M5", which I thought wasn't really a patch on the version they'd done for a Peel session the previous year. It sounds better thanI remember (although I still think the Peel version was better!), but there are moments on the album that feel slightly like Fall by numbers.

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