The Best Of The Fall [1996-2001]

Similar to the previous post, this period of the band’s discography is a cesspit of polarisation for many. Smith’s live appearances grew more tumultuous, his vocals decayed into a clogged-up lung throw up, and the now-constantly revolving door of members became an easy source of derision for many, especially in comparison to the more relaxed first half of the decade.

However, it seems that this had little effect on the quality of output. Sure, the albums as complete works were incredibly patchy at times, but within them lay some absolutely astonishing compositions that are overlooked thanks to (in my opinion) their less successful company. I would argue that The Light User Syndrome and Levitate are the furthest superior, but let it be known now that of those that will be selected these two records’ tracks will dominate. If only I’d chosen to do 18 instead of 12 per article…

I also think the millennium holds a very interesting, slightly sad, but ultimately redemptive period for Mark E. Obviously, there was the Brownies punch-up and subsequent arrest, the acrimonious 1996 departure of Brix, and the other acrimonious departure of the entire band in 1998, notably involving the Rhythm-Section-Commander-In-Chief Steve Hanley. But to come through it with a consistent canon of releases that are of above-average quality (and a Godlike Genius award, the defining honour of them all) is something to be said in itself.

Also eye-opening is the state Mark was in. Be it drink/drug related, I can’t comment. But this interview is an incredible watch for any Fall fan who indulges in this period of the band. Mark, who appears not be on any intoxicant, looks, for a 39 year old, utterly aged. There are glimpses of youth here and there, but the crows feet are truly ingrained on his face.

Though he is active and aware, and what starts as a somewhat combative, guarded interview glides gently into a cordial, engaging and truly refreshing conversation. My personal view is that Mark felt a little guilty for slating the young interviewer’s questions as ‘lazy journalism’ so early on. The following twenty minutes give a fascinating insight into the thoughts of Mark at the time, the democracy in recording of The Light User Syndrome, and even a discussion of lyrics on the record. The description of the video illustrates this further:

Strangely though, as one sees as the interview progresses, she does quite well and her lack of experience and knowledge becomes an asset. After questioning the interviewee’s inexperience, Smith seems to warm to her and drops his usual acidic guard revealing more than if she’d been a seasoned music hack. The latter stages appear more like a chat over a cup of tea than an interview, making it one of the more candid and open media exchanges given by Smith at the time. There’s lots of interesting topics in here; politics, recording albums, record companies, young fans, plagiarism, Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks reformation, Paul Weller, Paul McCartney, Pete Waterman and John Peel.

An excellent watch for all, in my eyes. On to the tunes, I should think…

D.I.Y. Meat (1996)

A grumbling, distorted bassline wonders behind a gunfire guitar and drum combo in utter divinity. Smith is in much healthier and determined form than in Cerebral Caustic and the attitude of the track holds in itself a fightback for the nay-sayers, the reviews that panned their previous effort in chortling fashion. The various shouts of ‘Ha ha ha!’ add to the carelessness, the sheer power. Two words: ‘ave it.

Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain (1996)

Complete raucous absurdity. The keyboards make no effort to appear orderly, the rhythm section holds itself in incredibly high esteem, and Smith drifts in and out of cleanliness and distortion to deliver utter nonsensicals. Yet, obviously, it works, and to devastating effect.

He Pep! (1996)

My favourite song of this period by a country mile. The scratchy guitar littering the soundscape with gritty ugliness in combat with the insistency of the flanged keyboard is a glorious combination of aural violence, while Smith graciously provides you with a brutal vocal beating up. The yell of ‘AND’ at the start of the second verse, and his song that’s ‘Conceptually à la Bowie’ are wonderful compliments to the track. As complete a song as you can find.

Spinetrak (1996)

Again, it’s heavy, guitar-y and completely enthralling. The contrast between Brix’s deliciously rough backing vocals amongst the more gentle ramblings of Mark is a delight, not to mention the two guitar parts side-by-side to bring optimum destruction to proceedings, or the borderline-endearing chorus. Brix’s repeated refrain of ‘You are my Spinetrak’ sounds ‘positive’ in some way, though I can’t quite find the word to articulate this. Still though – a great track.

Hurricane Edward (1998)

I neglected Levitate for a ridiculously long time. It seemed to me to be the band’s ultimate car crash, the temporary dissolution of any hope for musical goodness from the grooves. I distinctly remember hearing ‘Ten Houses of Eve’ and thinking to myself ‘No’. It sounded tinny, overly-abrasive, and as if there was a specific need to cling onto the coattails of dance scene of the time.

Well. I love Levitate now, both for it’s hit-and-miss nature but also for it’s bravery. ‘Hurricane’ is this bravery epitomised. It’s just a messy, disorderly junkyard of any sound that could be conjured up, be it studio or live, sandwiched together by a chugging keyboard/drum interlude and left in peace for all the world to hear. It can’t be explained or justified – I once sent this to my sister (who can appreciate the group to a surprising extent) and it wasn’t met with great sympathy. But, as a fully-paid up member of The Fall Fan Club, you couldn’t ask for much more, could you?

Quartet of Doc Shanley (1998)

This is the stuff you want from your years of investment of The Fall. Distorted to the point of pure fuzz basslines, unexplainable lyricisms and no change in the track’s trajectory whatsoever. It’s insistent, punchy and simple. What you need.

4 1/2 Inch (1998)

Steve from The Fall In Fives gives, as ever, a truly apt summary of this number:

The sound of several musical genres each being battered relentlessly against a wall until they’re bloodied and semi-conscious then being bound together, crushed and crammed forcibly into a mixing desk.

I would add, however, that the mixing desk was then met with a sledgehammer, put back together with lego, the tape stamped upon and sellotaped together again before a final run back through the mixing desk again. Another utterly cacophonous mess that holds a bit more attitude and direction compared to ‘Hurricane Edward’, and always a rewarding listen.

The Crying Marshall (1999)

As mentioned earlier, the patchiness of late 90s output was often apparent in quality, though for The Marshall Suite, the inconsistency in sound and style is often a turn off for myself. However, this does give us undeniable gems such as this. This is a bass heavy stomper that displays an aptitude in composition and production of more typical (compared to Levitate) dance music that would take many by surprise. The final minutes contain a jangly guitar ‘solo’, backed by the driving beat that grows in monumental velocity and venom with every passing second. Glorious.

Birthday Song (1999)

A contentious one, but I felt that another positive review for ‘Touch Sensitive’ or ‘F-oldin’ Money’ could be done without. The main pull of this track are the surprisingly tender lyrics, which, to me, are utterly poetic.

I would definitely say that, being 21, I’ve grown up in an environment where soft, introspective and, frankly, soppy music is of an abundance and much to my favouring, so this song is probably more up my street than other Fall fans. The backing is certainly a little over-generous on the various keyboard/synth sounds, but lines like “While you, your fragrance drags/It conveys me to the country” and the entire second verse, to be honest, are wonderfully gentle and unique compared to anything the group have done. I’d say this track took me by surprise more than anything else, but it’s always been a firm favourite.

Two Librans (2000)

An excellent track, and an excellent introduction to The Fall for anyone nosy enough. It’s a simple enough number, but the contradicting sparseness of the verse against the more gritty and driven chorus further emphasises the amount of pure force put behind the track, and, of course, the bassline is a stunner.

Serum (2000)

There’s an oddly similar drum beat to ‘Life Just Bounces’ at times, and a definite call back to the four note riff found in the latter stages of ‘The Crying Marshall’. This is another chaotic track; an electronic drumbeat fights in epic hostility to a grubby, flattened synth that bounces across the track like a bullet. It takes its breaks, but after a while you find yourself begging for the return of the colossal power coursing through the track. An absolute destroyer.

Kick The Can (2001)

It was quite difficult choosing a track from AYAMW – I don’t hold the album up to the highest regards, and find a lot of the tracks on a similarly ‘good’ standard, but no real moments of emphatic enjoyment, such as what is held in the previous tracks.

This would be up amongst my favourites if they’d stuck to the flangey, retro garage sound established at the start of the track. There’s a subtle urgency and dark undercurrent to it which is truly infectious. However, maybe Mark found it a little too derivative of sounds of old, as it moves onto less abrasive fields of sound. It’s enjoyable, but I can’t help feeling there’s a masterpiece left unfinished. Still, the first couple of minutes are utterly wonderful and deserving of absolute acclaim.

Notable Omissions

Quite a few again this time round, especially, as Steve from The Fall in Fives mentioned a few times, due to Light User holding around four or five tracks too many. Without them, you have a sensational record. Plus, my neglect of other albums outside of LUS and Levitate has come back to bite.

LUS: Hostile, Stay Away (Old White Train), Interlude/Chilinism, Powder Keg, Oleano, Cheetham Hill, Oxymoron.

Levitate: Ten Houses of Eve, Masquerade, I’m A Mummy, Spencer Must Die, Jungle Rock, Ol’ Gang, Everybody But Myself.

TMS: Touch Sensitive, F-Oldin’ Money, Shake-Off, (Jung Nev’s) Antidotes,

Unutterable: Cyber Insekt, W.B., Sons of Temperance, Dr Buck’s Letter, Hot Runes, Midwatch 1953.

AYAMW: Jim’s “The Fall”, Bourgeois Town, Crop Dust, Gotta See Jane.

Non-Album: Plug Myself In, I Wake Up In The City.

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