Dave Haslam,"Mind Rocker"
New Musical Express, October 4, 1986, p. 37
Bend Sinister (Baggers Banquet)
AS FAR as recording techniques go, The Fall seem to aspire to playing live in front of a solitary microphone in a padded room in a crumbling building in a boom town. Where The Fall hang out you're in touch with the past (when 'Bournemouth Runners' gets into gear you'll swear the Totale turns) but with the future under your thumb. The world crumbles, parties, battles, and dies. And it's all just fuel to Mark Smith's fire.
How close they get to recording with just one microphone (and it would have to be a big, square BBC mike) isn't clear, but most of the ten tracks were recorded almost directly onto tape (at Abbey Rd). So 'Bend Sinister' has a massive thrust and a degree of spontaneity which makes The Fall sound like some American '60s 'garage' band who've only just got together and shaken it. There's shuddering surf-guitar and sawdust-strewn vocal pitched in with some of the most incongruous sounds; including computer-game bleeps and wurlitzer organs. Fading are Smith's Babel-ling monologues of eyeball-to-eyeball social comment, now replaced by more occasional contributions; pithy, scratchy phrases delivered in so clotted a vocal style that they undermine any potential accessibility in the music.
Some tracks seem more like rough sketches, and others are the coolest mind-rockers you could ever want to shake your head to. Like most Fall LPs the songs vary in mood and musical tone, but there's always a recognisable Fall sound. And the best way to define "the Fall sound" is to say it sounds a good deal better than the rest.
The Fall survive and prosper because they're never where anyone else is; they're a step to one side or a step ahead, or just hiding, working, waiting. From the sombre casualness of 'British Grenadiers' to the strong beat-thrash of 'Mr Pharmacist', 'Bend Sinister' drags us into a world there's no escaping from. But on this you don't feel the hard edges, the bite and the snarl you would have felt from their early releases.
'Shoulder Pads' is a crazy piece of wobbly-necked Yuppie-crushing 'bubblegum' (Simon says), which finds Smith in brilliantly self- mocking mood. 'Terry Waite Says' is a short but far from sweet investigation into the motivations of "Mr Big", the Archbishop's Special Envoy (and Brix gives a squeal). 'Realm Of Dusk' sounds like Link Wray with a lot of big problems, and 'Bournemouth Runners' - which starts with whispered words and "trouble on the horizon" - spurts into a song about a lad who used to follow The Fall from pillar to post in an attempt to steal their backdrop; and finally (apparently) he gets away with it in Bournemouth. Of all places. 'US 80's 90's' is built on a beatbox, and goes on to guide us through all the things we're losing out on as Western society clamps down on beer, cigarettes and whisky. People telling other people what to do has never gone down well with Smith.
No one can stand comparison with The Fall. In the half-light of the late 20th century, they beat the retreat, show us our way backwards through the realm of dusk. And through the dog-eared pages of Roget's Thesaurus Mark Smith chases the English language; with an axe.