James Brown, "Fall's Gold:Top Mark"

New Musical Express, February 17, 1990

THE FALL Extricate (Cog Sinister LP/CD/Cassette)

PRODUCED BY Craig Leon (Blondie), Coldcut (Yazz), Adrian Sherwood (West Ham), and Mark E Smith (Big Mouth) and being the collected works of Mancunian-based musicians who will likely NOT welcome the return of flares.

For a month now, those that obtained three-track preview cassettes of 'Extricate' have kept tight lipped about its state. Good word of mouth helps sell films, but it merely raises suspicion in the mind of the music journalist when applied to The Fall. The fact of the matter is 'Extricate' is The Fall's most remarkable LP in five years and is the first to redefine the band's role and way forward since the sleek speed-pop of 'Bend Sinister'.

Replacing snarling spite with a seasoned drawl he now sounds like a fit and working Lou Reed minus the bad hair-do, and it's just part of a wider demystification of the band's image and work. Clearly the personal turmoil of 1989 has affected the man. Described by Smith on the legible sleevenotes as a year of 'tendril wires and chaos' '89 heralded the demise of his marriage, the death of his father, and a near-fatal road accident. Gladly, 1990 provides a dynamic rebirth for The Fall. Changes in record label, management, and producers have clearly boosted The Fall's confidence and we're once more treated to what pop historians would call classic Fall, traditional sound.

Writing to 'readers and friends' on the inner bag, Smith disclaims the lack of 'stories' and character songs here yet maintains a tyrannical control of the talented title-ing wars by serving up snap together surrealism in the form of song names alone. Hence 'Black Monk Theme Part 1', 'Popcorn Double Feature', and 'The Littlest Rebel' appear attractive before he even slaps the vocal down.

Most importantly Mark Smith still sees science-fiction where others see soap opera. He takes his old victims the pretentious middle classes and mocks rather than crucifies them.

'Hilary' with its opening charge of "Hilary where's that 60 quid you borrowed from me?" Observer magazine reading types he slashed in 'Elastic Man' and places them a decade on outside Sainsbury's taking Ecstacy and drinking Magyar Bulls Blood. Unsurprisingly, the gentleness of his delivery means you now get more value for money vocals on a Fall LP.

For those keen on discovering exactly what happened between Mr & Mrs Smith that lead to Brix's departure from The Fall Marky has left a minefield. Mature intelligent types with an up to the minute knowledge of the sociology of sexuality might suggest that by writing four out of ten songs Mark Smith has allowed his feminine side to show through. I'd say he's spent a lot of time in that pub in Earls Court where they ONLY play Lou Reed albums.

There are certainly songs that might have been written in the wake of arguments, or the crest of new love but such are the traits of the finest song writers that, say, Motown (a label The Fall once almost signed to) ever had. The Fall's world is unlikely to ever be truly penetrated. People fail to recognise the contributions of the band, Martin Brammah's return has brought a poppier snappier clip to the guitars, and on the Sherwood produced 'The Littlest Rebel' The Fall sound as spritely and kicking as they did in their teenage years. Mouth organs, hand claps and nasal back chants echoing a time and style long since confined to the back catalogue.

The real strength to 'Extricate' is its diversity. 'Black Monk Theme' catches the guitarists sounding like the original Pretenders, while MES stutters "You you you you you you you know I hate you baby" he stutters. On 'Popcorn Double Feature' he again summons the Reed-like singing to examine the state of the world over a heavy string arrangement. 'Telephone Thing' scrambles madly in its own kinetic fusion, whilst 'Chicago Now!' offers a sequel to 'US '80s/'90s' decorated with baroque oboes, sinister guitars, and Smith's intimidating verbals. The stunning Velvetry of 'Bill Is Dead' has the pastry-skinned rapper from Salford announcing "These are the finest days of my life" and you'd be a tosser not to believe him.

This is a fine album glittering with brilliance. Mark E Smith may have been resting on his reputation and experimenting with tutus for a while but once again his music and not his conversation has delivered the strongest statement possible.


James Brown