John Harris, "A Cerebral Fix"
source?, January ?, 1991
THE PLACE of the B-side in '90s pop culture is small; it's an irritating encumbrance on lazy artists, most of whom see fit to fill it with some pointless remix or yawn-inducing instrumental.
Not so The Fall. Their prolific 45 output has always been augmented by a series of weird, difficult and often baffling slices of Mark E Smith's prickly genius.
Between '84 and '89, the Fall's singles gradually took on the mantle of commerciality, as the sun-soaked Californian sensibility of Brix Smith pushed Mark away from his dank Manc underworld towards the charts. Fall B-sides, however, stayed as strange as the band's pre-Brix gear.
The work collected here has a weird appeal. There are few hooklines to send you running to the turntable for a further fix, few songs that grab your attention instantly. Indeed, the first few spins are unproductive - the record seems to have collected moments that are far too esoteric, off-the-wall and clever-clever for any kind of enjoyment.
What drags you back, however, are those fascinating qualities possessed by all Fall tunes. Can you resist repeat prescriptions of the band's peculiar rhythms and scratchy arrangements? Can you refuse further doses of Mark's oddball poetry?
Of course not. While most bands revel in the obvious, making music that infects your feet but comes nowhere near your cranium, Fall songs specialise in the cerebral - as a result, pieces like 'Vixen', 'Pat-Trip Dispenser', the puzzling 'Sleep Debt Snatches' and 'Lucifer Over Lancashire' (among others) are compulsive, addictive listening, shedding light on the weird mind of Mark E. "McGinty thought he could fool The Fall with his imitation speeds [sic]," he drawls on 'Dispenser'. "But he hadn't accounted for their psychic nose". Quite.
For a definitive piece of strangeness, meanwhile, check out 'Guest Informant', the stroke of genius that closed the 'Frenz Experiment' LP. "In the morning stock of another Sunday over," recalls Mark, "the miserable Scottish hotel resembled a Genesis or Marillion 1973 LP cover - the hotel staff had been dismissed - it was me with the hoover. . .and the OAPs". The man really should write a book.
But there's more. Who was the "superhero in harlequin kecks" who "couldn't tell Lou Reed from the Who" [sic] mentioned in 'Shoulder Pads'? And did Mark really come across the burglars, brass bands and plane crashes described in 'Auto Tech Pilot'?
Welcome - once again - to the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall.