Russell Brown, "Bilious 'N' Glorious"



Mark Smith would have his own theories on the Fall's ongoing absence from the litanies of rock. For a start, these things are usually conceived by Americans, and Smith and his band have always been relentlessly, coruscatingly, mysteriously English. But their track record, over 15 years and 17 albums, is extraordinary.

While his countrymen fuelled up on pastiche and pose, or affected bad attitude, Smith remained simply bad-tempered - both in his stewardship of the group (you haven't seen a well-drilled band until you've seen the Fall live) and his view of the world. Fellow travellers extending the hand of musical friendship have risked having it bitten off in the course of one of his glorious speedfuelled eight-pint pub interviews. He's made something of a mission of frankness. Like all good conversationalists, he is, of course, a words man. Bur when he's "singing" it sometimes seems that he is the only native speaker of English and everyone else was taught it at school. His dislocated, phrase-happy streams of language are full of coinages that resonate for no apparent reason. You want rock poetry? Smith makes the bellicose Californians (Henry Rollins et al) currently reviving the spoken word look like try hards. Rock art? it's as if Laurie Anderson never existed. Even the two pieces he wrote for the repertory stage weren't half as bad as puzzled reviewers led everyone to, believe.

All this might have been well enough in some alternative ghetto, but the Fall have hits. On its release The Infotainment Scam, like the hit singles of yore, vaulted straight into the UK Top 10. (Oddly enough, their first Top 20 record anywhere was "Totally Wired" in 1981, in New Zealand.) A chirpy little record it is, too. In their plus ca change tradition, the Fall have flipped out of the gritty, no-baggage mode of a couple of years back and sound more themselves than ever.

The album is, apparently, a rant against British media culture and the Green Room lizards who inhabit it - and Smith's fellow thirtysomethings cop it something wicked. Phrases like "Paranoid man at the height of his paranoia/At the zenith of his powers" fly out of the mix like incantations, and on "The League of Bald-Headed Men" he makes age sound like a conspiracy.

A word for his fellow Mancunians? "You are bequeathed in suede/ Entrenched in suede," he spits from the bowels of the jolly glitterstomp parody "GIam Racket". "I do not like your tone/ it has ephemeral whingeing aspects," he alleges in "It's a Curse", before admitting, "I am not unguilty of using it."

There probably isn't anyone else who could spill so much bile into one album and still have it sound like a party record. There are, after all, three cover versions. He induces the band into a hammering disco groove for Sister Sledge's "Lost in Music'' and croons through Jess Conrad's obscure fossil "I'm Going to Spain" (in Smith's version, the emigre is a disillusioned yuppie with only his Elton John CDs for company).

It's not only the presence of Lee Perry's "Why Are People Grudgeful?" that makes The lnfotainment Scam the Fall's dub album. The band, anchored as ever by Steve Hanley's basslines, ploughs a typically wiry groove, but the hand on the controls makes whoopee. Half the mix abruptly drops out in "Lost in Music", techno beeps and whistles pop up everywhere and they go the whole dub-dance hog on "League Moon Monkey Mix".

You may not have liked every Fall album (you may not have liked any Fall album) and realistically they've more purchase on glory as the most consistent British singles band since the Beatles, but The Infotainment Scam is a corker, beginning to end. Long may they continue to make the world safe for Englishmen.