That was Craig’s tribute to Frank Zappa. Now we can all laugh about this, but that was his attempt to be Frank therefore I’ve entitled it “I’m Frank”

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There was something wonderfully unhealthy angry and pale about The Fall at their best.  My favourite era is roughly ’89 to ’93 and Extricate is the jewel in that crown.  The Fall were almost standing on the verge of getting it on and yet never sounded quite so delightfully pasty and English as they did then.

You maladjusted little monkey, you, you, you, you!

As long as you’re in the right mood for it Extricate is a great listen, never an easy one though – like most Fall albums you have to put in a bit of legwork to unearth all the fleeting references, personal stories and decode all the Manchester slang.  The alternative approach is just to stand tall and let the dense linguistic waters break over you, like reading Finnegan’s Wake just for the sound of it*.  If you’re not in the mood for it though then it can be utterly bobbins.

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So being the orderly, well-minded chap that I am here are my notes when I listened to Extricate twice in a row back in March, before deciding it was far too difficult to make any sense of it, or anything after it:


So, well, that’s either some awesome insightful hewing at the coal face of the avantgarde, or evidence that may one day be presented at my committal hearing.  Ho-hum.

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After the departure of his wife Brix, from band and marriage, Mark E Smith dumped the occasional keyboard-y accessible pop that casual fans loved and die-hard Fall fans were deeply suspicious of**.  Extricate is a glorious circling of the wagons against time and tide; a man fighting against the tide of his own possible success as the Manchester scene was kicking skywards.

I am well aware that if you stepped outside the world of Extricate and listened fresh you would find the flatness of the singing and the jarring rhythms unsettling, horrible even.  But once you truly immerse yourself it all makes perfect sense, each track has its’ own faultless internal logic bearing no relation at all to anything before, or since, or outside its own little cankered universe.  But once you’re in, you’re in.  Which may be the wisest thing I have written about the Fall.

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The harpy was the tops
Whose hair contained some red
Thin white skeleton
Just too good in bed

As my working notes make clear I love the moron shuffle of ‘Sing! Harpy’ which has to be a diss track aimed at his ex^ and I was sharp enough to note that the track had been ‘de-rockabdrolled’, which surely speaks for itself.  There’s a lurching meanness about it that appeals, that and the clever nods/steals to/from the Stooges ‘Little Doll’.  What a contrast with ‘I’m Frank’, with its helium speed spoken coda, this is about as earthy as the Fall ever got.  MES barks ‘Gimme gimme gimme it slowly baby’ in that odd parade ground manner of his, that makes him sound more like a PE teacher coaxing the stragglers in a race up a tough hill than a chap encouraging a chappess to get down to it.

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‘Bill Is Dead’ is a real classic Fall track.  Begun as a Smiths parody, MES suddenly recognized it was a great tune and deserved more than a jokey lyric.  The end result is a strangely affecting, rather emotional oddity in the Fall catalogue, rather gently sung.

But we’re soon back with another of the Fall’s wonky-wheeled chariots of ire, a cover of a track by 1537 faves, The Monks – retitled as ‘Black Monk Theme Part 1’^*.  There’s a truculent stuttering pop quality to it that I rather enjoy.  Ditto the Searchers cover ‘Popcorn Double Feature’ that follows it, sung delightfully, unrelentingly flat.  I’ve said it before but I’ve always thought the Fall were always just the best covers band in the world.

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Where’s the sixty quid you borrowed off me for the gas? 
I won’t give you a kiss

As a wise man once thumbed into his iPhone, there is a breezy quality about ‘Hilary’, Smith firing off his usual non sequiturs over a happy shuffle.  He can’t resist picking at her of course, hence Bloody Holly.

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Extricate gets its’ weird-on with ‘Chicago, Now!’ a time-changing, serpentine offering which hurls out some very odd harmonies indeed, adopting a decidedly eastern vibe at times.  I like it, but then again I’ve become immured to this stuff over the ages.  Some great guitar playing from Craig Scanlon and Martin Bramah on this one too.

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The Shirley Temple referencing ‘The Littlest Rebel ‘ is another fine Fall tune but my tolerances are failing me by this point and I need to swim up to the surface from these deep waters for a gulp of normal.  God bless normal, for a while at least; or at least until I choose to extricate myself from it again.

Gimme gimme gimme it gently baby
Gimme gimme gimme it gently baby
Just gimme gimme gimme it slowly baby
Gimme gimme gimme it slowly baby.

That’s the best I can do.  There endeth the lesson.

870 Down.

PS:  I decided that I never would be able to better this analysis of the single Telephone Thing by one of the great writers of our time, so for the purposes of this review I pretended the track didn’t exist, brilliant though it is.

*which, for my sins, I have done.

**personally, I loved pop Fall.

^the violin at the beginning is a swipe at her then beau Nigel Kennedy.

^*part 2 showed up as a B-side many years later.

15 thoughts on “Chariots Of Ire

    1. Monks are cool – real ones and musical ones too. There’s one near us who sings Bee Gees cover in shopping centres for charity – (genuinely) true story.

  1. I promised myself I’d listen to more The Fall a few years ago, but I never have. There was a period of time where I listened and then I just kinda stopped. I think maybe I found the listening too much work.

    Anyhoo, I’m envious of your 100% iPhone battery.

    1. It’s a bit like doing a half marathon, some of the earlier LPs are a bit like (how I’d imagine) doing an ultramarathon … backwards in high heels.

  2. Thank you mister music, one again. You’ve made me cough up this little barbed-wire fur-ball and suck on it for a bit. Thank you from the bottom of my adult diapers.
    I think, if anything, this album is a little too easy to get into! Hex Enduction Hour needs at least ten pints and a handful of downers to allow one to gain entrance. If it were a club, its entrance would be in an unmarked grave covered over by boards in a rural cemetery and lit only by fading glow of weeping mushrooms. (they’re the ones that the fairies flit around in strangely-illustrated children’s books)
    This album is something one can just slip into after a few beers and slipping on a pavement pizza. But well worth a kebab-licking frolic.
    Hey! Just thought, don’t you think The Fall’s back catalogue should be appearing in more film soundtracks? No, not Cheeky Funny Asians or The Meg types. (googly eyes).

    1. Well hello there Mr Fallen!

      I’m just a sucker for Extricate/Shift Work/Infotainment Scam – maybe it was just my era.

      Fucking loved this: ‘If it were a club, its entrance would be in an unmarked grave covered over by boards in a rural cemetery and lit only by fading glow of weeping mushrooms.’ – You should write comics or something.

      I Am Kurious Oranj was the one that defeated me, I tried for weeks to listen to it but it just did me some real cerebral violence.

      You ever see them?

      And you’re very right, ‘Container Drivers’ was a serious omission from the Top Gun soundtrack.

      1. Yeah, I saw them at some GLC gig in Brockwell park. I went to see the Damned but there were all sorts playing – Spear of Destiny I think and Benjamin Zephaniah – it was pretty crap and not the right place for The Fall. Rank basement in the hotel Amnesia would be more suitable. It was a more of a lob-a-can affair. Never been a fan of park gigs. Parks are for feeding ducks and flashing.
        Truth be told, (and boy, is that in short supply right now) I never liked The Fall until later on in life. It’s like they got into my blood and slowly infected me. MES is like an STD – super resistant and not at all easy to take a piss with. I’m sure there’s a level of Dante’s Inferno where he’s running a dive bar. Fingers crossed.
        And… aint The Fat White Family the The Fall for our time? It must be so hard for Lias and Co. knowing that switched on people are gonna look at you and say ‘I think I saw you in a park back in ’84’.
        Flashing a nun, no doubt.

    1. I think it’s just a shame that Kate Bush never released ‘Nigel is a total C’ – apparently EMI thought it might scare some of her audience.

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