Thursday, August 23, 2012

Great Albums: 47 - Extricate (The Fall, 1990)

In 1990 Mark E. Smith, the driving force behind the mighty Fall, had just divorced his wife and one-time Fall guitarist Brix Smith. The band, for years a cult favourite championed almost exclusively by John Peel, were surfing an unprecedented wave of popularity after Brix pushed Smith into recording far more poppy and commercial tracks (both 'Victoria' and 'Ghost in My House' had charted in the top 40 in the preceding couple of years while the ballet soundtrack LP, 'I am Kurious, Oranj' had gained the band favourable reviews from other than the usual music press suspects).

Those of us who loved the Fall approached this new, first post-Brix album with more trepidation than usual (and, tbh, you approach every new Fall album with more trepidation than optimism - he's a cantankerous and unpredictable old bugger, MES). The presence of Martin Bramah, invited back into the Fall fold 11 years after leaving, was a reassurance though - even if Smith took the Fall all the way back to their late seventies punk roots, with Bramah it'd at least be competent (he'd played on the brilliant Live at the Witch Trials).

The first single off the album 'Telephone Thing' was a bit of a concern.  I saw Smith do it with dance floor types, Coldcut, and - with the exception of the reference to elderly Easteneders' actress Gretchen Franklin -  can't say I thought much of it.  Shades of bandwagon hopping (as Madchester dominated the music scene) are not accusations usually aimed at the Fall, but they could have been at that point.

But I needn't have worried.  The LP, when it came out, was a fabulous synthesis of MES' love of old rockabilly songs, memories of Brix poptastic hooks and a completely unexpected but excellent dip by the singer into crooning on the slow lovesong 'Bill is Dead' (which came top of Peel's Festive 50 that year).   I've seen it  mentioned that song began as a parody of the Smiths, which seems unlikely - it sounds nothing like the Smiths - but whatever it started off as it ended up being the highlight of an album which already contained the brilliantly scabrous 'Sing! Harpy' and 'Black Monk Theme', the pop genius of 'Popcorn Double Feature' and the simply fantastic 'Chicago Now'.  It's a shame that Smith only really uses his crooner voice once more (on the following year's 'Edinburgh Man') but maybe it would've got boring if he'd over-used it. 

What I wouldn't do for Fall album as good as this nowadays...

Spotify Link: The Fall – Extricate
"Bill is Dead" on SnubTV

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