Perfect Sound Forever

The Fall Cerebral Caustic

Rich Kidd
(May 1998)


Even now, as I pull out Cerebral Caustic from the bottom of my tottering pile of Fall CDs (nestling next to BBC Live in Concert), a ripple of depression washes over me. Do I really have to play it again? Isn't there some better way I can spend 40 minutes?

I mean, I can remember buying it, bunging it in the CD player, pressing PLAY, then.....well, three-quarters of an hour later it ended. Usually with a new album, there's something you can pick out first time which sticks. A Fall album, I'd expect to love half of it. With this one, however, apart from a rotten version of Life Just Bounces and some oddity with a helium-inflated Brix, I came away with a vague impression of twangy song after twangy song after twangy song. Was this some kind of parody?

I mean it wasn't just like the band were on autopilot - Middle Class Revolt was that. And since then Brix and Karl had returned to the fold, which at least gave the hope that there'd be some new ideas and variation. Instead we just get this flatness.

A lot of the blame has to be taken by the production. I'm astonished that Mike Bennett is down as having produced this album, because it couldn't be more different to the album which followed it. The edge has been deliberately been taken off everything and I really think that's the key to just why the album is so disappointing. Drums? - let's flatten them to a cardboard box sound. Guitars? - how about reducing the rhythm guitar to sludge? And what have they done with Hanley's thumping bass? Terrible to criticize a Fall album on the basis of quality of production I know, but it sucked the life out of this album.

Before I played this album again just now I actually had no idea of what "One Day" and "Pine Leaves" sounded like. Three years later, maybe a couple of dozen plays, and I can't even remember them. Though having given it another run through I can quite understand why- they're insubstantial as anything they band have ever produced.

Some of the songs have since proved themselves classics through endless live showings: "The Joke," "Feeling Numb" and to a lesser extent "Pearl City." But it's saying something that the first time I realized it Feeling Numb was any good was by hearing the folkie cover by Jonathan Kandell. "Don't Call Me Darling," "Rainmaster" and "The Aphid" however, are musically just variants on the 'get Brix to do a twang, twong riff' formula.

"Don't Call Me Darling" is the opening, and worst, offender on this count. Plodding and lyrically lame, it just doesn't work with Brix' strangled snarl which seems completely out of place (and not in a good way either). Don't take that as a general anti-Brix comment either (since Craig wrote that one), but as very few of the songs actually revolve around the monolithic Fall bass sound the weedy lead guitar riffs get cruelly exposed, especially with Rainmaster along straight afterwards.

Previously one of the great lost (non-album) Fall tracks on the Dredger EP, "Life Just Bounces" just gets destroyed for no good reason. I really can't work out why they felt the need to do it again without feeling. Terrible, terrible stuff, no matter how loud the volume. Ditto the appalling "I'm Not Satisfied."

So it gets to the stage where "North West Fashion Show," hilarious as a filler on any other album, sounds like one of the more complete tracks. Same with "Bonkers in Phoenix": ridiculous swooshing noises destroying a haunting wheedling vocal. Wonderful stuff.

I meant to check the Lyrics Parade for this album to see if I'd missed any lyrical gems, but frankly, what's the point. They haven't struck me so far and they never will.

The rotten Cerebral Caustic was an unwanted addition to the decline after the great Infotainment Scan and the dead boring Middle Class Revolt. I more or less gave up on them after it. Shows how wrong I was.


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