Perfect Sound Forever

The Fall Code:Selfish

by Older Brother Gert
(May 1998)


"I'm full of surprises now..." - "The Birmingham School of Business School"


As the Fall enters it's third decade Mark Smith lets you know right off the bat that's he heading for a new direction with 1991's Code: Selfish. After having plumbed the depths of punk and flirted with pop success, Smith and his bandmates have fashioned a new sound around the synthetic textures and programmed waves provided by the recently added Dave Bush on keyboards. The enemies now are technology and the pursuit of wealth. Bush joins Smith, Steve Hanley (bass), Craig Scanlon (guitar), and Simon Wolstencroft (drums) in producing a record that is quite possibly as good as anything they have ever done.

"What? They've done another Slates or Grotesque?" Not quite; those days are gone for good and Smith knows this better than anyone. Nonetheless, this is a record that is rich and varied and will keep you coming back for more. It has, in spades, the two things most characteristic of the Fall’s sound: relentless, driving rhythms and cryptic, derisively delivered lyrics smeared over the top.

The record contains at least one certifiable Fall classic, the hard edged "Free Range", a take on European unity cast under the harsh glaring light of disintegration in the Balkans. "The Birminham School of Business School" opens the record and it sounds as though Smith has shoved the microphone halfway down his throat as he intones "wahhhhh-ahhhhh-wahhhhhhh-ahhhhh" - it’s a great effect - as he goes on to expose the corrupt theories of business, and later, in "Everything Hurtz", the bottom line effects of such shameless (and selfish) pursuits. In between, Smith asks for the "Return" of someone ("Return to me, baby" - but who is he talking to?). With "Time Enough At Last", a slower, thoughtful number sung over Scanlon’s strumming, the protagonist seems to have gotten off the bus, deciding to think on his feet "instead of on my back" - he’s had enough of self prostitution. Smith provides a warning in the danceable "Immortality" ("you cannot put it in your pocketbook"). Following is the harder "Two-Face!" which features some crunching guitar chords reminiscent of the recent Extricate record. Next up is a cover of the obscure Hank-Williams-as-Luke-The-Drifter track "Just Waiting". In addition to updating the lyrics, the band (most notably Scanlon on guitar) has afforded the track an easy, loping lilt that even Hank would have enjoyed. In "So-Called Dangerous", Smith takes cryptic to a new level yet offers some genuine pearls, even when taken out of context: "Think. Like mountain climbing, or skiing in the Alps. Think of it. I don’t." Absolutely brilliant. "Gentleman’s Agreement" offers an interesting twist on the theme of the Elia Kazan film of the same name. "Married, Two Kids" - the inevitability of life’s passing ("..two pints of lager do me in") and the conformity that the path of consumerism encourages. The recording closes with "Crew Filth", a throwaway track in the spirit of "Papal Visit" although "Crew Filth" is altogether more listenable, a spontaneous bit of back-stage farting around and vocal improvisation.

This is the record that pointed the way towards the electronic music explosion that was looming, but seemed visible to Smith only. As is his habit, Smith brings in or dismisses personnel to suit the ideas he wants to convey. Bush’s contributions are significant, and Wolstencroft’s clinical technique is entirely appropriate for this material (I love Karl Burns but this would have been a much different sounding record with him). Hanley and Scanlon are as rock solid as ever.


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