The Fall The Frenz Experiment
Robert W. Getz
At the height of their greatest popularity and mainstream acceptance, The Fall released The Frenz Experiment, an album that opens with the line "My friends ain't enough for one hand."
It's hard to tell if Mark E. Smith is proud or saddened by that fact. It almost seems a little defensive, a way of reassuring himself that he remains unique even after achieving chart success. Frenz was released after some of The Fall's most commercial singles ever, tracks like "There's A Ghost In My House," the pre-electronica "Hit The North," and a wonderful cover of The Kinks' "Victoria" which sounds like it was always intended to be a Fall song. The expectation was that Frenz might be something like a Fall version of Th Human League's Dare, studded with anthemic crowd-pleasers painted in broader strokes than usual.
Despite the most glamorous Fall cover ever (an actual color photo of the band!), Frenz turned out to be as obtuse and elusive as anything they'd ever done. It's an odd mix: some of the songs seem merely wisps of songs, skeletal tunes like "Frenz" and "The Steak Place" that seem more like sketches than anything else. Others seem content to repeat the song title ("Carry Bag Man," "Get A Hotel"). They're no less compelling for this (such is the wonder of The Mighty Fall) but "Steak Place" flirts uncomfortably with self-parody ("Food is brought forth and eaten!" Smith declares).
On the other hand, you have the centerpiece of "Bremen Nacht," a frightening real life tale of a night in Bremen when Smith felt possessed by victims of Nazism. Bruises and skin patches appear on his flesh, including the impression of a child's handprint. "That's one day I did not put jackboots on," he says, successfully conveying the terror he felt as the music works on your head like a hammer. It's as if Smith wrote himself into the scenario of "Spectre Vs. Rector," becoming, like Philip K. Dick, a character in his own fiction.
It's a harrowing experience, one which is thankfully leavened by the hilarious American fantasia of "Oswald Defence Lawyer." Populated with cardboard witnesses and the corpses of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman in attendance, Smith presents a hallucinegenic shadowplay of the trial-that-never-was, with references to the single bullet theory ("That incredible, marvelous, exiting back of mine") and Spin magazine.
Not a completely satisfying affair coming after the powerhouse trilogy that preceded it, Frenz benefits from the inclusion on CD of singles tracks like "Guest Informant" (a hotel courtesy card turned paranoid rant, one of The Fall's best songs ever) and "Twister."
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