Perfect Sound Forever

The Fall The Infotainment Scan

Billy Bob Hargus
(May 1998)


I hear stupid complaints that Mark E. and the boys have gone soft over the years. Truth is that they've held up a hell of a lot better than almost all of the Punk class of '77 (which has its share of embarassments). This CD comes from the rave/house period that's seen Mark working with Adrian Sherwood and Coldcut. The dub and dance connection is all over this installment in the band's long and enviable career.

The covers that a band does always says a lot about a group and its taste (or lack thereof). This time, they chose a moony reminiscience ("I'm Going To Spain") and two surprising covers- Lee Perry's "Why Are People Grudgeful?" and Sister Sledge's "Lost In Music" (guess that "We Are Family" was too obvious). The Perry cover is well-done with choppy guitar, bouncing bass and spacy sound effects that Lee himself would surely appreciate. Mark being self-conscious and all probably took solace in the lyrics to boot. The Sledge cover is also revealing, done with a galloping beat, tape-talkover and distant, echoed piano during the breaks. 'Caught in a trap' indeed- it's a clustrophobic world that doesn't trust its own happy beat and something that Smith surely understands.

This kind of mistrust (a characteristic of ol' Mark) comes through a lot of the rest of the album. "Glam Racket," with its stomping beat that old Fall fans should like, has Mark picking apart a poser, piece by piece. "It's A Curse" is a surreal swipe at the rich and complacent with their 'Bach and Wagner.' "Paranoid Man In Cheap Sh*t Room" may be Mark himself or some kind of sympathetic look at a weirdo like Beefheart's "Old Fart At Play": again, the crazed house music behind it betrays the story in the song. "Service," with its gloomy piano and regal trumpet-synthesizers, is a strange (Mark's never a straight-forward guy), almost (Raymond) Chandler-like narrative full of disgust and fretfulness. Anyone who's been smart enough to follow the Fall's career up to now won't be surprised by this but it's obvious (to me at least) that this isn't a rut or a replay. This savage, sick world is just Mark's canvas and he spews all over it with relish, always in new and surprising ways.

My favorite (and most vexing) part of a Fall album/CD is the one truly weird experimental track that they always throw in (i.e. "Paintwork," "Crew Filth," "I'm Frank" or "Symbol Of Mordgan "). Usually no real lyrics to speak of and mostly made up of a sonic collage. Here, it's "Light/Fireworks" and it's one of their best tracks in this 'style.' It starts out with a wave of tape effects and a voice threatening 'light up a cigarette... it may be your last.' Then it cuts off for Mark grumbling and the spitting out 'fireworks' over a trancey rhythm. This fades out as the band kicks in with a majestic theme up to the end. Not as far out as "Revolution No. 9" but I always like the fact that they still feel this is part of what the they're about.

So, I say the hell with the purists who don't like the latest phase of the Fall. I've written all of this about Scan from memory, after having heard a few dozens times and it STICKS WITH ME. That's a sign of quality if you ask me. As long as Mark keeps his trademark sarcasm and bile around, I don't have many worries that he'll succumb to 'disco': he's been around in the business too long and seen too much to really act like the cheery guy in "Spain" as his occupation. If his bitterness and odd-ball manner is off-putting to most people, I think it's endearing as hell and I'm a long-time fan because of this. Hell, the guy's still a punk at heart!


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