The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (1984) ***1/2
Studio album #8 (I think, but at this point who's counting?) tackles another genre and runs it mercilessly through the Fall meatgrinder: this is pop! as another quirky post-punk band once put it, but only it's not pop, it's Fallpop. Which apparently means nursery rhyme melodies stuffed with one big, fat, bright pop hook and run with Fallrepetition for three to four minutes while Mark E. chants and the guitars choogle on, but not aggressively guitar-choogling, which separates Fallpop from Fallrock. Brix the newly Mrs. E. Smith co-wrote most of the songs and so surely it was her more feminine touch that pushed the Fall into this softer, more accessible direction; it's not as if they'd never visited such shimmery guitar-pop territory before ("That Man," "Leave the Capitol"), just never devoted an entire album to such fare. Oh, it's not as if it's a drastic departure, as there are still plenty of jagged guitars and tribal rhythms and you can't get away from the patented Mark E. vocals, it's just more than a wee bit cozier and brighter in the land of the Fall. This is the first Fall album that goes down easy, if not memorably: I found this actually one of the more difficult Fall albums to digest, for two reasons. First, the length: the original album was 9 tracks long, but no one bought that (who bought Fall albums in 1984), or has ever seen it, and doubts are alleged to its actual existence. Normal people all own the CD issue which appends 7 extra bonus tracks culled from singles, EPs, B-sides, what have you. Apparently these 7 tracks were stuck in the running order at random or something, I'm not going to keep track and make sense of it, I'm just going to treat the bonus tracks as part of the original album and review the 16 track issue as such.
So you see the initial problem - 16 tracks are hard to digest, and the overload makes it take forever to get into this album. Now the second problem is related to the first: there just aren't any truly great standouts that I can hear during this hour-plus of Fallmusic. It's quite consistently OK and average, without any great highs or lows, which as seasoned album listeners know can make a lengthy album more intolerable than a lengthy album of good song/sucky song/good song/sucky song peaks and valleys. "Bug Day," seems to be the only total waste, a more polished Room to Live-esque Diddleyvamp, and some jerk borrowed from the Virgin Prunes (a real band) adds some wretched strangled-cat-Johnny-Rotten backup vocals that almost but not quite ruin "Copped It," and "Stephen Song." "Lay of the Land," opens the album memorably with its strongest cut, with some ominous medieval chanting before seguing into the meat of the song with some train-chugging jingle-junkle. "2X4" follows with some surfy rockabilly and from then on out it would be silly (and boring) for me to review this platter tamale by tamale. I adore the ascending bassline in "God Box," and "Elves," is a cool bit of drug-induced paranoia in which Mark hallucinates that the little people are haunting him. "C.R.E.E.P.," may or may not be about Richard Nixon and while it's not exactly my favorite tune, the peppy pom-pom chorus Brix delivers is annoying difficult to dislodge from the cerebellum. I'll mention one last song before signing off, the chiming dream-pop of "Disney's Dream Debased," which according to FallLore was inspired by Mark E. and Brix's trip to Disney Land, where one of the costumed workers was accidentally decapitated by the blades of a whirling ride and co-workers in Mickey Mouse and Goofy costumes ran around frantically trying to calm the onlookers down until the ambulance arrived.