Bend Sinister (1986) ****
This is sometimes referred to as the Fall's "goth" album and "not very good," both of which make one wonder if detractors actually listened to the album at all. Admittedly, the opener "R.O.D.," kicks proceedings off with a minor-key, slow-rumbling dirge, but beyond that track there's little that one could call gothic at all - oh, hints of darkness in certain tracks here and there, but come on: garage-punk Joy Division this ain't, not by a long stretch. It's simply another excellent and varied collection of Falltunes, some poppy ("Shoulder Pads," is their brightest and most upbeat toe-tapper yet!), some experimental (could do without "Auto-Tech Pilot," but at least they have the good discernment of their own material to save the worst for last), no longer '70s Britpunk but still clearly '60s Nuggets garage punk (neat cover of "Mr. Pharmacist," and oh, that cheeseful of Farfisa that is "Bournemouth Runner"). It's almost as all over the map stylistically as the preceding album, only a tad more cohesive (undoubtedly due to the fact that non-album bonus tracks aren't mucking up the flow). And how can any album be called gothic when it contains two bouncy-surfy Brix duets, "Dktr. Faustus," and "Terry Waite Sez," that sound like bastard stepchildren of the B-52s? Oh, sure, "Gross Chapel-British Grenadiers," melodramatically rumbles on darkly for 7:20, but it's more micro-rock-opera than JD-gothic; I can see why some might consider it overblown, but I don't mind the track (neither do I love it). The two standout tracks are located smack in the middle for a one-two punch. "Living Too Late," grooves melodically alongside a measured bassline that carries that same groove and melody, while Mark talk-sings about growing older with crows' feet on his face; the somewhat forced breakdown bridge that interrupts the song several times I could live without, but it's an ace tune nonetheless. "U.S. 80's-'90s," finds the band moving into a more electronic industrial direction, and Mark's vaguely social-protesty admonishing alongside the thumping grind of a groove once again make for a killer track. There's a rather pointless reprise of "Shoulder Pads," but I suppose that the band, once again recognizing their own strongest and weakest material, decided to recycle the album's catchiest tune once again because - why not? Darn it, now I've got that whistling melody stuck in my head all day again! I haven't mentioned "Riddler," yet, a funny little but ace number that alternates between gothy verses and a cracklingly upbeat surf-garage twangy chorus - there, now I've reviewed every single track. The music has grown more varied and accessible, making this one of the easiest and smoothest entry points for the Fall. In other words, heartily recommended and screw all the naysayers, any idiot who claims that this a "downbeat, gothic" album clearly hasn't listened to a note of it beyond the first track. Or simply glanced at the cover and wrote their review without bending their ears to the notes inside.
P.S. The title derives from a Vladimir Nabokov novel. Every reviewer has to mention that, it's in the contract.
P.P.S. If you want a dark, gothy Fall album, they real one to get was released in 1979 and was entitled Dragnet.