The Frenz Experiment (1988) ***
One misconception about the Fall is that they have always been merely Mark E. Smith plus backup musicians; this album, which is as close to a solo Mark E. album as the Fall had yet released up to that point, points up that fallacy by demonstrating what a Fall album would really sound like if that were really the case. In contrast to previous albums where a glance over the songwriting credits showed clear collaboration (at least on paper), most of the songs on this disc bear the stamp "Smith" and no one else. And you can tell from the music, or rather the lack of it: the musical backing clearly takes a backseat, with the Mark's vocals shoved upfront, and the tunes' hooks consist almost solely of Mark repeating a chorus word phrase over and over and over and over ("get a hotel room today, you gotta get a hotel room today, get a hotel room today, get a hotel room today"). The musical backing to Mark's rants, which are much clearer and more comprehensible in the mix than previously, is dry, rudimentary, and spare - which isn't to say that music doesn't exist, it's just irrelevant. Naturally I hated the damn thing on first listen and concluded that as their worst album since Room to Live (and bad for similar reasons), it couldn't deserve more than a couple of stars. A few listens later and I've knocked it up a notch, as I realized that Mark's chorus hooks ("my friends don't add up to one hand,"; "I love the carry bag man, I am the carry bag man,"; "Oswald Defence Lawyer, bla bla bla mumble mumble MARK TWAIN!") bury themselves inside the cranium, and it's not just because of the extreme repetition, repetition, repitition (remember the 3 R's, these are the 3 R's....). So the fault isn't Mark's: he's living up to his part of the job; it's his bandmates that aren't. Whether that's because they were lazy, or more likely that Mark the tyrannical egomaniac bandleader wouldn't let them, I dunno. As you might have guessed, the 9:19 centerpiece, "Bremen Nacht," is an unendurable, intolerable farce, as Mark repeating the same German phrase for over nine minutes while the music never, ever, remotely begins to change or vary. Perversely, it's followed by 39 seconds of "Guest Informant," - an instrumental. Was that some sort of sick joke? "The Steak Place," is the most musically advanced piece on the record, boasting a naggingly memorable slide-abilly riff - the only memorable musical riff on the record, actually. The lyrics are great, too - Mark observing patrons in the cheap'n'greasy - making it probably the standout track for meself. Unless you count the cover of the Kinks' "Victoria," which doesn't particularly better the original but does add a neat fuzzed-up riff to the klassik. And it did gain them their first bonafide Top 40 entry (U.K., of course). "Hit the North," was the other big single released off this album, and it sucks. The clipped, mildly distorted horns simply scream, "late 1980s!" waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much for my tastes, though I do admit that the title chorus is mighty catchy. In fact, most of these songs are mighty catchy. Spin it a couple of times and you'll have at least three or four of the song choruses lodged in your eardrums. Problem, as I've said at length, is that the songs amount to little more than catchphrase choruses. Also, that cover? Ttl sht.