Extricate (1990) ****
Their first post-Brix album is almost as major a stylistic lurch towards the mainstream as Brix's introduction of the Fall to cute little pop hooks was in the mid-'80s: they'd been moving slowly towards this smoother, more polished direction for some time, but as the last couple of late '80s albums sort of blowed, you might have been forgiven for neither noticing nor caring. The lyrics to "Black Monk Theme," might seem to be directed at Mark E.'s ex-spouse, but nope - it's a Monks cover! A '60s garage rock cover with processed dance beats? Mark (or someone in the band; remember, as a non-musician, he's probably not nearly as responsible for the Fall's music as we might assume) obviously was paying a close ear to the Madchester sound raving about their hometown in baggy pants at the time. Fall fans must have come in for a shock to hear "Telephone Thing," danceably spacy funk that verges on hip-hop, as the initial single. I'm of two minds about this album's centerpiece - certainly sounds like the obvious single, being insistently catchy, but it's also annoying - well, not the first time Mark's tried ramming a chorus unpleasantly down your throat (for instance, the entire Frenz album). I'm of two minds about the album as a whole, actually. On the one hand, it's a vast improvement over a period of sub-par efforts. On the other, several of these songs sort of blow (but is that not true of every Fall album?) and the newly-found professional sheen of these cute little pop rockers takes some getting used to: they don't excite me instantly the way that the clanging pound of the classic Fall did. While it's definitely a return to form, does this really deserve the same rating as Grotesque? After some earphone time investing, I say yeah. Not a definite YEAH! but certainly a groovy yeah, because while it's not the most exciting Fall album, it's by far their most pleasant and listenable one so far.
One reason it goes down so easy is that unlike most other Fall albums, you can't begin to describe this as monochromatic. Stylistically, it's all over the place, which explains the mild inconsistency - not every path the band trods works quite the way they intended. But as is the case as you'd expect from a 14-song, hour-length CD, my highlights/lowlights and yours might not match up. Some people may get not over the shock of Mark singing a tender ballad, "Bill is Dead,".....let me repeat that:
Mark E. singing a tender ballad.
....to unearth the affecting melody beneath. No, I can't say it moves me to tears, mainly because it's got one incredibly dodgy lyric stuck in the middle that throws my sensibilities off ("Your legs are so cool," - couldn't you come up with better pickup line than that?). "Popcorn Double Feature," is even better and might be my personal highlight, a violin-driven Dylanesque social commentary ballad that is.....a Searchers cover? That makes it even cooler. If I took out the scissors I'd probably start snipping with the goofy repeat of "Black Month Theme II," and the slow grinding bore of "Chicago, Now," which nevertheless earns at least a couple of listens for its, "Do you work hard? No - you don't," chorus. Original guitarist Martin Bramagh returns for whatever reason, and his distinctively glassy chiming churns out some delightful surf-spy hooks on the pop-rockabilly numbers ("The Littlest Rebel"; "Hilary," a brilliant character sketch that boasts some Mark's best and most coherent (!) lyrics ever). I suppose I could cut out "British People in Hot Weather," as well, since I'm not to keen on the Fall-with-horn-section, but the lyrics are funny enough for it to pass muster (Mark audibly starts cracking up at his own lyrics at one point). The doomily psychedelic title track explores the intersection of electronic beats and mild blasts of screeching guitar noise, neatly pointing the direction the new decade --------------->
Where to begin for a Youtube? This album is so "let's throw gum on the wall and see what sticks" that I'm not sure which track to present as most representative. The big hit single? Might as well parlez-vous....