Shift-Work (1991) **1/2
More like Shit-Work, you ask me. Not that this is doesn't go down easy: the opposite the problem is - the once-mighty whirlwind of Fallnoisemakers proffering an entire album of relaxed, danceable soft-disco pop numbers? Has the world gone mad? I'm making too much of their change in direction; after all, it's not as if the previous album (excellento, 'twas) didn't possess its share of similar fare, and often to pleasing results. And it's not as if "The Mixer," the one tune here I'd gladly slip onto a two-disc mix-tape best-of, isn't an unexpected triumph (synths & drum machine join hands with violin in tribute to a Madchester DJ of Jamaican extraction). So maybe I'll just take the prosaic route and finger the main problem: the songs just aren't very good. Aside from "The Mixer," there's a fine if extraneous cover of the country greaser classic, "White Lightning," (must chug along with Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road), and a few other songs are....OK. Mainly because Mark E. is almost always good for a chorus or five per album, even if he has the tendency (tendency? A tendency?!) to ram that repetitive catchphrase chorus round and round and round into the goddamned ground ("They talk a lot'a wind, they talka lotta wind-ah, they talka lotta wind-ah, they talka lotta wind-ah"). And there's a genuinely pretty ballad for a change, "Rose". Not much more to say about her besides she's pretty, though. More like a pretty little high school girl than a genuine knockout, this "Rose" 'tis. Pleasant when it passes you by, but.... That last sentence could pass for a description of the entire album, it could. "The War Against Intelligence," and "Idiot Joy Showland," are pretty good catchphrases to build a song around, but as Elvis Costello once quipped about Morissey, a pity that Mark E. didn't bother to finish writing the rest of the song. Again, that applies to most of the rest of the album. It's not as if a change in direction to greet the '90s wasn't warranted, but in this case the results are less than satisfactory. The band sound distressingly generic - almost any baggy-pants pop group could've recorded this music - and Mark E. seems out of place and adrift: he's not blastering his usual blistering venom, but talk-singing in a manner that, whether he intended it or not (he probably didn't; flatly talk-singing was likely the best he could do for the vocals) comes across as detached and bored as a news announcer mouthing to cue-cards. No passion in the vocals = no passion in the Fall. A mildly danceable dance-pop album with some decent melodies: the Fall can do (and have done) much better.
The two bonus tracks are worth a giggle: more dance pop, but in one case ("Blood Outta Stone") more danceably anthemic and rock-driven than anything on the album proper, and in the other case ("Xmas With Simon") uproariously wittier.
Listen to "The Mixer," though! It's a good'un.