Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Fall - Cerebral Caustic

Cerebral Caustic (1995) ***1/2

Like U2 returning to the '00s with their big guitar rock comeback album after spending the '90s losing fans by the droves with their electronic music excursions, so the Fall returned in the mid-'90s with the most direct and hard-rocking material they'd composed in years.  Initially, it comes across as the most exciting Fall album in years - they haven't sounded this invigorated in nearly a decade.  Forget all that dancey disco crap, the motherfreakin' FALL are back where they once belonged, bringing back the noise with a dozen hard-hitting headbangers!  And at ony a dozen tracks, there's practically no filler - all the songs are listenable.  Even the three experimental tracks near the end are highly listenable.  In fact, "Bonkers in Phoenix," is a clear triumph, and I've concluded one of my all-time favorite Fall songs:  structurally resembling "Hotel Bloedel," (from Perverted By Language, remember?), its musical bedrock is an utterly lovely Brix melody that Mark deliberately fucks up to unsettling effect by chipmunk-speeding the vocals and throwing swathes of wobbly noise on top.  Brilliant!  (And oh yes, if you didn't notice, Brix is back.  Maybe that's got something to do with these songs being catchier than usual for '90s Fall.  Anyway, she almost steals the album with her protestations in "Don't Call Me Darling," - post-marital tension, eh?)

This is a fun, fun album, and a highly listenable entry point for newbies - the rock may be hard, but in a non-threatening and clean, non-noisy way:  there's nothing here to alienate the uninitiated (aside from Mark's vocals - can't do anything to change that).  Just raw, hard-bouncing punk.  You could do worse than making this your first Fall purchase.  However, for the non-novitiates, the music is two steps forward in listenability, and two steps back in innovation and uniqueness.  It's an essentially conservative album, retracing the footsteps that the Fall and plenty of other punky rock bands have trod before.  The sound is produced rather thinly, but I can deal with that; more problematic is the slapdash feel of several of these tracks.  "The Aphid," in particular just sounds like sheer slovenly songwriting.  And as much fun as this album can be when it's playing and you're bouncing around to the cute little riffs, the songs aren't nearly as memorable as they should be.  Keepers include the aforementioned "Bonkers in Phoenix," "Don't Call Me Darling," and the opener, "The Joke," an exciting rush of a rocker based on a Milan Kundera novel, apparently (guy in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia makes a political joke and gets sent to a labor camp; Mark changes it to "PC camp," an obvious alusion to political correctness).  A cover of Zappa's uproarious sad-sack satire, "I'm Not Satisfied," is another highlight, but too many of the originals sound like rush-jobs.  This is a very, very good Fall album - a 3.75 verging on 4 star Fall album, in fact.  A good album that could've been a great Fall album if only the songwriting were a bit stronger.

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