Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fall - The Light User Syndrome

The Light User Syndrome (1996) **1/2

The last album actually had me looking forward with enthusiasm to new Fall music.  This album reminds me that I've listened to over twenty albums by the Fall, far more music by any one band than I ever need to hear in my life, and I have no particular desire or need to listen to another note from Mark E. Smith's bandmates.  After some musing, I realized that perhaps the major flaw with this album is the departure of long-time guitarist Craig Scanlon:  there's an uncomfortable hole in this wall of sound, and it's Scanlon's clattery-clangey guitar washes.  The guitar parts on this longplayer are distressingly banal, and having learned nothing from the relatively short'n'snazzy Cerebral Caustic, once again the Fall present us with an album that puts the long in player.  Someone needs to whisper in Mark's tone-deaf ears that any 15 track album that stretches on for over an hour is going to seem like it's a never-ending goes-on-forever endurance-piece.  Even the goofball covers are third-rate, with Smith handing over vocal duties to Mike Bennett's godawful fake country drawl on the Johnny Paycheck cocaine-admonition (he takes the lead on the original "Cheetham Hill," for some likewisely inexplicable reason).  There's a weird juxtaposition of minimalist arrangements and underproduction ("The Ballard of J. Drummer", all marching snare drums & moody background synths), and overblown, overheated bombastic rock performances.  It seems that the Fall are trying to combine their dancey early '90s experimentation with their more traditional garage-guitar sound, and while the approach occasionally works fine enough, it's one shade less than enough for true enjoyability:  this is the roughest and most abrasive album they've recorded since.....well, I was going to say Grotesque, but more like ever.  "Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain," is so ridiculously bass-heavy it's some new sort of sonic achievement - which isn't so far as to say it's an actually good track.  In short:  this album is rough on the ears, even by the Fall's usual standards.  In other words:  newbies, beware.  If you're already a fan, there are about 1/3 of a CD's worth of quality Falltracks, and thus justify purchase for the committed fan ("He Pep!," "Oleano," "DIY Meat,"  and especially the catchy as measles, "Spinetrack").  Oh, and they're back to composing l-o-o-o-n-g songs again:  "Interlude/Chinilist," succeeds despite the seven minute running time (maybe because it's three songs squooshed together as one long track), but the ridiculous "Coliseum," stretches out to an insane eight minutes without ever altering its basic disco groove, or even building up to a chorus.  Repetition, repetition, repitition, blows, blows, blows.


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