Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Fall - A World Bewitched: Best of 1990-2000

I found this one in Chicago.

In the summer of 2001, I flew to the Chicago area for work, as part of a team looking at a portfolio the company was thinking of buying. We stayed about 15-20 miles outside of the city, in a village called Bolingbroke (don't let the term 'village' fool you into thinking there are milkmaids and farm wagons rolling around dusty streets - the 'villages' in Chicagoland are huger and more populous than some cities back East. 'Village' is just a affectation they never got rid out out there). We were put up in some sprawling old hotel/"resort" - the kind of place with its own golf course, conference rooms, swimming pools, etc., spread out over several acres. I guess at one time, back in the '60s and '70s, the joint was considered to be pretty swank. But the owners had done nothing to keep the place current with the times; the wallpaper and decor were still echoing some time around 1973. The main bar resembled something out of a bad "Kojak" episode, and the only thing that kept my room from looking like Greg, Peter and Bobby's bedroom was the absence of a bunk bed in the corner.

However, the place wasn't all bad. Out of boredom one evening, I began wandering the hotel, and found myself in the game room, which was full of old video arcade games I hadn't seen or played in decades: Hard Drivin', Pole Position, Spy Hunter, Xevious - you name it, it was in there. So I had a good time killing an hour of two there.

But after a couple of days, I was getting pretty stir-crazy, working all day on site, then coming back to the House of Mannix. So one night I rented a car and drove into Chicago.

Prior to that visit, I'd never spent much time in that city, so I knew nothing about what was going on there. But I must say that I found Chicago to be a fun, hip little town. Lots of stuff to do, great restaurants (the steakhouses can't be beat), good bars and clubs, nice chicks - they've got a good atmosphere there. I grabbed something to eat at one of those steak places (don't ask me which one - I can't recall), then started walking around and looking around. I found myself in front of the local Tower Records, and decided to pop in for a bit.

I don't know about you, but when I go to a music store, the first stacks I go to are the ones for my favorite bands, just to check and see if anything new had been released, or if one of their earlier releases had evaded my attention. Since I'm a completist when it comes to most of my faves, these searches are usually futile - I'd already have everything they had out. But that night in Chicago, I ran across this Fall compilation, A World Bewitched: Best of 1999-2000, released on Artful Records earlier that year.

The 1990s were an iffy period for The Fall, in my opinion. Brix had left Mark E. Smith and the band, and her presence and ear for pop-friendly hooks was sorely missed. Her absence did serve as the inspiration for one of the best Fall albums of that era, 1990's Extricate, where (despite denials to the contrary) Mark savagely vents his spleen regarding her (What? "Sing Harpy" and "Black Monk Theme Part I" ("You know I really, really, really, really HATE you, baby!") aren't directed towards Brix? Really, Mark?). From there, the albums began a gradual decade-long slide into mediocrity. There were some high spots here and there: Code: Selfish and The Infotainment Scan had many high moments. But other releases like Middle Class Revolt and Cerebral Caustic seemed to lack the imagination and fire of some of the band's best material from the 1980s. And, of course, the infamous onstage punchup in New York in 1998 that led to the departure of longstanding Fall stalwarts like Steve Hanley didn't help either. The Fall really didn't start to get its shit back together until 1999's The Marshall Suite.

With all that being said, you would think that Fall highlights during tha decade would be few and far between. That didn't stop the release of a series of "Best of '90s" Fall compilations of varying scope and quality - A Past Gone Mad: The Best of 1990-2000 and Listening In: Lost Singles Tracks 1990-1992 among them (A Past Gone Mad is actually pretty good, collecting some of the best Fall songs from that decade).

But of all of these releases, I found the two-disc A World Bewitched to be the best of them all. This compilation picks through the dross of the decade, pulling out the superior cuts from that time that were left off of A Past Gone Mad - tunes like "4 1/2 Inch" and "Glam Racket" - so it's a good retrospective of that time and a good starting point for new Fall fans who want to hear the highlights from that period without purchasing all the albums.

But what makes A World Bewitched REALLY worthwhile for true Fall fans is Disc 2, which collects all of the decade's hard-to-find rarities and one-off collaborations by the band (or just Mark E. Smith) with artists such as Elastica and Badly Drawn Boy. Featured on this disc are songs such as:

- the band's superb cover of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich's 1960's hit "The Legend Of Xanadu", which before this album had only been available on a rare NME magazine compilation;
- the brilliant "Calendar", driven by Badly Drawn Boy's guitar, formerly available on a limited-edition "Masquerade" single; and
- "Seventies Night", a hilarious discofied workout between Mark and Edwyn Collins.

As mediocre as the Nineties seemed to be for The Fall, this compilation all but redeems the decade, and shows that, even when not at the top of their game, The Fall still crushes anyone else recording out there.

All in all, it turned out to be a valuable and productive trip to the city for me that night (I also picked up that night, on a whim, The Sea & Cake's Oui, which turned me into a fan of that band as well). We ended up not bidding on that portfolio we were there for. But I got cool new tunes out of the trip . . . so it was all good.

And here you are, for your listening pleasure. Enjoy:

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  1. Thank you PP! I'm a serous Fall fan, but don't have too much of their 90s stuff, so this is most welcome. And as you say, bad Fall is still better than almost anything else.

  2. Hi Tinpot -

    If you have this one, and "A Past Gone Mad", that's pretty much all the Fall music you need for the period between 1991 and 1998. Let me know if you need the former . . .

    Good to know you're a big Fall fan too - it sometimes seems that I'm the only one out there, so it's good to acknowledge another member of this exclusive, secret cabal!

  3. I know you're familiar with the Young Moss Tongue blog ... no shortage of Fall fans there if you're feeling lonely! But I know what you mean; I don't personally know another FF, and I've been trying for converts for many years.

  4. So, having never been knowingly exposed to the Fall by radio or TV, I satisfied my curiosity by getting the 50000 Fans compilation (and later the A-Sides/B-Sides 80s compilations). And I love these sets - they're wonderful packages of enjoyable, gripping rock that hooks you and draws you in.

    However, no matter which proper Fall album I have tried to move onto, I have found it to be 50% unlistenable garbage, no matter how revered it is by real Fall fans, nor how many stellar tracks it contains. There don't seem to be any exceptions to this pattern, at least among the albums regularly selected as their best.

    So, do you listen to the Fall via the original albums, or do you prefer compilations, or your own assemblage of tracks? I have idly wondered in the past about the wisdom of investing the time to partition the entire discography into good/bad sets of tracks, and using that to create my own, listenable, alternate Fall discography for private use...

  5. Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing this

  6. Thanks PP. Glad to see other Fall fans are out there!

  7. just d/loaded Bewitched, which Pee Pee sent me in minutes of my email! I have bought many Fall albums over the years, but when this came out, I read a bad review, so gave it a swerve, then forgot about it! Big Mistake for My Favourite Band. Thank you Pee Pee for the link, and I enjoy your stories you add to the reviews, they come to life. Kind regards, Autey

  8. rock solid! 8 year old link, with a 10 minute response time, i'm impressed....also great comp of phase 3/4/8? of the fall...

    1. Like the blog notes say, as long as this site is up and active, EVERYTHING ever posted remains available... and I have no plans to quit this thing anytime soon! Glad you're happy!

  9. Hi, New Fall Fan here...I couldn't help but rebut a little to the feelings expressed here about the 90's output. Everybody seems to forget about 'Light User Syndrome' but I think that's an oddly fascinating and strange yet compelling album. Right now I have it ranked as my 5th favorite Fall album. I'm also a Levitate fan due to the beats and electronics, and don't forget about the alternate Rough Mix of the Cerebral Caustic, it really redeems the material in my view. It's all about The Aphid, folks. Get Hook Clamp! Go back to scratch! Lol.