Code Selfish is the fifteenth Studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall. The album was released in 1991 on Phonogram records and sees the bands music mutating into an eclectic blend of garage rock and techno.
The main reason for this is undoubtedly the impact of the techno wizardry provided by keyboard player Dave Bush. The combination of Dave's techno loops and the powerhouse rhythm's of the Steve Hanley and Craig Scanlon give the whole album a condensed and punchy tone.
There are re-masters and Cd reissues of this album so I have reviewed the original 1991 CD release. The album features 12 tracks and has a far more industrial and techno influenced sound when compared to the albums predecessor Shift work and the songs display a more direct and harsh approach both instrumentally and lyrically.
The only real constant here is Mark E Smith's unique vocal delivery style.
The album opens with the catchy titled "The Birmingham School of Business School". The song starts with the ringing church bells and quickly breaks into a scuttling mash of techno and keyboards, grinding bass and jangling guitar work.
Mark sings a cryptic tale of business training in corruption. It's quite an unusual an album starter and paves the style for the majority of the album.
The second track is "Free Range" which is probably one of the bands more successful singles of the period. The song is based around a looped keyboard riff and it is relentless in its repetition. The guitars clatter and punch over the riff, but it is the additional synthesizer blips and whirs that make this song so good. Mark sings of trouble proliferating across Europe and eerily declares -
"This is the spring without end,
This is the summer of malcontent,
This is the winter of your mind"
The third song is "Return" which is a little less techno driven and much more guitar heavy. The song, in typical Fall fashion loops around a catchy riff and has Mark pleading for "baby baby come back to me" which is assumedly referring to an ex-partner, although the lyrics are suitably ambiguous.
The fourth track "Time enough at last" is a totally different beast from the first three tracks. It's a slow song with polite sounding guitar riffs and swathes of orchestral string harmonies. The song doesn't have a great deal of lyrics, but Mark proclaims that he finally has time to get off his back and start working again (although the reasons for his lack of time are unclear).
Next up is the bouncy and upbeat song "Everything Hurtz". The song has a really catchy guitar riff although that is where the happiness ends as Mark sings of having no money, pains in his chest, swearing like a tourettes sufferer and having tinnitus! The song is quite an odd mix of jollity and depression.
We are now halfway through the album and the sixth track is a slow burner called "Immortality" which is a slow bass and synthesizer heavy riff. Lyrically the song confuses me as Mark sing's about mental decay and the inability to reshape or change the future though refers to this as immortality rather than mortality. It's possibly reference that you can't change your life footprint left behind after death. Heavy!
The most disgruntled and angry sounding song named "Two Faced" is up next. The track starts with an industrial and mechanical sounding drum loop and quickly migrates into a locked groove of guitar and synthesizer buzzing. It really wreaks energy and Mark gives a great vocal performance although there are really very little lyrics to get your teeth into and heavily revolve around the line - "Two faced that's what they call me".
By way of total contrast the next song is a cover of Hank Williams country song "Just Waiting". It's performed in a country style and is musically quite similar to Hanks version. The song has a feel good factor to it and the lyrics, despite being slightly bastardised by Mark (in particular the lyric - The cretin is waiting for U2 to come on MTV again!), mainly stay true to the original.
The next song "So called dangerous" has quite a clunky funky tune to it with clanking dissonant guitar and repetitive to the extreme. Unfortunately the song doesn't really go anywhere and fades out into obscurity after 3 and half minutes.
The albums real shiner "Gentleman's agreement" is another slow, poignant and reflective song. The guitar is sparse and spacious and compliments the keyboard textures brilliantly. The chorus lifts the song further with some thumping tom tom drumming and Mark sings about the breakdown of trust in his inimitable style.
The penultimate song on the album has a jazz swing sound to it. The drums skip along and the guitar riffs are overlaid with blues style slide guitar and honky tonk piano! The lyrics are both reflective and in part humorous -
"pretend to go to work,
Got a porta-fax,
Aftershave like mustard,
Two pints of lager do me in,
And The Spirit of Man,
Is a pub I go in!"
The albums closer "Crew Filth" is one of those Fall filler tracks that mixes the techno introduction of the "So what about it" remixes with drunken style improvisation over a Yamaha PSS keyboards demo tune, enough said!
Improving on the bands excellent previous album Shift work was always going to be a difficult task. So did it succeed? Well not really. The big difficulty is that the musical style and feel is quite different to its predecessor so comparison is maybe a little unfair.
There are a few strong tracks on the album (Free Range in particular) however I feel that the songs on the album don't gel that well and as a result of this the album has a distinct scrappy feel to it.
If you are a newcomer to the band, or prefer the more caustic styles of Mark E Smith then I would suggest trying a different album.
By contrast I've Fall friends who swear this is one of their best....
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Free Range
4 Everything Hurtz
5 Ed's Babe
6 Pumpkin Head Xscapes
7 The Knight The Devil And Death
8 Free Range
9 Noel's Chemical Effluence
10 The Legend Of Xanadu
11 Free Range
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 The Birmingham School Of Business
2 Free Range
4 Time Enough At Last
5 Everything Hurtz
7 Two-Face !
8 Just Waiting
9 So-Called Dangerous
10 Gentlemen's Agreement
11 Married, 2 Kids
12 Crew Filth