"Levitate" is the 20th studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released in 1997 on Artful Records the album finds The Fall on the brink of destruction. This was the last album to feature the long serving band members Steve Hanley and Karl Burns following an on-stage bust up during their promotional American Tour.
The band featured the line up of -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, Keyboards
Tommy Crooks - Guitar and vocals
Steve Hanley - Bass Guitar
Karl Burns - Drums
Simon Wolstencroft - Drums
Julia Nagle - Synthesizers, Guitar and computer programming
The album is a mixed blend of styles and songs though the album is held together by the excellent programming skills of Julia Nagle. In fact it was only Julia that survived the American tour apocalypse and continued in the band for a couple of years after.
There are 14 tracks on the original album, which is what I have reviewed. There was a limited edition double CD release featuring an additional disk of songs released, however all forms of this album are currently unavailable due to the collapse of the Artful record label.
The album opens with "Ten Houses of Eve" which is a quirky techno drum and bass driven song that meshed garage rock and dance into a solid chunk of a song. The song, which was used frequently as the opening song at many of their gigs fails on record to catch the sheer power and strength of it's counterpart and sounds a little lightweight by comparison. It is a great song that could have been better.
A sample of ex-wife and ex-guitarist Brix E Smith stating "This is new, fresh from the womb" opens the albums second track Masquerade. The song is quite poppy and has jangling guitar and synthesizer combination that fights against a detuned piano loop and ends up creating an interesting sound. Marks vocals are on form too and I think the lyrics are about banks!
"Hurricane Edward" is the next song and it is stirs up quite a musical image. The synthesizer whirls around and the drums are thunderous and relentless and the result is a musical representation of a hurricane. The lyrical delivery is gloomy and sounds lost and slightly helpless, further adding to the hurricane theme.
The garage rockabilly charm of the next track "I'm a Mummy" instantly drops the albums techno driven theme and returns to a fifties trash rock song with a shrill lead guitar riff. Mark sings about being a mummy from the distant past and declares that he has only come back to life as he has a desire to meet Paul McCartney - totally hilarious and equally bizarre!
The next track is a bit odd. Titled "The Quartet of Doc Shanley" it's a song with a distorted sounding bass line (possibly synthesized) with lots of shouted vocal lines over the mix from Mark and Julia. There doesn't appear to be any logical topic to the song and Julia stating "If you're like me you're a complete and utter pranny you'll know what I mean when I say recipe" further confuses things.
Next up is the slow plodding instrumental track "Jap Kid". The song revolves around a melancholy piano riff, strings and a predominant snare drum. It loops several times around the same riff until it fizzles out around 3 minutes later.
Mark declares that the "House is falling in" and the manic track "4 1/2 Inch" has begun. Lots of cut and pasted drum loops are quickly joined with a heavy guitar and bass riff. The music crashes, stutters and sounds claustrophobic and out of control. Lots of shouting and obscured vocal snatches, cymbal crashes, reversed drums and haywire electronic riffs paint a vivid picture that could easily be the soundtrack to the bands pending implosion.
By way of contrast the following track "Spencer Must Die" is a far more casual affair that has a slow sliding bass line topped with jingling piano tinkles. Mark sings a mellow vocal that is both difficult to decipher and translate. It's a good song as it acts as a musical interlude and breaks the flow of angst ridden songs.
Next up is a cover of the Hank Mizell classic "Jungle Rock", which follows a similar style to the earlier track "I'm a mummy" but with the addition of keyboards. The drums rumble and the bass grumbles, whilst Mark's deadpan vocals give the track the bands unique flavour. A garage genre fuelled rock track at its best.
The temper of the album is raised further by the next song "Ol' Gang". Mark sings about walking the darkened streets and night and getting into fights. The music supports this theme well as the whole track is slightly distorted and edgy. The music has a bass heavy rock swing to it with a single note piano riff relentlessly plinking away and the final result is a claustrophobic and dark mood.
There is another musical interlude with the next track "Tragic Days". The song, if you can call it that, sounds like it's been recorded in a wind tunnel with a seventies cassette recorder. There is a lot of interfering noises and a few guitar chords here and there. This is an instrumental song in the loosest of terms. The song is part credited to old Fall guitarist Martin Brammah but it is unclear if it his him playing the guitar on this track.
The earlier instrumental of "Jap Kid" is resurrected under the name of" I Come and Stand At Your Door" which takes the earlier track and adds a vocal take from Mark. The song becomes more depressing and sad sounding as Mark croons the lyrics -
"I come and stand at every door
But no-one hears my silent plea
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead"
The albums penultimate track and album title track "Levitate" is possibly the most straight-laced track on the entire album. It's a medium paced song that is based around a rock guitar riff and has a typical verse chorus structure. Lyrically Mark cackles about debt and rising above others - "Come levitate with me". Despite its traditional structure the sound is very distinct and sharp and adds to the albums diversity.
The albums closing track "Everybody but myself" starts off with a live recording of the track where the audience have seized the microphone and are having a vocal free for all frenzy. The song cleverly cuts from the live chaos into a far more controlled studio recording that sounds somewhat sane in comparison to earlier album tracks. The song bounces along in a Madchester style theme of funky bass playing and stabbing keyboards that could have easily been transposed to a Charlatans track.
I think the keyword for this album is diversity.
There appears to be no underlying theme, concept or musical style throughout the album. The musical scrappiness, tension and desperation are what make this album a great success. It is admittedly a difficult listen and will put many people off the group for life!
More importantly the album marks an important phase of the bands career and acts as a suitable legacy of the greatness of bassist Steve Hanley who was to leave the group shortly after the albums release.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Ten Houses Of Eve
3 Hurricane Edward
4 I'm A Mummy
5 Quartet Of Doc Shanley
6 Jap Kid
7 4 1/2 Inch
8 Spencer Must Die
9 Jungle Rock
10 Ol' Gang
11 Tragic Days
12 I Come And Stand At Your Door
14 Everybody But Myself