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Shiftwork is the fourteenth Studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall. The album was released in 1991 on Phonogram records and sees the band foray into more melodic and accessible sounds.
That said the sarcastic, sometimes atonal yet thoroughly captivating vocals of front man Mark E Smith would ensure the album would stay out of the mainstream and firmly route itself in the underground and alternative sections of high street record shops.
The 12 tracks are a natural musical progression from the albums predecessor Extricate and have a focused and direct feel in both melody and lyric.
The albums opener "So what about it" confirms the positive vibe running through the band and Mark shouts through a loudhailer "Fall Advance" not dissimilar from a sergeant major leading his troops into battle. The song has washes of industrial sounding guitars over a driving techno, drum track and is a positive start to the album.
The musical sound varies quite a bit on the album and the second track "Idiot Joy Showland" is a bit of an irony as the song is an obvious dig at the "Madchester" scene of the period yet is performed in a similar style. Mark sings "Idiot groups with no shape or form, Out of their heads on a quid of blow" which further enforces his often stated view that the majority of bands of the era were shallow and had little artistic substance.
Third up is the brilliant song "Edinburgh Man" which is a tribute to the greatness of Edinburgh and the warmth of its culture and character. This track sees Mark singing at his best and you can't tell that it's sung from the heart which makes the track even more endearing.
By way of contrast the next track "Pitsville Direkt" is much more glum and dark. The song plods along slowly around a catchy chord pattern whilst Mark grumbles about the several modes of transport that all lead to Pitsville which I can only assume is a fictional city to represent several industrial UK cities.
The next song "book of lies" to me sounds hollow and under-produced. The song rambles along with a half hearted vocal take and no real catchiness or character.
The album soon returns to its excellent form with "The war against intelligence" which has a great catchy tune to it plus some great lyrics. Mark sings "Notebooks out plagiarists" in a jibe at the several bands of the time that were trying to replicate the Fall's style and pseudo intelligence to no avail.
The bouncy pop of the albums predecessor is followed by a much more reflective and personal track in the albums title track "Shiftwork". This song is unusual for the Fall as it reveals Mark dropping his guard and exposing a fragile and vulnerable side that is seldom seen. The song sings of relationship breakdown - "She's 9 to 5, but I'm shiftwork" which assumedly reflects on Marks unrepentant work rate and the effect on those around him. The song is worthy of the albums title.
The album returns to its poppy musical bounce with "You haven't found it yet" which I think is about writers block. The guitar work from Craig Scanlon is fabulous and the song rings with positivism and a feel good factor.
The next track "The Mixer" is a strange song. Despite the disposable lyrics about a studio engineer the music has a hooky bass line and some odd cheesy sounding handclaps that make it quite a fun song. The video for this track is equally bizarre and features fiddle players and dancing gypsies on a boat!
Next up is "A lot of Wind" which sees the Fall return to their older caustic form. The song revolves around a fierce bass guitar repetition with loads of scratchy sounding guitar noises over the top. Mark spits venomous lyrics about the banality of daytime TV chat shows (Richard and Judy and their ilk) and states "They talk a lot of wind, they talk a lot about wind". A Fall classic.
The penultimate track on the album "Rose" once again see's Marks barriers down and singing about an old love (possibly his Ex wife Brix) and the slow and unusual stripped down sound of the band with lashes of "shaft" style wah wah interjections make this a beautiful song.
The album ends with a toy box sounding song of "Sinister Waltz" which is pretty throwaway and uninspiring.
Shiftwork has become one of my favourite Fall albums and definitely one of their best nineties albums. On first listen the album sounds very un Fall-like in both it's musical and lyrical direction, however after several listens you can see that all the trademarks are still present - intelligent lyrics, driving bass lines and variety.
To quote the late and great John Peel - "The Fall, always different, always the same".
If you prefer your arsenic a little sweeter than the norm then I would wholeheartedly recommend this album.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2008
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 So What About It?
2 Idiot Joy Showland
3 Edinburgh Man
4 Pitsville Direkt
5 The Book Of Lies
6 The War Against Intelligence
8 You Haven't Found It Yet
9 The Mixer
10 A Lot Of Wind
12 Sinister Waltz
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 White Lightning
2 Blood Outta Stone
4 Life Just Bounces
5 The Funeral Mix
6 High Tension Line
7 Xmas With Simon
8 Don't Take The Pizza
9 So What About It?
10 So What About It?
11 So What About It?
12 The Re-Mixer
13 Cloud Of Black
14 Arid Al's Dream
15 The War Against Intelligence
16 Idiot Joy Showland
17 A Lot Of Wind
18 The Mixe