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"The Light User Syndrome" is the 19th studio album by the cult Mancunian band The Fall.
Released in 1996 on Jet Records the album finds The Fall in a volatile mood.
The band featured the line up of -
Mark E Smith - Vocals, Keyboards
Steve Hanley - Bass Guitar
Karl Burns - Drums
Simon Wolstencroft - Drums
Julia Nagle - Synthesizers, Guitar and computer programming
Brix E Smith - Guitars, Vocals
The album is important as it introduce Julia Nagle to the band, has the last appearance of Brix Smith and is the first album not to feature long-term guitarist Craig Scanlon.
There are 15 songs on this album though there have been a couple of reissues with additional filler material released also.
The album opens with "DIY Meat". The song is fast and furious and has really jagged guitar lines over the top of a powerful looping bass. Mark sounds slightly close to the edge in this song his mid song cackle is quite worrying. Lyrically the song is about garden tents, graves and a handyman. Possibly about murder or road workers!
Next up is "Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain" which is driven by a heavy one note bass line, crashing cymbals and out of tune keyboards. The track is a twisted Krautrock style song and has lots of shouted vocal snippets creating an aural anarchy that is both threatening and entertaining.
A violent twisting synthesizer line drives the next song named "He Pep!" Julia Nagles' keyboard work actually holds this song together. The sound is large and overpowering and teeters on the brink of explosion. Mark shouts a lyric of being fed up of record companies and A&R staff and his anger and frustration is obvious throughout.
The anger of the previous track leads nicely into the next song "Hostile". The song has an unusual drum led beat that has an Arabian musical flavour. The lyrics are about a legion of the hostile being hunted down which could quite possibly refer to Joe publics perception of the band.
Karl Burns is given the lead vocal on "Stay Away (Ol' White Train)" and he delivers a deep and somewhat nervous sounding lead vocal. The song is a cover of an old blues song and is played quite shyly and close to the original and is complete with steam train whistle samples. It's an odd song that breaks the flow of the albums tensioned overtone.
A wall of city sounds and police sirens open the next song "Spinetrak". Mark opens the proceedings and declares "Let the sideshow begin" which is appropriate as it is the last track to feature the lead vocals of long time member Brix. In fact Brix sings her heart out in the chorus as Mark grumbles vocals about schizophrenia. The song has a distinct pop music flavour that was Mrs Smith's trademark.
The albums only single "The Chiselers" appears next and is re-titled "Interlude/Chilinism". Interlude is a short synthesizer driven introduction to the track which is a heavy guitar driven song that is has a catchy sing-along chorus and obvious choice for a single release. Towards the end of the song is a quiet section and the track is the closest thing that the band will get to performing a concept song!
The pop rock tone of The Chiselers leads nicely into the albums controversial song "Powder Keg". I say controversial as the tracks lyrics seem to relate to the horrendous Manchester bomb incident from 1996. The odd thing was that the song was released prior to the bomb event leaving Fall fans to further believe that Mark is a psychic and the tabloids amok with questions. The song itself is a great track that has an up-tempo groove and see's the band returning to classic form.
The thunderous bass playing of Steve Hanley opens the great song "Oleano". The track slowly builds and ends in a great pop crescendo. Mark sings about a ship with its leader being asleep in a bunk whilst the ship navigates a path to destruction. The ambiguity of the lyrics leave the song open to several interpretations as to whether the song is actually about a genuine historic event or are Mark's observations of the band itself.
The song "Cheetham Hill" sees the band returning to a more traditional pop flavour which is a jaunty song with a sing-along chorus. It's the kind of song that can divide Fall fans and cause arguments; some love the throwaway pop sound and arrangement whilst others would prefer the more experimental and challenging lyric.
The sound gets a lot more mechanical and industrial and the techno drum loops of the next song "The Coliseum" are vibrant and clinical. The song has some really great sounds blended into the mix and it scuttles along with a great pace. Mark sings "You have to have a good condition to get into the Coliseum" which I guess is his way of saying you've got to set yourself up before a fall.
Another cover version and this time its Gene Pitneys "Last Chance To Turn Around" and it's given a good pop treatment. The keyboards and drums are predominant in this song and the brass and trumpet crescendos are fantastic. Sadly Mark sounds a little muffled and nasal and by the time he's reached the third verse he's abandoned the lyrics and ad-libbing!
"The Ballard Of J. Drummer" is a strings and drums track and has a traditional arrangement. The snare drum rolls and overall ambience conjure up imagery of Bing Crosby's X-mas hit with Bowie.
The track "Oxymoron" takes samples of the earlier track "He Pep" and remixes the entire affair into a solid chunk of industrial pop that could quite easily be the work of Art Of Noise. It is the first track on the album to highlight the great programming and mixing skills of Julia Nagle.
The album closes in an odd manner with the cheesy pop track "Secession Man" which musically sounds like a demo track off an eighties keyboard. Mark sings about being a session man over a track adorned with brass stabs and jingling bell sounds. The track is as equally humorous as it is disposable!
The album is like a Woolworths pick'n'mix selection; there's a bit of everything included. There's pop, industrial, rock, traditional, techno and odd all combined into one package.
The absence of guitarist Craig Scanlon on the album is clear and the sound has taken a fatter techno garage rock sound. Mark is found singing in mixed moods and this adds to the intrigue and tension of the albums final sound. There is also a hurried and urgent feel to the production and as a result of this there are flaws and imperfections that make the album a bit of a rough diamond.
That said when the album does shine it can cause retina burn.
© M Jones (Otalgia) 2009
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 DIY Meat
2 Das Vulture Ans Ein Nuttter Wain
3 He Pep
5 Stay Away (Old White Train)
8 Powder Keg
10 Cheetham Hill
12 Last Chance To Turn Around
13 Ballad Of J Drummer
15 Secession Man