Yet again, we meet. Me and Mark E. and another in the series of Castle's expanded re-releases of The Fall's back catalog. Castle knows what they are doing. Daryl Easlea is back as the resident Fall expert contributing history imbued with personal tales and takes. Like other CDs in this series of re-released material you will be rewarded with that extra little trip, the bonus CD of alterna-takes, single sides and timely Peel Sessions. While listening you can read along and look at tidbits of Fall memorabilia collaged with Easlea's wrapped text.
I have never really listened to Middle Class Revolt. Born into a divisive time for The Fall fan-dom it was overlooked by people, like myself, that felt disenfranchised by The Fall's new direction that launched in '93 with the album, The Infontainment Scan (NOT SCAM!). Adopting commercial production, debuting in the U.K. top ten and a big clean sound The Scan was a far cry from what early Fall devotees came to expect. Middle Class Revolt was the next step and did nothing for unification winding up leaving Revolt surpassed and overlooked on the road to the new century.
13 years have passed (gulp!) and now out of context and peered at with clear 20/20 vision we can check this material afar from the hype and trend and focus on the material. Lately it seems that a rediscovery of an old overlooked recording brings more satisfaction than most new music. Beware, it is a hazard of age.
The original album contained on CD 1 is mainly songs from the classic Fall writing trio of Smith/Hanley/Scanlon wth the exclusion of three covers. One cover is a version of Shut Up! by The Monks. A band that is memorialized by Mark E. and The Fall via the Extricate album where there are direct re-workings and dedicated Monks' tracks. Henry Cow's War is covered on Revolt along with The Groundhogs weirdly remade song, Junk Man.
The first song, 15 Ways, is a lackluster start to the CD. A loosely based send up of Paul Simon's 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover it lacks verve. The delivery is apathetic and the second track, The Reckoning does little to amp up the albums introductory offerings. Although competently performed the heart and acerbic edge are missing.
The third track, and earlier single, Behind the Counter contains more hooks and Fall-like tinges. Electronics layered with big drums beats and chintzy synth noodling give Counter the first lively moments of this album. The start has a sixties garage feel with a more modern sense. At moments it reminds me of Inspiral Carpets, whom Smith duets with in 1993 on the song I Want You. Mark E.'s voice is apathetic but not as a sarcastic nuance. It really seems like his heart just is not into the song or performance.
M5 #1 is the fourth song that is lyrically intriguing and Fall-ish. Smith rambles with his thoughts while the music and his mind cruise along the M5 motorway. The drums are train track click-clacking and vast keyboards provide an expansive landscape view. Lyrically, the song is interesting but the vehicle lacks real acceleration. Again, Smith's addled swagger is missing and comes across as robotic when malaise is what is intended.
Middle Class Revolt is one of the better moments and seems to break from the feel of the rest of the albums dull delivery. The cover of Henry Cow's War is an excellent track that takes the sound structure of The Ruts-Babylon is Burning and uses that to break from the overly muddled mix and brings that into the Scan and Revolt production style creating a more sparse arrangement, a kick-ass delivery, and perhaps the deepest bottom of ANY Fall track.
You're Not Up To Much is a brighter song then its predecessors. The feeling is more lively and up beat. The guitar is bright, rollicking, pop chords, ala The Fall. Smith's vocals are also the back up vocals. A long utilized technique of The Fall. The backing vocals recall the song What You Need from the album, This Nation's Saving Grace. The experience is good but the track is inherently like its sister tracks, lacking a real hook and sincere vitality.
Symbol of Mordagan is a sound collage more than an actual song. Sound clips, interviews (Scanlon and John Peel), phone conversations and demo quality guitar sounds are cut and pasted. The drumming sounds like it is being tapped out on a table top. The guitar riff sounds like psycho Yummy Yummy Yummy (I've Got Love In My Tummy) by The Ohio Express while sending up the TV theme from Are You Being Served?. I like this track. It is the most creative and alluring moment, so far, on the Revolt CD subverting the staid quality in most of this offerings material.
Hey! Student is the track that solidifies the sound of Middle Class Revolt. The formula is the same but the lively delivery is commands more attention. Smith seems to have the confidence in the material to sell it. The song kicks. Hey! is classic early Fall updated. I wonder why the songs on the rest of the album are far less sincere. The ending of the tune is a sarcastic big rock ending, it makes you laugh.
Junk Man is number two of the three covers on Revolt. Junk Man is a Groundhogs' song and the first live act Mark E. Smith ever saw. The sound is also classic Fall. The instrumentation is sparse and minimal with drum, bass and kazoo. Mark E.'s vocal delivery is dead-on Smith pallor. No one does it better. But the tune is much different than the original. The Groundhogs were known for their post blues rock performed at break neck speed like their counterparts the MC5, Stooges and Hawkwind. But this spare rendition gives the fan the comforting fact that The Fall are not completely awash and at sea on the Revolt.
The $500 Bottle of Wine is less dense than most of this Fall-era material. The imitation drunken vocal delivery is silly with a result that is neither drunk or sober, sarcastic or sincere, tongue-in-cheek or serious. It is enjoyable as a phony drinking song and a snub at excess.
City Dweller puts you back into the muddled, mire of thick layering. It is successful track on the Revolt grading curve. The sound stems from Infotainment. There is a Kurious Orange style delivery to the vocals. There are layers of synth-bleeps and sweeps with Smith's own backing vocal's. The song soars but never really reaches a stratospheric height. It seems that the later tracks are more viable and enjoyable then the anemic introduction cuts that barely lacerate.
The final song is the cover of The Monks Shut Up! This is a mess. Just not good at all. I would have imagined that it would be at least close to the level of quality of the band's send up of I Hate You by The Monks that appears as the Black Monk Theme on The Fall's Extricate album. I can't stand this. The Fall are either desperate for experimentation or have lost all interpretation of what constitutes as record quality Fall standards. I shut it off after two minutes. It is embarrassing.
The bonus CD starts with the 17th Peel session The Fall recorded on the first of December, 1994. The songs are M5, Behind the Counter, Reckoning and Hey! Student. The sound is looser on the live Peel sessions and the band has the smarts to perform the more successful original Fall material from Middle Class Revolt. Ya' know if you buy all these Castle re-releases you will start to amass the entire Peel box set sessions, eventually.
The Peel performances are much more rousing then the original album release but the foundation is still weak. Better is relative. A better delivery of average material is not going to change an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. You can put make-up on a pig but it will still wallow in its own filth. The most successful of the four Peel tracks is the rendition of Hey! Student. But that makes sense since it is one of the better tracks on the entire CD.
Next is a series of seven tracks from the Permanent Records singles. Permanent was the label that first released Middle Class Revolt aka the Vapourisation of Reality in 1993. Starting with the single version of Behind the Counter it is the best of the three versions contained on the two CDs. The mix is less muddled and the sound is fun and gives a sense that the band is into the song and is more of an updated Fall sound then the departure of Revolt and Infotainment Scan. War, the Henry Cow cover, is a great version from the b-side of Behind the Counter. I like the album version over the single but both are driving and forceful Fall performances.
Cab Driver does not appear on the original Revolt CD and is the third of the Permanent singles tracks. The sound is a speeded up Lost In Music, from Infotainment Scan, without the pure disco edge. Layered Smith's vocals and self backing vocals creates layers of ambling mental rambling. Not a great track but one of the better moments on the CDs.
M5 is back again for the third time and it is OK. Same for the remix version of Behind the Counter. They are not bad or great. They satisfy an appetite for the Fall but can't be considered sustenance. It is not even a treat. It is isn't fodder. It is just OK. Same with 15 Ways which ends the Perma-singles on the bonus CD. The drums on 15 Ways are better and but it is still suffers from lack of bedrock to build on.
Happy Holiday is a tight and produced piece of poppy pomp. The sound takes off from where the past Fall track Hey Luciani, from Bend Sinister, left off. It has that same light, elated feel and transfer. The bouncy quality gives Happy Holiday a dancey kick. All in all it is not a great track that is well performed and as some emotion backing it up. But I am not rushing out to tell my friends or can imagine desiring to hear Happy Holiday again.
The last 5 tracks on the bonus CD 2 are mainly Revolt alternate versions, mainly three different mixes of Middle Class Revolt and a mix of Surmount All Obstacles. There is also an alterna-mix of the single Happy Holiday. Happy Holiday is an enjoyable, redundant mix that gets dull but tries to experiment while keeping the production clean. It is weak and maybe it was good for an X-mas track at the clubs and some holiday radio play.
The first mix of Middle Class Revolt is dance floor ready and has a big house feel while Smith's vocals ground it in Fall-dom. The second remix is more chill room than dance floor and Smith's vocals seem alien and slapped on. The track is looooong although repetitive it is not dull. There are enough additives to keep the texture interesting. The third is more dark and industrial and doesn't really keep me interested. By the time I get to the last bonus track/mix, Surmount All Obstacles, I am done and have gotten the point.
Was it the rise to the U.K. top ten, the appearance on Top of the Pops, the rejoining of past drummer Karl Burns, was it "commercial" success that made The Fall lose their compass readings when navigating the creation of this album? Infotainment Scan, which was the introduction to this technique, had some really interesting moments where The Fall applied their mindset to a new musical trajectory. But Middle Class Revolt aka The Vapourisation of Reality has no adherent quality. Not one song calls out requiring me to hear it again, never mind a remix of it.
Every band has a clunker. The one that didn't work. This is one of The Fall's least proud moments. Maybe the vapourisation that is suggested in the alternate title stems from the band losing all sense of who they were and their reality. If you are treated like a god you may believe you are. Swim in the mainstream and maybe you realize that you are a fish out of water.
The media attention and financial success that The Fall began to garner during the period from 1993-94 threw them for a loop. How can you be a rebel when you are now sneaking into the arena of pop stardom. It doesn't fit. Infotainment Scan was an intentional move to do what others wanted them to do to popularize The Fall sound. But the band did it their way and took risks with fans and proved that they could be produced and be The Fall. On Middle Class Revolt the satire and irony are gone and what is left is a tired attempt at recapturing magic that was never there.
The Fall will transcend this moment in history.
-James Kraus, May 19, 2006