Last week’s post took us up to August 1994 and the expansion of The Fall to seven members, consisting of Mark E Smith, Craig Scanlon, Steve Hanley, Simon Wolstencroft, Dave Bush, Karl Burns and Brix Smith, all of whom had either been a constant or frequent member of the band over many years, a good portion of which, particularly in the previous decade, had threatened to make them a commercial only for MES to continually thwart things.
The next few years proved to be a crazy period. Band members came and went at a ridiculous rate. The live shows all too often bordered on the shambolic. Financial troubles saw far too many poor quality releases issued in an attempt to generate income. The lowest point may well have been when MES found himself locked up after a post-show fight in New York in 1998. But, just as you thought these various implosions had to mean the end, The Fall always somehow seemed to find a way back to win back the hearts and minds.
It’s actually quite difficult to make sense of it all. There are conflicting accounts depending on whose book you read. I’m inclined to put my faith in Steve Hanley whose The Big Midweek – Life Inside The Fall (2013) is an informative and entertaining read, one in which he is regularly as hard on himself as anyone else. Brix’s tome, The Rise, The Fall and The Rise (2016) is a bit flighty in places and very prone to portraying MES in the worst possible light, which in many cases might well be nearest the truth. MES didn’t get round to penning his own memoirs, and the best out there is the ghostwritten Renegade (2008), but one which feels as if it should be taken with a pinch of salt.
From this point on, I’m going to just give the facts behind each single, such as date of release, who played on it, chart success etc, rather than go into any of my own thoughts and views. This is, in the main, due to being quite unfamiliar with most of the songs, only picking them up via later compilations or, in the very late years, looking to fish them out simply for this series.
The new line-up of The Fall released the album Cerebral Caustic in February 1995, again on Permanent Records. No singles were lifted from it, but whether that was down to MES or the record label I’m unable to say. The album certainly got a bit of a mauling in many parts of the music press, with perhaps too many feeling let-down that the return of Brix to the band hadn’t seen a return to the more pop-orientated tunes of the Fontana era. The album turned out to be the end of The Fall’s relationship with Permanent.
It also saw Dave Bush sacked after five years with The Fall. It had been a period in which the keyboards had been an increasing part of the band’s sound, but they were largely missing from Cerebral Caustic, which gave MES the ideal opportunity to elbow him out.
It didn’t, however, mean that keyboards were out altogether, as Julia Nagle was brought in as his replacement. Her first contribution to a Fall record came via a single released in February 1996.
mp3: The Fall – The Chiselers
mp3: The Fall – Chilinist
mp3: The Fall – Interlude-Chilinism
All three tracks are a variation on one tune. It seemingly took an eternity to record in the studio. It was issued on 7″, CD and cassette on Jet Records, a label that I have long associated with Electric Light Orchestra. I actually thought it might have been a different label altogether, but it seems not. As it turned out, the label would issue just this single and the subsequent album, The Light User Syndrome, released in October 1996. The Chiselers reached #60 in the singles chart.
Oh, and is if to illustrate the sort of chaos I was referring to earlier, Craig Scanlon, who been with The Fall as lead guitarist since 1979, was sacked from the band in November 1995. He had played on The Chiselers in the studio, but MES decided to wipe out his contribution prior to the final mix. For someone who had writing credits on more than 120 songs by The Fall, it was a sad and inglorious ending. MES did subsequently say that he regretted his actions, suggesting that his own increasing dependence on alcohol had very much clouded his judgement.