YMGTA #21 – The Infotainment Scan

“There’s a lot of fellas in this country who won’t grow up.”

Image result for the infotainment scan

Details
Recorded: Rochdale, late 1992/early 1993
Released: 26 April 1993

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Simon Wolstencroft – drums
  • Dave Bush – keyboards

Background
In November 1992, Phonogram announced abruptly that they were terminating their connection with The Fall: ‘Both parties felt the relationship had gone as far as it could, but we wish them every success in the future’1. The group had started recording their fourth album for the label at Cargo Studios in Rochdale (‘back to where we first started out’2) but in the uncertain financial climate, ‘jittery about the commercial potential of many of the bands on its roster’3, Phonogram had demanded to hear regular demos with which to monitor the group’s progress. (At the same time, they had jettisoned several other acts, including Julian Cope4).

This, inevitably, did not go down well with Smith:

I was fuckin’ haywire, me… How dare you fuckin’… The A&R guy on fuckin’ holiday in fuckin’ India or summat. So I rang that jerk and I go, We’ve given you three fuckin’ Top 30 LPs in three fuckin’ years, and this fuckin’ kid who’s fuckin’ just come out of fuckin’ business school wants fuckin’ demo tapes of The Fall! And he goes, Man, it’s the recession, mate…”5.

As the label had also reneged on its commitment to release the group’s records in America, Smith decided to cut and run. The settlement received from the label was never officially released, but it seems to have been anywhere between £20-£120k6. The group signed a deal with Permanent Records – a small label, but one that had a distribution deal with BMG. It was also run by John Lennard, a promoter whose relationship with the group dated back to 1985.

Front cover

The first product of this collaboration was the Why Are People Grudgeful? single, released on 5 April 1993. This was a cover, of sorts, being based on two different songs – People Grudgeful by Joe Gibbs and People Funny Boy by Lee Perry – although it also sounds a little like the riff from Kurious Oranj is being recycled. Reasonably light-hearted and bouncy, it does become pretty tiresome fairly quickly. After the disappointing sales of Ed’s Babe, Grudgeful reached a respectable number 43 in the charts. It was played live 33 times, the last performance coming in January 1994.

The b-sides on the different versions included Lost In Music and Glam Racket (like recent singles, alternative versions with only slight differences) and The Re-Mixer, a rather pointless and overlong techno-flavoured reworking of The Mixer.

The group also recorded two radio sessions around the time of The Infotainment Scan‘s release. Peel session 16 was recorded on 28 February 1993 and broadcast on 13 March, featuring Ladybird (Green Grass), Strychnine, Service and Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room. Two months later, they recorded Glam Racket, War, 15 Ways and A Past Gone Mad for Mark Goodier.

In The Wider World…
The week before The Infotainment Scan‘s release, the 51-day siege of the Branch Davidians’ compound in Waco, Texas came to an end. In total 76 people died, including the sect’s leader David Koresh. At the end of the month, Monica Seles was stabbed on court by a spectator whilst competing in Hamburg. In London, teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered in a racially-motivated attack. The Grand National was abandoned after two false starts.

In the singles chart, The Bluebells’ Young At Heart (which had been re-released after being used in a VW advert) was coming to the end of a four-week stay at number one. R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People was at the top of the album charts.

The Fall Live In 1992-93
The Fall gigged sporadically throughout 1992. New material began to emerge from August, when their cover of Strychnine was played at Portsmouth on the 3rd. Ladybird and I’m Going To Spain followed two months later at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall; League Of Bald-Headed Men and Paranoia Man in November; Glam-Racket at the year’s final gig at Glasgow in December.

The first gig of 1993 (and the last before Infotainment‘s release) was in Sheffield on 7 April and saw Grudgeful, It’s A Curse (possibly – the limited evidence available is inconclusive) and Lost In Music debuted. A Past Gone Mad got its first outing at the next date on May 5 in Newcastle; Service followed three days later in Liverpool. By this stage, material that would emerge on Middle Class Revolt was already starting to appear in the set: Behind The Counter (instrumental at first), 15 Ways and War were all played in May 1993.

The Set of Ten box set, released at the end of 2018, includes Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt, recorded at the group’s gig of 11 October.

Image result for Live 1993 - Batschkapp, Frankfurt

It’s a soundboard recording of generally good quality; nice and clear, if a little lacking in middle/bottom end. It’s an energetic performance, several of the songs (e.g. Ladybird and High Tension Line) being delivered at a distinctly sprightly tempo.  An instrumental version of Xanadu (as appears as part of Light/Fireworks) appears but is uncredited. The biggest point of interest is a lengthy, intense and rather sweary version of New Big Prinz in which an irritated MES appears to take someone from the audience to task at 1:21 (‘Just stop fucking around with it mate, alright?’). It’s not clear what ‘it’ is.

The Album
Despite the move to a smaller label, Infotainment achieved the group’s highest ever chart placement, reaching the heady heights of number nine in the album charts – a position they would never come close to attaining again. Smith clearly felt vindicated by his decision to leave Phonogram. In a 1993 interview, he said of the album: ‘I think that it’s the clearest thing we’ve done. You can hear everything, you know? I was pleased because we walked out of Phonogram and I thought, “Sod it. I’ll do it myself, pay for it myself.”‘

In Melody Maker, Dave Jennings commented that ‘The Infotainment Scan is the most light-hearted Fall album ever, the concentrated vitriol of the past replaced by good-humoured piss-taking.’ Keith Cameron, in the NME, said:

‘Musically. this album sees The Fall wound up a notch or ten beyond Code: Selfish… itchy techno beats and incidental burble underpin most tracks, and a palpable sense of bullish disquiet… pervades the finest moments here.’

The Songs
Ladybird (Green Grass)
A punchy, forceful opener, Ladybird‘s lyrics seem to have been at least partly inspired by that ubiquitous rock ‘n’ roll topic, the Thirty Years’ War (see here). It has a pretty straightforward structure, and is driven by a crunchy, fuzzy Scanlon riff. It’s one of a long line of Fall songs to reference insects, other examples being Neighbourhood Of Infinity, Free Range/So-Called Dangerous, Two Librans and Idiot Joy Showland.

The song opens with a potent drum/bass combination, the guitar not joining in until MES also does so. According to Gladys Winthorpe’s Emporium Of Particularly Underacknowledged Fall Compositions (quoted on the Reformation A-Z), this was also the case when it was played live:

‘During live gigs around this period, Craig did the same thing – i.e. didn’t start playing until MES’s vocals started – perhaps he was ordered to do it this way. This led to comical occurrences when MES was in full-on “do anything but sing” mode, and on more than one occasion, Craig would have to stand patiently for a couple of minutes waiting to start playing whilst MES wrestled with microphone stands, rifled through lyric sheets, looked for missing microphones, wandered off for a ciggy, etc.’

Ladybird was a frequent feature of setlists at the time, being played 64 times, but its last outing was in 1994.

Lost In Music
When the group were asked to contribute to the NME‘s charity compilation Ruby Trax, this was the other song that was in the running before they decided on Legend of Xanadu. Possibly the ultimate Fall ‘crossover’ song, it has probably been included on thousands of mix-tapes/compilation CDs by Fall fans trying to introduce non-believers into the wonderful and frightening world gently. The collision of Rodgers and Edwards’ slinky funk and The Fall’s angular dissonance makes for an intriguing mix, and whilst it does sound a little dated these days, there’s something undoubtedly endearing about it. A popular live choice 93-94, with 42 outings, but no later revivals.

Glam-Racket
Among the most aptly named of all Fall songs. Not for the first time, the group adopt a Glitter Band type stomp, and the whole thing bustles along with a fizzing energy. Whilst the main structure of the song is made up of a pretty traditional (if thumpingly assertive) four-chord structure, MES counters this with a largely melody-free series of declamations. His targets aren’t always clear, but there’s a clearly (and entertainingly) disparaging tone throughout. For example, ‘You post out sixty-page computer printouts on the end of forests’ seems to echo Smith’s comments regarding Sting from a 1991 Select interview:

‘What made me laugh was Sting’s concept album. It had a book in it about how hard it was for him to write the LP, and how concerned he was about the rain forest on 20 pages of this expensive quality paper made out of loads of trees.’

The lines ‘You are bequeathed in suede / you are entrenched in suede’ led many to believe that this was a reference to Brett Anderson and co. (given that they had supported The Fall in 1992 and demonstrated distinctly glam influences). However, in a 1993 Melody Maker interview, MES stated: ‘if you’ve got a job in the media, say in videos, you wear suede shoes and a suede jacket. They all do. The song has got fuck all to do with the group Suede, and they shouldn’t flatter themselves to think it is’.

Whoever/whatever it’s about, it’s a particularly joyful tune; one that pulls together a whole heap of influences and squeezes them into a bouncing, effervescent yet cynical tour de force. Not surprisingly, it had a relatively long live shelf-life – 79 outings 1992-97.

I’m Going To Spain
A track where the back-story is far more interesting than the song itself. Steve Bent was an actor who appeared on a variety of British soaps, including Crossroads, Coronation Street and Eastenders. In 1976, he appeared on the talent show New Faces, performing I’m Going To Spain, which described his desire to emigrate and escape from his boring factory job. The song (which included such memorable lines as, ‘The factory presented me with some tapes of Elton John / They packed me up some sandwiches / And I hate them, yes I hate the cheese and pickle’) would later appear on the Kenny Everett-compiled The World’s Worst Record Show.

All of this is entertaining and interesting enough. However, when listening to the actual song, the joke wears thin very quickly. As a b-side, it might just about have been forgivable, but listening to MES groping for the already vapid and vague melody is painful, and overall it is basically just a throwaway cover of a crap song. Remarkably, it was played live 44 times; most were 1992-97, but it did reappear: three times in 2000, once in 2003 (described here) and a final outing in 2010.

It’s A Curse
Taut and focused: the guitar sound is full and heavy on the distortion, but the choppy style makes it distinct and powerful. The synth parts blend in well, augmenting rather than distracting. MES has plenty of space to breathe here, and delivers a clear and carefully-timed performance, sounding world-weary and witheringly disdainful.

There are several lyrical highlights here: the incongruous use of ‘forsooth’, ‘by gad’ and ‘verily’; the spitting enunciation of ‘mindfuck’; and there aren’t many MES lines better than, ‘I do not like your tone, it has ephemeral whinging aspects.’

Notably, the song references ‘look back bores’ – a phrase philosophically crucial to the group’s (or Smith’s, at least) commitment to disparaging the negative effect of excessive nostalgia. It’s the first of three songs on the album to use Spangles as shorthand for this kind of lazy sentimentality.

The line ‘trying to get over’ is lifted from Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly (1:36). It was only played six (maybe seven – see above) times, all in 1993.

Paranoia Man In Cheap Sh*t Room
A driving, intense and urgent depiction of the desperation of the male mid-life crisis (‘When girls pass, puts head down, in the street’); there’s an impressively oppressive and anxious atmosphere throughout.

Smith may well have been inspired (not for the first time) by an episode of The Twilight Zone: Nervous Man in a 4 Dollar Room is about a small-time crook who gets embroiled in an argument with his own reflection in a hotel mirror. Spangles get another mention.

Paranoia was played played 17 times, 1992-95. It’s a track that captures exactly what it’s going for – anxiety, paranoia, intensity – exceptionally well.

Service
A dip in the album’s momentum, Service deploys a lethargic house-style piano motif that is distinctly sluggish and uninspiring. The fact that it bears a (very) passing resemblance to The Smith’s Oscillate Wildly is the second most interesting thing you can say about it.

The most interesting fact is that the lyrics contain the word ‘wolverine’ – also mentioned in Arid Al’s Dream, Bury, Session Musician and Clasp Hands.

It was only played 10 times, all in 1993.

The League Of Bald-Headed Men
Driven by a distorted, insistent guitar riff that threatens to break out into some more expansive thrash in places (e.g. at 1:28 and just before the three minute mark), the guitar part also bears a passing resemblance to Led Zeppelin’s Misty Mountain Hop. Like several other songs on the album, it seems to address the ageing nature of the group’s fanbase (see Ben Pritchard’s comments).

The rhythm section, however, plods along in a slightly pedestrian fashion, and while MES works hard to inject a bit of energy into the proceedings, he sounds a bit swamped by everything else going on. A solid enough tune, but there’s something just a little lumpen about it that disappoints to a certain extent.

The title might have been inspired by Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Red-Headed League (which, in Japanese, was translated as The Bald-Headed League). It was played 32 (possibly 33) times 1992-94.

A Past Gone Mad
With yet another reference to Spangles, Past is a further dig at nostalgia; in an interview with Select, MES expanded on his disdain for ‘look back bores’ –

‘There’s a lot of fellas in this country who won’t grow up…”A Past Gone Mad” is like, you turn on the telly or listen to the radio and it’s all ’60s music or ’70s music. And they go, It’s because they don’t make the tunes the same anymore… people in charge want to wallow in their past… really good groups just got an LP out get three lines, and then you get three pages on who Yes’ drummers were.’

This challenge to complacent nostalgia strikes its target with force, aided by the use of a sharp drum and bass rhythm (which the group wouldn’t return to until Levitate) that provides an urgent aggression – also matched by the sneering vocal. The contrast between the frantic electronica and the sweeping, epic guitar line is carefully balanced; MES’s lethargic, cynical drawl sits on top of it all with casual indifference. The track also includes a particularly striking line: ‘If I ever end up like Ian McShane slit my throat with a kitchen tool.’ Played 49 times, 1993-2000.

Light/Fireworks
One of the by now growing list of experimental / piss-take / filler tracks that tend to be rather divisive, there’s just about enough invention here to warrant its existence. It gives the impression of being the off-cuts from 5 or 6 different abandoned songs casually stitched together, but overall it’s the sort of thing that you’ll like if you like this sort of thing.

Why Are People Grudgeful?
See above.

League Moon Monkey Mix
A tiresomely quirky electro-remix of The League Of Bald-Headed Men; it sucks the life out of the song rather than adding anything of substance.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
Like the previous few albums, Infotainment received a double CD reissue, this one coming in 2006. The bonus disc contained the two radio sessions mentioned above, plus the tracks from the Grudgeful single. It also featured an assortment of outtakes, demos and alternative versions, most of which are pleasant enough if far from essential. There’s no real need for three more versions of Lost In Music – although, to be fair, Mix 14 is an interestingly woozy and spacey take on the song. The shambolic, folky Instrumental Outtake is also slightly intriguing, if oddly awkward and ham-fisted.

Overall Verdict
The Infotainment Scan is sometimes seen as a return to form, and it’s easy to understand this assessment. After the arguably patchy indie/dance crossover approach of Shift-Work and Code: Selfish (both of which undoubtedly still had strong moments), there’s a sense of renewed strength and independence about Infotainment. Whilst it’s true that not everything works, there’s a refreshing brashness and vigour that runs through the album. Despite its occasional mis-steps, there’s a sense of the group wrestling back control of its destiny and its essence. There’s a great deal more tension, more taught arrangements, more clearly expressed sentiments here than at any time since the 80s. And in particular, Smith seems to have a lot more to say (and many interesting ways of saying it) than he had done for a while.

The group’s (well, Smith’s) firmly espoused position regarding the negative influence of nostalgia and ‘look-back-bore’-ism finds its voice here;  it would define much of what MES would do and say thereafter.

My “Version”
Side 1: Ladybird / Lost In Music / Glam-Racket / It’s A Curse / Light/Fireworks (20:18)

Side 2: A Past Gone Mad / Paranoia Man in a Cheap Sh*t Room / The League of Bald-Headed Men / Strychnine / Lost In Music (mix 14) (20:26)

Rankings
The Infotainment Scan is more consistent and has more high-points than the 90s albums that preceded it; it falls slightly short, however of the skewed invention of Oranj. This puts it into close contention with Room To Live. It’s an interesting contrast: whereas RTL  was a deliberate departure, a knowing step away from its predecessor, Infotainment feels more like it is refining and strengthening what (recently) went before. The latter has the higher proportion (just) of tracks that don’t quite hit the mark, so the nod goes to RTL in a photo finish.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Perverted By Language
  3. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  4. Hex Enduction Hour
  5. Slates
  6. Grotesque
  7. I Am Kurious Oranj
  8. Room To Live
  9. The Infotainment Scan
  10. Extricate
  11. Bend Sinister
  12. Dragnet
  13. Code: Selfish
  14. Shift-Work
  15. Live At The Witch Trials
  16. The Frenz Experiment

With the singles, Grudgeful is a pleasant enough but relatively disposable entry:

  1. Living Too Late
  2. Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
  3. Kicker Conspiracy
  4. The Man Whose Head Expanded
  5. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
  6. Totally Wired
  7. Free Range
  8. Marquis Cha-Cha
  9. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  10. Cab It Up
  11. Cruiser’s Creek
  12. Hey! Luciani
  13. Mr. Pharmacist
  14. Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
  15. Look, Know
  16. Telephone Thing
  17. There’s A Ghost In My House
  18. Victoria
  19. Hit The North
  20. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  21. Rowche Rumble
  22. Fiery Jack
  23. Ed’s Babe
  24. High Tension Line
  25. It’s The New Thing
  26. White Lightning
  27. Popcorn Double Feature
  28. Why Are People Grudgeful?
  29. Oh! Brother
  30. c.r.e.e.p.

Live albums: Frankfurt 93 is a solid if unspectacular entry, but is definitely worth owning:

  1. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  2. In A Hole
  3. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  4. Nottingham ’92
  5. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  6. Totale’s Turns
  7. Live In Cambridge 1988
  8. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  9. LIVE 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  10. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  11. Live 1977
  12. Seminal Live
  13. Live In Zagreb
  14. Austurbaejarbio
  15. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  16. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  17. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  18. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  19. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  20. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  21. Liverpool 78
  22. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  23. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  24. Live At Deeply Vale

References

1Ford, p217

2The Big Midweek, p350

3Ford, p217

4Thompson, p130

5Select, May 1993

6Ford, p218

5 thoughts on “YMGTA #21 – The Infotainment Scan

  1. I think it’s worth noting that the new relationship with Permanent also meant a new American label, and the first stateside release since Extricate. It was only after Infotainment came out that I heard there were two albums before it! Matador was an excellent label to be on at the time, but ironically, they became label mates with Pavement.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Why Are People Grudgeful? also incorporates Gold & Silver by Toots & the Maytals. Oddly though, Toots’ original lyric “All over this world/desolate, desolate” is changed to “All over this world/different, different…” which isn’t nearly as powerful.

    Like

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