YMGTA #22 – Middle Class Revolt

“Get me a bottle of Pils and I’II be there in a minute.”

Image result for fall middle class revolt

Details
Recorded: Rochdale/Wrexham late 1993/early 1994
Released: 3 May 1994

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Craig Scanlon – guitar, spoken vocal on Symbol Of Mordgan
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Simon Wolstencroft – drums
  • Dave Bush – keyboards
  • Karl Burns – drums, guitar, vocals, kazoo

Background
To the surprise of most involved with the group, The Fall’s May 1993 UK tour saw the return of Karl Burns. Less surprisingly, Wolstencroft was less than impressed (‘I didn’t like the sound of this at all’1), echoing Paul Hanley’s concerns back in 1981. Burns had been hired to provide ‘percussion’ on the tour, rather than as an extra drummer, but Steve Hanley was also not entirely enthusiastic about his old comrade’s return:

‘What do we need a percussionist for when Si’s our drummer and Dave’s got enough effects to make it sound like a hundred people are playing percussion?’2

Hanley was also sceptical about the circumstances leading to Burns’ re-recruitment, which Smith had claimed resulted from a chance encounter in Prestwich, the bassist feeling that MES’s motivation was more that he ‘could do with an ally’3. If Burns really had only been hired for extra percussion, Simon Wolstencroft was determined to keep it that way: ‘It is very difficult for two people to drive the band without being telepathic. We weren’t, and I wanted to drive.’4 Burns was relegated to playing an Octopad, which he described as ‘a f*cking Dalek’s handbag’5. Hanley was not convinced that this added a great deal to the group’s sound, describing the new percussionist’s contributions as ‘a range of electronic drum sounds a clockwork monkey could produce’6. Burns seemed determined to secure a more substantial role, gradually increasing the amount of kit he had with him on stage. He was successful, at least in the short term: ‘Come July, Karl is infiltrating our cosy songwriting sessions. By August, he’s coming to America’7.

Hanley and Scanlon, New York 20/8/93 (photo by Dean Walcott)

The American tour in the summer of 1993 was a gruelling one, involving greater distances than any of the group’s previous excursions to the States – twenty dates in a month, and in excess of 9000 miles’ travel. By now, Burns had got his wish, and there were two full drum kits on stage. According to Steve Hanley, however, this double-drummer line-up was not recapturing the magic of the early 80s: ‘more competition than complement. They’re not gelling, they’re working against each other’8. This problem was soon solved, Burns being sacked after the eighth gig of the tour in Chicago on 28 August for causing damage to his hotel room and leaving Smith to foot the bill.

The funding for the tour was provided by Matador records, who had released The Infotainment Scan in the USA. Matador (who had recently gone into partnership with Atlantic) had only been set up in 1989, but had a big hit in 1992 with Pavement’s heavily Fall-influenced debut Slanted And Enchanted. Smith, of course, was famously disparaging of Stephen Malkmus and co. In a December 1993 Melody Maker interview, he said:

‘They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I don’t hold with that. I feel sorry for them, actually. I don’t get mad, I just can’t see the point of forming a group if you’re imitating someone else, it’s like, get a life, man. Get a real job!’

After the gig at the Roxy in Hollywood on 7 September, The Fall received a visit from an even more famous figure from the contemporary US music scene. Kurt Cobain, accompanied by Courtney Love, asked to join the group on their tour bus. It’s not clear who turned them down – Steve Hanley says it was him; Simon Wolstencroft says it was MES – but it’s possible that Cobain was intending to offer The Fall some support slots on Nirvana’s planned European tour in 1994. Smith offered his thoughts on the incident and the American grunge scene in a February 1994 NME interview:

‘…all those American bands, Pearl Jam and Nirvana are dead into The Fall. Nirvana tried to get into our bus, Courtney whatshername, the actress, tried it and we pushed her off. …they’re nothing more than glorified longhair guitar salesmen, y’know. Fucking idiots playing pub rock. Aye, pub rock, that’s what it is. If they were English you wouldn’t put up with it.’

Throughout 1993, as the group played their way across the UK, America and Europe, the main talking point about the group was becoming not the line-up or the music, but Smith’s increasingly erratic and difficult behaviour. Not that this was an overnight personality change for him, of course, but the unpredictability seemed to have increased substantially, as had the frequency of the incidents both on and off stage. During the 28 August gig in Chicago, he smashed up Dave Bush’s keyboards (apparently not feeling it was at all hypocritical to then dismiss Burns for his misdemeanours later that same night). A tour manager walked out after Smith threw a pint glass at his head; Dave Bush had hot tea thrown over him as he slept; Wolstencroft was hit in the back of the head by a beer bottle thrown by the irate singer. According to the drummer, ‘Mark’s disdain for people was becoming worse. He drank more and charmed less.’9

Smith’s behaviour wasn’t just alienating many of the people he worked with; it was starting to have a noticeable effect on the quality of the music. His on-stage antics, such as stopping and starting songs, frequently wandering off stage and berating the band mid-set led Steve Hanley to comment that, ‘each night involves struggle in some form or other’10.

This had not gone unnoticed by the music press. For example, Chris Roberts’ review of the group’s May 7 Manchester performance in Melody Maker noted that Smith spoiled their rendition of Lost In Music because he didn’t ‘even bother to recite the words, just sort of mumbles whatever here and there if anywhere, and deliberately neutralises the song’s dance dynamic… because of this wilful perversity, this Fall show isn’t as inspiring as it should be.’ He went on to describe Smith’s behaviour as ‘dated, dreary and undignified’. After a London gig in October, Johnny Cigarettes described MES as a man who had ‘started to believe his own press’ and accused the group of having ‘settled into a terminally workmanlike R&B rumble, with the dynamics and spark removed’11. The same journalist, a few months later, described Smith shoving an NME photographer and tipping a bag of expensive equipment over his head – ‘The gig that follows is a rambling, disinterested [sic] splatter through the set. Mark is obviously rat-arsed far beyond the call of duty’.

Front cover 1

The year did close relatively positively, however, with yet another Peel session and the release of a new single. Session number 17, recorded in December, saw the group run through four songs from the forthcoming album: M5, Behind The Counter, Reckoning and Hey! Student

The Behind The Counter single, was released over two weeks in December and featured four different formats (two CD singles and two 12″s). Of the five different songs that appeared on the various versions, three (the lead song, War and M5) would appear on Middle Class Revolt, albeit – as was becoming customary – in the form of slightly different edits/mixes. A not especially notable remix of Behind The Counter also featured on two of the formats.

Cab Driver was to be reworked as City Dweller on the album. This earlier version is more sparse, woozy and much looser in structure than the album take. The vocals, such as they are, mainly consist of multi-tracked samples of MES and others muttering unintelligibly a fair way back in the mix. The only distinguishable bit is the rather disturbing growling whisper: ‘He’s in there now, man: he’s listening right to us, I know he is.’

Happy Holiday is the only song that’s unique to the single(s). A disconcertingly jolly and jangly piece, it’s saved from being too bland and lightweight by some gently discordant sections and a series of rather odd vocal interjections, especially a Scottish-accented voice (possibly Burns) that extols the virtues of lamb, chicken and feta cheese. It was played live six times in 1993-94, although one was an instrumental and another lasted less than a minute.

Despite the use of all the different versions for promotion, Behind The Counter only reached number 75 in the singles chart.

Behind The Counter had been recorded at Suite 16 in Rochdale. In early 1994, the group started to record more material at The Windings in Wrexham. This, according to Simon Wolstencroft, was news to him, only learning that the sessions had started when told over the phone by Steve Hanley’s wife Heather. He arrived to find the reinstated Karl Burns on the drum stool, the group having already recorded Hey! Student12. Smith, of course, had plenty of form for this type of behaviour, and Wolstencroft can be forgiven for thinking he was being pushed out. It’s perhaps surprising (and certainly a testament to the drummer’s tenacity and fortitude) therefore, that not only was he still credited on the sleeve of Middle Class Revolt, but he was to last for another three years and three more albums.

Image result for inspiral carpets i want you

A couple of months before Middle Class Revolt‘s release, Smith made his one and only appearance on Top Of The Pops: not with The Fall, but with The Inspiral Carpets. Their single, I Want You, peaked at number 18 in the charts in March 1994; the group and MES appeared on the show on the third of the month.

Arguably the Oldham band’s best single, I Want You was a thundering blast of Madchester-flavoured 60s garage punk, which was well suited by Smith’s inimitable distorted contributions. The band and guest singer were interviewed together by Melody Maker in February. The band, all Fall fans, had contacted Smith, fully expecting to be told to ‘f*ck off’, but his response was, apparently: ‘Get me a bottle of Pils and I’II be there in a minute.’

In the interview, Smith was at pains to explain that ‘he wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing’, rather hypocritically stating that he was ‘very down on working with other people,’ considering it to be ‘f*cking phoney’. He then goes on to list a series of famous names that he claimed had asked for his collaboration, including David Bowie, Lou Reed, Boy George, John Cale, The Blow Monkeys (!) and Dinosaur Jr.

The TOTP performance was sandwiched between a Michael Bolton video and Morrissey’s The More You Ignore Me The Closer I Get. Smith, clad in black leather, doesn’t look entirely comfortable to begin with, almost as if he doesn’t know where to place himself; unused, perhaps, to sharing the stage with another front man. He soon warms up though, even performing a little dance (of sorts) at 1:50. Inspirals singer Tom Hingley keeps his eyes glued to the front, seemingly having to concentrate hard in order not to be put off by Smith’s melodic waywardness when they sustain the final note in the title refrain together. Not for the first (or last) time, MES avails himself (50 seconds in) of a written reminder of the lyrics, just as he had done in the official video. Entertainingly, he was later to be castigated for this by the young viewers of Saturday morning’s Live And Kicking.

Front cover

The second and final single taken from Middle Class Revolt was released a few weeks before the album. As was the case with previous singles, 15 Ways was a (very slightly) different edit from the album version. The two b-sides, Hey! Student and The $500 Bottle Of Wine would both appear on the album. The promotional device this time was a 10″ version on clear vinyl; as was the case with its predecessor, the promotion made little impact, 15 Ways only managing ten places higher than Behind The Counter by reaching number 65.

In The Wider World…
In the week of the album’s release, Ayrton Senna was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix, the Channel Tunnel was officially opened and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of South Africa. In the same week, British police found human remains buried at the house of Fred and Rosemary West. The following month, Nicole Simpson (ex-wife of American football star O. J. Simpson) and her friend Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death in Los Angeles; four days later, Simpson was involved in a low-speed pursuit that was watched live by an estimated 95 million people.

In the UK singles charts, Prince’s The Most Beautiful Girl In The World was at number one. A few weeks later, Wet Wet Wet’s cover of The Troggs’ Love Is All Around began its 15-week (it felt like longer, I seem to remember) stay at the top, a feat only surpassed by Bryan Adams’ 1991 hit (Everything I Do) I Do It for You. In the album charts, Pink Floyd’s dreary The Division Bell was in the last of its four weeks at number one; it was succeeded by Blur’s Parklife.

The Fall Live In 1993-94
As noted in the previous postMCR material had started to appear in the group’s May 1993 UK tour.  The Fall toured America in August and September of that year (M5 was debuted at the first of these gigs in Philadelphia on August 19) and then played eight European dates in October.

Returning to the UK, the group played 10 dates to round off 1993. Happy Holiday was played for the first time (as an instrumental) in London on October 19; Cab Driver on 6 December (in Manchester); The Reckoning on the 27th (again in Manchester). They finished off the year with a one-off performance in Portugal.

There were a further six dates of the tour in January 1994; Hey! Student was debuted on the first of these, at Liverpool on 20 January. At the last gig before Middle Class Revolt‘s release – at Shepherd’s Bush on 29 April – Surmount All ObstaclesYou’re Not Up To Much and the album’s title track were played for the first time.

Following the album’s release, The Fall played a further 35 gigs in 1994, which included 15 North American shows in September. One of the UK dates was released recently as part of the Set Of TenLive at the Assembly Rooms, Derby 1994. I have to confess that I don’t own and haven’t heard this one. The reviews on Amazon suggest that it’s an audience bootleg that’s not great in terms of sound quality.

The Album
Middle Class Revolt (subtitled The Vaporisation of Reality) was the fourth consecutive album to feature the artwork of Pascal Le Gras. Like The Infotainment Scan, it was released in the US on Matador.

The group themselves – some of them, at least – did not rate it highly. In his book, Steve Hanley devotes only a single, non-committal sentence to it. Simon Wolstencroft thought it ‘a botched job’. Reflecting on  Smith’s Top Of The Pops performance, he said: ‘Typical, I thought, we had this sh*t album and Mark was lending his hand to a more commercial sound for another band.’13 Brix, who would return the following year to join the tour supporting the album, called it ‘tepid’ and ‘the nadir of the canon’14.

Dave Bush wasn’t keen either:

‘I wasn’t happy with Middle Class Revolt because I had a smaller role and I never really listen to it now. We recorded the album in a week and we’d done no prior writing for it. We just went in and made it up in the studio. That was amazing really, even though it was a sh*t album.’15

The music press received the album in a sympathetic if lukewarm fashion. In the NME, Ian McCann awarded it 7/10 (although he qualified this by saying that this was ‘by The Fall’s standards’, and that it would be 8/10 ‘by everyone else’s’). He noted that there were ‘signs that The Fall are pulling away from the techno-influenced looping of their two most recent albums’, which would doubtless have had Dave Bush nodding ruefully. He went on to say that, ‘within the endless list of Fall albums it makes sense’, which almost suggests a sense of nostalgia and tradition; and it was undercut by his admission that, ‘On its own, Middle Class Revolt is nothing special: we’ve been here before’.

Reviews were also mixed across the Atlantic. The Boston Globe commented that, ‘enough caustic barbs and wry witticisms snake through the dense mix to provide cerebral fun for those who like to carp along. Smith’s vocals are surrounded by this expansive spread of crazy sound – grinding guitars, floating keys, relentless rhythms, giddy pop hooks, pounding percussion.’ The Washington Post, however, felt that although Behind the Counter and Junk Man did ‘achieve the band’s characteristic clanking shuffle’, overall the album was ‘unusually smooth’ and that it was ‘counterproductive to polish up the Fall’s rant ‘n’ roll with clean keyboard riffs and a mild-mannered mix’.

It was also notable that all of the songs bar the covers were credited to ‘Smith / Scanlon / Hanley’, which seems unlikely. Wolstencroft, for example, claimed that he had a hand in writing the title track and City Dweller; it seems highly probable that he and Bush deserved a few co-writing credits here or there.

After the top ten placing of its predecessor, Middle Class Revolt only managed a rather mediocre number 48 in the album charts, the group’s lowest placing since I Am Kurious Oranj six years earlier. It was, however, an achievement that was only to be bettered by four of their remaining fifteen albums.

The Songs
15 Ways
The opening serves as rather a misleading tease, giving us twenty or seconds of Dave Bush-style lo-fi indie-techno crossover that suggests continuity from the ‘dancier’ elements of the previous three albums. But then the actual song lumbers into view, and lo and behold it’s a pretty straightforward indie-jangle-strum with a conventional verse-chorus structure. It has echoes of R.E.M. and even the dreaded Pavement. Smith’s vocal is fairly straight too, an earnest if slurred attempt to follow a recognisable melody.

Lyrically, its obvious reference points are twofold: as well as those superficial ‘analyse your life/relationship’ quizzes in Cosmopolitan et al, it also seems to parody Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. Its weary ennui may also reflect the beginnings of the deterioration in Smith and Saffron Prior’s relationship, which would end by the start of the following year. The Annotated Fall also suggests that there may be a link with Smith’s alleged fling with Lori Kramer of The Pendulum Floors and Paper Squares

It’s a solid opener: the sort of song that very few actively dislike, but rarely (if ever) features in anyone’s top ten. It was played live 43 times 1993-97; it got two further revivals – six on the 2004 US tour and four more in 2013.

The Reckoning
First played as part of the December 1993 Peel session, the track had gained a definite article by the time it appeared on the album. The opening line, ‘I phoned you up from Dallas’ (which was originally rendered on the Peel session as ‘I followed you from Dallas’) seems to have been inspired by the country song My Elusive Dreams. The ‘wandering’ tone of the lyrics (‘I’m left alone in Europe, consulting an atlas’) certainly seems to echo the sentiments of the C&W standard – ‘You had my child in Memphis, then I heard of work in Nashville / But we didn’t find it there so we moved on to a small farm in Nebraska, to a gold mine in Alaska / We didn’t find it there so we moved on’. The line, ‘you’re sleeping with some hippie half-wit, who thinks he’s Mr. Mark Smith’ is a particularly intriguing one, although its meaning/reference point is not entirely clear.

Introduced by a plaintive Scanlon arpeggio (again, quite R.E.M.-ish), The Reckoning has an affectingly melancholy and bittersweet atmosphere. Smith’s vocals are laid-back, almost lazy, but have a certain understated bite to them. His oddly off-beat timing and phrasing give the whole thing a woozy, fuzzy tone which suits well the whole ‘sat at the end of the bar after closing time’ vibe. Scanlon also contributes some nicely restrained layers of distorted fuzz (from 2:13) that gives the whole song a warm, mellow and reflective feel. 

A rather unfairly disregarded little gem, it was played 24 times, all in 1993-94.

Behind The Counter
A burst of energy to pick up the pace, it’s obvious why this was chosen as the lead single for the album. It has a swaggering, loose-limbed energy – reinforced by the regular staccato sections – that make it buzz with momentum. The Ibiza rave-style whistling, however, is rather irritating.

The lyric might be written from the point of view of ‘a lowly shop worker’16 (‘I’m getting thin / From waiting on’), but it’s too opaque to sustain much in the way of a firm analysis. Smith’s aside towards the end – ‘chill it, boy’ – is certainly a little moment worth treasuring though.

One of the most long-standing songs in terms of live performances, it was played 123 times between 1993 and 2003.

M5#1
Like Reckoning, this track underwent a slight title change between its single and album appearance, gaining a ‘#1’. Whether this is just a way of distinguishing the earlier from the later version, or whether it is a reference to junction 1 on the M5 motorway is anyone’s guess. There’s something going on here about the contrast between urban and rural life (‘It’s an evil roundabout that leads to the haywain / and you’ll never see good trains again’) but once again it’s challenging to work out exactly what. It does, however, seem that MES equates ‘crusty brown bread’ with life out in the country.

It’s a driving, forceful track, which fits well with the motorway motif, although the production here is particularly messy; it feels like everything is thrown together aimlessly and is, like much of the album, rather muddy. It was a popular live choice at the time, played 86 times 1993-97.

Surmount All Obstacles
Another track that has a notably muddy sound, but in this case it rather suits the intense and oppressive nature of the track. There’s not much of an actual song here; it’s more of a groove that MES growls over enigmatically (‘You must retreat into mysticism to find an origination’). Like much of the album, there’s a certain unrehearsed/undeveloped feeling, but its belligerent strangeness helps the track to get away with it.

It was only played live 11 times, all in 1994 (although it was used a taped intro in 1998).

Middle Class Revolt!
Like much of the album, there’s a sense with the title track of the group moving away from the indie-dance-rock crossover sound of the early 90s towards a more straightforwardly indie-guitar approach, although it still retains a fairly substantial emphasis on Dave Bush’s synths and sequencing.

The sound is quite dense, featuring layers of guitar and keyboard and very busy percussion. The melody is a little simple, obvious and repetitive, and MES sounds rather lethargic. As a result, the whole thing is a touch stodgy and sluggish, which doesn’t really suit or support Smith’s attempt to pick apart the pretensions of the middle class (for example mocking the foodie/nouvelle cuisine obsession – ‘Exhumes the cooked pigeon / his words indignant because it was cooked wrong’).

It’s uninspiring rather than unpleasant; one of those that certainly could have been much better. Simon Wolstencroft hated it, bemoaning the fact that the group ‘hadn’t learned it properly’ but were instructed by Smith to ‘just get on with it’17.

It was played live 22 times, all in 1994-95.

War
A cover version (of a Henry Cow / Slapp Happy song) constructed from Smith’s memory because the original wasn’t to be found at the time. As a result, it bears little resemblance to the original, but it’s still a strident, aggressive piece, featuring some disturbing chanting, underlying distortion and a guitar line that’s distinctly reminiscent of Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach.

You’re Not Up To Much
There’s something hypnotic and determined about this track; a simple, looping guitar figure (with the distinctive jangle/chorus/light distortion sound that’s prevalent throughout the album) drives it relentlessly; and there’s something at once uplifting and melancholy about the chord changes (e.g. at 0:33) where MES strains to get to grips with the melody. The mix of varying layers of backing vocals underneath Smith’s unadorned and laconic drawl is also nicely judged.

It’s a gently bitter lyric; the references to the fashion industry – ‘Too much Warehouse shop / Too many fancy hats / Clothes imitation’ suggest that it could be about Brix. She later commented that ‘two songs [on MCR] were clearly about me’18; if that was true then this would seem to be one of the likeliest candidates.

It was only played live 11 times, all in 1994.

 

Symbol Of Mordgan
It starts off interestingly enough, with some ‘flicking through the radio frequencies’ randomness. Thereafter, the majority of what we get is a faint and tinny rendition of some fairly mundane surf-rock style instrumental overlaid with a mundane football-related conversation between Craig Scanlon and John Peel. A few random cuts and reverse-play sections don’t really liven things up much. It commits the cardinal sin of making the late great John Peel seem boring.

If you’re struggling to get to sleep, there’s a transcript of the conversation here.

Hey! Student
It has an undoubtedly exuberant rickety energy about it, but it’s still The Fall re-hashing an old (very old by their standards) tune. That said, a Melody Maker interview from 1977 suggests that it was actually Hey! Student before it was Hey! Fascist.

MES occasionally identified some pretty soft targets (cf A Lot Of Wind) and this is very much a case in point. Castigating students – who to some extent must still have made up much of the group’s audience – for having long hair and wearing ‘sneakers’ (an oddly jarring Americanism coming from Smith) just feels rather childishly petulant.

He expanded on his views regarding students in a December 1993 NME interview:

‘It’s just the rate of their proliferation that scares me. Have you seen how many people have gone back to school now? Dead weird, innit? It just keeps the unemployment figures down and produces millions of half-educated old coots. I’ve got nothing against students as such, it’s just when you get old mates using words like ‘constructively’ and ‘comprehensively’… It’s all a fiddle to make us think they’ve cracked unemployment, the stupid bastards. There’s nothing worse than a half-educated man. Never forget that.’

Hanley and Scanlon in particular throw as much energy into it as they can, but it still feels like that rare thing: The Fall looking to the past. It’s hard to disagree with Simon Wolstencroft: ‘It felt like a step backward, musically’19.

It was played live 26 times 1994-97, and was revisited eight times in 2000.

Junk Man
The album’s second cover version, a take on The Groundhogs’ track Junkman from their 1971 album Split. How well you got on with this will depend on your feelings about (a) The Fall’s use of the kazoo and (b) Karl Burns’ ‘comedy’ caveman-style vocals. If you can cope with both, then it’s pleasing enough lackadaisical don’t-give-a-sh*t swagger albeit one that one can tire of pretty quickly. It was never played live.

The $500 Bottle Of Wine
Like I’m Going To Spain, there’s more interest to be had from the back story (or stories) than from the song itself. According to Steve Hanley, he talked to three goths after one of the gigs on the 1993 US tour, who explained that their dream was to be told to f*ck off by The Fall20. Hanley duly obliged. When the group arrived in Dallas, they found that said goths had sent them a bottle of red wine worth $500, which – lacking a corkscrew – they had to open with a drumstick21. Brix’s version involves her being given an expensive bottle of  1982 Pétrus by Craig Leon which Smith drank whilst she was away and declared ‘tasted sh*t’.

Given the fact that the group’s tour bus repeatedly broke down on the way to Dallas, requiring them to push it for part of the way22 and the lyric contains the line ‘Drive through the desert in 36 hours / But when we get the ending we took  / The 500 dollar bottle of wine’,  The Annotated Fall’s verdict that ‘Hanley’s account fits the lyric better’ seems justified.

On the plus side, Steve Hanley tries gamely to add a bit of funk and vigour to the song, and MES’s Elvis-style slur, ‘Get down the f***ing liquor store boy’ at the end is quite amusing. Other than that, it’s just a rather lazy piece of barroom blues, featuring some ‘funny if you were there’ singalong-in-the-studio drunken backing vocals. Another one that was never performed live.

City Dweller
An update of Cab Driver from the Behind The Counter single, City Dweller is one of the dwindling number of songs that demonstrate Dave Bush’s influence. Based around a sweeping techno-style synth riff and underpinned by a simple but forceful Hanley bass line, it’s sharper and more focused than its predecessor but retains some of its trance-like qualities.

Like M5#1, it seems to reflect Smith’s thoughts on urban life, perhaps even a sense of civic pride – ‘Get out of my city you mediocre pseud’ – which seems to be aimed at the ‘hillbilly cab driver’. However, there’s also a disparaging tone regarding Manchester’s ambitions: ‘Keep Olympic bidding’.

The production works better here than on much of the album; the dense, layered sound creates an air of mystery and confusion and it merges The Fall sound with dance/techno sensibilities more successfully than many other early 90s tracks. City Dweller (or Cab Driver, it’s difficult to say which) was only played live three times, all in December 1993.

Shut Up!
The album’s third cover saw the group revisit (The) Monks, who they’d first covered on Black Monk Theme. The original version is a fine piece of off-kilter psych-garage, and, to be fair, The Fall do do something interesting with it. They take the rather sparse and creepy original and completely pack it with layers of choppy guitar, swooping keyboards and wobbly, stuttering vocals; everything zooms about between channels seemingly at random which gives it an air of joyfully abandoned chaos. MES in particular sounds like he’s having a lot of fun.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
Like Infotainment ScanMiddle Class Revolt received a 2-CD reissue in 2006. The bonus CD (inevitably) contained the December 1993 Peel session and the tracks from the Behind The Counter and 15 Ways singles. There’s also a clutch of fairly unenlightening remixes, including three versions of the album’s title track. The ‘Rex Sargeant mix’ is a mildly interesting Mogadon-infused slouch through the song; the other two, however, are fairly unremarkable Ibiza-trance retreads that haven’t aged especially well.

Overall Verdict
At the time, Middle Class Revolt suffered from the fact that, to fans of the group, it simply didn’t contain enough in the way of new, original material. Apart from The Reckoning, Surmount All Obstacles, Middle Class Revolt, You’re Not Up Too Much and the throwaway Symbol Of Mordgan (tracks which made up less than half of the album), everything else was either a cover version or previously released. This, alongside the lazy, messy production gave the impression of inertia and a lack of inspiration.

Looking at the album retrospectively, however, it has probably suffered a little unjustly due its circumstances. There are plenty of strong tracks here: Behind The Counter (despite the whistling) is an energetic cracker; You’re Not Up Too Much, City Dweller and The Reckoning all have hypnotic charm; Surmount All Obstacles is admirably difficult and strange; M5#1 has a driven, sneering energy. Two of the three cover versions are inventive reimaginings too.

That said, the hurried, ‘this’ll do’ approach to its recording is reflected by its muddy, messy sound. There are several songs (the title track being a prime example) that sound as though they could have been a lot better with a bit more time spent on them. Overall, it has fewer low points than the previous few albums; but the there aren’t the high points such as Free Range or Paranoia Man; it feels a little flat and lacking in variety compared to its predecessors.

My “Version”
Side 1: Behind The Counter / 15 Ways / Happy Holiday / Surmount All Obstacles / War / Cab Driver (22:09)

Side 2: Shut Up! / M5#1 /Middle Class Revolt / The Reckoning / You’re Not Up To Much / City Dweller (22:11)

Rankings
Behind The Counter is, as I said, a cracker – one that might go a little higher if it wasn’t for the whistles. 15 Ways is fine, but no better than that.

  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. Behind The Counter
  9. Marquis Cha-Cha
  10. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  11. Cab It Up
  12. Cruiser’s Creek
  13. Hey! Luciani
  14. Mr. Pharmacist
  15. Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
  16. Look, Know
  17. Telephone Thing
  18. There’s A Ghost In My House
  19. Victoria
  20. Hit The North
  21. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  22. Rowche Rumble
  23. Fiery Jack
  24. Ed’s Babe
  25. High Tension Line
  26. 15 Ways
  27. It’s The New Thing
  28. White Lightning
  29. Popcorn Double Feature
  30. Why Are People Grudgeful?
  31. Oh! Brother

The material on Infotainment Scan/Extricate/Bend Sinister is stronger overall; Dragnet has an inventive energy a million miles away;  Shift-Work, however, is generally weaker. Which pits MCR against Code: Selfish. It’s very close: the latter has one track (Free Range) that towers over anything on MCR; but, for all its lackadaisical approach, there are fewer truly weak tracks on Middle Class Revolt.

  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. Middle Class Revolt
  14. Code: Selfish
  15. Shift-Work
  16. Live At The Witch Trials
  17. The Frenz Experiment

 

References
1You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p172

2-3The Big Midweek, p354

4You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p173

5The Big Midweek, p356

6The Big Midweek, p355

7The Big Midweek, p357

8The Big Midweek, p367

9You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p182

10The Big Midweek, p367

11NME 30/10/93, quoted in Simon Ford pp225-226

12You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p184

13You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p185

14The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p369

15Ford, pp231-232

16Ford, pp228

17You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p185

18The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p369

19You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p185

20The Big Midweek, pp370-371

21The Big Midweek, p374

22The Big Midweek, p373

7 thoughts on “YMGTA #22 – Middle Class Revolt

  1. A few notes:
    1) This very much needs a vinyl 2LP rerelease–to much much music crammed on two sides just adds to the muddy sound
    2) Which version of War do you prefer? I tend towards the ep version
    3) I like this album more than most bc of personal reasons, as I listened to it a *lot* when I first lived by myself in a foreign country (Japan). And so much of the MES humor made me smile (Shut Up and Hey Student especially) when I wasn’t necessarily happy. The following album? Not so much.

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  2. Many thanks for your comment Ted. To respond to your questions:
    1) I’m no audiophile, and have never owned the album on vinyl – I think the issues are to do with the original recording/mix rather than the format. But I’m no expert!
    2) Hard to say – I find both enjoyable
    3) Personal experiences are really important in evaluating the albums, no more so than with The Fall! Glad you found it such a positive experience – hope you’re much happier these days!

    Steve

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  3. Thanks Steve, the effort you put in is awesome.

    Aside from infotainment scan, which I love, I can take or leave most early 90s fall, not least mcr. Have to say that, though you’re right about the title track, the version on 27 points is brilliant; like a different song, full of
    menace and serious Hanley bass. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I also forgot to mention, but the creepy whispering on Cab Driver always struck me as a nod to the similar whispering on Zappa’s We’re Only In It For the Money, where Gary Kellgren, the album’s engineer, shares similar thoughts: “Oh, I know he’s sitting in there, in the control room now, listening to everything I say, but I really don’t care . . . ”

    And yes Steve, much happier from those days of homesickness. MES’ repeated mentions of the “Autobahn” always tickled me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think the ‘you’re sleeping with some hippie half-wit, who thinks he’s Mr. Mark Smith’ line in ‘The Reckoning’ is generally thought to be about Nigel Kennedy, who Brix was dating at the time. If so, this would account for the second of the two songs Brix thought was about her, along with ‘You’re not up to much’.

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