YMGTA #25 – The Light User Syndrome

“We are the elite gangsters of the damned, criminals of the damp.”

Image result for the fall the light user syndrome

Details
Recorded: The Dairy, London, early 1996
Released: 10 June 1996

  • Mark E Smith – vocals, tapes
  • Brix Smith – guitar, vocals
  • Steve Hanley – bass
  • Julia Nagle – keyboards, guitar
  • Simon Wolstencroft – drums, programming
  • Karl Burns – drums, guitar, vocals
    With: 
  • Lucy Rimmer – vocals
  • Mike Bennett – vocals

Background
The second half of 1995 saw two significant personnel changes. Dave Bush’s departure had seemed inevitable for some time, and he was sacked by letter towards the end of the year. This was intertwined with the emergence of Julia Nagle. An ex-pupil of St Winifred’s (who did sing with the choir but wasn’t involved in their most famous moment), Smith embarked on a relationship with her when he was still involved with Lucy Rimmer. Bush, already in a precarious position, seems to have made some negative remarks regarding the group’s 1995 US tour that were fed back to Smith, possibly via Nagle, and that eventually led to the end of his association with The Fall. Bush’s version, as related to Dave Simpson in The Fallen, certainly ascribes the blame to Nagle:

‘She f*cked it up for me in the end. She kept telling Mark that I wasn’t happy, and I was, but eventually I got kicked out. She was his girlfriend and there was a campaign going on.’1

This version of events is supported by Steve Hanley (‘since our keyboard player wasn’t happy, she [Nagle] could always step in if required, was the gist of CV-accompanied letters she immediately began to send in’2. To be fair to Julia Nagle though, Smith had clearly been heading towards this decision for some time, and the circumstances described by Bush and Hanley may well have just been a catalyst and/or convenient excuse for him.

Even more significant in some ways was Craig Scanlon’s departure. Having been The Fall’s guitarist for sixteen years was, in retrospect, a remarkable achievement. A multitude of sources point to the fact that he had for years coped stoically with all of Smith’s foibles and mind games and abuse, and had always just kept his head down and ploughed on with playing the guitar and writing songs. But it seems that Brix and Hanley had both been correct in identifying that by 1994 he had lost his passion; not just for the group, but for playing the guitar in general.

Like Bush, he was sacked by letter: according to Steve Hanley, the letter stated that he was dismissed ‘because of his failure to maintain equipment’3. Brix’s take was that ‘he reached a point where Mark finally broke him. His passion for music and spirit were broken’4. One of Scanlon’s most notable achievements is that, amongst all Smith’s sackings, his is the only one that MES ever publicly regretted: ‘It was a bad decision… I do miss him.’5 In fact, in an interview with Dave Simpson6, Scanlon claimed that Smith had actually asked him to return.

Amongst all of the chaos, one constant remained: on 7 December 1995, the group recorded their 19th Peel session. Broadcast on 22 December, it consisted of He Pep!, Oleano, Chilinist and The City Never Sleeps.

Permanent also got their marching orders from Smith in 1996. He claimed (in an interview for City Life) that this was because the label had not supported The Chiselers as a good choice for a single.  He signed a deal with Jet records (best known for their association with ELO); he also made a deal with Receiver Records (owned by Mike Bennett who once again produced the album), the label that would subsequently release a series of dubious Fall compilations (some of which will be covered in the next post).

Front cover

The group’s first single for nearly two years was released in February 1996. It was Scanlon’s final contribution, which involved a clarinet as well as guitar, although the former was wiped from the final recording. Steve Hanley describes a less than happy recording process and is also highly disparaging of the final results:

‘What we eventually emerge with is an over-processed, convoluted, over-extended version…  It’s a self-indulgent montage of disjointed styles, none of which have any real connection with one another… There’s the bones of a decent song in there, buried by Mark and a producer with too much time on their hands.’7

Simon Ford also considers the song rather overdone: ‘The work’s convoluted structure and complicated arrangements perhaps serve best as an illustration of Smith’s state of mind at the time… It was The Fall’s Bohemian Rhapsody.’8 Smith himself – in a February 1996 NME interview – described The Chiselers as ‘a pain in the arse, it took eight bloody months to do ‘cos it’s got nine parts, 12 different speeds and eight different vocal arrangements’.

It’s hard to argue with Hanley and Ford’s comments, and it’s undoubtedly true that it may have helped to have a single, more focused recording. However, looking back on the different versions, there is a whole heap of joy to be had from listening to all three. The skittering drums, grinding guitar and the contrast between MES and Brix’s vocals are a strength in all of them; but there’s also a spirit of wild invention in, for example, the spacey synth/sequencer opening to Interlude and the plaintive double-tracked vocals towards the end of Chilinist. In addition, the shout of ‘Chiseler!’ followed by that raw, grinding riff (at 2:39) is a moment to be treasured. It continued the group’s run of mediocre chart placings, however, peaking at number 60.

Despite his long-standing objection to The Fall’s musicians working with other artists, a month later Smith appeared as a guest on a single by D.O.S.E. called Plug Myself In. An example of the burgeoning big beat genre, there were even more versions of the single than there had been of The Chiselersseven in total. It managed ten places higher in the singles chart too.

The label it was released on, Coliseum Records, was part of Pete Waterman’s PWL group – home of Kylie, Jason and 2 Unlimited. In the NME interview (above) Smith expressed admiration for Waterman: ‘he’s not about the “rock” world, he’s about the real world’; he also declared himself a fan of The Reynold’s Girls’ I’d Rather Jack – ‘a bloody great song’. Whilst this might seem like Smith being typically contrary and tongue in cheek, the song’s lyrics do express sentiments that align closely to the MES stance on ‘look back bores’:

‘Can’t they see that every generation has music for its own identity?
But why the DJ on the radio station is always more than twice the age of me?
Who needs Pink Floyd, Dire Straits? That’s not our music, it’s out of date.’

In The Wider World…
In England, the summer was dominated by the European football championship, sound tracked by Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions. England, inevitably, went out on penalties. Polls showed the Conservatives to be 21 points behind Labour, with a general election only a year away. Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal.

Top of the Pops moved from Thursday to Friday night, ending a 32 year tradition. When Light User Syndrome was released, Three Lions had just relinquished the top spot in the singles chart to The Fugees’ cover of Killing Me Softly. After a single week at the top spot for Gary Barlow’s dreary and forgettable Forever Love, The Spice Girls’ Wannabe -number one for seven weeks – saw the beginning of “girl power”‘s prevalence in the UK charts.

The Fall Live In 1995-96
1995 was a quiet year for Fall gigs, with only sixteen being played. The Chiselers debuted in April at Rennes, as did BirthdayRainmaster got its sole outing at the Phoenix Festival in July. Tracks from the new album didn’t begin to arrive in earnest until Autumn. The Coliseum and D.I.Y. Meat appeared on 8 October in Glasgow (although in the case of the latter, the Reformation site disagrees with thefall.org and dates its debut to ten months later). The group also opened the Glasgow gig (as they would do again on three subsequent occasions) with Tunnel, an instrumental that would eventually morph into the introductory section of Interlude/Chilinism. (This review of the group’s 23 October gig at London’s Astoria – the second time it was played – suggests that Tunnel was a completely different and distinct track, but you can hear it on The Fall Box Set 1976 – 2007 and it is indeed very close to Interlude.)

Stay Away (Old White Train) was played for the first time on October 24 in Cambridge, Craig Scanlon’s last performance with the group.

The Fall were not a great deal more active on the live front in 1996, not playing until the end of May and clocking up only nineteen performances in total. The first gig of the year, at the Hacienda, saw several tracks from the forthcoming album receive their first outings: Powder Keg, He Pep!, Oleano, Das Vulture, Spinetrack and Cheetham Hill. They played four gigs in the month of Light User Syndrome‘s release, Secession Man being debuted at the last of these at Sheffield Leadmill.

Front cover

In 2003, two official live albums were released which included performances from the summer of 1996; both also included live tracks from the previous year.

Live At The Phoenix Festival (which features, as can be seen above, an unpleasantly garish cover) contains nine songs from the group’s 1995 performance and a further four from 1996. It’s an FM radio broadcast recording from the BBC, and is, as a result, fairly clear sound-wise. A solid enough performance, it’s a little disjointed in places, despite Hanley and Wostencroft’s best efforts to pin everything down. MES is a little off-hand and disengaged on occasions and seems to struggle to keep with the group now and again – Idiot Joy Showland is a good example. There’s a thumpingly energetic version of Glam Racket, though, with Brix giving the ‘Star’ section a good amount of gusto.

As for the four 1996 tracks, He Pep! is a little lethargic, and Powder Keg sounds a touch under-rehearsed. There’s a strongly aggressive version of US 80s 90s though, and an entertaining 15 Ways that’s played at a hundred miles an hour.

Front cover

The Idiot Joy Show features ten tracks from the group’s gig at Cambridge on 24 October 1995, plus nine from their appearance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark in June 1996. It also features two (inferior) recordings of songs from the Phoenix Festival that are also included in Live At The Phoenix Festival, which it incorrectly identifies as being from 1996 (this video shows that they’re actually from 1995).

It’s a bit of a sprawling mishmash, and whilst none of the songs suffer from terrible sound quality, many do feature distinctly imbalanced levels that can distract from the performances a little. However, it’s certainly not without interest: the version of The Chiselers shows a song very much under development; The Coliseum is an intriguingly ugly, fragmented and sprawling mess; the Intro to the second disc sees the group playing around (at least partly via the studio, it sounds like) with the drum and bass pattern that would go on to be Ten Houses Of Eve. It’s also interesting to hear what The Mixer sounds like without Dave Bush (thin and ropy is the answer). Cheetham Hill (on only its second outing) is also fascinating, managing to sound like a collision between Sleaford Mods and The Sisters Of Mercy.

The second disc, for no discernible reason, was released separately as Pearl City in 2004.

The Album
The album was recorded at Dairy Studios in Brixton, and – just like Cerebral Caustic – those involved found it a very difficult process. Creativity wasn’t the issue: Steve Hanley describes how the recent line-up changes had led the group to ‘establish new songwriting hierarchies’ and that ‘the competition for songwriting dominance between Si, Karl and Julia is raging and begins to translate into a new kind of energy’9.

The issue was with Smith. He didn’t even appear for the first week of recording10 and, according to Brix, he just ‘couldn’t get it together. He had a sore throat, he couldn’t get up, he was depressed’11. He seems to have done most (if not all) of the vocals on the last day of recording.

Smith himself admitted that many consider LUS to be ‘a whisky-rash of an album’12 and he alluded (albeit reluctantly) to his alcohol issues in the February 1996 NME interview:

‘I’ve had me problems. (Nods to beer) Skulk ’em down. Whisky. (Even bigger pause.) I don’t think this sort of stuff should be talked about because it’s… excuses. I hate all that… being self-obsessed and thinking about your diet and what you drink.’

Simon Wolstencroft provides a telling anecdote about the recording sessions:

‘In the middle of the night… he ran out of drink and went wandering into the private quarters in the main farmhouse. He stumbled into the studio owner’s parents’ bedroom.

“Where’s the booze, cock?”

As Mark retreated to the studio, the startled farmer came downstairs, shotgun in hand, to find out who the intruder was.’13

The album’s cover was a significant departure. The abstract designs of Pascal Le Gras were ditched in favour of a moody, sepia group portrait by Peter Cronin, the first cover to feature a group shot since The Frenz Experiment.

In the brave new mid-90s world of brash, patriotic and nostalgic Britpop, The Fall were becoming even more of a square peg in a round hole. They may have been admired vaguely by some of the current crop of guitar-driven 60s influenced rock-pop bands that were starting to dominate the British music scene, but the group – and Smith himself in particular – seemed to be descending into anachronism. They offered neither the stadium-friendly sing-along guitar anthems nor the dancefloor-friendly big beat rhythms that were currently garnering column inches and sales.

John Mulvey’s NME review was respectful but gently disparaging, rather like a new, young deputy headteacher reviewing the performance of a veteran Head of Maths:

‘The ingredients are pretty much the same as ever: pinballing rockabilly riffs; awesomely sludgy, chundering basslines… another Fall album to gather dust in a pile of several dozen not-entirely-dissimilar ones.’

‘Long may he rant’, said Mulvey, whilst giving the album a non-committal 7/10.

Chart-wise, it did a little better that Cerebral Caustic, but fell short of Middle Class Revolt, reaching number 54.

The Songs
D.I.Y. Meat
While you can question many of MES’s decisions regarding how albums were sequenced, there are no arguments about this as an album opener. A frenetic burst of hard-edged garage rock that opens with jagged, slashing chords, it’s not a million miles away from The Shadows Of Knight’s I’m Gonna Make You Mine.

The guitar’s sharp, bright distortion is a highlight, as is the unusual percussion, which sounds in places like someone is taking a drumstick to a dustbin. The occasional burst of sci-fi-style, almost theremin-like keyboard adds some extra variety to an otherwise straightforwardly heads-down rocker.

Urgent and frenetic, the fact that MES was forced to record his vocals in a hurry isn’t an issue here: his slurred, cackling aggression suits the song perfectly. Lyrically, it might refer to Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden (‘My garden is covered with cement’) or possibly Fred West; either way, there’s something slightly unsettling about the lyric (‘what you doing round that grave?’) that adds a bit of dark edge to the song.

There is a lack of clarity about exactly how often the song was performed live, but, surprisingly, it seems to have been in single figures.

Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain
One of those Fall songs that veers between the sublime and the ridiculous. Steve Hanley carves out a ludicrously flatulent, driving bass line that is the main focus of the whole track. Julia Nagle flings in a random series of atonal keyboard frills; either Wolstencroft or Burns (probably the latter) cuts through the whole thing with a recurring series of outrageously loud cymbal crashes that are reminiscent of Smile.

MES might have thought (or at least pretended) that he could speak German, but he really couldn’t. (Brix commented that ‘I think he learns it from Nazi war movies’14.) Vulture‘s title certainly doesn’t actually mean anything in German. The Annotated Fall suggests ‘The vulture and another one’, or even ‘The vulture lands on the nut-wagon’.

It was played live fourteen times, twice in the same gig on one occasion and as an instrumental in one other.

He Pep!
After an opening brace of tracks that suggested a continuation of Cerebral Caustic‘s back-to-basics approach, we are suddenly confronted with a salvo of programmed drums and twisted synth oscillations that almost suggest that Dave Bush hadn’t really left. A relentless, angry and confrontational track, it’s a great blend of early 90s style electronic-infused Fall, choppy, slashing guitar and thundering drums.

Brix’s vocals (‘cheerleader backup’, as she described them15) are a perfect foil for MES, who snarls and barks his way through the song with a desperate, ill-tempered intensity; Simon Ford comments that ‘Smith’s obvious poor health and frustration actually help the track’16.

Brix described the song as ‘another one of Mark’s odes to speed mixed with a rant about record companies’17.  The line, ‘I wrote a song about it / Conceptually à la Bowie’ made He Pep! the third Fall song to contain a reference to Bowie (the first two being Mere Pseud Mag. Ed. and Hard Life In Country).

It was played (approximately) 75 times, 1996-2001.

Hostile
A weighty, imposing and ominous tune, driven by rolling, tribal drumming and layers of scorched, distorted guitar. The lightness of Brix’s vocal again provides an excellent contrast to MES, who declaims the dark, enigmatic lyrics like some sort of bitter, world-weary Mancunian preacher.

The casual listener can only be impressed by the inscrutable but beautifully crafted language: ‘We are the elite gangsters of the damned, criminals of the damp’. But only a researcher as determined and resourceful as dannyno could have unearthed the fact that the song references the Neocatechumenal Way.

As Gladys Winthorpe commented: ‘the atmosphere… is quite unlike anything else encountered anywhere within the group’s immense back catalogue. It’s equal parts paranoia, tension, suspense and shadow.’ It was never played live.

Stay Away (Old White Train)
The inevitable cover arrives five tracks in, and it’s a sadly silly and throwaway affair. Based on Johnny Paycheck‘s 1979 single (Stay Away From) The Cocaine Train, Burns’ Friday night pub karaoke vocal places it clearly in the ‘might just about have been forgiveable as a b-side’ category.

Brix, to be fair, does try to inject a bit of energy into it. MES is also lurking about in the background as well, adding the odd haphazard slur. Played live twice.

Spinetrak
Thankfully, the album gets back on track straight away with a spiky bit of catchy punk-pop. It takes a similar approach to Feeling Numb and Don’t Call Me Darling from the last album, layering Smith’s acerbic style over Brix’s melodic surf-rock-riff. In common with several other Cerebral Caustic tracks, there’s also effective use made of contrasting guitars in either channel: a distorted thrash in one ear and a twangy riff in the other (the latter is almost certainly Brix; the former may well be Burns).

Whilst the Brix/MES vocal combination once again works well here, there is a certain hesitancy about his muffled contributions that emphasise the hurried way in which his vocals were recorded.

Even The Annotated Fall struggles to identify what a ‘spinetrak’ might be, making only a tentative and tenuous link to a mountain trail in the Quantocks. Both Brix18 and Simon Wolstencroft19 rated it as one of the best tracks on the album. It was played live 26 times 1996-97.

Interlude/Chilinism
The version of ‘The Fall’s Bohemian Rhapsody’ that actually made it onto the album was, perhaps, inevitably, the longest and most difficult one. There’s a hint of prog here (not for the first or last time), given the variety of interlinked sequences.

It opens with an expansive, spacey synth-driven introduction that once again suggests that Dave Bush is still around. This then morphs into a rolling snare-dominated section where once again there’s a pleasing contrast between Smith’s sneering drawl and Brix’s sweet, layered vocals; the guttural title refrain is presumably delivered by Karl Burns.

Things take a decidedly strange turn at 2:58 with a heavily reverbed and looped passage, before reverting to the previous pattern, this time with Brix’s vocal taking a far more aggressive role. Then, after a brief silence, we get an ominous floating synth line accompanied by a multi-tracked, crooning MES. Finally, the crowning moment: Smith’s throaty yelp of ‘chiseler!’ before the group launch into a scuzzy, distorted blast of the song’s main riff.

A divisive song: your evaluation will depend on how much you enjoy The Fall being expansive, experimental and a tad self-indulgent; fans of the group’s more sharp and concise moments will inevitably struggle with it. It was played 24 times 1995-98, before receiving a one-off revival in 2002.

Powder Keg
One of those songs that provides fuel for those that argue that Smith had some form of ‘pre-cog’ abilities, due to its lines about ‘Manchester city centre’ being a ‘powder keg’, the reference to Enniskillen and the fact that an IRA bombing took place in Manchester a few days after the album’s release. In a June 1996 interview, Smith stated that the song was inspired by his sister getting caught up in the 1992 Manchester bombing (the relevant part is at 25:55).

Leaving all that stuff aside, it’s a solid enough if somewhat unspectacular track, based around a pretty straightforward riff and a rather cheesy keyboard line. It has a slightly stilted, underdeveloped feel that may well be a result of the album’s hurried recording.

The existence of the Powderkex remix by D.O.S.E. (which eventually appeared on the bonus CD of the limited edition of Levitate) suggests that it might have been planned as a second single from the album. It was played live 27 times 1996-98.

Oleano
A melodramatic and urgent track, not entirely dissimilar in approach to Powder Keg. It’s driven by a trio of complementary guitars (an insistent, alarm-like chime, a choppy low-end rhythm and some fuzzy power chords), some melodic synth work and a solid, reverberating throb from SH. The way that the group suddenly ramp things up a 2:13 is a particularly pleasing moment.

There’s not much of an actual song here; you feel like you’re waiting for a chorus that never arrives. However, it’s one-paced relentlessness is matched well to Smith’s clipped interjections. Lyrically, it’s ‘a sketchy and obscure story of a nautical disaster’ (Annotated Fall), but even the intrepid researchers at TAF can’t find any link to any real vessel.

It was played live 31 times, 1996-98.

Cheetham Hill
A tawdry tale of kerb-crawling and soliciting (‘only way you stop is for passion at the station / Why you cruising? To be unfaithful’) which features a somewhat lumbering pun on Cheetham/cheat ’em. According to Simon Wolstencroft20, the line ‘don’t scratch my nice blue Merc’ refers to the day that Frank Lea of Jet records arrived at Smith’s house to sign the group’s new contract.

Producer Mike Bennett performs it as a duet with Smith (according to Reformation, MES often used to leave Bennett to sing nearly all of it himself on stage). Although Bennett doesn’t have the most distinguished singing voice, the contrast between his crooning and Smith’s almost spoken-word contributions is effective and gives a bit of variety to an album which focuses quite heavily on MES/Brix combinations.

Although his falsetto interjections are a bit of a bugbear to some, Smith’s vocals are generally a highlight here; his wry, nicely timed delivery makes his enunciation of ‘mission of passion’ and – especially – ‘Manchester’ amusingly effective.

The balance between the early-90s style electronics and the traditional guitar rock approach swings back a little to the former here, the siren-like sequencer giving it an almost rave-like flavour. The loping, almost jaunty rhythm goes well with the tongue in cheek lyrics, although it does sail perilously close to sounding rather dated.

It got 24 live outings between 1996 and 1998.

The Coliseum
The balance swings even further to dance/electronics elements on the album’s lengthiest track. It also finds the group sounding rather behind the times: The Coliseum‘s clunky indie-dance rhythm sounds like a ham-fisted attempt to capture the baggy groove of The Happy Mondays’ or Fool’s Gold-era Stone Roses.

Some of The Fall’s longer songs (Garden or Tempo House, for example) pass by in the blink of an eye; The Coliseum has outstayed its welcome by the time it gets even halfway through its eight minutes. In particular, the single grinding guitar chord that runs all the way through just adds to the monotony. It’s hard to fathom why it was allowed to run to such a length – it’s not as if the album was short on run-time.

It’s a shame, because there’s a germ of a good idea here, but things are not helped by Smith’s distinctly half-arsed delivery which just emphasises the whole ‘will this do?’ atmosphere of the track. The Idiot Joy Show version is an unholy mess, but it’s a great deal more rewarding that this one.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was only played live four (or possibly five) times, all in 1995-96.

Last Chance To Turn Around
As if one dreary, half-arsed cover version wasn’t enough, the group throw in another. It’s (loosely) a cover of a Gene Pitney song that was a fairly weak effort in the first place. The cheesy 80s-style brass section-effect keyboards are especially toe-curlingly awful. In addition, MES is very much in just-got-back-from-the-pub-which-song-is-this-again? mode. Never played live, thankfully.

The Ballard Of J. Drummer
Like Last ChanceDrummer is generally held in very low esteem by Fall fans (and is also one that was never played live). It’s an odd song; an interesting idea that was sadly underdeveloped and clumsily executed.

It relates the tale of Johnny Drummer, a stranger in town who extols the use of real drumming as opposed to everyone else’s ‘computer tricks’ – although after that it all gets a little obscure. The Annotated Fall suggests that the final line (‘Don’t ever follow the path of being hard and tough when your heart is soft’) refers to Karl Burns.

There are a few ponderous notes from Steve Hanley and some ominous mellotron-ish keyboards floating in the background, but overall the song is almost completely dominated by the militaristic snare drum. You can hear the group grasping for some sort of epic Spaghetti Western-style atmosphere (‘Johnny Drummer came to the outskirts of town’ gives him a Clint Eastwood in a poncho sort of air), but they fall well short of what they seem to be aiming for. It might have been interesting to hear what came of this one had a decent amount of time been spent on the album.

Oxymoron
You could view Oxymoron as a some sort of remix of He Pep! There’s certainly much overlap between the two, not least Brix’s ‘cheerleader backup’; you can imagine it being a bonus track on the 12″ of a He Pep! single. However, there is definitely enough invention about it to warrant its inclusion on the album

It’s focused around a thumping, overloaded drum track that seems to be a mix of Simon Wolstencroft and some programming, plus a fuzzy, chugging blues guitar part. There’s a pleasingly random ‘cut and paste’ feel to the whole thing, Smith’s vocals and the various keyboard/electronic sounds being thrown into the rather overcrowded mix with carefree abandon. This produces an atmosphere that’s an intriguing mix of playful and ominous.

The lyrics are a nonsense – ‘Mr. Moody’s scruffed up… Oh yeah! Mr. moody’s lair,
You pep!’ – but this suits the overall haphazard and chaotically creative tone of the song well.

It certainly strengthens the generally weak final third of the album: as The Annotated Fall has it, it’s the ‘scraggly cactus in the mini-desert at the end of The Light User Syndrome‘. It was never played live.

Secession Man
Another one that is not held in high regard by most Fall fans. Brix claimed that she refused to play on it21.

Someone presses the ‘disco rock’ button on a Casio keyboard, then experiments with the ‘Phil Collins horn section’ sound. MES sounds particularly half-arsed – even by this album’s standards – like it’s some sort of ironic joke to which he’s forgotten the punchline. And it trundles on for a seemingly endless nearly five minutes.

It was only ever played live once, at Sheffield Leadmill on 29 June 1996.

Reissues & Bonus Tracks
The album was reissued in 1999 and 2002. Both added the other two versions of The Chiselers.

Overall Verdict
The Light User Syndrome is a curious and ultimately deeply frustrating album. Roughly speaking, half of it is excellent; a quarter is flawed if potentially interesting; a quarter is just poor. It also suffers from the curse of by then established CD age, in that it is bloated, indulgent and overlong.

Where the album really works, it combines the best elements of the early 90s indie-dance approach with the back-to-basic garage punk of Cerebral Caustic. Another strong feature is the MES/Brix vocal combinations, which often see them complement each other as well as they ever did in the 80s.

The biggest problems with the album seem to lie with the recording process and production. Simon Ford describes the production as ‘unimaginative and muddled’22; thehippriestess comments that ‘the recording… was too quick… with some fraught scenes and it shows – the production is rough, bordering on messy and there is an abrupt decline in quality at the tail end of what is a long album’. Whilst spontaneity was often a positive feature of The Fall’s work, there’s a feeling throughout The Light User Syndrome – even on the best tracks – that it would have benefited enormously from more time being spent on it.

Another problem is Smith himself. He was clearly at a low ebb at this point, and his performances (which seem to have taken place hurriedly right at the end of the sessions) see him struggling to do himself and the material justice. On some occasions, this approach works well – the energetic bark on D.I.Y. Meat, or the random interjections on Oxymoron – but in many places it feels like he’s floundering, only just managing to squeeze out some kind of coherent contribution.

My “Version”
If ever an album called out for a ‘version’, then it’s this one:

Side 1: D.I.Y. Meat / Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain / He Pep! / Spinetrak / Interlude-Chilinism (18:57)

Side 2: Powder Keg / Oleano / Cheetham Hill / Oxymoron / Hostile (17:58)

Rankings
If you were just ranking the ‘versions’ The Light User Syndrome would come much, much higher. However, its maddening inconsistency places it firmly in the bottom half; above the most of the early 90s albums though, as its highlights are greater in number and quality.

  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. Cerebral Caustic
  8. I Am Kurious Oranj
  9. Room To Live
  10. The Infotainment Scan
  11. Extricate
  12. Bend Sinister
  13. Dragnet
  14. The Light User Syndrome
  15. Middle Class Revolt
  16. Code: Selfish
  17. Shift-Work
  18. Live At The Witch Trials
  19. The Frenz Experiment

The Chiselers was full of invention, and is worthy of a respectable position. It’s not without its flaws, however, and to my mind clearly falls short of the current top ten.

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

In many ways, Live At Phoenix Festival is a superior live album to The Idiot Joy Show: the performances and the sound are certainly more balanced and clearly recorded. But, of the two, there’s much more interest in IJS, which features a range of not always successful but often intriguing performances that is kind of the whole point of a live album. LATPF is a sound and enjoyable collection; IJS is patchy and frustrating but far more intriguing.

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

References
1The Fallen, p189

2The Big Midweek, p402

3The Big Midweek, p404

4The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p378

5Ford, p241

6The Fallen, p199

7The Big Midweek, p403

8Ford, p241

9The Big Midweek, p407

10You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p205

11Ford, p242

12Renegade, p193

13You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p206

14The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p387

15The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p386

16Ford, p243

17-18The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p386

19You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p206

20You Can Drum But You Can’t Hide, p204

21The Rise, The Fall, And The Rise, p387

22Ford, p242

One thought on “YMGTA #25 – The Light User Syndrome

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