“Sounding leaner and meaner than they have for years, the stripped-down four-piece Fall dispense with all experimental blind alleys in favour of full-throttle assault. Without resorting to revisionism, last year’s excellent Extricatesometimes meandered and mused on unfinished business whereas these songs come thundering out of the trenches with all barrels blazing.
Shiftwork (sic) finds Mark Smith spilling his guts, giggling like a schoolkid and still laying down the law with a rare venom. Why? Because he can. The Fall are sometimes accorded unwarranted respect for average work but this album is confident, confrontational and straightforward enough to be a strong commercial contender. Look beyond the non-conformist national institution: Britain’s coolest band are still attacking the War Against Intelligence with every weapon they can muster. Join the resistance.”
That’s all from NME‘s review of the album before they slapped the coveted 10/10 on it, a score that only twenty other albums from the nineties received (another of which was the preceding Extricate, by the way).
Except Shift-Work kind of sucks. In fact, it’s not even one of the best twenty-one albums of that year and probably not even one of the best twenty-one albums in the Fall’s discography and definitely not one of the best twenty-one albums of that decade. Not only does 95% of that quotation describe every other Fall album in existence (key words: full-throttle assault, thundering, barrels blazing, venom, confrontational; yup, every other Fall album in existence), the remaining 5% of that quotation that aptly describes what separates Shift-Work from every other Fall album in existence – “straightforward enough to be a strong commercial contender” – is also the reason why it’s one of their worst. What the fuck did you think would happen when a band that survived for so long precisely because they dispensed with melodies tried to write melodies?
Exactly what you think ought to have happened: a lack of melodies or else really simple ones that deserve no praise because you’ve heard them before. It certainly doesn’t help that Mark E. Smith can’t sing (hearing him do the thing of holding the last note of the line and moving it up one note that ought to guarantee a melody on the choruses of “The Book of Lies” is kind of endearing in a way that’ll make you question everything you’ve learned). And it doesn’t help that the polished production – we can never thank Nevermind enough – pushes Craig Scanlon’s guitar lines to the forefront so we can really hear those melodies (cf. “So What About It?”). And it doesn’t help that the rhythm section of one of the greatest post-punk bands is playing laughable rhythms: Simon Wolstencroft sounds like a machine on both “A Lot of Wind” and “Sinister Waltz,” and Stephen Hanley’s bass sounds absolutely flatulent on the latter.
Walk away with the backing vocal chant throughout “Shift-Work” and Cassell Webb’s sunny hook on “Edinburgh Man” that is, according to the previously quoted review, the “best Fall song ever” so you can guarantee it’s not. I’ll let the review send us out: “The Fall are sometimes accorded unwarranted respect for average work.” Hammer, nail.