That’s it, this is my last review of The Fall (what do you mean ‘I don’t care’?).
I mean, I’ve only got the one but I’m sure that it is possible to choose between your children. Or at the very least to pat the star on the head, whilst consoling both yourself and your other progeny that they have lesser but still valid talents.
I’m convinced that it is though harder to choose between Fall albums. No man is an island and no man is objective. I’m no more truly objective than the Jehovah’s Witnesses that knocked on the door whilst I was writing this article to give me a Watchtower wherein I discovered that the Bible “is harmonious and coherent throughout. This proves that the Author is the almighty God.” I was unnaturally tempted to say “spooky, I was just thinking that about The Fall and Mark E Smith, wait here and I’ll get you a copy of Live At The Witch Trials; I’ve got a spare in case of emergencies”.
Reviews to date are a diverse bag from some of my less evangelical associates, with some wide variations from despair to high praise. There are some charges of MES ‘phoning-it-in’ in places but the same could be said of parts of some reviews. Those with Fall-review bingo cards stand by with their dabber…. ‘ ever-changing line-up… slurr, slurr, phleghm, phlegm.. phlegm, phlegm, phlegm phlegm… drunk/drunken…. formula(ic)… (un)listenable… uncompromising….’
But I’m sure that I’ll be repeating a well-worn Fallism myself too in this article, it just shows how hard it is to find a fresh way to review this seminal band (there I go!). Also there are other more uplifting words in the pieces and some other authors are similarly heart-on-their-sleeve about their life-affirming love of The Fall. So, on reflection, I won’t be issuing a Fallwah on any of them. I do however want to (grumpily) tackle the voice thing.
MES’s voice ‘coming at ya!’
Pretty much any idiot can hold a tune and many do, some to great financial reward. MES’s instrument is though in different parts of this record alone: scat, growl, whimsy, (yes) phlegmy, Beatlesquely- harmonic, distorted, frightening, playful, theatrical, iron fist and velvet glove but always interesting. In fact “age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” (Shakespeare on Cleopatra but he could have been describing MES’s voice).
For some it’s as though young Mark is kidnapped in a room in his psyche in a reverse ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’ situation and they wish he’d break out. But the news is that the young Mark is no more and despite the different greatness of The Fall of those times, this is a GOOD thing. It’s what’s stopped The Fall becoming a re-hash of former glories and stopped Mark doing a Rod Stewart, running out of any fresh ideas and so rehashing the Great American Songbook instead. Then again, a Fall cover of ‘Fly Me To The Moon-ah’ would no doubt be a thing to behold.
Are The Fall strolling down the same old bye-ways (Fall Lane in Marsden ‘ the lane against which all others are judged’ copyright John Peel)
The less satisfied critics this time around (and of late) have been attacking Fall albums for lack of coherence whilst simultaneously saying that there is too much genre hopping and over-ploughing the same furrow. Shall we see?
The short opener ‘Segue’ does indeed provide a link between some recent Fall tracks which I am beginning to believe are designed to weed out the tyre kickers, window shoppers, timewasters and general mitherers, early doors. It’s a typical MES curio recorded on a vintage tape recorder in a cellar. An amuse bouche that either whets your appetite or confuses it.
Fol de Rol does not let you off the hook with its unforgiving grind that pursues you as in a bad dream overlayed with MES at his most scary, growly best (or worst for some reviewers). The enunciation of ‘Homeric’ may be worth the price of admission alone on this track. Fol de Rol is also the first chance to dance on the album. Just a warm-up rotation, feet planted on the spot but a chance to dance all the same.
Those with both the nous and fortitude to hang around are rewarded by the DJ firing up the lighting rig and putting on the dancefloor filler ‘Brillo De Facto’ that climaxes in a glam racket stomp and ‘the asphyxiation of the troll’. No, I’m not 100% sure what he means either (though he’s not keen on trolls and general nosey types, see Facebook Troll from 2015’s Sublingual Tablet ) but who really cares when you’re having this much fun?
Did I say glam racket stomp? Next stop is Victoria Train Station Massacre a brief segue that literally reverses into the titular New Facts Emerge which picks up the baton of the glittery, rolling riff into MES harmonising over the bouncy beat. Massacre refers to MES’s unfavourable review of the bubble wrap style roof and such that emerged from the work on one of Victorian Manchester’s iconic buildings. This track will now surely replace New Big Prinz (I am Kurious Oranj, 1988) as Prince Charles’s favourite Fall track and the bellowed ‘yada, yada, yada’ call to arms at the start of it is perhaps the most stirring call to rock and roll arms on the album.
‘Couples vs Jobless mid 30’s’ re-proves the adage that Fall album track titles alone are more interesting than some other albums actual tracks. Well, here is an 8 minute 44 (at least 3 part) night terror of an operetta which I think is a comment on the tension between relatively well-heeled parents and their offspring trapped at home under the fallout from our ‘property owning democracy’.
Plenty here to shake off any remaining tyre kickers in the first half with the monologue calling up a Lovecraftian dystopia with its reference to the ‘green jelly’ ‘clotted breath’ and ‘torture’ but hang around long enough and there is an outbreak of a jungle dancing beat followed by a surf rock outro (are you keeping up, kids?). The heavier groove moments are redolent of Sabbath or perhaps erstwhile Fall support act Evil Blizzard (4 bass players and a singing drummer, it shouldn’t work but it most certainly does).
This track is the fulcrum of the album and will reward repeated listening, that’s if The Fall haven’t shaken you off by now.
So you’ve earned your stripes and you can now re-join the dancefloor on Second House Now which begins with unthreatening throwaway whimsy, rather than supernatural portent and powers up to a ‘countrybilly’ rhythm which perhaps deviates from its mean less than any of the other tracks on the album.
That is aside from O! Zztrrk Man where MES will have the Fallologists of the excellent www. Fall.org up long in the night to decipher a three word lyric that is so far back and muffled in the distinctly lo-fi mix as to be likely unsalvageable. I like to think it is ‘oh joyous man’ and it’s certainly a bouncy, joyful riff that allows you to gather your breath after your dancefloor exertions with Second House Now. If Radiohead had done it no doubt it would be lauded as an engaging sound experiment.
Gibbus Gibson is the ‘accessible one’ on the record and MES diction fetishists can rejoice in hearing pretty much every word in bell-like clarity and this is not a bad thing but it’s not the best thing either. When my mate Rob texted me to say he’d heard it on the radio and liked it, I knew that it would be the catchy one. But it’s a bit like when my wife shocked me by asking if I had Bill is Dead (Extricate, 1990) because she liked it. Both are good tunes and part of the infinite variety of The Fall but you haven’t ‘got’ The Fall if you pick out the ‘easier pop hits’ and you’re missing out big time if you do.
I read GG as a pen picture of a hapless local in MES’s local, a song in the same lyrical vein as the more dissolute character in Fiery Jack (1980) which proves again that The Fall have always been able to do bouncy, indie pop but choose to do so only sparingly.
They do continue to do rockabilly more often than not and Groundsboy is a another dancey ditty that lifts the spirits and keeps The Fall’s boot far away from your musical windpipe and this track might have been the easily digestible cool-down, desert course for another band.
Instead the closer Nine Out Of Ten could be the engaging outro to a spaghetti western with the wide open spaces of its solo guitar production and MES as the cowboy walking into the sunset. It has a confessional lyrical feel that reminds me of more personal (to MES) Fall tracks such as Weather Report (Your Future Our Clutter, 2010). The cowboy theme is apt as MES often proudly reminds us that he can’t play a note but this album again shows that he can wrangle musicians into great and exciting moments.
I have no musical training and like MES only have a “punter’s ear” and so sadly can’t properly articulate the skill of the musicians Peter Greenway (guitar, synth, backing vocals); Dave Spurr (bass, Mellotron, backing vocals); Kieron Melling (drums) except to venture aside from reckoning that they are as tight and bouncy as one of Melling’s drum skins.
The scores on the doors
It’s a great album. Is it a great Fall album? Not really interested. The Fall remain great and it’s too early to tell for those who are interested anyway. It’s no ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ but TSNG is no New Facts Emerge. It hangs together perfectly finely with all its sonic tics for me and flows like a well-judged school disco night down to the chilled-out ending. It’s a joyous, re-listenable ruckus. The Fall have perhaps of late never been so much danceable fun and in a world where a Bradley Walsh LP outsells The Fall we need to be able to dance.
I’m not going to pin numbers on the album like in some perverse SATS test of my favourite child but if it helps, the album has done what a Fall album should do by dividing opinion and so here is a range of scores from a sample of 12 reviews ranging 4 out of 10 up to (yes) 9 out of 10:-
Median (6.5); mode (6) and mean, or average, (6.6666666666667) but I’d ignore the average, The Fall doesn’t do average.
Steven G Titley