Despite the revolving door policy for all group members save perpetual frontman Mark E. Smith which ensures that the lineup that appears on this album is in no way reminiscent of the lineup simply a few LP's away, several fundamental aspects of the band's sound have already been established on their debut.
One inherent element of the Fall is vocalist Smith's innate tendency to shout his lyrics rather than sing them, a habit he would retain throughout the band's entire 25 year plus lifespan. While this hardly seems conducive to the art of making music, one quickly becomes used to this quirk and even begins to like it.
Another trait that's already firmly in place is the band's songwriting structure, wherein a simple but brilliant melody will be introduced and subsequently be repeated ad nauseam for the song's duration. Again this hardly seems like a merit, yet this too becomes a welcome feature in time, helping the band cultivate striking, hypnotic grooves.
Live At The Witch Trials, the band's studio debut, incorporates punk energy, rhythm and delivery with a ubiquitous keyboard section recurring in each song and being largely responsible for each melody. This may seem like a jarring clash at first, but in time it becomes apparent that the keyboards and the punk stylings complement each other, resulting in catchy songs that sound truly distinctive.
Each song, save the rather expendable spoken word title track, has something to offer, most based upon keyboard riffs superimposed over the punk instrumentation while Smith shouts his often surreal lyrics.
The band had already discovered a unique sound, and it served them well throughout the course of the album. Despite their repetitious nature the songs never feel overlong, holding the listener entranced by their spiraling patterns.
While the band would go on to craft some far superior albums, LatWT is a highly confident, self-assured debut by a group who knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish, and succeeded admirably. While there's only a modicum of variety displayed across this parade of dark, hypnotic rockers, the band has fashioned a unique sound that, while it would mutate drastically over time, still constitutes the basic foundation of their albums.
The first thing one notices about the Fall's second studio outing is that the keyboards that dominated the previous LP are conspicuously absent on all tracks save some of the bonus ones, leading to an album that's far more guitar driven than its predecessor.
While keyboards were an integral component of the sound of LatWT, Dragnet never sounds incomplete or lacking in any department. On the contrary, many of the songs feel more developed and fleshed out than those on LatWT, and the band even tries their hand at their first of many epics, Spectre Vs. Rector, a track that while a tad self-indulgent is still a solid song that paved the way for many future lengthy Fall experiments.
The already strong songwriting of LatWT has been improved upon, with the album containing myriad Fall classics, such as the self-referential and somewhat self-deprecating Your Heart Out wherein Smith addresses his particular brand of vocalizing. While the formula remains static (repeat a riff endlessly while Mark E. Smith rants over the proceedings), it's a formula that worked for the band and continues to do so to this day, so one must accept and grow used to this paradigm if one is to venture into the 'wonderful and frightening world of the Fall.'
The album primarily consists of dark rockers, each catchy and engaging. The lo-fi production fits the mood perfectly, and the performance of this incarnation of the group is quite strong. Smith is the same as ever, spouting cryptic and vaguely incoherent lyrics as only he can.
In all Dragnet is a great album, an improvement over the already impressive debut. The riffs and melodies are quite strong, and the band had already established a unique voice for itself even at this embryonic stage of their lifespan. While the roll call of band members would fluctuate drastically over time, Smith always managed to get the most out of each lineup and preserve his vision, and this album is no exception to that rule.
For their third studio outing the Fall take another radical shift in their direction, in this case embracing rockabilly over their customary punk stylings. While this decision may seem bewildering and wrongheaded at first, the surprising truth is that the Fall's sound translates very well into rockabilly, so much so that the change never sounds forced or awkward.
Even as a rockabilly group the Fall still sound like the Fall, and their philosophy toward their songwriting remains consistent, with the repetitious riffs and Smith's ranting remaining fully intact.
Another departure from their previous LP is the production, which is far more clear than the perpetually murky Dragnet production. Just as the murkiness worked in favor of Dragnet the greater clarity in sound works for Grotesque, aptly fitting the new direction of the group.
The songwriting itself remains strong, if slightly inferior to Dragnet. Clever riffs abound, catchy melodies are plentiful and Smith's lyrics are entertaining as ever. A strict comparison with Dragnet won't really work, as this is simply a different kind of album, one difficult to apply the same criteria to as their earlier work.
Some of the best cuts in the album are the bonus tracks, with How I Wrote Elastic Man and Totally Wired coming off particularly well. The former marries hilarious lyrics to a great rockabilly riff, while the latter has an infectious melody that will remain lodged in your head for quite some time.
For a group accused of monotony, the Fall's first three albums each sound remarkably different from one another, transitioning from keyboard oriented antics to murky guitar driven rock to rockabilly overtones. Furthermore each album is great in its own way, and Grotesque is no exception. While a permanent shift to rockabilly would certainly have soured me on the group, it works well here as a slice of something different, and the band prove that they can make it their own without compromising their usual style.
It's easy for an EP, lodged between two major projects, to go unnoticed. Generally an EP is released simply to keep fans occupied and exploit hardcore fanboys who'll purchase anything even remotely connected with the group while they wait for the next full album. In this regard, most EPs merely contain lesser material the band tossed off in a matter of minutes, reserving the better tracks for the next LP.
In this regard one would perceive Slates with world weary, once-burned skepticism, assuming it's just a cheap ploy to extort some extra cash from diehard fans. Fortunately this is certainly not the case.
It may seem strange to give a six song EP such a high rating, but the truth is that these are six of the best songs from the Fall's entire career, more than on par with anything from a 'real' album.
Temporarily aborting the rockabilly experiment, Slates returns fans to the dark rock of old, an area in which the group has by no means grown rusty. Each song contains a catchy, memorable melody, with material unusually mainstream and accessible for the listener.
This isn't to say that the band has sold out by any means. The group is simply branching out and tackling new directions, and coupled with the band's best songwriting to date the end product is something that even a casual listener could get into (somewhat, at least; the Fall formula remains static, ergo the repetitiveness and Smith's ranting could be an acquired taste for some people).
Each track is at least a minor Fall classic, and the band even manages to exhibit a degree of diversity amongst these six songs, from the lumbering sludge riff of Slates, Slags, Etc. to the nearly normal sounding rock of Leave The Capitol.
Ultimately Slates is a must-have for any Fall fan, an EP that's just as rewarding as most any full album. The band's songwriting, while already strong, has matured dramatically, and the sound has become more accessible without sacrificing or compromising any aspect of the band. In all Slates is a nearly perfect Fall experience, with the only downside being the relative brevity of the EP.
Hex Enduction Hour was initially intended to be the Fall's last album. While this thankfully didn't turn out to be the case, the album's status as the band's potential swansong inspired Mark E. Smith and company to go all out and make their best LP to date.
HEH is filled with Fall epics, with most songs possessing unusually long runtimes. These tracks never become tedious, however, as each song is imbued with expert care and craftsmanship which ensures that each track turns out engaging and memorable.
The album also contains one of the group's most beloved tracks, Hip Priest, which conjures memories of Pink Floyd's Careful With That Axe Eugene with its segue from subdued minimalism to violent chaos and back. While I wouldn't agree with most fans who regard the song as one of the major highlights of the album, it's certainly a very unique and intriguing entry in the Fall's canon.
From the brilliant riff in The Classical to the evocative atmosphere of the dual side spanning epic Winter, each song is highly catchy and well written, with nearly every track a top tier installment in the band's musical history. Most of the songs rock quite hard, with a high level of intensity being sustained throughout the LP, so much so that listening to the album can be an exhausting experience, a fact that's compounded by the 70 minute runtime (counting the bonus tracks).
Ultimately HEH is a brilliant chapter in the band's discography, boasting strong songwriting and impressive performances. The band are as adept as ever at concocting clever new riffs, and the group seem to push themselves harder than ever as a result of the original plan to make HEH their final album. While the profusion of epics can make it a demanding and taxing listen, the album never becomes dull or monotonous, and each track uniformly adheres to a high level of quality and craftsmanship. While the group thankfully failed to disband, HEH would have been a very high note to go out on, containing nearly every facet that made the Fall such a great band.
For a live album to be of any value it has to either improve upon the studio originals (usually through the medium of the live energy that can't be captured in the confines of a recording session) or else sufficiently reinvent the songs so that they can assume a life independent of the originals, not necessarily superior renditions but different enough to be of interest. Unfortunately, A Part Of America Therein, 1981, does neither; the tracks aren't infused with any special degree of live energy to augment them, yet are too faithful to the originals to be differentiated from them in any unique, clever or intriguing ways.
aPoAT fails to offer any surprises along the way, simply religiously adhering to the structures of the originals, not delivering even a modicum of reinterpretation. This is exacerbated by the fact that the album features several of the group's more epic numbers, such as The N.W.R.A., Hip Priest and Winter, which simply grow tedious in a live environment with nothing to sustain the interest of a listener who's already well versed in the originals.
Despite these liabilities the album remains somewhat entertaining, if only because the set list contains songs that were quite good to begin with. That being said, however, the originals remain superior to these live versions, rendering there little to no reason to purchase the album.
Ultimately aPoAT is a wholly superfluous release, adding nothing to the Fall's legacy. The performances are rudimentary, the quality of the mix is poor and the set list is highly flawed. It still receives a decent rating simply because the tracks remain enjoyable even in this limited context, but any fan would be advised to eschew the album in favor of the studio releases its content is culled from.
Less than a year after the supposed disbanding of the group, the Fall released yet another studio album, thus fully dispelling the myth that the group had retired. It seemed as though Smith was eager to shatter that particular illusion, as the album seemed somewhat rushed out, not from a qualitative standpoint but with regards to length; the album (not counting the hidden bonus tracks) is a mere 36 minutes, the shortest runtime of any full fledged Fall LP, not to mention the fact that it only contains a mere seven tracks.
The album is yet another strong one, if brief, though it also features the band's first serious misfire, the dissonant, desultory Papal Visit, on which Smith plays the violin despite (or more likely because) of the fact that he has no inkling as to how to actually play the instrument.
Aside from this flaw the rest of the album is quite strong, particularly the two hidden bonus tracks, Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul and Fantastic Life, which for some reason aren't even listed as being on the album on the track list (rather baffling, as they were derived from a popular single and one would assume that announcing their presence on the album would be more conducive toward stimulating sales than concealing them as some sort of bonus for the listener).
The regular tracks are quite good as well, a consistently strong collection of standard Fall songs. Aside from Papal Visit the album is bereft of filler, though some songs are a tad longer than they should be (such as the overextended Detective Instinct), presumably to compensate for the dearth of new material.
Ultimately Room To Live is yet another excellent Fall album, representing both the best and worst sides of the band, with the latter (the self-indulgent Papal Visit) thankfully kept to a minimum. The songwriting is top notch, and the issue of brevity is addressed through the inclusion of the hidden bonus tracks. While it's not quite as impressive as albums like HEH, RtL remains a very good LP, another example of the Fall in their prime.
Prior to the recording of Perverted By Language Mark E. Smith married an American guitarist by the name of Laura Elise, who subsequently assumed the pseudonym Brix Smith. While she would shortly have a profound effect on the sound of the band, her presence on this album was kept to a minimum, allowing her at this point only a modicum of creative power over the direction of the group.
Thus PbL sounds very much like a typical Fall album, which is by no means a bad thing. The quality of the songwriting prevents the band from suffering from any degree of stagnation, leading to yet another excellent album.
As has become the norm for Fall reissues, the album is greatly ameliorated by a stellar selection of bonus tracks, particularly Wings, which is one of the greatest songs ever penned by the band, featuring an incredible riff and a haunting tenebrous atmosphere.
The regular material is hardly overshadowed by the bonus tracks, however, as all of the songs on the album are quite strong, with even the initially somewhat irritating Eat Y'Self Fitter becoming something of an acquired taste.
The tracks break little new ground, but this is hardly a severe liability, as the album is filled with clever riffs and catchy melodies. The band had yet to undergo the pop phase that Brix Smith would be the catalyst for, but there are still plenty of hooks to hold the listener's attention.
Ultimately the album is another winner in a streak of excellent Fall LPs. The songwriting is impeccable and the performances match the material perfectly, evoking a dark atmosphere that's sustained throughout much of the album. The band seem quite confident at this point and execute their signature sound flawlessly, with the instrumentation never faltering and Smith sounding as only he can. While the band would go on to explore new musical directions, their subsequent material would never eclipse the brilliance of their earlier phases, with each metamorphosis, no matter how brilliant the results, never detracting from the band's classic work.
By this point Brix Smith was firmly entrenched as a creative force within the group, co-writing most of the tracks on the album and instrumentally making her presence felt throughout. This resulted in the group receiving a substantial injection of poppiness that would characterize the Fall's material for the duration of her stay in the band.
The transition to comparatively poppy material is hardly as radical a shift as one would envision, with much of the classic Fall sound being meticulously preserved throughout the album. With the exception of the hyper catchy pop anthem C.R.E.E.P., the change to pop primarily manifests itself through the medium of a multitude of pop hooks inserted throughout the album that are woven seamlessly into the signature Fall sound. The hooks all feel natural within the Fall context, with nothing jarring finding its way into the material.
Once again the album is greatly ameliorated by a plethora of bonus tracks that, while somewhat haphazardly scattered throughout the album, never disrupt the flow of the LP.
The songwriting is once again top notch, boasting an attractive mixture of pop hooks and a dark atmosphere with, somehow, neither one interfering with or diluting the other.
The songs are uniformly excellent, from the tenebrous rocker Pat-Trip Dispenser to the majestic beauty of one of the band's few (and best) ballads, the misanthropic Disney's Dream Debased.
On the whole, the addition of Brix Smith to the band failed to result in the clash of musical ideology that one would have anticipated, as the group immediately found the perfect balance between their signature sound and their newfound pop tendencies. The product of this unorthodox and unlikely marriage is an excellent album, one that manages to feel completely like a Fall album while still exploring new directions.
Having introduced a hybrid of pop intertwined with the signature Fall sound on their last outing, the band further explore and refine their unorthodox concoction on this album.
Brix Smith has retained her position of prominence in the group's hierarchy, co-writing many of the songs as well as contributing her slick guitar sound and poppy vocals to the proceedings. On some songs, particularly Vixen, her vocals take center stage, eclipsing both the instrumentation as well as her husband's usual rants. This usurpation of vocal dominance in some instances accelerates the speed with which the group was veering toward pop, as Mark E. Smith's vocals were the one constant throughout the Fall's history.
This is not to say that this is a pop album; in truth, this couldn't be further from the case. Pop elements, however, manifest themselves frequently throughout the album, and while these aspects hardly transfigure the rock songs into pop, they do integrate the trappings of pop into the proceedings, riddling the tracks with pop hooks that somehow never feel out of place.
The band indulges in some experimentation as well, especially in tracks such as LA, a foray into the realm of electronica, and I Am Damo Suzuki, an homage to Can's erstwhile frontman and his infamous unintelligible vocals wherein the group emulates the krautrock sound of that particular band. These two experiments are eminently successful, producing two bona fide Fall classics.
The songwriting throughout the album is excellent, from the catchy character assassination of Spoilt Victorian Child to the infectious riff of Barmy (one of a number of bonus tracks on the reissue). The band has established the perfect balance of their original sound and pop, yielding myriad memorable melodies all drenched in the classic Fall atmosphere.
The instrumentation is spot on as the band showcases their versatility, from the hypnotic electronica of LA to the hyper-complex drum assault of I Am Damo Suzuki. They match the vocals perfectly, be they Mark E. Smith's archetypal rants or Brix Smith's more melodious vocal stylings.
Everything works on this album, from the classic Fall riff rockers to the comparatively poppy interludes to the more ambitious experimental tracks. The melodies are uniformly excellent, depicting the band in top form. The group seems to have discovered a style they're comfortable with, as the instrumentation is far tighter and more confident than on the drastically looser Grotesque era material wherein the band seemed to be making the songs up as they went along.
Ultimately This Nation's Saving Grace may very well be the Fall's best album, a portrait of a group that's found a stable style yet are still willing to take risks with it. The group's creativity is at an all time high, generating a plethora of Fall classics in a wide variety of styles. While some may vilify Brix Smith as the agent of the Fall's descent into pop, it's clear that she never commandeered the group; Mark E. Smith remains undeniably the dominant figure in the band. What Brix Smith did was simply to act as the catalyst for a new direction in the band, one that the group organically progressed to, with no radical transformation ever taking place. This Nation's Saving Grace is unmistakably the work of the Fall, and the work of the Fall at their best at that.
Traditionally unjustly maligned by fans of the Fall, Bend Sinister continues the group's flirtation with pop in the unlikely context of one of the band's darkest albums. The pop sensibility Brix Smith engendered into the group remains (as it would for any Fall album on which she's present), but it's forced to operate comparatively discreetly beneath a vastly haunting and caliginous atmosphere.
The album isn't as uniformly excellent as its immediate predecessor, but it still contains plenty of high quality material. The ubiquitous darkness cultivates a tenebrous atmosphere that's sustained throughout the whole of Bend Sinister, giving the LP a nicely cohesive feel that compounds the potency of the album.
The pop elements prevail through the medium of a plethora of eminently catchy hooks, manifesting themselves in the forms of clever riffs (which have always been the band's forte) and Brix Smith's sporadic vocal melodies (Mark E. Smith's shouted diatribes can't really be said to constitute anything approaching a vocal melody from any perspective). They ensure that the album will be catchy and engaging without compromising its innate darkness, achieving a balance that the band has been refining throughout the Brix Smith phase of the group.
The band aren't at peak level when it comes to songwriting, yet most of the tracks remain strong and memorable, establishing a crepuscular atmosphere without hiding behind it and eschewing melodies. Creative riffs abound and while a few tracks may seem overlong they're generally sufficiently good that they register as hypnotic rather than simply repetitive and tedious.
Ultimately Bend Sinister is yet another very good Fall album, unmistakably from the Brix Smith epoch, a fact that may repel some fans while attracting others. I'd straddle the fence in this case, being a fan of the group through every transformation they underwent and every shift of their lineup. When it comes to Brix Smith, however, while she undeniably imbued the band with the Fall equivalent of a pop sensibility, she never forced the group to compromise their style, simply organically integrating a few fundamental aspect of pop into the mixture; on Bend Sinister, this becomes especially apparent, given the album's inherent, undiluted darkness, wherein the pop elements are confined to the shadows, always present yet never assuming center stage.
While somewhat more erratic than Fall releases tend to be (due to tracks like the lackluster opener Frenz and Bremen Nacht Alternative which, despite being a very good song, is overextended and repetitive even by Fall standards), The Frenz Experiment is yet another solid entry in the band's discography, depicting the group, if not at their best, still certainly in good form.
The group displays more variety than usual, with the album containing everything from traditional Fall rock to Brix influenced poppiness to LA-style electronica to even a Kinks cover (the classic Arthur opener Victoria, which actually translates surprisingly well into this context). The band tackles these subgenres quite adeptly, preserving the signature Fall atmosphere while adapting it to new directions.
The songwriting is, for the most part, quite strong, yielding a plethora of catchy tunes and innovative riffs. While Brix Smith's influence is still quite apparent on many tracks, Mark E. Smith further cements his dictatorial status in the band, composing six out of fifteen songs on his own (in the past nearly every track would be a collaboration with other members of the group). The Fall has always been Mark E. Smith's vision so there are few tangible disparities between the style of these solo penned songs as opposed to prior joint efforts, and most of these tracks turn out quite well, but it's still strange for Smith to suddenly assume absolute control over much of the songwriting on the album, only collaborating with other members of the band on six tracks (this accounts for twelve of the tracks; in terms of the other three, two are covers and one is just a forty second instrumental interlude by fellow band members Scanlon and Hanley).
In all, The Frenz Experiment is a very good album; while not an especially unique chapter in the band's history, it remains very well done, boasting a (comparative) variety of styles and myriad satisfying hooks. There's a dearth of experimentation on the album (despite the deceptive title), and it feels sometimes as if the band is on autopilot, but this is inevitable for a group as prolific as the Fall, and judged by any other standards the album is quite strong. There are a number of Fall classics on here (such as the fan favorite Oswald Defence Lawyer), and little in the way of filler, making for a highly entertaining listen. Even if the album is somewhat familiar at times, the group are still a very long way from self-plagiarism; the band has adhered to a single formula for a long time, and while this makes for few surprises, as long as the riffs and melodies are strong and new that's all one can ask for.
For some utterly mystifying and bewildering reason, the Fall were recruited to provide the soundtrack to a ballet. One would assume that in a situation like that the group would attempt to adapt their style to this new context; one, however, would be completely wrong.
Mark E. Smith makes no modifications to the band's sound whatsoever (save Brix Smith's gorgeous instrumental Overture From 'I Am Curious, Orange'), resulting in a product that one with no prior knowledge of the affair would ever imagine was composed for a ballet.
Which means that, in the end, I Am Kurious, Oranj is simply a standard Fall release and should be treated as such; fortunately, it's yet another very good album, utterly devoid of any correlations with ballet or anything even remotely resembling it but filled with the group's strengths active in full force.
The band even threw in a sequel to the perennial fan favorite Hip Priest (New Big Prinz and its reprise Big New Priest), as well as some allusions to other past glories during Brix Smith's overture (such as the 'Dr. Annabelle Lies' quote from An Older Lover Etc.), resulting in an album that less seems like the group is merely waxing nostalgic over old triumphs and more as if Mark E. Smith and company are attempting to fashion an experience deeply rewarding to long time fans with a number of nods and winks in their direction.
While the album isn't wholly bereft of filler (tracks like the bland and desultory Kurious Oranj certainly qualify), it's certainly far from erratic, containing mostly high quality songs infused with Brix Smith's poppiness which successfully removes the rough edges (formerly an inherent property of the band) from the proceedings (which is either good, bad or neutral depending on your tastes; I'm inclined to go with the latter for this album, at least, but each style has its time and place). The caliber of the songwriting remains very high, as the album is filled with catchy melodies and infectious riffs, and while they don't evoke images of dancers pirouetting across an illuminated stage, they certainly have their place in the Fall's extensive catalogue.
Ultimately I Am Kurious, Oranj is another high quality release from a highly consistent band. While anyone hoping for something different or new due to the album's perplexing origin will be sorely disappointed, anyone searching for another good Fall album will certainly be gratified.
Subsequent to the release of I Am Kurious, Oranj, Brix Smith left the group; while she was certainly a great asset to the band, this is hardly an insurmountable calamity, as the Fall were an excellent rock outfit prior to her induction into the group and would remain so after her departure.
Her absence means the extinguishment of a number of the pop tendencies the group had developed under her influence, meaning a return to the rougher, jagged, sometimes dissonant sound of the Fall's past. The band seems to rejoice in this reversion, sounding absolutely excellent and highly motivated, in addition to penning songs that complement this sound perfectly.
The group has retained at least a modicum of the pop vibe inherited from erstwhile member Brix Smith, but this poppiness primarily manifests itself in the form of a few pop hooks working in the context of the Fall's darker, edgier sound.
While this is a return to many aspects of the original Fall's sound, the band's performance doesn't sound like a carbon copy of the group's past; rather, the Fall seem to have developed a new sound, an integration of what they've learned in their pop phase and the signature sound of their classic age. Regardless of the derivation of this style, the band sounds excellent, dark and edgy yet still catchy and melodic.
The songwriting on the album is universally impeccable, shifting from dark rockers to hypnotic electronica to comparatively poppy (but still a long way from Brix's brand of pop) fare and investing each with clever riffs and melodies. The tracks are on par with the best of any epoch of the band, all both melodic and atmospheric triumphs. The arrangements are a perfect match for the material, and in these cases the songs would have suffered greatly had Brix Smith's style been applied to them.
One might expect that the group would falter having just lost a key member, but that's far from the case. The band simply adapted to the situation, retaining the best components of each incarnation and restoring much of their old atmosphere without composing anything that could be called a retread. Rather than proceed onwards in their poppy style as if Brix Smith's departure had never happened or wholly regressing to their old selves, the band was able to find a new direction and get back on track to making great music immediately, without an ounce of hesitation. Thus Extricate is an excellent album made by a group that remained confident in the face of a major change (and potential crisis), filled with everything that made the Fall a great band.
After the production of Extricate, the band continued to launch stylistic experiments in an effort to find a stable new sound in the wake of Brix Smith's departure. Whereas Extricate came off as something of a hybrid between the group's old sound and the poppier outfit they had become under the influence of Brix, Shift-Work is a dramatic change of pace.
In a counterintuitive maneuver Shift-Work is the band's softest, smoothest album, boasting a substantial dearth of guitar work (and what guitar work there is is seldom jagged or distorted as per their accustomed style) and a comparatively mellow atmosphere permeates much of the album.
As always, the success of this venture can only be gauged by the caliber of the songs. While Shift-Work is somewhat more erratic than usual for the band, these lapses in quality are more than compensated for by the presence of myriad Fall classics. Idiot Joy Showland, with its biting, venomous sound and lyrics, is largely at odds with the rest of the album stylistically and thus a much needed change of pace, an edgy guitar driven number drenched in Mark E. Smith's contempt and vitriol. The anthemic War Against Intelligence retains the bile of Idiot Joy Showland and So What About It? is the Fall at their catchiest, while The Book Of Lies injects a dose of surreality into the proceedings while remaining melodic and catchy.
Ultimately one's enjoyment of the album is contingent upon how willing the listener is to accept this softer incarnation of the Fall. This decision to adopt a softer approach confounds all expectations for the band, almost antithetical to the group's usual philosophy.
However, while this stylistic deviation would be greatly detrimental to the band were it a lasting affair, in the context of the songs of Shift-Work it works quite well. Just as with Brix Smith's innate pop tendencies, there is a time and a place for this approach, and Shift-Work is that place. While it's hardly soft rock or easy listening, the album is substantially softer, smoother and mellower than any prior or subsequent entry in their discography (save exceptions like Idiot Joy Showland which is anything but mellow), but the group never applies this treatment to any tracks wherein this production wouldn't fit. The softer style does ultimately benefit the album, and while the album is an anomaly it makes for a very interesting and unique chapter in the group's history. With much of the group's formula generally remaining static, Shift-Work is a slice of something different, and a very good one at that.
After the softer Shift-Work the band returned to an edgier sound, which is certainly a good thing; while the smoother dynamics on their previous album suited it quite well, the rougher sound adopted for Code: Selfish is more the group's forte, resulting in an excellent product.
The first side of the album is nearly flawless, featuring tracks such as the incredible riff rocker Free Range and the idiosyncratic charm of The Birmingham School Of Business School. Unfortunately the album deteriorates from that point, culminating in the horrendous closer Crew Filth which, after starting auspiciously with some catchy electronica riffs degenerates into a desultory recording that can scarcely be called music let alone anything that merits a listen.
Were it not for its erratic nature the album would rank amongst the band's best work, with the first five tracks in particular representing the group in top form. Unfortunately the band couldn't sustain this level of quality throughout the entire LP, resulting in an album that, while very good, can't live up to its initial promise.
Fortunately, the only actively bad track is Crew Filth, with the other second side songs ranging from quite good to mediocre. As long as the band applies at least a modicum of effort to the proceedings (something that could not be said of Crew Filth) the tracks invariably turn out at least somewhat well, with most of the finished projects being rather entertaining.
Ultimately Code: Selfish is a somewhat frustrating listen, an album that nearly attained greatness then stopped just short of it. Assessed independently of their context most of the songs from the second side hold up rather well (especially the haunting Married, 2 Kids); however, when compared to the brilliance of the first five songs the others pale in comparison.
Regardless of any disappointments, however, the album is indeed extremely good, boasting, for the most part, strong songwriting and performances, along with containing a number of Fall classics. Perhaps if the opening five tracks had been distributed across the album the final product, without its bipolar affliction, would have seemed less inconsistent; as it stands, however, Code: Selfish is on the cusp of greatness, with just a few flaws holding it back from assuming its rightful place near the peak of the Fall's discography.
The Infotainment Scan is often hailed as a masterful comeback which is mystifying for a number of reasons; not only had the Fall had never degenerated to a point where a comeback was necessitated, the album is also vastly inferior to its predecessors.
Which is not to call the album bad by any means. Save for a few overly derivative and generic tracks (plus Light/Fireworks, which is nearly a repeat of the Crew Filth debacle), the majority of the songs are quite strong.
The album is, however, impeded by a number of factors that prevent it from reaching the level of the superior Fall albums of the past. For one thing, a quarter of the album is devoted to covers; while said covers are, for the most part, decent enough, their proliferation on the album detracts from the feel of the overall experience. In moderation covers have been successful on past albums, but in this case they feel more akin to padding than an attempt to diversify the album on a stylistic level, leaving the fans wanting more originals.
Furthermore, the caliber of the songwriting is rather erratic; while there are plenty of undeniably strong tracks (such as the riff propelled Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room and Glam-Racket which, predictably enough, is an homage to the glam movement) there are more misfires than one's accustomed to encountering on a Fall album. The riff on It's A Curse is too primitive to sustain a song of that length (the longest on the album), while some of the danceable numbers (generally transparent attempts to attract a more mainstream audience) lack melodies sophisticated enough to hold one's interest, more concerned with establishing a steady beat and radiating style in the form of dance floor electronica than evolving into a more developed song (this doesn't account for all the dance numbers, some of which are rather good).
Ultimately, the album, while a disappointment by the Fall's standards, is still a pretty good listening experience. While flawed on many levels, none of its faults are that egregious, and there are certainly enough strong tracks to compensate for the weaker ones. While the album was certainly an attempt at a commercial crossover, and many aspects of the LP were fashioned with a more mainstream crowd in mind, the album is still hardly a sellout; it did, however, cause the band to emphasize some of their weaker sides at the expense of some of their stronger ones. Even so, enough of the band's strengths are retained to make this quite a good album.
After the slight misstep of The Infotainment Scan the Fall immediately returned to form with Middle Class Revolt, yet another excellent album from the group. While the album contains few surprises (it's more of the somewhat poppy rock they'd been dabbling in for quite some time), it's a highly consistent and entertaining listen boasting a plethora of brilliant riffs and catchy melodies.
Once more the album features three covers which, while a tad excessive, are all quite good, especially the surreal Junk Man in which Mark E. Smith's vocals are accompanied by a kazoo of all things. As this album contains more tracks than its predecessor the covers feel less like padding than they did on The Infotainment Scan, striking a much better balance between covers and originals.
The caliber of the songwriting is very high, resulting in myriad Fall classics; due to the overall consistency it's difficult to isolate high points, making for a listening experience that's immensely enjoyable all the way through.
Unlike its predecessor, Middle Class Revolt isn't especially dance oriented, focusing more on the band's usual pop tinged rock. By all accounts the LP is a rather standard Fall release, but I say that with no negative qualitative connotations intended; a standard Fall album is by no means a bad thing, as it adheres to the high level of craftsmanship exhibited by the band throughout their career. As in any classic Fall release clever riffs abound, Smith belts out surreal and amusing lyrics and the band's performance matches the tracks perfectly.
Ultimately the album is more of the same from the Fall but, as stated earlier, this is by no means a bad thing. The Fall have been remarkably consistent throughout their lengthy career, and Middle Class Revolt is no exception to this rule. After adjusting their style in the wake of Brix Smith's departure the band has established an excellent balance between poppiness and their usual darkness, yielding a multitude of tracks that contain an abundance of pop hooks without compromising the customary tenebrous atmosphere the band cultivates. Middle Class Revolt is the beneficiary of a band meticulously developing their sound and honing their skills and tone, resulting in yet another great album from the group.
This album marks the reinstatement of Brix Smith into the band, a return the results of which are completely contrary to expectations. Rather than propelling the band back into the realm of smoother pop, Cerebral Caustic is a reversion to a much earlier incarnation of the group, featuring sloppy, looser performances, recurring elements of dissonance and cacophony and a highly inaccessible sound.
Fortunately this stylistic shift works, for the most part at any rate. The band does become far too self-indulgent on occasions, particularly on the track Bonkers In Phoenix, wherein a Mark E. Smith feels compelled to superimpose a mass of sonic effluvia over an otherwise promising Brix ballad.
Normally, however, the new style suits the tracks and is rather timely as well, ensuring that the prolonged poppier phase didn't cause the band to stagnate or grow stale. There are generally strong melodies contained beneath the discordant aural acrobatics, and if the listener perseveres he's apt to unearth a plethora of hooks that may have eluded him on his first listen.
While the caliber of the songwriting is hardly at its peak, there are a number of clever riffs, and the sound itself helps to keep the proceedings fresh and exciting. Once one's ear acclimates to the tempestuous production the listener will find that few melodies are hindered by the dissonance and there are only a modicum of headache inducing moments on the album.
The album is somewhat erratic, featuring a few tunes with poorly defined melodies and a dearth of hooks, but by and large Cerebral Caustic features quite a few successes, not necessarily top tier Fall but certainly enough to constitute an enjoyable listen.
Ultimately Cerebral Caustic fulfills its goal, displaying the band's strength in a new context. It's a difficult listen, more so than any prior or subsequent albums, but there are few cases of style over substance and most tracks are ultimately rewarding for a diligent listener. The melodies are lacking on occasion, but for the most part the band managers to manipulate the aural entropy so as to compose good songs. The end result is quite a solid album, not ranking amongst the band's best but still providing an entertaining listen, albeit with moments of noise for the sake of noise.
The Light User Syndrome retains much of the sound of Cerebral Caustic, only with greater clarity in the production and a more diverse repertoire of tracks, shifting from rock to pop to danceable grooves to caliginous soundscapes.
Also like Cerebral Caustic the album is somewhat erratic, but fortunately to a much lesser degree. The album feels qualitatively compartmentalized, with the first ten tracks being excellent (save for the irritating cover Stay Away (Old White Train) wherein Mark E. Smith even delegates the vocals to another male singer) and the subsequent five far more inconsistent, deviating between pretty good, mediocre and outright poor.
The songwriting is considerably stronger than on Cerebral Caustic, with the best material attaining higher heights than the equivalent tracks on its predecessor. From the crepuscular atmosphere of Hostile to the hyper catchy pop of Spinetrak to the irresistible groove of Cheetham Hill the album contains myriad Fall classics, while the sound strikes a balance between the oppressively dissonant Cerebral Caustic and the smoother sound of Shift-Work era Fall, albeit leaning more toward the former than the latter.
The album is far more accessible than Cerebral Caustic, containing more obvious hooks and catchier melodies that are less buried under layers of sonic cacophony. The clearer mix enables the listener to separate the disparate components of the sound, a futile endeavor on Cerebral Caustic wherein each instrument blended together in the mix.
While its inconsistency prevents The Light User Syndrome from achieving the qualitative zenith of the band's oeuvre, the album remains a huge success, proving that the Fall can be just as entertaining and catchy in a less accessible, more chaotic, noisier mode as they could be in a more mellow context. The album takes Cerebral Caustic as a template and ameliorates nearly every aspect of it, from superior craftsmanship in the songwriting department to a less abrasive sound. The band makes no compromises yet still manages to produce an album that can be immensely entertaining for the listener, with all of the group's strengths being retained despite the drastically different sound they assume here.
Prior to the recording of Levitate Brix Smith once again resigned from the band. She was ostensibly replace by guitarist Julie Nagle who, while debuting on The Light User Syndrome, didn't assume the majority of Brix Smith's functions in the band until now, providing backup vocals and co-writing numerous tracks in addition to her present guitar playing responsibilities.
It's difficult to discern what impact this personnel shift had on the band, given that the album takes the tendencies toward sloppiness and dissonance already exhibited on the past two albums and multiplies them exponentially, resulting in the group's most difficult, inaccessible LP to date.
This penchant for sloppiness and chaotic cacophony was greatly compounded by Mark E. Smith's decision to produce the album himself. While much of the return to dissonance could already be attributed to Smith's performances and songwriting, his role as producer infinitely magnifies this penchant for discord, with no interloping producer to smooth out any of the rough edges or instill at least a modicum of order into the entropic proceedings.
Fortunately, this further descent into the realm of ear destructive antics fits the album perfectly and makes for a fascinating listen. No matter how cacophonous the album becomes, the melodies always shine through, and while said melodies can be rather unorthodox the songs remain catchy and memorable.
The songwriting remains top notch, with the tracks being uniformly strong. Several songs are weaker than others, but for the most part the album remains consistent, with each track emerging through a filter of sloppiness and dissonance without the melodies being impeded by the production.
It's a testament to the brilliance of the Fall that the band was able to craft an album this chaotic, challenging and discordant yet still make for a highly enjoyable listen. Once one's ear acclimates to the seemingly impenetrable cacophony the listener is provided with an array of catchy, well written tracks that are all the stronger for the sloppy production. The album sounds like nothing else, making for an incredibly unique and memorable listen, yet another instance of the Fall taking a huge risk that ended up paying off.
Prior to the recording of this album every member of the band resigned save Mark E. Smith and Julie Nagle (the latter rather ironic given that Smith's physical abuse of Nagle was the primary catalyst for the group's disintegration). Thus Smith recruited new members and proceeded to continue on undeterred by the massive group exodus.
Smith's goal on the album is to prove that the Fall could survive this blow unimpeded, remaining the same group they'd always been, a task that he achieves with ease; any doubts that Smith was the Fall are quickly dispelled, as the band sounds precisely the same as they always have.
The album itself is quite good, if unremarkable; given that the priority was to prove that the band had emerged unchanged, the album sounds rather typical by Fall standards, with many tracks feeling like retreads. While it certainly conveys the message that the group was unaffected by its losses, in doing so it becomes susceptible to sounding like a generic Fall product, reassuring the listener that they're the same group without blazing any new pathways.
The songwriting is below par for a Fall release, but there are still a number of strong tracks, and while there is filler present no track descends below the mediocre mark. The genre shifts have become predictable, with the group dabbling in typical Fall rock and electronica with a few superfluous covers thrown in.
The album is enjoyable all the way through, but it feels somewhat like an overly familiar listen, with few surprises for a long time fan. It seems as if Smith was so anxious to prove that the group could survive its losses that he imitated their past work rather than focusing on a strong new product. This indeed results in the band sounding exactly as it had in the past, but it also results in a certain degree of stagnation.
Ultimately Smith successfully attained one goal while overlooking his lapses in other departments. The songwriting is sufficiently strong that the LP remains highly enjoyable and there are a number of good tracks, but at times the album succumbs to baser temptations with regard to originality and sounds like a rehash. The band was still the Fall, and thus there was no need for emulating their own sound or indulging in self-plagiarism, and no matter how good the final product is one has come to expect more from the group than a predictable release like this one.
Now that Mark E. Smith had established that the heart of the group was intact despite the band's losses he was free to focus on the quality of the tracks rather than simply making sure that they sounded like Fall songs. The result is one of the greatest entries in the band's discography, an album that not only sounds like the Fall but sounds like the Fall at their best.
The album is hardly flawless, as becomes evident at the end of the LP with the final three tracks. Midwatch 1953 and Devolute are decent tracks, but they overstay their welcome for such limited songs, while Das Katerer is an extraneous remake of Free Range that adds nothing to the original (though it still sounds good, of course, given the caliber of the source material). The LP also boasts such superfluous songs as the title track, a music free poetry session that's about as welcome on this album as Horse Latitudes was on Strange Days (though thankfully it's far too short to become especially grating, ending just before the listener has the chance to become truly annoyed).
Despite their faults even these tracks are somewhat enjoyable, failing to mar what's otherwise an excellent album, filled with countless Fall classics and brilliant melodies. Mostly focusing on dark rockers and electronica, the band sound at their peak here, seemingly effortlessly concocting clever riffs and catchy melodies. Tracks such as Two Librans and W.B rank amongst the band's best rockers, while surreal experimental songs such as Cyber Insekt are enormously catchy in spite of their strangeness.
The album breaks little new ground for the band, but the songwriting is sufficiently strong that the dearth of originality becomes irrelevant. Whereas The Marshall Suite endeavored to recreate past triumphs, The Unutterable presents the band at their most inspired, yielding a product that, while hardly that innovative for the group, sounds much fresher and more energetic. Had The Marshall Suite featured songwriting of this caliber then its derivativeness wouldn't have been a problem, but such would have been impossible; the quality of that album suffered for its attempts to echo past glories, while The Unutterable feels more like a continuation of the band's history rather than a mere retread. This is unmistakably a Fall album, but the creativity and quality of its songwriting make it a great Fall album, not merely imitating great Fall albums of the past.
After the release of The Unutterable the entire group (save Smith, of course) quit the band, a scenario that most likely didn't even make Smith flinch by this point. He quickly assembled a new lineup and set about recording Are You Are Missing Winner, wholly undaunted by the personnel shift.
AYAMW abandons the artistic pretensions evinced on The Unutterable in favor of comparatively straightforward guitar rock. The guitar work is so dominant on the album that even the keyboards that had been so ubiquitous on previous releases are conspicuously absent.
The decision to craft a more unpretentious album thankfully didn't stunt the quality of the songwriting, with Smith and company still devoting a tremendous amount of effort to the composition of the songs. While it may not aspire to be art, this doesn't dispel its qualitative aspirations as an album or elicit any lethargy toward the construction of the LP.
Out of its ten tracks there are no bad songs, and while it's completely a parade of guitar rockers it never grows monotonous. Enough effort was put in to differentiate the songs from one another, infusing as much diversity as possible into the scope of the genre.
Strong tracks abound, with most songs containing catchy riffs and melodies while rocking quite hard. The Fall develop a great rough, exciting sound on the album, highly conducive to the primal rock style they've adopted on this album.
Ultimately the album is exactly what it aspired to be: a highly catchy, entertaining dose of excellent guitar rock. Everything on the album works toward that end, from the rough, organic performances to the raw production that expertly complements the tracks. The result is an excellent album, one that, even with its comparatively limited ambitions, never feels shallow or superficial. As spontaneous as the album sounds, it's apparent that each song was meticulously crafted, with great care and effort being poured into each track. Once again the Fall have been reborn while remaining at heart the same group they've always been, with AYAMW acting as a testimony to the continued brilliance of the band.
While AYAMW was quite a solid album, it only represented one side of the band; for this lineup's second album (the group remained, for the time being, unaltered, save for the addition of a new keyboardist) the band rectifies this deficiency, crafting one of the greatest and most diverse albums of the group's career.
While most of the genres the album visits have been thoroughly explored over the course of the band's discography, the Fall manage to make them sound fresh, from the pulsing electronica of Green Eyed Loco Man to the bass-driven moodiness of Mountain Energei to the frenetic rock of Theme From Sparta FC. Each genre is tackled at the band's very best, highly memorable and bereft of filler.
With a lengthy, storied career behind him, Smith is able to perceive the group's past with total clarity, divining what works and what doesn't as far as the band is concerned. Thus the group is able to evade their usual weaknesses (such as melodyless poetry recitals and self-indulgent dissonance) and excesses (limited songs that are sadistically prolonged to the point of absolute tedium) and solely present the best they're capable of.
The band's songwriting is at an absolute peak, as the tracks are clever, atmospheric and loaded with a plethora of hooks. Innovative riffs and bass-lines abound, with each track having much to offer.
Where the new members proved themselves to be up to the challenge of Fall guitar rock on AYAMW, they distinguish themselves in new areas on this album, heading in new directions without missing a step. They seem to be a good fit for the group, adding much to the songs with their excellent performances.
Ultimately the album provides the best the band has to offer, old paradigms refined to perfection. While it's hardly groundbreaking, the areas they tackle have never been done better, and the band sounds as driven and energetic as they ever have. The album easily ranks up there with the best the band has ever done, a late period piece benefiting from its vantage point.
In a move even more bewildering than Jethro Tull's analogous decision, the Fall opted to release a holiday EP. And, as was likewise the case with Jethro Tull's X-Mas album, the EP turned out surprisingly well.
The title track is a Yule-time makeover of Country On The Click's Protein Protection, an entertaining enough diversion though, as is inevitably the case, inferior to the original. Also derived from the previous album is a remake of Recovery Kit, a rendition that deemphasizes the bass work and suffers for it.
Better are the originals, (We Are) Mod Mock Goth and (Birtwistle's) Girl In Shop, both hyper repetitive as per the modus operandi of the band, and, also in the band's fashion, both are more hypnotic than tedious.
At four tracks and less than seventeen minutes the EP is hardly something to go out of your way to purchase, but for a hardcore Fall fan it provides a reasonable amount of entertainment. The two originals, while not classics, are both pretty good, while the remakes manage to be somewhat enjoyable despite being inferior to their originals. The Fall's take on holiday spirit is certainly an interesting experience, but not one that demands to be listened to.
After Country On The Click the lineup, for once, remained relatively stable, with the sole modification being a new bassist. This incarnation of the group had already proven itself capable of great things, and Fall Heads Roll is no exception.
After the amusing opener, a joke track in the same vein as Eat Y'Self Fitter, the band immediately launches into a procession of energetic rockers, each boasting a primitive yet catchy riff. The production perfectly complements the tracks, imbuing them with a crisp, clear sound.
The album isn't restricted to garage rockers, however, containing a fair amount of diversity for a Fall LP. From softer tracks (such as Midnight In Aspen and its somewhat superfluous reprise) to a Move cover (I Can Hear The Grass Grow, a rather perplexing addition that actually fares quite well in this context, dispelling one's perfectly rational notion that Mark E. Smith and Roy Wood are incompatible), the album provides a variety of styles, all of which manage to work.
The band is extremely tight, a long way from the loose, near improvisational sound of the Grotesque era. The members perform with great confidence, sounding extremely professional without compromising the band's organic sound.
The songwriting is very strong; while some would leverage rather legitimate accusations against the simplicity of some of the rockers, the fact of the matter is that no matter how generic some of the riffs are they sound excellent in this context, with the production and performances transfiguring somewhat derivative garage rockers into catchy, exciting rock anthems. The band infuses enough verve and energy into each track that they invariably sound polished and exciting, to the extent that even the ultra repetitive behemoth Blindness remains captivating throughout its overextended length.
Ultimately Fall Heads Roll is another winner for the group, a highly entertaining and memorable affair devoid of anything that could be branded as filler. While its content isn't always perfect, any lapses in quality are compensated for by the production and performances of the group (which places it a few rungs below Country On The Click, wherein the content was already perfect, merely further augmented by the strength of the production and performances). While some would decry the simplicity of some of the riffs, these protests collapse beneath the sheer level excitement contained in these songs.
Mark E. Smith had demonstrated time and again over the course of his career that he had a penchant for driving away his bandmates with his personality; far from a charming, affable individual Smith's persona invariably became anathema to anyone who remained in close proximity to him for too long, rendering The Fall a group with a revolving doors members system, with each new incarnation of the band self destructing after but a few albums.
Thus it's hardly a surprise that during the tours that followed Fall Heads Roll the entire group, save Smith's wife/keyboardist Eleni Poulou, deserted their invidious frontman, spelling the end of yet another short lived lineup for the band.
Accustomed to this scenario by now, Smith hastily recruited a new lineup and, pleased with the sound of this new ensemble, elected to promptly record a new album, presumably due to the apparent inevitability that these members would likely depart the group if left to their own devices for too long.
While this version of the group has a decent chemistry, the members weren't given much time to acclimate to Smith's style, causing the album to be a good deal less polished than the prior lineup's output. Part of this seems like a conscious decision, however, as the album has a very loose feel that hearkens back to the likes of Grotesque and Hex Enduction Hour, a sharp contrast to the band's recent, more focused efforts. This looseness, which borders on sloppiness, is actually quite an asset for the group, as it infuses a degree of casualness and instrumental freedom in the best tradition of Smith's early work. It isn't preferable to the tightness of albums like Country On The Click, but it recalls the band's classic era in a fashion that will ultimately prove irresistible for hardcore Fall fanatics.
Of course, while it has its merits this looseness is not an inherently positive factor when taken to excess, hence numbers like the disastrous Das Boot, a mercilessly long avant garde piece bearing, in parts, a frightening similarity to the 'musical' performance art of Yoko Ono (the grating ee-ee-ee chant delivered by Smith and his bride is precisely the sort of grating sonic ugliness that Lennon's oft vilified widow perpetrated on a regular basis). The track is an utter debacle, bereft of any entertainment value or artistic validity.
While there are no other numbers of this nature, myriad tracks are needlessly prolonged, elongated to the point where they can become downright obnoxious. Endless repetition is a staple of The Fall, but usually they exercise at least a modicum of restraint when it comes to runtimes for the less dynamic tracks. Songs like Reformation are enjoyable for a few minutes, but when stretched to ridiculous proportions it becomes an exercise in tedium and monotony. This also goes for otherwise solid tracks like Systematic Abuse, a song a little bit too aptly named for comfort.
Nevertheless the album is quite strong, albeit far from top tier Fall work. While Reformation and Systematic Abuse are overlong they're still far from bad, merely in dire need of editing, while most of the other numbers are rather good as well.
Over! Over! starts the album on the right note with a highly typical but still entertaining song; the riff, as is often the case throughout the CD, is overly primitive and pedestrian, but the track is still quite solid, a garage rock anthem with Mark E. Smith delivering bizarre, contradictory vocals as only he can.
Fall Sound is another appropriately titled track as it's unmistakably a Fall song, complete with a typical Fall riff and typical Fall vocals which, even after all these years, are still highly compelling for any fan of the group.
After the peculiar yet enjoyable cover of Merle Haggard's White Line Fever comes another stumbling block, the gruesomely overlong and desultory Insult Song which takes the album's loose nature just a bit too far, but the quality level is restored by the subsequent track My Door Is Never, another dose of archetypal Fall music that still retains its freshness and edginess.
Next comes a true highlight, the catchy Coach And Horses (one of the few tracks that could stand to be a bit longer), followed by the Poulou sung The Wright Stuff. Intriguingly enough she attempts to mimic her spouse's speech patterns and vocal inflections, and remarkably succeeds moderately well at this endeavor.
Scenario is another solid Fall offering, as is The Bad Stuff (though there's no relation between The Bad Stuff and The Wright Stuff beyond their similar nomenclature). The Outro is inoffensive but rather pointless, too short and nondescript to amount to anything meaningful.
Overall, while certainly flawed Reformation Post T.L.C. is yet another pretty good outing from a band who have yet to release a bad album. Some tracks are rather lacking in the songwriting department (particularly Insult Song and Das Boot), while some good songs are marred by being overextended (like Reformation and Systematic Abuse), but on the whole the CD is quite strong, especially given its rushed nature and the lack of familiarity between the group members. Songs like Coach And Horses, The Wright Stuff and Fall Sound are all entertaining Fall numbers, proving that if nothing else this lineup had fully preserved the classic Fall spirit even if the album's somewhat lacking qualitatively when contrasted with the band's last few efforts.
It's surprising that an individual with as pronounced, well documented dictatorial tendencies as Mark E. Smith would consent to operate in a context in which his collaborators wielded a comparable amount of power as the Fall's tyrannical frontman, yet on Tromatic Reflexxions, a joint project between Smith and the duo known as Mouse On Mars, the extent of Smith's control over the endeavor was confined to the lyrics and vocal melodies while his partners held sway over the music.
Prominent indie rock artists, like Robert Pollard, entered into such enterprises frequently, but the erstwhile Guided By Voices frontman was always open to being exposed to new music ideas, whereas the Fall have always existed in a vacuum, wholly isolated from the vicissitudes of the contemporary rock scene. The Fall have changed dramatically over the years, but these artistic paradigm shifts were derived from Smith's constantly changing psyche, never the product of external influences in the world of rock. The Fall were simply disconnected from the outside world, little more than a filter for Smith's idiosyncratic artistic voice.
Yet despite years of dominating his subservient fellow band members Smith elected to delegate equal power to Mouse On Mars, thus marking the inception of the three man techno outfit Von Sudenfed. Techno was hardly an alien form to Smith, who had often incorporated elements of electronica into his output, but it's clear that on this venture it's Mouse On Mars who are responsible for the genre, a field in which they'd achieved a mastery while Smith had simply dabbled in the form during his forays into the style.
Despite the degree to which of Mouse On Mars assumed control over the proceedings, Tromatic Reflexxions frequently sounds like a Fall album. Mark E. Smith does little to modify his persona for the occasion, while the repetition inherent to the techno genre gels perfectly with the Fall's innate affinity for that device.
I'd already alluded to the Fall's flirtation with techno, which also prevents the album from feeling like a far cry from Smith's usual stomping grounds. Nevertheless Tromatic Reflexxions is hardly interchangeable with Smith's prior work, as Mouse On Mars' breed of techno certainly possesses characteristics divorced from the Fall's forays into the genre.
Thus the album is the product of a highly unlikely pairing, a marriage of Mouse On Mars' techno and Mark E. Smith's customary antics. This is certainly an unusual formula, but remarkably it works quite well; this brand of techno suits Smith far better than one would expect, and his signature vocal style adroitly complements the musical dynamics of the CD.
Sometimes Smith is even willing to adapt his vocal delivery to suit the occasion; thus on The Rhinohead Smith deviates from his comfort zone and provides some actual singing, and the result may very well be the best track on the album. The Rhinohead is incredibly catchy, and some of Smith's sung passages can even be said to constitute vocal hooks, something atypical for the Fall's resident shouter.
The album itself is rather consistent; it's somewhat formulaic, with nearly every song consisting of an endlessly repeating, often minimalistic techno backdrop over which Smith superimposes his mumbling narratives. Fortunately this formula works, and the music tends to be catchy, well developed and highly entertaining.
Fledermaus Can't Get It is a quintessential Von Sudenfed track, composed of jagged techno beats and a slurred mantra courtesy of the idiosyncratic vocalist. It's a great song, but also endemic of one of the album's greatest flaws. The album is highly susceptible to fits of dissonance, sonically abrasive passages that promote aural discord over melodic realizations of the band's vision.
Subsequent listens will reveal that even the most discordant passages are built upon sturdy foundations of solid melodies, but at first the dissonance represents a large obstacle toward enjoying the album.
Nevertheless, once one is desensitized to the album's lapses into dissonance one will find a highly entertaining listen, one superior to this year's Fall offering. Tromatic Reflexxions is filled with infectious techno grooves of a variety far more intelligent and sophisticated than the stereotypical techno that DJs blast at crowded dancehalls, grooves that remain compelling even when the band feel compelled to repeat each passages ad nauseum. Mark E. Smith adds another layer to this already accomplished music, and the final product is a unique, entertaining and memorable experience that can be appreciated by fans of either of the contributing groups.
While it can be said of many rock artists that one never knows what to expect from their next album, this phenomenon is exponentially increased for The Fall, a fact that can be directly attributed to their perpetual revolving door lineup. While Mark E. Smith is by all means the dominant creative force in the group to the point of outright dictatorship, each roster of bandmates has had a profound impact on the sound of any given album, with their styles dramatically influencing the feel, tone and direction of the aural experience.
Needless to say the band's lineup underwent some rather severe reconfigurations in the interim between Reformation Post T.L.C. and Imperial Wax Solvent, with the product of these fluctuations being a vastly different sound from the group's prior albums.
The essence of The Fall remains intact, as will always be the case for as long as Smith remains in the band, and in the end that's what really matters. While the consummately unstable band lineup certainly has a plethora of negative repercussions, such as a paucity of time for the musicians to develop a good chemistry with one another, there are advantages as well, such as keeping the sound fresh. This 'freshness' doesn't inherently lead to uniformly positive results, but it makes already solid albums like Imperial Wax Solvent all the more unique and compelling.
Imperial Wax Solvent is not geared toward new or casual Fall fans; it's hardly accessible and the track sequencing almost seems designed to ward off newbies who want an easier listen, complete with a ten minute track arriving in the number three slot. Additionally, the sound is characterized by a certain looseness that hearkens back to the band's early work, a trend already started on the previous album.
Fall fans, however, will find much to laud on this album. The ten minute plus epic, 50 Year Old Man, is certainly gratuitously long, even with its multipart structure, but somehow its needlessly protracted length and bloated nature manage to infuse a certain charm into the proceedings, a charm that doubtlessly would only be felt by diehard Fall fanatics. The overlong character of the cover of the Groundhogs' Strangetown, however, is bereft of any charm, rendering it the weakest track on the album.
Elsewhere the opener Alton Towers is something akin to a mock horror soundtrack in the vein of a superior opener, that of This Nation's Saving Grace's starting number. The track works well in this context, even if it's certainly lesser Fall. The follow-up song, Wolf Kidult Man, is one of a multitude of catchy (if sometimes generic) rockers that welcomingly populate the track listing, the best of which being the stellar riff rocker Tommy Shooter.
I've Been Duped betrays the band's identity to an unhealthy level but is still a perfectly entertaining pop song wherein vocal responsibilities are delegated to Smith's wife, Poulou, while she herself writes the infectious instrumental Taurig.
In a welcome change of pace the second half of the album is superior to the first, a rarity in today's music climate where a parade of A-sides dominate the beginning of a record to lure listeners in. Songs like the already mentioned Tommy Shooter along with others including Senior Twilight Stock Replacer and the closer Exploding Chimney are rockers that are drenched in the classic Fall vibe, which serves to transfigure already brilliant tracks into irreplaceable classics. Smith will always hold that kind of animating power, and the current lineup seems like an apt medium through which to filter his idiosyncratic vision.
Thus Imperial Wax Solvent is another great Fall album. It doesn't measure up to early classics like Hex Enduction Hour or more recent triumphs like The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Known As 'Country On The Click'), but it's still an immensely enjoyable listen augmented by a fresh sound cultivated by yet another new cast of characters.
Remarkably, the most recent lineup of The Fall emerged from the Imperial Wax Solvent sessions intact, and more over survived the intervening years between projects without Mark E. Smith conjuring some excuse for dissolving this incarnation of the band. This rare endurance in the face of Smith's innate antisocial whims resulted in Your Future Our Clutter, one of the first Fall albums in years that boasts precisely the same lineup as its predecessor.
While Smith has already proven that he's capable of transfiguring nearly any ensemble into a convincing facsimile of The Fall, it's still refreshing that the Imperial Wax Solvent crew managed to repeat. This isn't because Imperial Wax Solvent was one of the band's best efforts (though it was a solid album in its own right), but rather because The Fall's revolving door policy with regards to group members precludes any hope for artistic growth as a unit. While it's always been clear that Mark E. Smith is The Fall, as long as his tendency to haphazardly discard band members in his wake remains it's impossible for his collaborators to have even the slightest creative impact on the proceedings, likewise dispelling any chance for improvement in the chemistry department.
Even with constant lineup shifts, however, The Fall has remained amazingly consistent, and thus it's unsurprising that Your Future Our Clutter is yet another quality offering from Mark E. Smith and company. The album never reaches the dizzying heights of Our Nation's Saving Grace, Hex Enduction Hour or Country On The Click, but it's still yet another worthy addition to The Fall's impressive canon and an essential purchase for any fan of the group.
It may seem at first that the album's early tracks are mired in tired garage rock clichés, but this impression can be deceptive. While it's true that tracks like the opener O.F.Y.C. Showcase and Bury Pts. 1 + 3 center around very simple riffs and basslines, this structure harkens back to The Fall's golden days and has remained a constant aspect of their sound for the entirety of the band's existence. The band specialize in taking a basic, endlessly repeating riff and using it as a foundation for far more ambitious musical enterprises. Repetition has been the band's hallmark since day one, and if one subjects tracks like the opener to greater scrutiny they'll find that there's far more going on beyond its simplistic core.
O.F.Y.C. Showcase is in essence a merger of a garage rock track and a sound collage. The garage rock side of the track functions as a kind of base over which more rich and varied sounds are superimposed. These sounds aren't abrasive, discordant aural filler, nor are they self-indulgent, pretentious experimental noise. Rather than acting as intrusive sonic clutter they come across as natural extensions of the song, enhancing the track without detracting from the core melody.
Bury Pts. 1 + 3 starts off in decidedly off-putting manner with lo-fi sonic sludge, but soon resolves itself into a far cleaner and more polished take on garage rock, eschewing demo-quality aesthetics in favor of pristine aural clarity. Once again the band choose conventional garage rock as their template, and once again a more attentive listen reveals that there's far more to the song than is initially apparent.
Mexico Wax Solvent is another stellar track with some lyrical bite, as Smith sarcastically intones, "Where are Britain's lowest prices?" and is also the last song on the album that revolves around a garage rock structure. Cowboy George, however, is an instant classic, with its offbeat melody and bizarre sound effects. Admittedly the song does lose its musical focus after a certain point, abandoning its melody in favor of a Mark E. Smith monologue accompanied by minimal instrumentation, but this Smith showcase has its charm and manages to feel like an organic part of the track.
Hot Cake and Y.F.O.C./Slippy Floor may be quintessential Fall tracks, but Chino is something else altogether. The song is profoundly menacing, recalling the apocalyptic soundscapes of Joy Division, and Smith turns in a suitably ominous performance. With a tenebrous atmosphere that doesn't come at the expense of melody, Chino may very well represent the zenith of the album, and is certainly another masterpiece from The Fall.
Funnel Of Love is a cover, but it certainly eludes the fate of debacles like The Fall's renditions of Victoria and I Can Hear The Grass Grow as the band turn in a spirited and energetic performance that makes the track highly entertaining. As far as the closer, Weather Report 2, is concerned, the track actually carries a kind of melancholic beauty. Once again the melody is rudely discarded somewhere along the way in favor of extraneous noisemaking, but as a loyal Fall follower I've long since accepted that Mark E. Smith must subscribe to an obscure music philosophy whereby it's a sin for a song's melody to occupy more than fifty percent of its runtime. Keeping this in mind Weather Report 2 is still a great song, and Smith's final statement, "You don't deserve rock and roll," is the perfect note to end the album on.
Thus Your Future Our Clutter is another impressive chapter in The Fall's discography. The band consistently prove that whether they adopt garage rock mannerisms or stick to a more experimental paradigm they remain fresh, creative and exciting, and by this point Smith has developed such a rich and unique personality for the group that their individuality will show through in any context. While it's still clear that Smith is The Fall, this latest lineup have now acquitted themselves admirably on two occasions, and certainly make great foils for the eccentric, if bitter, genius.