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Thursday, July 31, 2014 
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The Fall
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The Real New Fall LP (formerly Country On The Click)
Narnack
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It took me a long time to love The Fall. Oh sure, I listened to them a lot in a budding-rock-nerd, take-your-vegetables kind of way — "Because John Peel said so, that's why! Now go to your room until you understand that Pavementís 'Two States' is totally derivative." But I didn't quite get it.

Part of the problem was that I started in the deep end of the pool: Palace of Swords Reversed, a collection of the band's early-'80s singles. The songs collected on Palace are now among my all-time faves — and many are represented on 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong, the new two-disc Fall retrospective — but at the time, except for "Totally Wired" and a vague feeling that "Kicker Conspiracy" was about sports, I could understand about every 15th word and basically had no idea what this Mark E. Smith character was going on about.

So next I figure I'll get their new album, which at the time was The Infotainment Scan on Matador, 1993. Is this even the same band? It's like a techno record, if techno included pop ballads and Lee Perry cover songs. Does not compute....

Such was the plight of the nascent Fall fan, with only 458489 A Sides, a great collection of the band's best Beggars Banquet singles, offering more of a starting point or anything approaching an overview (and even then, as with Palace, you're only getting one Fall incarnation). Somehow I found my way to the songs that — poof! — unlocked The Fall so I could fall for 'em, and today, if not a fanatic ... well, let's face it, I'm probably a fanatic.

The Fall's strange appeal can be summed up in a couple of paradoxes. The first is that they record the same songs over and over again in surprisingly original ways. The Fall and their ever-shifting lineup, anchored by Smith, really only work from a few templates — the Sloganeering Stomper ("Kicker Conspiracy," "Rowche Rumble"), the Droning Jam ("The Man Whose Head Expanded"), the Big Pop Single ("C.R.E.E.P.," "Touch Sensitive") — each with its own set of Fall-specific conventions. Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon's guitar playing often consists of only a couple of repeating two- or three-note riffs, and sometimes the bass and keyboards follow along, each of them slightly off the beat but lurching as one. Aside from giving Smith plenty of room to do his thing (more on that later), the bandís minimalist palette can be infinitely twisted and tweaked to refract everything from rockabilly to techno to The Kinks. "Mr. Pharmacist," their cover of The Other Halfís Nuggets-era shouter, sounds pretty much exactly like the original, yet it transforms into a Fall song so thoroughly that it's a fan favorite, still in their live set 18 years later.

Paradox No. 2: Mark E. Smith shows true dedication in the pursuit of creative nihilism. Always discontented ("I hate the countryside so much" is a key phrase from The Fallís new one), Smith punctures targets with offhand accuracy and finishes the barbs with his nasal "uhh." Whether cryptic and nonsensical or bizarrely specific — "Turn those bloody, blimey Space Invaders off — uhh!" — Smith's delivery takes a little getting used to, but it's the instantly recognizable thread running through every song The Fall have recorded.

Smith especially seems to relish twisting the knife on his core audience. "Hip Priest," from 1982's Hex Enduction Hour, prefigured LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge" by two decades — Smith mocks the pronouncement-on-high rock-crit smartasses with lines like "I took my last clean dirty shirt out of the wardrobe! 'Cause I'm a hip priest!" Of course, the song has the residual effect of installing Smith as the hip pope, with the clean-dirty-shirted acolytes hanging on every word.

So, now, though, back to the formidable monster catalog and how to navigate it. Enter stage right: 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong, the best way to get from the clattering manifesto of 1978's Repetition to 2003's Green-Eyed Loco Man and hit all high points between. The Fall have released roughly an album a year during that span, and 50,000 Fall Fans ... pulls about one song from each, filling in with key singles like "Cruiser's Creek." One impressive thing about this approach is that the second disc, covering 1986 to the present, is only a bit less enjoyable than disc one — The Fall have been consistently good for 25 years! (Maybe not album-length consistent, but still. Insane.) You could even do 50,000 Fall Fans Vol. 2, with a different song from each album, and the thing would be almost as great as this one. ("Glam-Racket" ... "Slang King" ... "Jerusalem" ...)

Who knows, they might need a Vol. 3 by the time The Fall call it quits. Smith is still touring with newer/younger/hungrier Fall cohorts — appearing last summer in New York, he looked like a pissed-off British version of Johnny Cash, declining to take off his leather jacket despite the 115-degree weather inside the Knitting Factoryís sold-out sweatbox. The band still cranks out nearly an album a year, although the records haven't been getting released in the United States for about six. So it's a welcome development that the U.S. indie label Narnack picked up The Real New Fall LP — the title is apparently a jibe at downloaders of a leaked early version — and got it into stores a few months after its release in Europe.

In a process that started on 2002's The Unutterable, this album skips back a couple of eras and pumps out more raw-sounding music than The Fall had been doing in the 1990s, with a skein of electronic manipulation adding texture but not providing the main point. Smith's voice is manipulated, too, becoming a digitized growl of distortion on "Mad Mock Goth": "We take Viagra and go to Camber Sands/ Our shirts are well out of our pants. Mad mock goth — uhh!" For most of the album he's properly worked up, but the more subdued tracks — the dark whispers of "Janet vs. Johnny" or the country click of "Houston" — are no less satisfying. The only real misstep is "Portugal," which seems a little too on-the-nose in its apparent airing of a complaint letter about The Fall's bad touring behavior.

So while not breaking new ground — a near impossible expectation given the amount of ground The Fall has already broken — The Real New Fall LP is a strong indication that Mark E. Smith is nowhere near finished. Like The Fall said on that first single, "The repetition's in the music and we're never gonna lose it."


by Dave Renard




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