Fall Heads Roll
Reader, Be Warned: I am one of those die-hard Fall fans that you may have read about. One that has stuck with the band for well past a decade of my own time and three of theirs. Can probably rattle off at least 20 people that have been in the Fall over the years. I know that the E in Mark E. Smith stands for Edward and can catch the references to his personal life and back catalogue in the spider web vocabulary in his songs. Some people have a dedication to Dave Matthews Band. More power to them, I say. Mediocre songwriters need love too. Me, my wagon is hitched to the unsinkable Fall and will be until either myself or Mark E gives up the cantankerous ghost. And his creaky cadaver must be well pickled by now, so the good money is on him.
Being a fuckface (FallNet slang for a fan of the band, from one of the more notorious songs "The Classical" off the essential Hex Enduction Hour. Like a DeadHead, but with discerning tastes rather than adopted marketing) is not always easy. The copious catalog, into the triple digits if you include the countless collections and live records, is very hit and miss. There is devastating brutalist art noise like the aforementioned Hex and Perverted By Language, and some laughable new wave yick like Shift Work to true WTF slapdash ear hazards like 2001's Are You Are Missing Winner? (which I actually kinda like) the only expectations reliable are those made by following a 4-5 album pattern. Sir Mark will sack the band and form a new one usually involving members of his most recent opening act and his latest girlfriend on keyboards. They will do a shocker strange amorphous beast (like Winner) a follow-up with promise (last year's Country on the Click aka the Real New Fall LP) and then a solid rocker of elder statesman authority like the recent Fall Heads Roll.
This one, would you know nothing about the band, would be one of the coolest electroclash records ever. Except the Fall was around for the onset of punk, electro, and The Clash for that matter. But despite the varying styles with which Smith has dabbled, his heart beats loudest in the garage - taking the trappings of his new-wave, Krautrock, reggae, noise and rockabilly interests and filtering them through the sieve of garage rock: reducing intricacy into repetition and insistence. Fall songs generally find a great bonehead riff and stuck with it for the duration, riding it to its logical end. Case in point is the first of many textbook rockers on this platter "Pacifying Joint" which consists of a repeated two chord-der, his multi-layered shouting of the title and some ancillary lyrics and keyboard embellishments. In other words, a perfect garage song. The riff on the following track "What About Us" in fact barely varies, in fact had their not been the track space between the two, this might have been a brilliant epic Garage number, but that's no matter. Mark E Smith's command of the garage rock form is peerless. Every insouciant skinny tie wearing quartet coming out of NYC and London might have Mick Jagger swagger and Dr. Dre-grade production work making them sound fresh, but this be-dentured 50-year old speed freak can still mop the floor with all their fresh hairstyles.
Many of the old man's other habits show up in good form here as well. The opening track "Rode Away" indicates that he and his lady have been kicking around the flat listening to old Augustus Pablo dub records, with the keyboards acting as the Jamaican master's melodica. Maybe not the most effective mode for our (ok, my) hero, but I still like it for its inherent weirdness. Also present is his at-least-one-per-album obscure cover tune, this time being a decent run through The Move's "I Can Hear The Grass Grow." Personally, I think he should stick more shouty numbers like previous covers "Mr. Pharmacist" and "f-oldin Money" since it suits his Tourettes-through-a-hornpipe delivery, but its a valiant effort nonetheless. And just when you think you might be tired of Smith's rattling jabber, he lets another member of the band take a stab at it in the mediocre "Trust In Me", proving that Smith may be no member of the Iglesias family, but his is as natural and potent a front man as they come.
All sins are forgiven with great classic off-the-tracks rambles like "Clasp Hands" and straight up groovy bubblegum-laced-with-arsenic numbers like "Breaking The Rules" which may be the catchiest number since "Shoulder Pads" from Bend Sinister, nigh on two decades ago. Also notable is the mellow "Midnight In Aspen" and its reprise, where the band takes a breather from its martial stomp and adopts a more jangly daydream tenor. They don't do it all that often, but when they do, its sublime, and you start to see where Pavement got a lot of its form from, and thus, where all the other bands got theirs second-hand. But its the scorching buzzsaw of "Blindness" that wins the trophy. Everything in the fix is fuzzed to fuck, the beat is is a non-stop strut, and Smith rants on like the guy at the next barstool you were trying to ignore, but realized tat this wretched individual has The Wisdom, and enlightenment slips through your hands like slot-machine quarters if you don't listen up. People might declare this song too long, but those people are what you call "pussies" and their opinions are not to be heeded. Back in the 70's, a snotty Smith declared in song "We Dig Repetition" and this credo is still in effect. He's in a a long line of musical misfits like Sun Ra and Lee Scratch Perry and George Clinton who, to paraphrase Clinton, push repetition on through past the tedious to the sublime.
So is this a rebirth for the Fall? Will they ever have a hit again (at least a UK hit?) Who knows. Its a crime nary a great Fall stomp like "New Face in Hell" or "Totally Wired" was present on the Trainspotting soundtrack, which I believe to have re-ignited the non-record-dork interest in Iggy Pop and Lou Reed, and it could have done so for my favorite band. But so what. The Fall will outlast us all, and I hope that I can keep my antennae wired enough to keep up with them when I join Smith's status as bizarre drunken coot.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com