The Fall


The Fall A Part of America Therein, 1981 LP reissue

Oh, to be a fly on the wall as the FALL caromed about the US during the summer of 1981, plying their sui generis mixture of rock n’ roil repetition, surrealist non-sequiturs, and dagger-like bon mots—all while leaving a trail of empty beer cans and crumpled bags of speed in their wake. By this point, the band was functioning (at least on stage) as one unit, lashed together with the rhythmic clatter that they were bashing out like a pack of hungry wolves. Most of this set, patched together from recordings taped at an array of US cities, is a study in how the FALL subverted the dirge form and reshaped it into something approaching rock n’ roll. In this spirit, “The N.W.R.A.” opens things up, reveling in a monolithic patience while also utilizing, naturally, a kazoo. The run-through of “Totally Wired” doesn’t quite live up to its title, but it does feature some choice Mark E. Smith ad-libs mocking punks and quoting Hunter S. Thompson. Recorded in Houston, “An Older Lover” has a nice, down-the-hallway feel, emphasizing its petulant response to emotional devastation. Few songs embody wandering around barren streets in a broken-hearted daze like this sublime number. Ultimately, the Live at St. Helens Technical College, 1981 LP that came out last year is superior to this set, but, really, you can’t go wrong with the band in question. There’s always another hole to fall into…

The Fall Slates LP

Every winter, I return to the FALL. Their music has a rhythmic turn n’ churn and cynical sneer that sticks to your ribs and gets you through the cold months. This winter, I’ve been diving deep, in the midst of casually reading the FALL tome Excavate! and the chapbook Language Scraps 02, both of which are written by massive FALL-heads and have given me a broader scope to their wonderful, frightening, grotesque, unutterable world. It was perfect timing then that I got assigned this to review, since I’ve had them on my mind. The Slates EP was originally released on the inscrutable 10″ format in 1981, making it ineligible for the singles or album charts in Britain at the time. Mark E. Smith called it one of his favorite FALL releases, and the format choice seems to be a perfect symbol for his refusal to let the FALL fit in and make nice with the music industry, independent or not. Perhaps Slates was a clearinghouse for the band between moments: too many songs for a single, but not enough to fill out an album. For such a short release, Slates has a number of my favorite FALL tracks, from the white-heat gallop of “Prole Art Threat,” with the guitar spraying sparks as the rhythm section attempts to pull the brakes, to the mutated rockabilly licks and skiffle boogie of “Fit and Working Again,” and the Manchester motorik that closes out “Leave the Capitol.” But it’s the opening song “Middle Mass” and its seasick sway that’s stuck with me lately. Mark E. Smith’s penknife of critique jabbed at me from the timeslip with the line “The evil is not in extremes / It’s in the aftermath / The middle mass.” I can’t help but hear that and not relate it to the pandemic-strained, climate-collapsing police state we’re in, where corporate fascists and the ruling rich are continually given more power by the moderate moo-ers who vote with a sports team mentality out of apathy, comfort, or fear than for the betterment of their fellow people.

The Fall Live at St. Helens Technical College, 1981 LP+7″

Even as an unabashed FALL obsessive, I’ve had significantly tempered expectations and legitimate hesitancy when it comes to some of the more recent additions to the band’s already sprawling discography—have y’all seen the cover art for that Bingo Masters at the Witch Trials live LP that came out a few years ago? But fret not, because this live album (yes, yet another one) is actually golden; an impressively sharp soundboard recording of the group in full Slates-era glory, with one world-beating classic after another preserved in the amber of audio tape. “Prole Art Threat” is absolutely withering here, with that raw, unyielding paranoid rhythm in complete service to Mark’s rapid-fire rantings, to say nothing of the blazing run through “Rowche Rumble” that barely clings to the rails, or the off-kilter rockabilly-from-hell delirium of “Fit and Working Again,” or the extra-frantic bashing given to “City Hobgoblins”…just a completely unreal set from the band to end all bands, at a point in time that was arguably their creative peak (although they honestly had a few of those). And the design work is even non-embarrassing, you can truly have it all!

The Fall This Nation’s Saving Grace LP

As with most extremely prolific bands, the FALL hit and miss with most of their compositions. This is basic middling FALL, with the repetitious arrangements and obscure, taunting vocals that aficionados of the outfit have come to expect. About every other song is pretty good, and nearly everything is very, very predictable.

The Fall This Nation’s Saving Grace LP

Mark E. Smith has always opted for making ugly, twisted music during the career of the FALL, so I expect him to be sacking just about everyone in the band after this record. They continue with hypnotic drone songs with sly pop melodies, with lyrical lashings against middle-class mores and attitudes.

The Fall Couldn’t Get Ahead / Rollin’ Dany 7″

The FALL are getting easier and easier to take on the first listen. This 45 chronicles a day in the life of a terminal loser over a scrappy, howling song with blasts of harmonica. This flip has the first cover tune they’ve ever done, and it draws more of a rockabilly sound out of this line-up.

The Fall The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall LP

There’s three new records by these guys, and it’s all like this LP. They’re faster and funnier than ever. Mark Smith maintains his tradition of never really “singing” the songs. They confidently thwart trends. They laugh while their peers join mindless tribes or dress up like gauchos just to get on MTV. All three records are available on one cassette.