“…very much into the bellowing apparently- random- words- as- associational- poetry mode. “Cheese-sticks!” “Goldfish bowl!” “No Newsnight for you Baby!”…”
Chapter 303: In which our hero, the greatest lyrical visionary of the past century to spring from a) North West England or b) anywhere, sacks his band amidst a drunken rage. Again. This time he and his wife are left in the American desert and have to pick up an entirely new band of Yank recruits to get this album recorded within several days, yet manage it nonetheless. With any other band this would be an epic tale. With this one, it’s just The Fall.
And here he is, the Hip Priest of Prestwich, spouting with majesty once again. The album starts with a rasping laugh sounding like it springs from the depths of a Hades as imagined by the man’s beloved M.R. James or Arthur Machen. It soon transpires that the voice that seemed battered and careworn when first recorded in 1978, now seems preternaturally ravaged, with a new gurgling tic rendering it rougher than ever before. And very much into the bellowing apparently-random-words as associational poetry mode. “Cheese-sticks!” “Goldfish bowl!” “No Newsnight for you Baby!” I was often reminded of my step-grandad Wally. The man is only 50, yet seems as old as The Great God Pan he and Machen both pondered on.
There are great moments on this album. “Fall Sound” does as it says on the tin, a thrilling distillation of the band’s essence, dark, relentless and unstoppable in its repetitive guitar attack, with witty gems worming through the random verbal screed:-
“I’ve seen POWs less hysterical than you….. Only water passes my lips, only beer passes my throat………”
“Coach and Horses” has MES spying a vision “through an 1860s window pane” of the funeral corteges of centuries past, set to a sparse, beautiful, melodic accompaniment. “The Usher” sees the man playing hilariously against type, posing as a benevolent benefactor to new bands falsely claiming to promote “a mutual respect for all in the business.” “The Wright Stuff” continues in this sarcastic vein, with Smith’s Greek wife Eleni taking lead vocals for the first time on the album’s best pop tune, giving a charming pseudo-Nico-esque performance in the withering tale of a third divisioner in the League of fame, whose “parents had no problem with nudity, which set him on good stead for I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here”. By contrast “Scenario” appears a moving tribute to Smith’s mother, forged from regretted memories of his delinquent past.
That said, I don’t find this one of the best, or even the better albums by The Fall. A largely meaningless judgement. Being a band so peerlessly Protean, there is very little critical agreement amongst the great fanatic-base. My favourite album is probably Grotesque, very rarely mentioned in the “best of” debates. The Fall have after all been several dozen different bands. This is a Fall of a very different complexion to the one which created Fall Heads Roll, to my mind much the greater album. The relentless drone-rock of the performance is undoubtedly hypnotic, but it lacks energy in comparison to their previous album.
The Fall is of course a dictatorship, and not a benevolent one at that, but at times it seems this gang have perhaps been cowed to the man’s will just that little bit too much. This is the Fall in Can mode rather than rock’n’roll mode, and while it can beguile it can jade too. There are times when both individual tracks and the album itself just seem to meander. The stand-out tracks stand less than in the previous albums of this particular decade, and filler emerges. “Das Boat” is ten minutes of submarine noises, squatting like an overweight paperweight on the second part of the album, submerging it below listenability. It’s part of what makes them what they are, and I certainly love them no less for it. But I will undoubtedly turn to the previous album more than this one. And MES, an artist true to his vision could not care less, and nor should he.
To my irrelevant mind then this album, unlike Fall Heads Roll, is definitely not The Fall at their supercharged best, or in evangelical mode. Its definitely “one for the fans”. But it still has enough treasures to prove that if you’re not one of the fans, you’re one of that sad, overwhelming majority of humankind still missing out on something fabulous.