The Fall made their first appearance on vinyl in October 1977, on a 10” EP of recordings from their local Manchester punk venue, entitled Short Circuit: Live At The Electric Circus (Virgin VCL5003/CDVCL5003). The two spindly songs included, “Stepping Out” and “Last Orders”, gave no indication that, nearly three decades and 27 studio albums later, The Fall would turn out to be the only group to survive the punk era with critical status undiminished and critical faculties intact. Over the years, the group have mixed rockabilly rhythms, pounding riffs, experimental collages, misappropriated electronica, a subversive pop sensibility, a dark and often deceptive sense of the absurd, and frontman Mark E Smith’s immediately recognisable anti-vocals, stream of consciousness lyrics and left-field literary references to create a body of work unequalled in scope and sheer size by any other rock outfit.
Smith, The Fall’s single long term constant, is publicly disdainful of what he calls ‘look-back bores’ and the cult of ultra short-term nostalgia. Fall sets rarely include any songs older than the last couple of albums, unless they are seasoned covers of 60s garage classics and old rockabilly riffs ripe for reinterpretation, or songs that fans don’t really like, offered up as if to teach them to appreciate the new stuff. Smith refuses to become a keeper of sacred relics – the living interpreter of his own back catalogue. Compared to The Fall, even Dylan’s apparently sacrilegious approach to the casual rephrasing of his own legacy of song seems accommodating and respectful. The very notion of a Primer on The Fall would no doubt irritate Smith a little, as if someone were preparing his obituary, and the nature of the group’s output and the passion of its followers makes it impossible to agree on generally accepted highlights. The most recent Fall record is always the most important one. The music speaks for itself, albeit in an often impenetrable accent, and about things that appear to make little sense.
Perhaps appropriately, The Fall’s recorded output has been in comparative disarray for some years, with semi-legal CD reissues mastered from scratched, skipping vinyl, songs mislabelled, and vital singles and session tracks completely overlooked. Compilation albums have been assembled from un-sourced outtakes that were allowed to fall, in lean times, into the hands of unscrupulous labels, as if in exchange for plastic bags full of used fivers. There are more Fall live albums than are strictly necessary, and most are of a sound quality best described as no-fi. The band’s late 90’s studio output is already deleted.
Though the Fall’s sales probably peaked sometime around the late 80’s, the group’s critical status and press coverage by the inch is greater than at anytime since its 80’s high watermark. Why? Is it that young people, whose ranks swell unstoppably every day, find in The Fall a compelling, uncompromised mystery absent from contemporary groups aping the era that spawned them? Is it because Franz Ferdinand like them? Or is it simply that the legion of Fall fans weaned on the addictive speed-gruel of the band’s early output have grown up to include a phalanx of balding 40-ish media bit-players, ready to include the group in their magazines, rave about them in Sunday Supplement questionnaires, and use their music to soundtrack car commercials, light entertainment programmes and television football coverage trailers?
We have included details of the original label release in the headers below, while the text points out the most reliable currently available CD version of each relevant record, avoiding illegal/bootleg releases.
Live At The Witch Trials
Step Forward 1979
Step Forward 1979
All of the Fall’s early singles are collected as extra tracks on the satisfyingly thorough Castle reissues of their first and second albums Live At The Witch Trials (CMQDD847 CD)and Dragnet (CMRCD848 CD). From the opening notes of August 1978’s “Bingo Master’s Breakout” 7”, The Fall were clearly a group merely sheltering from the spit-storm behind the convenient punk umbrella, while in fact defining themselves in opposition to any prevailing orthodoxies. As youngsters, Smith and his cohorts were nourished by the 70s counterculture drip-feed of Krautrock, Iggy Pop, Captain Beefheart and weird Prog, and it could be argued The Fall became Peel favourites in the 80s precisely because they reflected a decade of digesting the DJ’s more extreme musical choices. The Sex Pistols may have inspired Smith to form a group, but there the comparison ended. The Fall’s debut album, January 1979’s Live At The Witch Trials, is characterised by Yvonne Pawlett’s cheap and nasty keyboard sound, suggesting a toddler channelling Van Der Graaf Generator. Producer Bob Sargeant attempted to counterbalance the group’s inherent griminess with a clean and shiny production job, resulting in a kind of grey, industrial psychedelia. Witch Trials suggests magic mushroom tea drunk from a dirty pub ashtray, an Ambrosian dishwater. It doesn’t taste very nice, but it’s probably good for you.
Although guitarist Martin Bramah and drummer Karl Burns were to be on-off members of The Fall for the next two decades, neither were present on the October 1979 album Dragnet, which saw the arrival of two new guitarists, future Radio 1 DJ Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and Craig Scanlon, and bassist Steve Hanley. Scanlon, a gifted interpreter of Smith’s often incomprehensible instructions, spent the next 15 years reining in his improvisatory tendencies to define The Fall’s majestically monolithic sound, alongside the similarly long serving Hanley’s overhead power cable bass boom. Both Witch Trials and Dragnet contain the kind of paper-cut, spiky post-punk currently plagiarised by contemporary pop groups, but The Fall’s vision remains too individual to assimilate easily.
Seven live albums of extremely variable quality document the group’s 1977-80 incarnations. The best is Rough Trade’s Totale’s Turns, capturing The Fall infuriating various Northern working men’s club crowds as Smith audibly baits his colleagues into ever more intense performances. “Hey?”, he asks a heckler, “are you doing what you did two years ago? Yeah? Well, don’t make a career out of it.” This acidic put-down could be used to sum up The Fall’s own ethos. The Castle reissue (CMRCD882 CD) includes a Peel Session.
Grotesque (After The Gramme)
Rough Trade 1980
Rough Trade 1981
Live In London 1980
Chaos Tapes 1980
A Part Of America Therein, 1981
“C&N music is born,” declared Smith’s Northern playboy alter-ego R Totale on the sleeve of November 1980’s Grotesque (After The Gramme). The cover, a Friday night out Giotto fresco in lurid felt tip by Smith’s younger sister Suzanne, sums up Grotesque’s tone perfectly. This record, and its attendant singles “Totally Wired” and “How I Wrote Elastic Man” – both collected on the Castle reissue (CMRCD883 CD) – moved yet further from the prevailing punk template. As Echo And The Bunnymen and their indie rock contemporaries posited a vaguely mystical, post-punk psychedelia, shaped by album sleeves of wilting flowers and deserted beaches, Smith turned The Fall into kitchen sink realists who found Lovecraftian horrors lurking down the U-bend. Collapsed Country & Western cliches and rickety rockabilly rhythms pinned and mounted various contemporary social archetypes, – CB radio enthusiasts, long distance lorry drivers, and ambitious émigrés, – with an accuracy that escaped other lyricists of the era. While Paul Weller stuck ‘Kick Me’ signs on the back of be-suited businessmen and ran away, “English Scheme” explained the English disease in a hilarious stream of consciousness splurge of social theory, with exquisitely detailed supporting evidence. “Your psychotic big brother who left home for jobs in Holland, Munich, Rome – he’s thick but he’s struck it rich.” “Impression Of J Temperance”, “New Face In Hell” and “The NWRA” moved towards the expansive, narrative driven epics that would characterise the Fall’s best work in the near future.
The 10” mini album Slates, issued the following year (and augmented with a Peel session and a single on Castle CMRCD1006 CD), pursued the same themes in less forgiving terms, with song structures sacrificed to relentless repetition, as if Smith and his cohorts were furiously scratching the tracks into the vinyl themselves. Slates includes the incendiary “Leave The Capitol”, a fevered vision of London at its most irritating with buried lyrical nods to the forgotten mystic Arthur Machen, rendered over a pulverising descending guitar riff that never fails to excite. “I laughed at the great God Pan!” Live In London 1980 is a sardine-tin recording of the group reaching towards ideas beyond their ability at the time, reissued by Castle with extra tracks (CMRCD1005 CD). But A Part Of America Therein 1981, though taped only a year later, reveals the group achieving its aims, with endless riffs approaching trancelike qualities, and includes a definitive, hallucinatory live reading of “An Older Lover”, against which the Slates version seems stunted in comparison. As usual, there are extra tracks on the Castle edition (CMRCD1006 CD).
Hex Enduction Hour
Room To Live (Undilutable Slang Truth)
Fall In A Hole
Perverted By Language
Rough Trade 1983
The Fall’s recorded output from 1982 and 1983 is incomparable and indispensable. Hex Enduction Hour remains their greatest album, and the Peel Session that preceded Perverted By Language documented the group on the cusp of discovering a new and unique mode of expression that mixed rock’s primitive structures with a transcendental, avant garde aesthetic. The Hex era is great art, made by people who did everything they could to avoid looking or sounding like great artists.
Hex Enduction Hour, issued in March 1982, is a masterpiece, contained in a studiously non-designed sleeve, on which Smith has been let loose with green Letraset and a black marker pen. Like the music within, it is ugly, intriguing, confusing, profound and beautiful. Smith’s lyrics balance recognisable fragments of narrative, and well chosen pop-cultural references, with cryptically alluring phrases. “You won’t find anything more ridiculous than this new profile razor unit, made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail, become obsolete units surrounded by hail,” he deadpans during ‘The Classical’. The music suckers you in with overdriven steamroller riffs, but kicks you sideways with the percussive clatter of the double drum kit line-up, the stop-start rhythms, and the uncharacteristic use of improvisation. The psycho-geographical incantation of “Iceland” was extemporised on the spot; “And This Day” was edited from a 25 minute jam, and “The Classical” includes a bass solo. The single “Look Now”, sung by Marc Riley, is omitted from the otherwise exemplary expanded Castle reissue (CMQDD1059 CD), for indecipherable reasons.
Six months later, Room To Live – reissued by Castle (CMRCD1135 CD) with the rare live track “Words Of Expectation” – was considered a failure at the time, because of its refusal to follow the acclaimed Hex template. But its retreat into a loose-limbed, more fluid, fragmentary mode is typical of Smith’s characteristic disinclination to satisfy expectations.
By the release of 1983’s Perverted By Language, Riley had been replaced by Smith’s future wife Brix, whom he had met after a gig in Chicago, but the young American guitarist’s eventually civilising influence was yet to be felt. Instead, the album finds The Fall at a peak of non-rock. The extended workouts of “Smile” and “Garden” achieve an impossible super-density. Smith, who’d been digesting Wyndham Lewis, is at his most elliptically intriguing, “Garden”’s ‘Jew on a motorbike!’ refrain and “Tempo House”’s declaration that “The Dutch are weeping in four languages at least” are just two of many Fall lyrics that still seize fans at inopportune moments. On PBL the band channelled the twang of Link Wray into a vortex of vast, surreal mantras and dadaist call and response chants. The Castle reissue (CMQDD1134 CD) includes essential singles from the period, such as The Man Whose Head Expanded and the football-themed thrash Kicker Conspiracy, live tracks, and Peel Session album highlights that better the official versions.
Any live recording of this period is worth owning, including Live To Air In Melbourne (Cog Sinister COGVP108 CD), Austurbaejarbio (Cog Sinister COGVP125 CD) and the Bury 1982 set spread over the bonus discs issued with the inferior 1998 Cog Sinister reissues of Room To Live and the compilation Palace Of Swords Reversed. However, the superb New Zealand set, Fall In A Hole, finally reissued in a serviceable from by Castle (CMQDD1225 CD) captures versions of the period’s best material performed with an improvisatory fluidity Smith usually discouraged and disparaged.
The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall
Beggars Banquet 1984
This Nation’s Saving Grace
Beggars Banquet 1985
Beggars Banquet 1986
458489 A Sides
Beggars Banquet 1990
458489 B Sides
Beggars Banquet 1990
After Perverted By Language, Smith seemed to have had enough of leading Britain’s biggest unknown group, and emboldened by Brix’s way with a winning hook and a clothes iron, The Fall entered a new phase by signing to Beggars Banquet, the bat-cave like home of Gary Numan, Gene Loves Jezebel and The Cult. For the remainder of the 1980s, The Fall became a commercially successful alternative rock act, despite making no obvious concessions to public taste. They appeared on TV shows such as The Tube and The Old Grey Whistle Test. They did not look appalling. Smith wore long leather coats and eyeliner, as if attempting to beat the black-clad hordes at their own game. On Top Of The Pops, BBC cameramen tried to film up Brix Smith and keyboard player Marcia Schofield’s skirts. There were videos, 12” remixes, interviews in Smash Hits, collaborations with ballet dancers, and middle billing at summer rock festivals. Indie-guru producer John Leckie built an ongoing relationship with the group. Everything had changed.
Their Beggars debut, 1984’s The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…, marked a seismic shift of direction, with short, often poppy tunes and a minimal amount of the extraneous noise that had previously deterred bystanders. Its attendant single “C.R.E.E.P.” was shockingly radio friendly by Fall standards. My cousin, who had an inverted cross painted on her bedroom wall, bought the album, and enjoyed the sinister pagan chanting, copped from TV’s Quatermass series, that precedes its opening track, “Lay Of The Land”. “Elves” stole its central riff from The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and sold it back to a new generation of fans who didn’t recognise it. A previously undiscovered constituency was opening up, of disillusioned suburban teen types who a decade earlier were primed for punk, but now wanted a new strain of outsider music. Even in a stylish black raincoat, it was clear Mark E Smith belonged to no man.
1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace is a stand-out amongst their five Beggars albums, and drew in the merely curious with a clean production, catchy choruses, and something of the Gothic grandeur that passed for drama during those dreary days. “I Am Damo Suzuki”, heavily indebted to Can’s “Oh Yeah”, flagged up The Fall’s Krautrock influences back before anybody could buy CD re-issues to follow them up, and the opening instrumental, “Mansion”, fingered The Deviants’ “Billy The Monster”. The Fall were stealing from the greats. “L.A.” was a moody instrumental, in keeping with the nocturnal feel of the era, but “What You Need”’s unerring repetition and impenetrable ranting recalled Perverted By Language, albeit in shinier shoes. “Spoilt Victorian Child” and the contemporaneous, rockabilly-styled single ‘Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Danny” harked back to their thrash roots, and the moment in Paintwork where Smith accidentally erased a section of the tape confirms an ongoing faith in the artistic value of chance. This Nation’s Grace took the best of The Fall and force-fed it to fans beyond the reach of John Peel’s Festive Fifty.
The following year’s Bend Sinister, despite the fan-favourite cover of 60’s garage band The Other Side’s ‘Mr Pharmacist’, lost some of the ground This Nation’s Saving Grace had gained in a quagmire of doomy songs, though ‘Dr Faustus’, a kind of marching song for small mechanical goblins, betrayed more Krautrock influences via a decipherable debt to Faust. 1988’s The Frenz Experiment (BEGA96) included an expected pop-hit, The Fall’s cover of The Kinks’ Victoria. Indeed, the Beggars period, of 1984-1990, is best enjoyed via the two 458489 singles compilations of A Sides and B Sides, which document The Fall either creatively crow-barring their individual aesthetic into a borderline pop format, or else enjoying the artistic freedoms and experimental opportunities that B sides offered in the pre-download era.
I Am Kurious, Oranj
Beggars Banquet 1988
I Am Pure As Oranj
I Am Kurious, Oranj was the soundtrack to a collaboration with the progressive ballet dancer Michael Clark on a piece loosely based on William of Orange, which eventually ran at the Temple of culture that was London’s Sadler’s Wells. With I Am Kurious, Oranj, Clark and The Fall created a mild media panic. Today broadsheet newspapers are required to run reviews of the latest Pete Doherty biography, but there was no context in highbrow circles for The Fall in 1988. The high culture/low culture barrier was breached, however briefly, as ballet dancers with bare backsides twirled to the title track’s unusual fusion of off-beat reggae and 17th century history, and a spirited reading of William Blake’s “Jerusalem”, with its satirical sideswipes at compensation culture, reclaimed this righteous revolutionary anthem from rugby fans, public school assemblies and glib patriots. The stomping re-write of Hex Eduction Hour’s fragile Hip Priest, entitled Big New Prinz, survived in live sets until the early 21st century, where Smith’s romanticised description of an undervalued artist became a self-fulfilling prophecy. A belatedly issued live album, I Am Pure As Oranj, captures the strange, hostile ambience of the event itself. You can hear the audience stiffen as Smith’s mumbled spoken word bit, “Dog Is Life”, fills the expectant auditorium, punctuated by the inappropriate applause of excited fans. Other rock peasants have briefly dabbled in the realm of High Art. Few have done it whilst simultaneously enjoying hit singles and backing giant dancing hamburgers.
Brix left Smith and The Fall, and The Fall left Beggars for Fontana – a major label, where powerful cybernetic arms were grafted onto the body of an act that, on the evidence of their final Beggars release, Seminal Live, had perhaps shown signs of weakening. Smith poured scorn on the burgeoning punk-nostalgia bandwagon, as his contemporaries descended upon seaside towns playing the hits, fashioning instead a Fall that sounded undeniably contemporary by bringing the group’s sound into the digital age. A collaboration with dance producers Coldcut gave rise to the sublime stuttering beats of “Telephone Thing” on Extricate (Fontana 1990), and by the following year’s Shift-work, Dave Bush was on board, credited with “machines”, augmenting a stripped back quartet of long-term inmates Hanley and Scanlon on bass and guitar, with Simon Wolstencroft on drums. Live, The Fall began to sound like a computerised threshing machine, inexorably sucking everything before it into its gaping maw.
The standout album of this phase is 1992’s Code: Selfish, with Smith’s visions of a future Europe on “Free Range”, and his comically acerbic deconstruction of thwarted provincial ambition on “The Birmingham School Of Business School”, simmering with a barely controlled contempt. “The jumped-up prats. Laughing stcok of Europe. Olympic bidding again and again. Exciting developments.”, he says of the desperate Brummies. Hanley’s distinctive bass playing, usually delivered as a powerful throb amidst gnarly guitars, discovered a new precision amongst the computerised rhythm tracks, and Scanlon was free to play textures rather than riffs. “The Birmingham School…” even included a guitar solo, albeit one that sounds contemptuous of the very idea of guitar solos.
The Infotainment Scan
Smith split from Fontana before he was pushed, signed to the independent label Permanent, and released The Infotainment Scan, now reissued by Castle with an extra CD of supplementary material (CMQDD1227 2XCD). The album, which peaked at number nine in the national charts, adapted Sister Sledge’s “Lost In Music” to address the thorny issue of juvenile access to pubs and deconstruct the very notion of dance music, and Smith found a sincere sentiment within Steve Bent’s novelty record “I’m Going To Spain”, which seemed to echo his own cultural displacement, despite being sourced from the Kenny Everett-compiled World’s Worst Record album.
The Infotainment Scan has a strange and uncharacteristically wistful, melancholy quality to it. Lyrically, “It’s A Curse” and “A Past Gone Mad” nailed the noxious modern phenomenon of media nostalgia years before Channel 4 began building entire TV schedules around remembering the 70s and the 80s, but both betray a feeling of regret, of being a man out of time. Smith rails against the world whilst realising he is no longer the tastemaker’s autodidact of choice. Even with a dance element to his music, he could pass for the titular subject of “Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room”, a fearful figure “in his early thirties/at the zenith of his powers.”
The Twenty-Seven Points
The Infotainment Scan aside, the mid-90s remains The Fall’s least interesting period, and yet is its most thoroughly documented, with six live albums – two of them doubles – covering the four studio albums released during the muddled years from 1993-96. These are supplemented by recordings of around four dozen outtakes spread thinly and repetitively over eight compilations on the ominously named Receiver label. As Britpop flourished, recycling retro-Mod aesthetics, it seemed there was little space for Smith’s scorched earth attitude towards the past. Ironically, just as Pavement launched a career built on appropriating the sound of early 80s Fall, the genuine article released a series of increasingly weak albums, vast portions of which sounded like a standard indie rock guitar outfit, albeit one fronted by a determinedly distinctive vocalist.
1994’s Middle Class Revolt was the last record to feature the electronics of Dave Bush, and it was bulked out with high-fibre covers of The Groundhogs, The Monks and Henry Cow/Slapp Happy. Brix came back for 1995’s Cerebral Caustic, co-writing the album’s stand-out track, “Bonkers In Phoenix”, a satirical sound collage of summer festival experiences that basically graffitied over a sincere attempt at writing a genuine paisley-pop hit, and left for the final time during the tour for 1996’s The Light User Syndrome. The long serving Craig Scanlon was sacked before the same album which, while offering some hope for the future, featured lacklustre guide vocal tracks over a sonic palette that’s cluttered but unfocussed. The lead-in single, the seventeen minute, three part ‘Chiselers’, described by Smith as ‘relevant to the recent experiences of Halifax Town Football club’, was notable for its length and audacity, but arrived on the album proper in a truncated form.
The period is perhaps best represented by the unfairly maligned, Smith-assembled live double The Twenty-Seven Points. The album adds found snippets and spoken word sections into a sometimes unflatteringly honest yet always entertaining portrait of a group in creative crisis, nonetheless capable of genius. ‘Idiot Joy Showland’ is abandoned after less than a minute. The otherwise unrecorded live track, ‘Noel’s Chemical Effluence’, is a gradually uncoiling, lean and slinky slice of snake-charming music, that ranks amongst the group’s finest moments. But on the whole, Smith seemed adrift. There seemed to be no obvious way forward for The Fall. Something was rotten in the state of dear Mark.
The Marshall Suite
In April 1998, the last line-up of The Fall with any link – apart from Smith – back to its earliest officially recorded line-up fell apart acrimoniously in New York, though fans who have seen the video of the group’s on-stage collapse would be hard pressed to tell it apart from any number of similarly shambolic mid-90s live fiascos. But Steve Hanley and Karl Burns were finally gone. This act of severance ultimately enabled the creation of a succession of completely new Fall line-ups. These gangs of anonymous young men, many only mewling infants when “Bingo Master’s Breakout” hit the racks, were creatively unburdened by any shared history, or any sense of what The Fall was supposed to be. This, in turn, seemed to unburden Smith himself, who increasingly resembled the last pink rabbit without any Duracell batteries.
The old gang’s last gasp, 1997’s ungainly but effective Levitate, finds Smith sounding hoarse and thrillingly incoherent, over clattering electronica that has none of the streamlined power of Dave Bush’s contributions, and instead leaves the group in a heroic struggle with seemingly random hails of beats. In the midst of the chaos, courtesy of keyboard player Julia Nagle, comes the strange pastoral interlude in the middle of “Ten Houses Of Eve”, and the piano instrumental “Jap Kid”. Levitate works miracles with a Fall that had started to sound too much like itself, disguising them with multi-layered vocals and noise for one last hurrah.
1998 saw Smith play gigs with hurriedly assembled three-piece line-ups, issuing the famous onstage disclaimer, “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall.” He released a spoken word album, The Post Nearly Man (Artful 14 CD), but things seemed increasingly desperate. Then Smith returned with a new Fall that retained only Julia Nagle, and The Marshall Suite, a record that ranks amongst the best of The Fall’s career. Guitarist Neville Wilding helped assimilate Tommy Blake’s rock ’n’ roll revenge number “F-oldin’ Money”, and The Saints’ “This Perfect Day”, into The Fall’s oeuvre, and “Shake-Off” and “(Jung Nev’s) Antidotes” found new ways of meshing rock tropes, noise and Nagle’s increasingly pervasive keyboards and electronica, without falling back into familiar patterns. “Touch Sensitive” – a chart hit that never was – later enlivened a Vauxhall car commercial, and was followed by a minor squabble for royalties.
The following year, The Unutterable (Eagle EAGCD164 CD) was the last Fall album to feature Nagle. The high point amongst a playful and personable set was “Dr Buck’s Letter”, a menacing yet amusing re-appropriation of the text of an interview with Pete Tong.
A World Bewitched
The Real New Fall LP (formerly Country On The Click
Hip Priest DATE?
50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong
Fall Heads Roll
The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004
In 2001, the compilation A World Bewitched gathered together various rarities and collaborations in an alternative history of The Fall’s 90s output. It suggested a parallel career rather more daring than much of the decade’s official releases indicated at the time. The same year saw yet another entirely new Fall line-up (featuring guitarist Ben Pritchard, soon to become a key player), release Are You Are Missing Winner. The group knocked out an unapologetically simplistic set of high-octane punk noise, free from feminine keyboard embellishments, as if to settle a score. In retrospect, Missing Winner is the sound of the New Fall clearing its throat before commencing the job of reclaiming the group’s reputation, and releasing its best album for over a decade.
2003’s Country On The Click was retitled The Real New Fall LP after bootlegged versions made it out in advance of the official release date. This record, and its attendant singles, meshed the pop sensibility of the Beggars Banquet years with the cohesion of the high points of the early 90s. “Mod Mock Goth” was an almost unbearably dense meditation on the Camber Sands All Tomorrow’s Parties event, whilst the sinister football terrace stomp, “Theme From Sparta FC”, could have been a number one single. The Fall were being extensively reviewed, rated and written about again.
In 2004, 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong bucked a trend of unfocused Fall compilations to provide the first phase-by-phase overview of the group’s history. Smith’s fond imaginings that younger fans outnumbered the league of bald headed men always present in his audience were becoming fact. And some spectacular live shows did nothing to disappoint. Last year, Fall Heads Roll consolidated The Fall’s return to form, referencing the best of nearly three decades of different approaches. “Bo Demmick” and “Clasp Hands” rocked with the rockabilly rhythms of the Step Forward years. The monotonously mesmerising “Blindness”, though far better in its Peel Session form, referenced the glory days of “Garden” or “And This Day”. Lyrically, Smith now deals in fragments, and found phrases, sounding like no-one but himself. Even if the complete narratives of Grotesque and the pin-sharp social satire of The Infotainment Scan appear lost forever, his voice seems, once again, uncommonly clear.
Recent live recordings include the 2G+2 album (Action TAKE18 CD) and the five CD Touch Sensitive Box (Castle CMYBX752 5XCD), which see the same line-up playing largely similar material over six dates. Interim includes rare returns to the early 80s songs “Mere Pseud Mag Ed” and “Spoilt Victorian Child” alongside spirited readings of new material in unusual settings. A fire alarm interrupts a rehearsal run-through of “Open The Box”, but is assimilated despite its persistence. Finally, the six CD set of the group’s 24 John Peel Sessions topped various polls at the end of 2005. Had it come out ten years ago, it might have looked like a tombstone. Here lies The Fall, and Mark E Smith. But luckily, Smith, though now almost 50, is once again at the zenith of his powers, and the Sessions collection is anything but a full stop. The Fall’s Peel box, and by association their recorded output in general, reads as a secret history of the last three decades of popular music.