Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Fall - Reformation Post T.L.C. (ohhhhrrrggghhhghhh)

It may not be in best form to promote a review within a review, but if you dig around the internet for reviews on the Fall’s 2005 album, Fall Heads Roll, you might just run across a piece on, and if you run across that piece, you might just change your perspective on the Fall (or give a mouse a glass of milk – whatever fits next in the sequence). The posting isn’t the world’s most amazing review, nor would I agree with all of it as a Fall fan – especially the “fuck all you non-fans who just don’t get the band” mentality. You’re an opinionated animal, you like what you like. But what it grasps well is that the best bands are never without flaws; they dare to experiment and in turn have ups and downs, and they’re never going to settle for milking the formula of their first successful album.

After thirty years, the Fall’s still a great band because they have that oscillation in quality, arguably even a bad decade between good decades. But when they’re on, they’re really on, and in agreement with Eyeballkid, even the crap albums offer a shining moment or two. More importantly, the Fall’s an influential band with post-punk genre similarities to tons of other groups, but given the complete equation that adds up to their sound, you can’t accuse them of ripping anyone’s style, nor can you find another group capable of picking up where they left off. Front man Mark E. Smith would be the first to credit himself with this (in Smith’s words, the Fall can just as easily be “me and your grandma on bongos,” which accounts for the band name serving as an umbrella for an ever-changing lineup).

Smith’s rough English slur hasn’t changed much over the years, even when his backing musicians have. And now, after the disappearance of his Fall Heads Roll band mates whilst on tour last year, those backing musicians are Americans with other projects – most notably Darker My Love – and the group’s first American members to date. What has changed in Smith is his energy, as well as the unexpected polish that the group’s new members have brought to Reformation Post T.L.C. Save for its now-dated approach to new wave in the 80s, the Fall’s typically been consistent about it’s somewhat sparse sound, and those gaps, leaving room for rhythm to stand on a pedestal, are what’ve kept the Fall more or less in the post-punk range. Now, the group sounds much fuller, more complete, more modern and hip, and Smith sounds like a misfit in his own band. His voice hasn’t exactly changed, but he sounds worn, tired, like a parody of himself in earlier recordings.

His poorly harmonized, haphazard cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” sums up the change well. Its new bounce follows alongside the older, square beats of “Fit and Working Again” or “How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man,’” and Smith’s wispy layer of voice, naturally, clashes with the merry hooks of guitar and backing vocalists. Smith’s never been one to care much for tight harmonies, but here he sounds to be going along with the rhythm, giving people what’s expected (if anything’s to be expected) without putting himself behind the voice. There used to be a dry humor behind that voice, even a silly bounce that was ironic but wasn’t. Now, he only comes off as bored, and “the wrinkles in my forehead show the miles I’ve put behind me” takes on meaning – funny thing, seeing as it’s the only line Smith doesn’t tire of and fade out on a whim.

A number of tracks, particularly the first three, place so much emphasis on dark, dissonant bass and keyboard riffs rolling together that the Fall’s usual playfulness is non-existent, even despite a purring tongue roll (“Fall Sound”). “Over! Over!” and “Insult Song” toy with the garbled growl Smith used on The Real New Fall LP’s “Mad Mock Goth” and “The Past,” but what they don’t quite convey is that much-needed laugh out loud moment that, say, “The Past” had. In other words, somehow stretching “melancholy” into an eight-syllable word, or snarling “your neck is growing ohhhrrrgrrgghhh.” On the whole, this record’s filler isn’t half as dreadful as some of the band’s past efforts (I’m sure Smith would rather forget Levitate’s “The Mummy,” as he’s yet to replicate “I was born 1,959 years ago[…]I don’t try to scare people[…]I’m a mummy!”). But the previous observations do apply, as does the lingering feeling that there is in fact filler with “The Wright Stuff” (sung by keyboardist and most recent Mrs. Smith, Elena Poulou), not to mention a cluttered “Das Boat” and repetitive “Systematic Abuse,” the pair of songs adding up to nineteen minutes.

But the best bands have ups and downs. And while Mark Edward Smith is someone who’d rather look forward than dwell on the past (allegedly why you won’t hear old favorites at a Fall concert), he and his ever-changing lineup have bounced back after past lulls. The Fall didn’t make a comeback with The Real New Fall LP; they’d never gone away and reunited in the first place. So Reformation Post T.L.C. is merely a misstep in a career that will undoubtedly continue for years, and with several experiments in lineup chemistry yet to be attempted.

Listen to "Fall Sound"
Pick up Reformation Post T.L.C. or 2005's Fall Heads Roll from Narnack Records.

1 comment:

The Disappeared said...

Don't get me wrong, I love The Fall. We're from the same town and Mark Smith used to live round the corner from me.
But he always reminds me of one of those strange men you see at the bus stop, shouting at themselves for no reason.