30 November 2010
listen: the fall – a retrospective
Story by Andrew Reinholds
With an eagerly awaited Auckland show looming, Andrew Reinholds gives us five reasons to love his favourite band – The Fall.
Mancunian legends The Fall return to these shores for the first time in twenty years, to play a one-off show at Auckland’s Powerstation on December 13th. Once famously described by legendary UK radio DJ John Peel as being “always different, always the same. They’re just The Fall ““ the band by which, in our house, all the others are judged”. Theirs has been a truely unique journey, happy to be viewed as unruly outsiders stubbornly refusing to compromise on the singular vision of head honcho Mark E Smith.
So where does someone new to The Fall begin – their back catalogue is intimidating in the extreme: the release of 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter is their 28th full studio album, but when you take into account live recordings and compilation releases, it’s almost triple that.
Here are five potential places that the uninitiated may wish to start. So in chronological order, welcome, to the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall:
1. Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980). The first truly great Fall album, and one of the most powerful documents of life in Thatchers apocaplytic vision of the UK. Right from the opening track Pay Your Rates (…debtors retreat estate, a non-motivation estate) to the epic closer The NWRA ‘The Estates Stick Up Like Stacks‘, Grotesque remains an enigmatic beast to this day, full of strange tales that turn the normal everyday into almost paranormal experiences. It also set the template for countless imitators over the following decades. Outstanding.
2. This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985). By the mid-eighties The Fall’s sound has evolved significantly, thanks mainly to the arrival in the band of Mark E Smith’s new wife, Brix. Who as well as bringing some unlikely glamour with her blonde bombshell looks straight off the streets of LA, also added a new commercial flavour with her twangy hooks and ear for a melody. Early experimentation in electronica can be heard via L.A. while Paintwork is almost impressionist in its construction, with the track being interrupted on at least two occasions due to Smith mistakenly erasing part of the song while watching TV at home. Now signed to a major label (Beggars Banquet) the band is sounding superb, thanks in no part to the understated production of John Leckie.
3. The Infotainment Scan (1993). Having walked out on their label Phonogram, it seemed the band was in a state of disarray, yet 1993’s The Infotainment Scan remains one of the band’s greatest releases, as well as one of their most accessible. Early 90’s and the UK music scene is bathed in rose tinted nostalgia with bands such as Suede leading the country’s stubborn refusal to bow to the grunge scene building across the other side of the Atlantic. Full of madcap covers (Sister Sledge’s Lost In Music anyone), 70s pastiche (Glam Racket), defining observation of the Kafkaesque horrors of everyday life (Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room) and the elegant, almost sentimental Service the album was both a critical and commercial success peaking at number 9 on the album charts – it must have been the Sister Sledge cover.
4. Fall Heads Roll (2005). After getting the speed wobbles (pun fully intended) in the late nineties, most critics were ready to write Mark E Smith and The Fall off. A couple of promising albums scattered through the early part of the 21st century argued otherwise, culminating in 2005’s Fall Heads Roll which announced that the band was back and firing on all cylinders. Stand-out classics include the warped pop of Pacifying Joint the mind bending What About Us (the story of an East German rabbit that moves to England only to be annoyed that Harold Shipman the notorious serial killing doctor won’t “hand out” any morphine to him), the paint stripping riff of Youwanner and the monumental, menacing Blindness with its hulking bass, haunting rhetorical “do you work hard?” and vision of a town under curfew almost predicting the great financial global meltdown still a few years away.
5. 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong (2004). Spanning twenty-five years of releases, the shear diversity on the record is remarkable. Hilariously subtitled “39 Golden Greats” this represents the best place for the more meek and mild to take a first tentative step into the world of The Fall. From the greatest football song ever written Kicker Conspiracy, electro-lash pop Hit The North and the blistering, Shakespeare quoting Free Range it’s also an endearing testament to John Peel, and his view that “they’re always different, always the same”.