‘Ersatz G.B.’ (Cherry Red)
What is there left to say about the Fall?
For a long term fan like myself, every thought and opinion about the band has been documented and thought about. Every nuance pondered and yet there is still more to unravel. They can be genius, they can be infuriating and they can just chug along sounding perfect in the weird Fall groove. That metronomic chug of the tight rhythm section underpinning the sonic patchwork that creates their sound learnt by every line up of the band like there is some sort of instinctive instruction manual given out to new members.
They are a band like no other. Their albums come out at regular intervals, you grapple and grope with them, listen to them intensely and then move on. It’s not any different this time. With initial listenings I thought, mmm good but not as good as last year’s ‘Your Future Our Clutter’ which, for my money, was their best for years- not so much for the songs but for the clarity of sound where you could hear everything that was going on and less of the dark, mysterious murk that their couple of previous releases had.
The new album sees a slight stylistic shift, this is the Fall’s rock album, sort of. This is rock but a typically warped adventure into the world of Kerrang (!), a rock of worn out old Sabbath and Stooges albums but sliced up by a mad genius. There is so much shapeshifting that goes on with this band that it’s impossible to tell. There are moments, like on ‘Greenway’ where the übermensch stench of Germanic Teutonic kings Rammstein is recalled in the incessant riffola and if it is not exactly like Rammstein it made me want to listen to the German band again.
The Fall have never sounded this riffy, except when the Fall do riffs they do them all warped and strange. There is a sublime Black Sabbath moment on ‘Monocard’ where the band hit that dark feral groove of the slowed down, doom mongering Sabbath- exploring the strange detritus of the Midland metallic uberlords who are still untouchable when it comes to exploring the dark stuff. The Fall recall the same sort of frozen glacial moraine of the deep frozen, darkest, blackest Black Sabbath- still one of the most influential bands of all time before creating their own soundscape.
There is also a Stooges ‘TV Eye’ moment on, ‘Nate Will Not Return’ with that drone riff cranked to a klaxon attack and a scattergun, wackoid take on rockabilly on ‘Mask Search’ where Smith growls with an insane anger leering at Snow Patrol amongst others.
And it’s the vocals that are the real key to the latest Fall missive. Smith is one of the great singers, I always loved his yelping voice. He sings beautifully, always perfectly, never flat or out of time , his vocals sit perfectly into the seething backdrop. This time he employs every trick in the book, there is that standard yelp, there is the poltergeist hiss, the crazy man in the street gruff hollering, snatches of vocals taken off battered cassettes, weird whispers and Edgar Allen Poe howls. Each vocal intones the usual barrage of half snatched strangeness and cut up poetry, ‘I had to wank off the cat to feed the dog…’ he howls in ‘Greenway’ before he sings about channel hopping on Danish TV and seeing a video of someone who looks like himself. The snatches of reality and nightmare, fact and friction should make no sense but somehow they do, reflecting back our broken fractured world at us with added bile.
On ‘Happi Song’ Mrs Smith gives us a break from the schizoid, merciless Mr. Smith assault with her clipped accent intoning the vocals like some sort of 21st century Nico over the top of one of the more stripped down songs on the album singing something about English Folk music over the tinny guitars and acid keyboards. Mrs Smith’s keyboards are consistently great on the album, from dark dregs of spooked weirdness to bubbling acid house to bass drones or melodic lines or that driving, whining definitive weirdness like on ‘Laptop Dog’, they are always embellishing and driving the songs and sit perfectly with the bassier than usual bass and the great shrapnel guitar.The current line up has coalesced as the heaviest Fall yet begging the question, are you this dark when you join the Fall or does the band start to encroach on you like a weird mould?
Many people say the Fall are beyond music but the songs are so damn catchy in their own seething way. The recent triumphant gig in Holland was the first time I heard many of these tunes and they are recognisable within seconds on the album, a testament to their hookiness despite having a total brilliant disdain for tedious ‘proper songwriting’ laws.
So the latest instalment of the Fall is neo-rock, the Fall’s rock album… harsher and craggier, the slow songs tumble with their lunar landscapes intact and the faster songs are powerful and mardy and strange. This is The Fall.