Have you been studying with Gaypalmsprings? You should get your money back.
You can do better. I'm easy to make fun of. I mean I fucking had tempeh fries for lunch, Tom. It's like I'm aligning the goddamn trebuchet for you.
I don't really know how you use a trebuchet. I bet there's aligning, though.
I've been able to locate everything so far. Thanks though!
I have to say, as far as O'Rourke + Sonic Youth stuff goes, the live Rsokilde noise set with Merzbow and Gustaffson is absolutely incredible.
I think I may have our relationship all wrong.
Alright, so I've cataloged and listened to everything I could find from the 80's and 1990. Wasn't even close to everything, but I'm just gonna be fair to myself. That's good for today, I'll try to knock out a couple more tomorrow.
alrighty... this is what I plan to do for emeralds... if anyone would really like a particular split or something (i've left all off the list) lemme know:
Demo No. 2
Bullshit Boring Drone Band
Dirt Weed Diaries Vol 1
Laying Under Leaves
No More Spirits Over The Lake
A Row Of Exposed Columns
Queen Of Burbank Vol 2
Dirt Weed Diaries Vol 2
Allegory Of Allergies
A Rel Clean Gang
Emeralds & Dilloway - Under Pressure
Does It Look Like I'm Here
Holy crap, they've got quite a bit of material.
In addition, you should make an Emeralds mix if it's not too much work. That'd be awesome to have.
Is What Happened worth purchasing? They had copies of it at Amoeba last time I was there, but it was 25 or 30 or something ridiculous.
i love what happened... so i'd say yes. but i have every piece of emeralds wax, so I'm a bit biased.
all the emego stuff is unfortunately expensive because shipping from austria is absurd. but it is a 2LP. and i can vouch for the quality. impeccable.
i'd definitely get the recent repress of Endless Summer emego put out though. but that should go without saying...
i finish up finals tomorrow... so i'm hoping to do it soon.
Okay. It's not complete, but it's close. Ready? Here we go.
Live at the Witch Trials (1979)
A supremely confident debut, Live at the Witch Trials actually sounds less shambolic than some of the band’s later work. Understandably influenced by that era’s post-punk movement, there are definitely echoes of contemporaries like Magazine and Joy Division, especially in the ringing guitars and keyboards of opener “Frightened.” Although the band hadn’t fully developed the “Fall sound,” the blueprint was definitely in place: frontman (and only mainstay throughout the band’s entire career) Mark E. Smith sneers, slurs, and yelps abstract and seemingly improvised lyrics; Martin Bramah provides jagged, wiry guitar with more than hint of rockabilly in it; the rhythm section of Marc Riley (bass) and Karl Burns (drums) underpin the tunes with a clattering, driving, surprisingly funky foundation; and Yvonne Pawlett’s keys add light and shade. There’s also the feeling that it could all disintegrate into a tuneless mess at any given second, but it’s to the band’s credit that even shouty, bilious screeds like “No Xmas for John Quays” maintain a strong sense of melody, while more conventional songs like the terrific “Rebellious Jukebox” balance out the chaos. Recorded in a single day, Live at the Witch Trials is a masterful statement of purpose and an exciting portent of things to come. Grade: A-
Recorded less than a year after their debut, Dragnet expands only incrementally on that album’s sound, which is sort of remarkable considering that only Smith and Marc Riley remain from the original band, and Riley here makes the switch from bass to guitar. Coming on board is new guitarist Craig Scanlon, who generally picks up right where the departing Bramah left off: bruised rockabilly, only with a guitar sound that favors scratchy and abrasive over ringing and chiming. While there’s the usual number of songs that feature Smith’s spoken/slurred rants over jagged guitars and crashing drums (“A Figure Walks”; “Before the Moon Falls”), the album also sees the band attempting to branch out: the spindly guitar filigree etched over the top of “Your Heart Out”; the Native American-sounding melody and rhythm that introduces and resurfaces throughout “Muzorewi’s Daughter”; and “Spectre Versus Rector,” which starts out murky and echoing, only to explode into a frenzied staccato sunburst halfway through. Dragnet doesn’t work quite as well as their debut, but it’s a solid transitional effort that sees the band coming to terms with what they’re capable of. Grade: B
Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980)
It was on their third album that The Fall really started to find their groove. The breathless rockabilly rave-up “How I Wrote Elastic Man” hits the ground running and sets the tone for the rest of the album. Smith’s vocals are, for the first time, intelligible and high in the mix, and here and elsewhere he sounds even more fired up than usual. Also worth noting is that this is the first Fall album to deliver a handful of classic tunes. Besides opener “Elastic Man,” there’s the jagged “Totally Wired” and frenetic “Pay Your Rates,” both of which barrel along on the back of Craig Scanlon’s guitar and Paul Hanley’s powerhouse drumming. There’s also some inspired mimickry on display: the Peter Hook-y bassline of “Putta Block,” the repetitive krautrock stylings of “New Face in Hell,” and the droning, organ-driven, Velvets-oozing “Impression of J. Temperance.” A terrific album that bests their debut by a hair. Grade: A
Sort of a stopgap between proper recordings, Slates is a tad too long to be considered an EP, but not quite long enough to get credit as a full-length album. It doesn’t feel like a stopgap, though, as it features a clutch of sharp, quality tunes. “An Older Lover Etc.” whipsaws from creepy to angry to maniacal and back again in 4+ minutes, and “Slates, Slags, Etc.” features one of Smith's best-ever rants over Paul Hanley’s insistent drums. The standout here is the raging “Prole Art Threat,” which packs a punch, despite its tinny production. Not essential listening, but a good indicator of what the band does between its “real” recordings. Grade: B
Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
With this album, The Fall’s discography officially entered the “Embarrassment of Riches” category. Now armed with two drummers, vitriolic leadoff track “The Classical” might be the best song they’ve ever recorded, Mark E. Smith yelping, “Hey there, fuckface!” over a pummeling art-rock groove. It’s an effective table-setter, as the previous albums’ rockabilly strut has been largely jettisoned in favor of the bile, aggression, and dissonance of songs like “Mere Pseud Mag. Ed.” and “Just Step Sideways.” The Fall has never been happy music; on Hex Enduction Hour they seem angrier than usual, but even the album’s quieter moments are enthralling. “Hip Priest” is nearly eight minutes of Smith muttering angrily over guitar squall, organ squelch, and an insistent backbeat, yet it never feels self-indulgent or overlong. It’s another album full of winners, and while it wouldn’t yet be accurate to call The Fall “tuneful,” they’ve got lyrical and musical innovation to burn. Grade: A
Room to Live (Undilutable Slang Truth!) (1982)
Another recording not quite long enough to be a full-length album and not quite short enough to be an EP, Room to Live was released mere months after Hex Enduction Hour, and it’s a minor effort that doesn’t really give us anything we haven’t heard from the band before. There’s the usual spoken-word abstraction (the bass-driven “Detective Instinct”) and rockabilly-flavored stompers (the title track), but the only indispensible track here is “Hard Life in the Country,” which finds Mark E. Smith spitting lyrical bile over a spare and spooky guitar figure. (In truth, the two best songs here are the single “Lie Dream of a Casino Soul” and its b-side “Fantastic Life,” which were only added to later editions of the album.) Don’t get me wrong: it’s a fun little record, but when you consider just how revelatory their first four albums are, this one feels a little like treading water. Grade: B-
A Part of America Therein (1982)
Recorded live in Chicago, this is one of the band’s few official concert recordings (not to be confused with the myriad unofficial recordings that the band has roundly dismissed over the years). The sound quality is actually quite good, and the eight songs here capture the band in fine form. As it turns out, this iteration of The Fall is a ferocious live proposition, especially Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon’s twin guitar barrage. And of course Mark E. Smith is an inimitable frontman, spitting his way through favorites like “The N.W.R.A.” and ‘Totally Wired,” and engaging in a surprising amount of friendly audience banter between songs. Grade: B+
Perverted by Language (1983)
One of the popular talking points about The Fall is the band’s frequent lineup changes. If there’s a Fall 2.0, though, it begins with this album, the departure of guitarist Marc Riley, and the arrival of Mark E. Smith’s wife Brix on guitar and occasional vocals. The rest of the lineup remains unchanged, though, and as much of this album was recorded before Brix’s appearance, Perverted by Language serves as the bridge between the band’s rougher early output and their poppier mid-80’s incarnation. This shift is obvious from the get-go. “The Man Whose Head Expanded” is a dynamite opening track, heralded by a sparkling synth line and cruising along on a motorik pulse and Mark E. Smith’s typically anxious vocals. “Eat Y’self Fitter” is another standout, chugging along on an insistent bass groove, only to pause periodically for a playful spoken word chorus featuring newcomer Brix. And although not one of their best-known tunes, I think “Garden” might be one of the band’s greatest accomplishments: nearly nine minutes of Smith’s agitated vocals and Craig Scanlon’s menacing guitar. Proof that even a band in flux can still come up with a winner. Grade: A-
The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984)
Despite Brix’s appearance on the previous album, it’s this one that always seems to me to mark the beginning of The Fall’s mid-80’s golden era. The songs are as off-kilter as ever, but producer John Leckie polishes them to a high gloss, and this album (along with the next few) are the closest they ever got to mass consumption. Opener “Lay of the Land” is a funky, herky-jerky pleasure, and “Elves” finds Mark E. Smith mumbling incoherently over clattering drums, Craig Scanlon’s ominous guitar riff, and burbling keys. And, for maybe the first time on record, the band delivers a (whisper it) musically beautiful tune in the ringing guitars of closer “Disney’s Dream Debased” – the key word there being musically, as lyrically Smith is as scabrous as ever. The original album is nine tracks long, but if you buy the CD, Beggars Banquet tagged on two terrific singles (“Oh! Brother!” and “C.R.E.E.P.”) from the same time period, along with their related b-sides. In either incarnation, it’s a keeper. Grade: A-
This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)
Another unqualified success, the album opens with the ominous instrumental “Mansion,” and then barrels headlong into the squalling “Bombast.” Produced again by Leckie, Saving Grace isn’t markedly different from its predecessor, but it feels like the darker and heavier of the two. This may be due to the percussive nature of the album, with songs like the furious “Gut of the Quantifier,” the chant-like “What You Need,” and minor hit “L.A.” all seemingly built around Karl Burns’ heavy-hitting drums. There are also, of course, the usual oddities, like the spoken-word “Paint Work” and standout track “I Am Damo Suzuki,” which features Mark E. Smith yelping the song’s title over more of Burns’ punishing drums. Saving Grace distills everything that’s great about The Fall into eleven tracks, so, for the uninitiated, this is an ideal place to start. Grade: A+
Bend Sinister (1986)
The Fall/Leckie collaboration continued to bear fruit here, but this is definitely the weakest of their three efforts together. It’s not a bad album, but the songs don’t seem as sharp or inspired this time around, and where in the past they’ve been energized and angry, here they often sound morose (especially on the hummable but lachrymose “Living Too Late”). To be fair, there are a few exceptions to keep things interesting. “Dktr. Faustus” finds Mr. and Mrs. Smith trading lead vocals over Simon Rogers’ demented carnival keyboards, and “Shoulder Pads 1” is uncharacteristically fun, with a bright, catchy keyboard line and Craig Scanlon’s jangly guitar. And the band saw its first serious chart action with a lively, hard-charging cover of The Other Half’s “Mr. Pharmacist.” Elsewhere, though, the songs too often resemble well-intentioned experiments: “U.S. 80’s-90’s” sees them beginning to dabble with dance-friendly rhythms, and “Riddler!” toggles uncomfortably between droning synths and pounding, tribal drums. As an album, Bend Sinister is perfectly fine, but The Fall has conditioned us to expect more. Grade: B-
The Frenz Experiment (1987)
Whether it was a conscious move away from the occasionally suffocating aura of Bend Sinister, opening with the spartan, minimalist “Frenz” was a bold choice, and an indicator that after nearly a decade the band wasn’t content to rest on its laurels. The rest of the album is just as bold and assertive, from the stripped-down fury of “Carry Bag Man” (Smith spitting invective as ferociously as ever) to the jangly “Tuff Life Boogie” to Brix and Mark’s shouty duet, “Guest Informant.” Even nine-minute epic “Bremen Nacht” seethes with life and energy. The Frenz Experiment sounds like the work of a band that still feels it has something to prove. (The album also features two fun covers: a surprisingly faithful rendition of The Kinks’ “Victoria,” and a smashing version of R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s a Ghost in My House” [which actually remains The Fall’s biggest hit to date].) Grade: A+
I Am Kurious Oranj (1988)
Ostensibly the soundtrack to an avant-garde ballet, this is the band’s first unequivocally weak album. It’s actually misleading, because the album starts with a handful of some of the band's best tracks. “New Big Prinz” is a menacing, bass-heavy stomper, “Jerusalem” is a classic Smith rant (“It was the fault of the government!”), and “Wrong Place, Right Time” is a catchy-as-hell toe-tapper, but the album’s quality drops off precipitously after that. Some of the remaining songs are instrumental, befitting, I guess, the notion of a ballet soundtrack. The problem, though, is that they have a tendency to meander without going anywhere, and without Smith’s lyrical and vocal bite, they definitely lack spark. And the songs with vocals don’t necessarily seem any more purposeful. “Van Plague?” and “Bad News Girl” float by without sticking (at least until the latter’s final minute, when it kicks into high gear), and it’s only the frankly amazing “Cab it Up!,” with its buoyant synths and inspired vocal, that keeps the second half of the album afloat. A noble failure. Grade: C+
Seminal Live (1989)
The last album The Fall released on Beggars Banquet, Seminal Live is a generally unsatisfying mix of studio odds n’ ends and live tracks. Of the former, single “Dead Beat Descendent” is clearly the standout. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the four remaining studio tracks – a countryish noodler, two variations on the style they’ve spent the last decade perfecting, and a frankly baffling tuneless experiment called “Mollusc in Tyrol.” They’re not bad, they’re just sort of there. So, too, the live tracks. It’s nice to hear a smattering of songs from throughout the band’s career (most of their albums are represented by a single song each), and the playing is certainly fine, but it’s hardly essential listening. Grade: C-
This is the first Fall album I heard. It was released when I was a wee lad of 17, and I fell in love with it instantly. In terms of band history, it’s the breakup album, recorded after Mark E. and Brix divorced in 1989, but in musical terms, it’s the most significant revision of the band’s sound yet. Throughout the 80’s the band had been moving further and further away from its scrappy beginnings, and here they sound positively enormous: the sound is full and rich (and augmented more completely by keyboards and other instruments), and the songs expand on “The Fall Sound” in a way they haven’t before. “Bill Is Dead” is an almost-ballad, “Telephone Thing” is the funkiest they’ve ever been, “Popcorn Double Feature” is an unapologetic pop song that finds Smith in full-on (and surprisingly effective) crooner mode, and “Arms Control Poseur” is a classic Smith rant, accentuated by shards of dissonant guitar and electronically mangled vocals. I could go on and on. There’s a hell of a lot to love about this album, which is the last truly great collection the band would record for almost a decade. There are some other quality discs in their career, but none that are as flat-out remarkable as this one. Grade: A+
It’s interesting that when a band as rebellious as The Fall begins to explore things they haven’t tried before, it often makes them sound more conventional. Their most downbeat album since Bend Sinister, the second album by the third phase of the band is a collection of 14 understated tunes that are, in their own pedestrian way, unlike anything the band has ever recorded. Taken individually, they can’t belong to anyone but The Fall, but they’re not as audacious or exciting as some of the tracks on Extricate or The Frenz Experiment. For instance, “Idiot Joy Showland” (not nearly as angry as its name suggests) is a straightforward rocker: effective and fun, but lacking the spark of the band’s best work. “The Mixer,” on the other hand, finds the band dabbling in electronic music with mixed results (a trend that would continue throughout the 90’s). Most interestingly, the two best songs here are the slowest. The title track cruises along on a gentle groove and two-note refrain, and “Edinburgh Man” is a beautiful, bile-free ode to the titular city. It’s interesting to hear The Fall do subtle, and while Shift-Work isn’t one of their best, it’s still worth hearing as a document of this perpetually restless band’s eternal growing pains. Grade: C+
Code: Selfish (1992)
Seemingly reenergized following the subdued Shift-Work, The Fall come roaring back on the very first track of Code: Selfish. “Birmingham School of Business School” is a juggernaut of squalling guitars, processed beats, and Mark E. Smith’s sneering, multi-tracked vocals. In fact, it’s the band’s new fascination with electronic music that most pervades the album, possibly due to the addition of Dave Bush, credited as being responsible for “keyboards and machines.” Whatever the reason, it’s an effective new dimension to the band’s sound. Several of the songs are a potent mix of serrated guitar (courtesy of Craig Scanlon, still with the band since Album #2) and hypnotic, sequenced beats, performed most effectively on the slinky, syncopated “So-Called Dangerous.” Elsewhere, “Gentlemen’s Agreement” and “Time Enough at Last” mine the softer side of the band that they first explored on Extricate. This is, in short, a peculiar – and peculiarly enjoyable – little album. Grade: B
The Infotainment Scan (1993)
Probably the first Fall album that could be classified as “fun,” The Infotainment Scan is simply a blast from start to finish. On the last two albums, the mix of guitars and electronics occasionally seemed uncomfortable, as though the band hadn’t quite figured it out yet. It all came together on this album, though, which in its best moments rivals the inventiveness of Extricate. Every song here, up to and including their cover of Sister Sledge’s “Lost in Music,” is a seamless blend of Craig Scanlon’s typically excellent guitar work and Dave Bush’s keyboards. There are, of course, other highlights: “Glam-Racket” gallops along on the back of Simon Wolstonecroft’s brisk drumming, “It’s a Curse” is a Mark E. Smith rant that recalls their Krautrock-inspired beginnings, and “The League of Bald-Headed Men” is a grinding, throbbing beast of a song. By the time the listener gets to “A Past Gone Mad” (with the lyric “And if I ever end up like U2/slit my throat with a garden vegetable") and the inspired cover of Lee Perry’s “Why Are People Grudgeful?,” it’s clear once again that this is a band who’ve only scratched the surface of what they can do. Grade: A
Middle Class Revolt (1994)
As “15 Ways” kicks off, it sounds like The Fall are going back to basics. The song moves with a relentless motorik rhythm, Craig Scanlon’s recognizable guitars churn and thrash, and Mark E. Smith appears to be in fine, sneering form. With the second song, however – the subdued, understated “The Reckoning” – it’s less clear what version of The Fall we’re going to get on this album. As it happens, there’s a strange tension at the heart of Middle Class Revolt, with more traditional-sounding, guitar-based rockers wrestling with the electronic tendencies of recent albums. “M5 #1” is a dark, gnarly snarl of a song that would fit perfectly on This Nation’s Saving Grace (and “Hey! Student” goes one step further by sounding like an inspired outtake from the Perverted by Language sessions), but the very next song (“Surmount All Obstacles”) brings back the dance rhythms, processed vocals, and keyboard flourishes of The Infotainment Scan. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the very best song on the album, “Behind the Counter,” is a comfortable blend of the two styles. I actually like this album quite a bit, but where some albums offer a signpost indicating where a band is headed next, Middle Class Revolt more closely resembles a fork in the road. Grade: B
Cerebral Caustic (1995)
With Brix Smith back in the fold, it would be reasonable to expect the band to return to the sound of their 1980’s heyday. Instead, Cerebral Caustic is remarkably rough around the edges, and actually has more in common with their earliest records. “Don’t Call Me Darling” finds Brix shouting the title in the chorus in response to Mark E.’s spoken verses (hard to avoid the subtext there), and “Feeling Numb” hearkens back to the jagged guitar and pounding drums of Grotesque (After the Gramme), although sweetened this time around by Brix’s backing vocals. Further amplifying the similarity to their earlier work is the fact that electronics and dance rhythms, so prominent on the last few albums, are almost nowhere to be found here, the sole exception being the appropriately-titled mess that is “Bonkers in Phoenix” (perhaps unsurprisingly, keyboardist Dave Bush would be sacked after this album). No, this is an unapologetic guitar album, with “Life Just Bounces,” “Pearl City,” and “One Day” all featuring some of Brix and Craig Scanlon’s most inspired – and most ferocious – playing, and “The Aphid” even recalls the quasi-rockabilly of the The Fall’s origins. The rekindled infatuation with guitars is bittersweet, though, as this would be Scanlon’s last album with the band. Grade: B-
The Light User Syndrome (1996)
The scrappy Fall of Cerebral Caustic returns here, even if it does so without longtime guitarist Craig Scanlon. The first few songs come snarling out of the gate, especially “Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain,” which is propelled by Steve Hanley’s distorted bass and new keyboardist Julia Nagle’s dissonant organ. The band doesn’t really let up until four songs in, but even that song (“Hostile”), with Brix’s coiling guitar lines, Simon Wolstonecroft’s tribal drums, and Mark E. Smith’s sneering vocal, is an uneasy listen. Of particular note is how prominent Brix’s vocals are throughout the album. The tense interplay with her ex-husband on a song like “Spinetrak” gives it extra depth, especially for those who know the couple’s history. It’s actually fascinating that both the musicians and Mark E. Smith sound so vital, because by all accounts this album was a difficult one to make. The band recorded their parts separately, with Mark coming in to record all his vocals on the final day in the studio, and then Brix left the band for the second time following the supporting tour. Maybe it’s this tension that makes the album more enjoyable than it has any right to be. The Johnny Paycheck cover (sung, no less, by part-time drummer Karl Burns) is an expendable goofabout, but it’s a rarity; even late album tracks like “Powder Keg” and “Cheetham Hill” seethe with aggression and menace. The last thing this sounds like is a record by a band nearly twenty years into its career: Grade: A-
Opening track “Ten Houses of Eve,” clattering in on electronic percussion that owes a heavy debt to the drum-and-bass genre, sounds almost nothing like The Fall, save for Mark E. Smith’s vocals. It’s actually a fun song, but the stylistic diversion highlights just what an odd album this is. With both Brix Smith and Craig Scanlon gone, it’s Julia Nagle’s keyboards that define virtually all the songs, which is an entirely different proposition from the way Dave Bush’s work complemented Scanlon’s guitar on Code: Selfish and The Infotainment Scan. While guitars haven’t been jettisoned entirely, songs like “Masquerade” and “4 ½ Inch” are built around synths and drum machines, and even a quiet song like “Jap Kid” relies on a piano line to carry the melody. Strangely, though, it works. The songs still have edge and bite, and on “Ol’ Gang,” Smith’s snarl sounds perfectly at home backed by keyboards instead of the customary guitars. It’s not an essential album, but it’s worth hearing for the sole reason that it sounds like nothing else in their catalog. Grade: B-
The Marshall Suite (1999)
It’s entirely possibly that Mark E. Smith thrives on conflict. The Marshall Suite, recorded with no returning members save keyboardist Julia Nagle (making this, I guess, The Fall, Mark IV), is easily the band’s best album since 1993’s The Infotainment Scan, and its opening track, “Touch Sensitive,” is an instant classic. With its stomping beat, wiry guitar, and repetitive “hey, hey, hey, hey” chant, the song sets a standard that the album as a whole could have a hard time meeting. Thankfully, the band is working with a clutch of songs that sound as vital as anything they’ve ever done. “Shake-Off” sees Smith sounding even angrier than usual, and its mix of electronics and guitars is much more propulsive and effective than the more one-sided keyboard treatment the songs got on Levitate. And, hey, “(Jung Nev’s) Antidotes” is fucking ridiculous (and I mean that in the best possible way): siren guitars, squealing keyboards, booming percussion, and Mark E. Smith shouting some of the most nonsensical lyrics of his career. This is juxtaposed with “Birthday Song,” a largely electronic song full of burbling synths and quiet percussion that’s unexpectedly beautiful. The album is over and done with in under 40 minutes – it’s a lean, stripped-down, no-nonsense monster that, against all logic, finds The Fall sounding as relevant as ever. Grade: A
The Unutterable (2000)
The lineup from The Marshall Suite returns mostly intact, and The Unutterable largely continues that album’s winning ways. Ever since 1992’s Code: Selfish, it’s now more or less a given that the “Fall sound” has permanently expanded to include an emphasis on both guitars and keyboards, but it’s to the band’s credit that they continue to refine this sound, rather than fall back on tracklists that could occasionally be summarized as “Guitar Song – Keyboard Song – Combo Song – Repeat.” Keyboardist Julia Nagle and guitarist Neville Wilding work well together, complementing each other’s playing on songs like the storming “Two Librans” and the menacing, distortion-heavy “Dr. Bucks’ Letter.” Nagle’s buzzing synth even sounds at home on the rollicking rockabilly of “Hot Runes,” and the guitar/keyboard interplay on “Serum” makes for one of the album’s very best tracks. However, while the playing is more balanced, and Mark E. Smith is as reliably feisty as ever, this album doesn’t pack quite as much of a punch for me as The Marshall Suite does. It’s more polished, to be sure, but in sprucing things up, the band dulled just a little of its edge. Grade: A-
Are You Are Missing Winner (2001)
The first Fall album to lack any sort of distinguishable identity is, probably not coincidentally, their first album to feature no returning members from the previous recording except for Mark E. Smith. The singer jettisoned the rest of the band following The Unutterable, and, while the group of players he gathered for Are You Are Missing Winner soldiers mightily to live up to the reputation established by previous incarnations, neither the spark nor the songs are there. Where before there was a palpable sense of both tension and forward momentum to the songs, here a song like “Crop-Dust” finds Smith muttering disconsolately over a distorted, vaguely Arabic-sounding riff that slowly circles the drain and then disappears altogether. Too many of the songs blur into each other in a haze of overdriven guitars and mumbled vocals, making this the one album where critics would be justified to complain that all the songs sound the same. Except, that is, for “Ibis-Afro Man”: nine minutes of masturbatory silliness featuring what sounds like an angry monkey. The album does boast two highlights: “My “Classmates’ Kids” is a remarkably punchy little number that revisits the band’s rockabilly roots, and “Kick the Can” is split in two, shifting halfway through from a fuzzy, bass-heavy drone to a jangly, call-and-response fight song. More like these, please. Grade: C-
The Real New Fall LP (Formerly ‘Country on the Click’) (2003)
This is more like it. Opening with “Green Eyed Loco-Man,” a song that borders on the anthemic, listeners would be forgiven for thinking that Mark E. Smith feels like he has something to prove. There’s never been much indication, though, that Smith cares much about his audience’s perceptions one way or another, so it’s probably more accurate to say that The Real New Fall LP simply benefited from a more stable lineup and an uncharacteristic amount of time off between albums (two whole years! – eons in Fall World). Whatever the reason, The Real New Fall LP is a winner from top to bottom and finds the band sounding revitalized, and angrier than it has in years. “Sparta 2#” barrels around the room, powered by a muscular riff, a long-overdue Smith rant, and chanted backing vocals from the rest of the band. Similarly, “Contraflow” sports jagged shards of guitar and Smith spitting, “I hate the countryside so much,” while “The Past” rushes along at breakneck speed, Smith’s urgent vocals accompanied only by Dave Milner’s drums and Elena Poulou’s air-raid siren keyboards. I hadn’t listened to this album in a while, and I spent most of its running time with a big dumb grin on my face. It’s that good. (Note: After an early mix of the album leaked online, Smith partially re-recorded and remixed its songs, which explains the odd [even by Fall standards] title.) Grade: A
Fall Heads Roll (2005)
Rejuvenated by the unmitigated fury of The Real New Fall LP, the band sounds downright playful on its follow-up. “Ride Away” opens the album with an oompah beat, rinky-dink keyboards, and Mark E. Smith’s by-now comfortingly snide vocals. Elsewhere, any doubts about the long-term viability of this lineup (the fifth, unveiled with Are You Are Missing Winner) should be put to rest here. “What About Us?” is a pounding snarl that sees Ben Pritchard’s guitar and Elena Poulou’s keyboards meshing and complementing each other in a way similar to Craig Scanlon and Dave Bush’s work on The Infotainment Scan. And while Pritchard doesn’t define the band’s sound in the way Scanlon did, this is undoubtedly a guitar-heavy record that benefits from his work. From the rave-up of “Clasp Hands“ to the chiming tranquility of “Midnight Aspen,” Pritchard’s work is dynamite. And then there’s “Blindness,” a skronking, distortion-heavy slice of heaven that’s easily one of the best (and funkiest) things the band has ever recorded. Quality control suffers just a bit toward the end (especially with the odd closing track, “Trust in Me,” which is sung by a guest vocalist and sounds like it belongs on a Placebo album), but Fall Heads Roll is still the exhilarating sound of Mark E. Smith letting his (thinning) hair down. Grade: B+
Reformation Post-T.L.C. (2007)
Another year, another lineup for The Fall. Despite the huge success of the last two albums, Smith once again sacked his entire band mid-tour, with the exception of keyboardist Elena Poulou, his wife. (Fun Fact: In an interview, Smith claimed the T.L.C. of the title stands for “traitors, liars, and cunts.”) But even though the lead track is titled “Over! Over!” and begins with the lyrics, “I think it’s over now/I think it’s ending,” there’s actually little sign that anything is amiss in the Fall camp. In fact, Reformation Post-T.L.C. sounds like nothing so much as a heavier version of the band’s classic lineup. The guitars in the sort-of title track (“Reformation”) drone and thrash with Scanlon-esque fervor, and “Fall Sound,” all hard-edged jangle and Peter Hook bass line, wouldn’t sound out of place on Hex Enduction Hour. It’s also worth noting the increased prominence Poulou has had on recent albums – she provides a Brix-like presence in the lineup, and here even takes the lead vocal on “The Wright Stuff.” Also intact is the band’s knack for choosing unusual covers, with Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” getting the Mark E. Smith treatment. The band is probably past the point of ever releasing another bona fide classic, but it’s still reassuring to know that every year or two Smith is going to churn out another unassuming, high-quality album. Grade: B
Imperial Wax Solvent (2008)
The Fall’s lineup has seen so many changes in the last decade that it’s easy to forget how stable it was for most of the 80’s. It’s a testament to Mark E. Smith that quality control in these turbulent years has remained relatively high, despite the band’s revolving door. That remains true here, too, as he once again brings in a cadre of fresh-faced musicians for the enjoyable Imperial Wax Solvent (keyboardist Elena Poulou and bassist Dave Spurr remaining constant). The album lurches from eerie opener “Alton Towers” (squiggly synths, echoing guitars, and zombie vocals – check) into the hard-charging “Wolf Kidult Man,” proving once again that even though Smith is getting older, he hasn’t lost his edge. As if to underscore this point, “50 Year Old Man,” easily the album’s highlight, follows. For 11 minutes, Smith is at his rancorous, spitting best, and the music behind him is equally inspired. The guitars make like a jet engine and the drums thrash just to keep up … and then the song comes to a screeching halt for a banjo solo before revving back up to race for the finish line. It’s pretty remarkable. The really surprising thing is that the band keeps up the intensity for the duration of the album. “I’ve Been Duped” is a Poulou-sung barn-burner, complete with chanted backing vocals, and later, “Latch Key Kid” and “Senior Twilight Stock Replacer” snarl with just as much fire as other songs recorded nearly thirty years ago. I know just an album ago I predicted the end of classic albums by The Fall, but this one makes you believe anything is possible. Grade: A
Your Future Our Clutter (2010)
What is there left to say about a new Fall album at this point? As it turns out, plenty. The lineup from Imperial Wax Solvent returns in full, and it doesn’t waste any time making the statement that, while it might not be the permanent lineup, it’s the lineup now, so you’d better listen up. “O.F.Y.C. Showcase” thrashes and throbs, and, once again, Mark E. Smith sounds like he’s been cataloging all the anger and indignity he’s suffered since the last album. Two songs later, “Mexico Wax Solvent” comes soaring in on churning guitars and a ridiculously funky backbeat, which serves to reinforce the odd little fact that The Fall has released some surprisingly potent dance music over the years. And then, just because they can, The Fall gives us “Cowboy George,” a galloping spaghetti western that’s only missing mariachi horns to complement Smith’s surly vocals. The rest of the album is just as authoritative, which I think speaks well of the lineup. Rather than merely assume the role of competent session players, they tear their way through “Y.F.O.C./Slippy Floor” and “Chino,” and in the process lend Mark E. Smith a relevance that few middle-aged rock musicians can boast. The album ends on the quiet, vaguely optimistic “Weather Report 2,” and only the most cynical listener would find The Fall’s forecast anything but promising, even after thirty years. Grade: B+
What have I left out? A boatload of compilations (both official and unofficial) and a boatload of live albums (mostly unofficial). For everyone, I’d recommend the mostly good Early Years: 1977-1979 (1981), which rounds up a handful of singles they released pre-Live at the Witch Trials. For completists, the band released three albums’ worth of rough demos and alternate versions during the 90’s and 00’s: The Twenty-Seven Points (1995), 2G+2 (2002), and Interim (2005). All three are interesting from an anthropological standpoint, but they’re very rough and not worth much more than a cursory listen to see how some of the band’s album tracks sounded in their earliest form.
well fucking done!
Glad to oblige. Listening to nothing but The Fall for a week has been ... interesting. Good, but interesting.
Tom, I'll be happy to refine the Joe Jackson entry (or at least offer my two cents), but my ears need a palate-cleanser after a week of Mark E. Smith.
Holy moly. Hats off, man.
You are way more fond of 90's The Fall than I. And I have inverse sentiments regarding Bend Sinister and The Frenz Experiment. Anyway, a monumental undertaking well done.