First, a disclaimer: John Peel once said regarding Fall LPs, “it might not always be what you want, but it’s still the Fall”. Worth keeping that in mind despite a little carping, below.
By the middle of the nineties the Fall were progressively easing back on the electro doodling and techno capering that had increasingly encroached into their sound from around the middle of the previous decade, and that reached a peak with the excellent– and still a Fall album unlike no other– ‘Infotainment Scan’ released in 1993. This record remains their highest placed LP in the album chart, all the more surprising seeing that it directly followed the group cutting ties with major Phonogram. “Scan’ often sounds like a more offbeat Pulp, a year or so before that band became massive. Listening to the Fall’s music from back in the first half of the nineties one is sometimes a little surprised at just how poppy this stuff sounds, at least when compared to how laborious, difficult, experimental and inconsistent they’ve been drawn back into sounding since. “Anti music” is how frontman Mark E Smith describes their more inaccessible stuff. It’s as though the group have turned full circle. It was always the case that, once it looked like the Fall were gaining a bit of chart success and credo, they would always do an about turn. Populism was always short-lived. Just step sideways.
Probably the more ‘recent’ change began with the release of the generally downbeat, confused, and quality lacking 1997 LP ‘Levitate’. (Maybe not surprisingly the same year Smith’s longtime collaborators left the group one last time). Two years earlier the group released ‘Cerebral Caustic’, a mostly fuzzed-up pop-punk and cheerful record full of consistency and focus. And though the following year’s ‘Light User Syndrome’ is a little trickier, and tries to recreate Fall sounds of yore (to mixed results), that record still doesn’t sound as humiliating as 2007’s very dodgy ‘Reformation Post TLC’.
If ‘Reformation’ could be interpreted as bit of a joke aimed at other people’s ripping off of the Fall (there’s also a track named ‘Fall Sound’), putting out a record that by and large lacked some top tunes and focus was a joke that failed miserably, alas. That ‘Reformation’s best track is the musically mediocre but funny as hell ‘Insult Song’ says it all (Mark, sounding fantastic, has go at American culture tourists in Lancashire). And yet, despite the record’s faults it still just about edges 2011’s ‘Ersatz GB’. This one sounds rush recorded and rush released, even by Fall standards. (Smith told John Doran in 2013 that, “on reflection, I’ve probably been too quick releasing stuff”). Yes, this time there’s the gritty, powerful, strangely captivating Greenway (“I had to wank of the cat / to feed the fu*cking dog”), whose role is to hopefully save the record. But no; much of the rest of ‘Ersatz’ is poorly produced, whilst too often sounding like a bunch of sixteen-year-olds down the basement suffering severe hangovers. Could do better.
Sometimes though, after the Fall make a discordant, messy let-down of a record they often come back with a bit of a belter, a reawakening. (Though lately it’s taken three hit-and-missers in order to create a good ‘un). Thus for 2001’s misstep ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’, or ’99’s up-and-down, inconsistent ‘Marshall Suite, see 2003’s ‘Country on the Click’, and 2000’s ‘The Unutterable’, two pretty decent Fall LPs from the period, a kind of nu rockabilly meets electroclash country twang. Extra quality Fall LPs just seem to work more. Surely even the Fall require quality control; within reason, of course. Don’t want our Fall coming over all Snow Patrol. It is consistency of a sort that we the fans are after; even with the Fall. We like our Mark to be in some sort of artistic control, even when it sounds like he’s taking the piss or messing around. Even when it appears his group are ripping off the Stranglers or Zappa or Rocket From the Crypt or whoever.
Which leaves us with the two records that followed ‘Ersatz’, and preceded the brand new LP; ‘Re-Mit’ and ‘Sub-Lingual Tablet’. Listening to both these records now one can see the group equally falling back on old Fall sounds and riff rehash (something that had begun to, at least more obviously, creep into Fall records around the time of ‘Light User’), while also witness the current lineup (going on 10 years as of 2017) develop their own brand of twisted rockabilly and whizzpop eccentricity, the stuff that suffered a relapse during the making of ‘Ersatz’. (after showing elements of great moments on 2010’s truly corking ‘Your Future Our Clutter’, an example of the Fall nailing it if they allow themselves a little more time and space to create). Said both albums are hit-and-miss affairs; a touch aimless and confused here, a touch spiky and enlightened there. Of the two ‘Sub-Lingual’ is the superior, but even that one is clearly inferior to the downright return to form of new LP ‘New Facts Emerge’. This one, of course, is a bit of an amazing album, that has the Fall doing fresh new things, a new-found lust emerging from the rubble. Those who don’t seem to get it are completely off the mark. It was always coming.