If the Fall, or rather Curmudgeon Mark E. Smith’s Band of UK Football Fans, Beer Drinkers, and Female Keyboardists, Version 35.1, have not just released their best record in a decade, they have certainly released a more consistent and accessible one, just in time for the tail-end of the post-punk renaissance. The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click) still comprises all the elements that can make other Fall albums so extreme and impenetrable to non-fans: Mark’s amelodic, sneering delivery of obscure British slang and cultural references, devolved rockabilly riffs repeated ad infinitum, and obtrusive amateur electronic production gimmicks. Yet, the album manages to maintain a finer balance of these elements over the course of its duration, never losing sight of what may be the Fall’s usual sacrificial lamb in their never-ending dedication to restless experimentation: the song. Granted, Smith and Co. are not going to be winning any Ivor Novello awards this year, but relative to most of the other 492 all-new studio albums the Fall have put out since 1979—actually, they’ve released about one a year—this record is light on the space-wasting noisemaking (thankfully, they’ve kept the tortured monkey shrieks in the box this time).
Each member of this new incarnation is rocking with passion and urgency, contributing any number of hooky flourishes to round out the songs and give them some melodic appeal. The album’s strongest track, “Theme from Sparta F.C.”, is a football rant with tag-team vocals and rowdy cheering to offset Smith’s drunk-sounding growling, which primarily features affected athletic threats and challenges like, “Come on, I will show you how I will change / When you give me something to slaughter.” But the moment the track reaches sheer brilliance is when new keyboardist (and Mrs. Smith) Elini Poulou takes the mike between stanzas to repeat these lines translated into Greek. Both the sinewy lead and the T-Rex-ish rhythm guitar here are clean and edgy, blending with the booming drum track to give the song a memorable rock power. “Last Commands of Xyralothep via M.E.S.” is a three-minute prog workout that beautifully winds the instruments together into a warm fabric that actually relieves the need to distinguish whatever impenetrable weirdness it is that Smith is going on about. Opener “Green Eyed Loco-Man” features an encapsulating 30-second mid-section that sounds as if the whole band was pushed underwater; it’s telling that at times Mark has to struggle to be front and center in the mix. It’s almost as if Poulou, guitarist Ben Pritchard, and drummer David Milner are all-too-aware that if they don’t play their hearts out, and play well together, Mark will cast them into the waste bin with Marc, Craig, Steve, Karl, Brix, Julia, Tommy, Martin, Marcia, Mike, Paul, Simon, Dave, and every other Fall MVP who has contributed over the years; special mention should be given to poor Jim Watts, the bassist and chief co-writer whose firing earlier in 2003 was responsible for the album’s lengthy release delay and subsequent retitling.
Despite all of this, Mark is still the main attraction of the record, completing his 27th year as a true original and creative visionary. “I hate the contraflow so much,” he declares in “Contraflow” with an exasperated tone, perhaps establishing his disgust with urban living by singling out a means to relieve traffic congestion. Unsurprisingly, he immediately pairs this with an equally bitter, “I hate the countryside so much,” which can only mean that, as usual, he hates everything. Elsewhere on the record, Mark has similar rants against randomly specific issues such as unfair mortgage policies that discriminate against rock stars (“Mountain Energei”) and Mike Love’s internal overtaking of the ownership of the Beach Boys (“Mike’s Love Xexagon”). His unique vocal delivery is also a bit clearer than it has been since about 1994, giving even more credence to the theory that the Fall are actively attempting to break out of the obscurity in which they’ve languished for so long, and into a climate which has already welcomed the comebacks of other post-punk heavies like Wire, Mission of Burma, and even Gang of Four (through dance-punk descendants like Liars, the Rapture, and Radio 4). Welcome to the belated rise of the Fall.