For 32 years and as many studio albums, the Fall as a band backs Mark E. Smith as a vocalist. His rants, mutters, and yelps speckle his distinctive delivery of his native Manchester’s accented stress. Over the extended period, female musicians have joined him. Each has lasted a while, often as Smith’s partner personally as well as on record and stage. Then, she departs, and the band plays on, A few years, a few albums on, another woman or even two may enter the lineup, and the songs adjust.
With Elena Poulou now off the roster, the Fall’s most stable line-up again shifts. New Facts Emerge by its title may allude to this recurring situation. “Segue” opens with Smith chortling on a cheap tape for half a minute, before the rock returns on “Fol De Rol”. In the band’s familiar style, the riff goes up and down, pumping along behind Smith’s snarl. He’s slurring more than usual early on this record.
At 60, Smith continues, as very few of his peers have from the punk era, to challenge audiences. This album does not differ much from those with Poulou on keyboards for a dozen years and seven studio discs. The Fall stretches out on “Fol De Rol”, “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s” and the closer.
These three tunes emphasize keyboards, here provided on synthesizer by guitarist Peter Greenway and Mellotron by bassist Dave Spurr. While the casual listener of the Fall may think that the tracks erupt and scatter randomly, the band pays attention to their sequencing. Co-production between Smith and drummer Kieron Melling attests to a democratization (at least theoretically given Smith’s dominance over band mates, whom he has been quoted as comparing to a football squad traded and changed at the will of a manager). This sharing of duties strengthens the record’s subtle balance.
In between the three longer tracks. “Brillo De Facto” saunters along before a brief rattle controversially titled “Victoria Train Station Massacre” and the title cut, which hearkens back to the simple structure of instruments banging out repetition, as a mantra and as the band’s foundation.
Midway through many Fall studio efforts, songs wobble and loosen. “Couples” recalls the past decade’s sonic experiments, as effects whir and reverberate. Weakening the stolid construction of the previous tracks, this song typifies the spookier kind of Fall song, with overlapping voices, lyrics as if mad poetry, and a setting befitting a lunatic’s rants. This type of moody Fall finds favor with longtime fans, but it may put off a newcomer expecting pop ditties, memorable chords, and bouncier melodies.
A love of rockabilly may surprise such newcomers, but the Fall unearths as covers and as originals this jaunty beat now and then.“Second House Now” starts off as such, before swerving into a sleeker style. The band unites. They are tight, contributing efficiently to whatever Smith seeks. In the past, studio albums often included covers, but for a decade they have tilted as here, to original songs.
“O! ZZTRRK Man” by its appearance promises mystery. Beneath a swirling pop-punk arrangement, Smith squawks submerged, barely emitting distorted mumbles as if trapped on a submarine’s radio transmission. It works, for this combines the accessible (relatively speaking) tunefulness of the band with Smith’s odd sensibilities. For all of its eccentricities, the Fall can create catchy, if weird, songs.
So does “Gibbus Gibson”, a cleaner production over a snappy guitar, crashing cymbals, and a modest bass line. Smith’s vocal is pushed above and in front in this mix, as the lead contribution to this track. But then, it detours into unhinged territory, on its way out. “Groundsboy” turns back to the chugging pace of the rockabilly-influenced strain. Melling’s sticks clatter on drum rims, as Smith growls over Spurr and Greenway’s deeper chants.
This restless, edgy album concludes with “Nine Out of Ten” as its 11th entry. That begins with a dramatic jangle hinting of a spaghetti western’s soundtrack. Smith’s voice threatens to push studio monitors into the red. “I was older,” Smith reflects and repeats.
He is, but he and the band present a solid effort. My promo stream stopped suddenly in the middle of the final track. This may signal if not subversive intent from the band a fitting way to keep at least this listener wondering, once again, what this newest Fall gang is up to. The Fall leaves us guessing.
// Notes from the Road
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