Whether it's a return to form or the last hurrah, Your Future Our Clutter is the best Fall album in over two decades.
Call it a comeback two decades in the making -- or going out in style after a long, tempestuous career that started in the 1970s. There's only one indie band that can say it is releasing its best album in 25 years, and that's the Fall. Better known as a seminal influence and an elder statesman than for his actual output for a while now, Mark E. Smith has rallied his troops to craft a return to form with Your Future Our Clutter that you hoped, but wasn't sure, the Fall was still capable of. With its ambitious scale and ramshackle experimentation, the new album could easily belong in the Fall's early 1980s run of masterpieces, when the band peaked with the entropic Hex Enduction Hour and its signature classic, This Nation's Saving Grace.
While the Fall's all-but-neglected recent albums have given hints that Smith had regained his conceptual brilliance and biting wit, the post-punk icon's misanthropic aesthetic and burnt-out swagger are definitely back in full effect on Your Future Our Clutter. Evoking the mystery and quirky inventiveness of Smith's earliest work, this latest offering possesses a sense of coherence and all-engrossing appeal that makes good on the renewed promise, which is an odd thing to say about a band that has been around in some form or another for more than 30 years. So although the Fall has lots of greatest hits compilations, think of Your Future Our Clutter as the most comprehensive retrospective of the band's tenure yet, capturing all the idiosyncratic styles that only Smith has mastered or even thought of trying. Made up of nine intense tracks, the album stretches out Smith's best ideas, from the carnivalesque punk of the opening "O.F.Y.C. Showcase" to "Cowboy George", with its self-ordained "Country-'n-Northern" twang, to the scuzzy poor-man's krautrock of "Y.F.O.C. / Slippy Floor".
It's also more evident than ever before just how far-reaching the Fall's impact on rock's underground has been. From the off-kilter crash of its intro on, "Mexico Wax Solvent" makes a connection with the Pixies that should've been apparent before now, especially considering the fractured fairy tale conceits for which both legendary acts are known. More obvious is how Jarvis Cocker's ornery sing-spoken sneer was Mark E. Smith's first, the resemblance never as loud and clear as on "Hot Cake". And while much has been made Pavement's debt to the Fall, it's Smith who pays off the balance by showing how the band he influenced now influences him on Your Future Our Clutter. Best case-in-point is the epic mope of "Chino", which sounds like the Fall covering Pavement covering the Fall, almost a tit-for-tat retort to "Fillmore Jive", the closing number on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.
But what's the revelation of Your Future Our Clutter is something you'd never expect from the ever oblique and curmudgeonly Smith, which is the sense of vulnerability and mortality that takes hold over the second half of the album. It might have taken a long and winding road to get there, but the recklessness and bombast that has made the Fall so vital in its vitriol has given way to an almost tender weariness on the flip side of Smith's bitterness. While it's not a great idea to take what Mark E. Smith sings literally, never has he seemed to bare his soul as much as he does on "Chino", where he seems earnest when asking, "When do I quit?". Even more telling is the coda "Weather Report 2", on which Smith says to no one more than himself, "You gave me the best years of my life". It's a strikingly sincere moment that sounds like Smith is pondering what could have been along with what has been, as he resignedly spits, "No one has ever called me sir in my entire life". Adding to the effect is the irony of Smith mourning lost opportunities while he's making the most of them now, on the last song of the Fall's latest album.
Whether this is the end or the beginning of a long goodbye, the Fall proves it plans to go out on top. Whatever place Your Future Our Clutter ultimately holds in the Fall's extensive catalogue, it sounds a lot like Mark E. Smith's saving grace.