The Fall appear to be enjoying themselves now. But what about the rest of us?
Mark E. Smith doesn't make things very easy. He has used his band the Fall as a device to challenge a great deal of what we all think or know about pop music. Their aesthetic was almost always dialed a few notches above punishing guitars, no matter who was playing them. Their lineup changes have been more confusing to follow than Yes's with Smith being the only constant. He's recorded at least thirty studio albums with the Fall with many more EPs, live albums and compilations on the side. His vocal style is to say the least, distinct. If you are lucky enough to decipher about what Smith is going on about with his gravelly Sprechstimme, then you're at least one step ahead of those who are still trying to decipher what he's saying in the first place. And now that The Fall are signed to Cherry Red, they've dropped a live album that is precisely the wrong thing to use when trying to introduce someone to the band. The name of it is Live UUROP VIII-XII Places in Sun & Winter, Son. Try letting that one roll of your tongue.
Smith compiled these 12 tracks from a variety of Fall shows in Europe between 2008 and 2012. The current lineup of Smith, guitarist Peter Greenway, drummer Keiron Melling, keyboardist Elena Poulou and bassist David Spurr has been described as the " longest-serving line-up in the band's history". That's no small potatoes for a band that has had over 60 people in and out of it over the course of 35 years, so why wouldn't you want to show them off a little? The idealist line of thought for summoning a live album ends there, though. Live UUROP is kind of a mess. There is no notation of when and where these performances were given. Most tracks have crowd noise but a handful of them fade out before the actually conclude. One track, "Auto (2014) Chip Replace" sounds like it was done in a radio studio. But as I said earlier, there’s no explanation in the sleeve. The songs that are recorded in a live music venue are of pretty dodgy quality, sounding no better than an amateur bootleg. The drums seem amplified by room noise alone and, if you're unfamiliar with these particular Fall tunes, good luck trying to make out what Smith is singing/saying.
With the exception of the opener "Wings (With Bells)", all of the songs are relatively new within the Fall's history. Four of them come from their two 2013 releases, RE-MIT and Remainderer, two are from 2010's Your Future Our Clutter, two from 2008's Imperial Wax Solvent and one apiece from 2007's Reformation Post T.L.C. and 2005's Fall Heads Roll. From a quick scan on Metacritic, any given writer will hold any one of these albums up as either the band at their best or Smith deep in dearth. Whatever your opinion of the Fall's recorded output from 2005 to 2013 may be, Live UUROP VIII-XII Places in Sun & Winter, Son isn't about to give you pause for reappraisal. Whether you loved, hated or just didn’t care about them, UUROP is rough stuff.
There are a few moments on the album that are clearer than the rest. The first is the carillon sample that kicks off "Wing (With Bells)". Then there are the maybe-it's-in-a-studio-or-maybe-not "Auto (2014) Chip Replace" and "Amorator". It's during moments like these where you can hear the little flourishes that Peter Greenway is up to on the guitar. With "Jetplane" and "Irish", we're back in a club or a garage or whatever where is sounds like one mic is dangling over everyone. There is a quotation in the Cherry Red catalog, attributed to no one, that reads "This is the Fall's first official live album for ten years." Whether or not that's a good thing is one issue, but it's something else entirely to think of this as a new standard.