The Fall: 50,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats

Adrien Begrand

The Fall

50,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats

Label: Beggars Banquet
US Release Date: 2004-06-08
UK Release Date: 2004-05-31

It was most interesting when Mark E. Smith, during a recent newspaper interview, mentioned that author William S. Burroughs' experimental album Nothing Here Now But the Recordings was a major influence on his own art. Released in 1981 on London's Industrial Records label, it was made up of audio tape experiments by Burroughs from 1959 to 1965, an amazing, cacophonous, and generally creepy 45-minute pastiche of readings and ambient street sounds. Smith, the founder and longtime mastermind behind The Fall, the greatest, most resilient band from the post punk era of the late 1970s, could definitely relate to Burroughs' lo-fi audio projects, as that same cut-up method, both lyrically and sonically, has been a major part of The Fall's sound for decades. Not only that, but Smith's own savage wit in his lyrics echo the same pitch black humor found in Burroughs' own prose, and when you look at Mr. Smith now, you see a 47-year-old man who's developing a wrinkled, wizened, Burroughsian visage of his own, as the man now looks much older than his actual age indicates.

The Fall has such a small, yet highly devoted following, that if you asked any Fall fan what their favorite song is, or what album is the best place for beginners to start, you'd get a different answer every time. The fact that The Fall has released close to 50 singles, 25 studio albums, and dozens and dozens of live albums and compilations since 1977, has made The Fall one of the most difficult bands for anyone to get into. In the past, if you didn't know a Fall fan, but still wanted to learn more about them, you had an extremely daunting task ahead of you, as you were left wondering, "Where do I begin?" Well, help has finally arrived, as Beggars Banquet has, at long last, assembled the very first career-spanning Fall anthology. Facetiously titled 50,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats, as both an ironic nod to the band's cult following and a play on the legendary Elvis Presley album 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, with multiple images of a scruffy Smith replacing the King in his garish gold lame suit, it's just what many curious newbies need, as every phase of Mark E. Smith's long career is documented. Neatly laid out on chronological fashion, the 39 tracks in question make up one of the finest best-of compilations that we have seen in years.

Fall fans will always bicker about what was not included on this album (I can hear the complaints about the omission of "I Am Damo Suzuki" right now), but at least the majority of the band's classic songs are present. You've got the dark, rockabilly-driven "Fiery Jack", the caffeinated intensity of "Totally Wired", and Hex Enduction Hour's fantastic "The Classical", a spectacular, double drum-propelled jam inspired by both the Velvet Underground and Can, two other major influences on Smith's compositions. Many people regard the period where Smith's influential wife Brix joined the band as a guitarist, from 1983 to 1989, as the band's finest hour, as The Fall came as close as they'd ever get to a commercial sound. The upbeat, shuffling "Kicker Conspiracy" teeters for four minutes, but never falls apart, and "C.R.E.E.P." is insanely catchy, thanks to Brix's backing vocal melody, and a synth melody that's actually gorgeous. "Cruiser's Creek", from 1985's This Nation's Saving Grace is one of the band's finest moments, as they launch into all-out garage rock, while the anthemic "Hit the North" sounds like a twisted take on Motown, with its loud blasts of horns, and the 1988 cover of The Kinks' "Victoria" is endearing, thanks to the band's snappy performance, and Smith's singing (yes, singing).

What's really driven home when you hear this double CD is just how great a lyricist the curmudgeonly Mr. Smith really is, as the music of The Fall always centers around the distinctive voice of Smith, whose style is closer to spoken word than singing, as he snarls, drawls, and often slurs his way through songs with that Mancunian accent of his, always punctuating each line with an "ah" for good measure. The early B-side "Repetition" has Smith immediately establishing himself as a major lyrical talent, as he skewers both pop music and modern culture, sneering, "We've repetition in the music/And we're never going to lose it... This is the three R's: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition-ah." The brilliant "How I Wrote Elastic Man" is one of the greatest songs about writer's block ever written ("I'm living a fake/ People say, 'You are entitled to and great'/ But I haven't wrote for 90 days"), and the savage "Hip Priest" tears at music critics with Smith's razor-sharp verbal barbs. Smith is at his most dryly funny on the 1984 B-side "No Bulbs", as he describes his fruitless search for a belt in his messy flat, winking, "The former tenant was anti-corporal-punish/ Meant well, but it came to nothing," while 1991's "Telephone Thing" has Smith combining paranoia with more sly humor: "How dare you assume I want to parlez-vous with you?/ Sorry to be so short with you/ But I'm tapped."

A major flaw in retrospectives like this one is that there's always too much focus on the band's later years, but in The Fall's case, they've been putting out such consistently good material for so long, as Smith's constantly rotating backing band has now topped 30 members since 1977 (as I write this, word has it that two more members were fired). It's a pleasure to see their post-1990 output so well-represented by such tracks as "High Tension Line", the ska tinged "Why Are People Grudgeful?" (with the snarky wordplay of "different/death for rent"), "M5", and the flat-out terrific "Touch Sensitive". Even the band's most recent album, 2003's The Real New Fall LP, is represented, with the intense "Green Eyed Loco Man" closing out the set.

The compilation's producers have done an outstanding job culling the best of The Fall's extensive catalog, as no album is given preferential treatment, the CD offering a very well balanced overview of the band. Anyone who wants a good introduction to The Fall need not look any further; sure, not all essential songs are here (how can there be, with this band's massive catalogue?), but 50,000 Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats serves its purpose perfectly, inspiring the listeners to decide for themselves what album to try next. New fans might want to start catching up pretty quickly, though, because the inimitable Mark E. Smith is showing no signs of slowing down.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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