Before the Fall, there was nothing that sounded like the Fall. Certain things sounded a bit like the Fall: krautrock, Beefheart, garage rock, the Mothers of Invention pre-1970, but unless it’s got Mark E. Smith’s angular proclamations sticking out of it, it isn’t going to sound like the Fall. They are unique, and that is incredibly rare in pop music. When Smith died in 2018, at no stage did any members of the band suggest carrying on with another singer. What a pointless exercise that would be. If we want to hear anything that sounds like the Fall that we haven’t heard before, we’ll have to go tiptoeing through the embers, looking for stuff like Reformation! Post-TLC: an expanded edition of their 2007 album, which gathers up the original album, singles, alternative versions, a rough mix of the album, and a live performance from a 2007 London show. Do the songs bare up to this forensic investigation? Yes, they do.
This multi-disc version of Reformation! Post-TLC is not for the faint-hearted, but neither were the Fall. This record is famous/notorious for being the only record in their expansive canon to feature an almost-all-American band, recruited when three members of the previous lineup quit during a US tour in 2006. That kind of thing happened a lot in the Fall. I’d love to report that they made the band sound like Journey or Steely Dan (as that would be a hoot), but the new musicians made the Fall sound like a harder, more muscular version of the Fall. Smith was effusive in his praise for his new band-members and fired most of them a few months later. That kind of thing happened a lot in the Fall. That’s a real shame as Reformation! Post-TLC is a focused and powerful record with the previous lo-fi scratchiness, replaced with a lean and aggressive, guitar-centered approach. You’ve got to go back to the late ’80s incarnation of the band to hear a Fall record with this kind of punch.
All the standard components are in place – the bass is pummeled into distortion, the guitars grind through a series of spikey riffs, the drums go boom, and occasionally you can hear what sounds like a toy keyboard snaking between everything else. All topped off by Smith’s legendary barroom yelp. The difference on this record is that everyone concerned is super-committed to making this stuff sound good. I’m surprised that Smith allowed the guitars to sound quite as New York Dolls-y as they do, but I’m also delighted, because they sound great, especially on “Reformation!” where the band comes over like Neu! playing “Peter Gunn”.
On “Fall Sound”, Smith helpfully details what makes the Fall sound like the Fall: “No laptop wankers overground” and “No ‘guitar’s dead’ mob”, are among the components identified, before Smith declares, “You try to ingratiate / To the Fall sound / But you’re much too late.” There’s no more room for any more Fall fans, it seems. And just to throw another spanner in the works, there’s an almost reverent cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever”. “My Door Is Never”, however, is a definitive Fall tune, driven by a circular bassline and punctuated by gnarly guitar riffs. The lyrics are as dense and contradictory as we’ve come to expect. It’s great.
The rest of the package is a bit of a mixed bag. If you’re a Fall completist, you’ll need the rough mixes and the tracks that appeared on contemporary singles. If you’re not, you won’t. Of much more interest is the live recording that closes this four-disc set. Recorded at the Hammersmith Palais in London, on 1 April 2007, the Reformation! Post-TLC lineup rip through a selection of material including a cover of Frank Zappa’s “Hungry Freaks, Daddy”. Typically, the set is pretty much entirely made up of contemporary material. There was never much room for nostalgia in the Fall. I’m not sure what the musicians did to make Smith replace almost all of them to record 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent, but it’s a shame he did, as that combination of excellent, sympathetic musicianship and Smith’s unique vocal “styling” works really well. Just another “what if” in the history of the band.
Reformation! Post-TLC documents a fascinating period in the history of a band whose history was punctuated by a series of fascinating periods. Fortunately, the music is well worthy of re-appraisal, especially as this line up of the band was as impressive as it was short-lived. It’s a great shame that Mark E. Smith didn’t persist with a band which incorporated so many American musicians – after all, it worked pretty well for Fleetwood Mac.