A Future in Noise: Starter Guide: The Fall

Originally posted on A Future in Noise

Photo Credit: © Kevin Cummins http://www.kevincummins.co.uk/

The Fall are a band that inexplicably escaped my attention for far too long. I only became aware after someone posted an mp3 of “Dead Beat Descendant” at the Killlers Network in spring of ‘05. I liked the song, it quickly became a mix CD staple, and I recalled that I had read somewhere about LCD Soundsystem having been influenced by them, but it wasn’t until a year later that I went any further, when I somehow happened upon the YouTube videos for “Telephone Thing” and “Cruiser’s Creek”… and was completely hooked in. The acerbic wit! Stream-of-consciousness-style, poetic lyrics! The oddly charming “-uh” suffix attached to certain words! The…oh dear, how am I supposed to decide what album to listen to, the discography is immense!

Where to begin…?

With the only constant member being frontman Mark E. Smith through the group’s 27 studio albums, the first being Live at the Witch Trials (1979) and the latest Imperial Wax Solvent (one of my top album picks for 2008), and numerous changes in band members and style of music, delving into the world of the Fall could be quite a task without 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats, my first Fall-related purchase, and stand-by recommendation for anyone’s introduction to the Fall.

50,000… is a compilation documenting the group’s stylistic transitions, with the first disc representing the jangle-punk of late 70’s tracks like “Repetition” and “Industrial Estate” to the deepening of the unique Fall sound through the 80’s with the classic “Totally Wired” and “Hip Priest”, and onto the introduction of Mark E. Smith’s then-wife Brix Smith as guitarist for 1983 album Perverted By Language through ’85 single “Cruiser’s Creek”, the catchiest and most borderline-commercial single the Fall had released up to that point. Disc 2 explores the late 80’s and 90’s Fall singles, including some curious, re-inventive covers: “Mr. Pharmacist” (originally by the Other Half), “There’s a Ghost in My House” (R. Dean Taylor), and “Victoria” (the Kinks), up to “Green-Eyed Loco Man” from 2003 release The Real New Fall LP.

Key Albums:
Live at the Witch Trials (1979) Despite the title, this is a studio album, though the freewheeling delivery of Mark E. Smith and relentless pace of the band throughout gives the impression of a live set.
Hex Enduction Hour (1982) Hailed as a classic amongst a great many Fall fans, Hex is perhaps the Fall’s most difficult album, leaning towards their complex, art rock side, and containing one of the longest tracks in the whole discography, “And This Day”, clocking in at 10:22.
This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985) My personal favourite and the first Fall LP I had heard in full, this album is one of their most simultaneously cohesive and varied, reeling from the spooky (opener “Mansion” and “I Am Damo Suzuki”, tribute to the Can vocalist; it’s worth noting that John Lydon, frequent point of comparison to Mark E. Smith is also a Can fan) to the simply cool (“Bombast” and “L. A.”).
The Infotainment Scan (1993) The Fall’s biggest foray into the electronic in their catalog, and even offering up a Sister Sledge cover (“Lost in Music”), every track is glorious, with Mark E. Smith’s tone and lyrics sharper then ever, particularly on “Glam Racket” and “It’s a Curse”.
The Real New Fall LP (2003) Aside from the recent release Imperial Wax Solvent being such an achievement (and, indeed, one of the darkest, and strangest in the Fall’s long span of output), this was the Fall’s return to form in the 2000’s, including the infectious stomper “Theme From Sparta F. C.” and electro-drifter “Recovery Kit”.

The Legacy:
Long championed by influential British DJ John Peel (who described them as “the band against which all others in our house are judged”), with the Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 compiles all of the Fall’s 24 such sessions over six CDs, with many of the tracks rivaling their studio album versions.

A wide range of musicians have been influenced by the Fall, among them Sonic Youth (who covered four Fall songs in a 1988 Peel session), Radiohead, Elastica, Pavement, Franz Ferdinand, and Bloc Party, though the music still remains relatively unknown outside of critics and musicians (at least in America). Take this chance to dive in- your ears will be richly rewarded.

Further Reading:
The Fall Online – The most comprehensive source of Fall information on-line; the Lyrics Parade is of particular note!
The Story of The Fall – Track by track reviews and analysis from 1977’s “Dresden Dolls” to 2008’s “Exploding Chimney”.
The Fall – Mick Middles, Mark E. Smith – In-depth journey through the Fall’s inception and later years, with dialogue from Mark E. Smith throughout and thorough insights and discography.

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