Posted by: Nick Walters | April 19, 2007

The Fall: Reformation Post TLC Review

My review of the new(ish) Fall album, Reformation Post TLC:

This is great. Proper Fall, with nooks and crannies and experimental weirdness. As autotech says [on The Fall website], “it’s a real fall album, different and the same, messy and tight, satisfying and frustrating, confused and clear.”

I can’t for the life of me understand those fans who complain about the weird bits. This is The Fall, not Blink 182, for Totale’s sake!

This album is The Fall of Spectre Vs. Rector, The Fall of Grotesque, The Fall of Noel’s Chemical Effluence, of Zagreb, of Perverted By Language, of Bend Sinister: The Fall I love. This is particularly welcome after the straight-ahead Fall-rock of the last two albums, which, though good, don’t sustain in the long term. They were too “normal”-sounding for The Fall, especially Fall Heads Roll. Maybe Mark E. Smith was right in sacking the previous band, however one feels about the ethics/morals of that. However I’m not going to get into a discussion of that, except to say that it seems to have re-invigorated The Fall, made them somehow “more” The Fall. The spirit of reckless experimentation and fuck what anyone else thinks is back, with a vengeance (and yes, I am talking about mainly about Das Boat here – of which more later). To quote alabowie [again from The Fall website],: “Its like Steptoe and Son, its all in the atmosphere, not whats in front of you. FHR was all about whats in front of you.”

The production, criticized by sections of both fandom and the music press, is fine. Deep, dense, organic and murky; yet clear when it needs to be. It adds an air of mystery, as opposed to the shiny and ultimately shallow production on Fall Heads Roll. It’s refreshing to hear in this digital age when everything is levelled out to the max and there’s no light and shade to beguile the listener. (As an aside, Morrissey’s You Are The Quarry is marred by this sort of production, whilst its follow-up, Ringleader of the Tormentors, has a better, warmer, more organic feel – the comparison with FHR/RPTLC stands).

The trick with this album is to play it LOUD – especially Systematic Abuse. That’s how it was made.

Fall LP cover

PLAY ME LOUD YOU FUCKERS !

The mix of long and short tracks is refreshing – there are three at over seven minutes and two around the six mark. And two that aren’t much longer than a minute. Also, bits of the album reference other bits both musically and lyrically. This gives the album a natural flow and shape; instead of just being Tracks 1 – 14 A,B,C, it takes you on a journey.

A journey which begins with the sound of Mark E. Smith laughing harshly, savagely, defensively, as if to say, ‘Ha! I’m back and I ain’t finished yet!’ and then we’re into Over! Over! (a song title reminiscent of lyrics from The Man Whose Head Expanded). A fair opener, with a traditional Fall bassline given a motorik Krautrock treatment, and spindly guitars all over the place. I like the bit when it speeds up towards the end – shows how tight already this new band are. Mark E. Smith sounds as good as he’s ever done, and, for those who think his “gargling gravel” vocal mannerism is new, he first used it on The Unutterable, seven years ago.

Then we get the seven-minute groove of Reformation! (A title reminiscent of Repetition.) (And a two-note bassline reminiscent of the bassline from The Man Whose Head Expanded.) This gets better with every listen – a real hypnotic, building track. I love it when the second riff comes in over the top an octave (?) higher, playing exactly the same riff. Genius! And ace shout-along MES lyrics: “Black River! Fall Motel! Cheese States!”

And then – Fall Sound. A clear fan favourite and the obvious stand-out track. Would be the single… could still be, I suppose. Starts with electronic bleeps and then a thrilling bass drop that bleeds into the main riff which is shamelessly nicked from Peter Hook. Very reminiscent of Totally Wired, with a great slashing, punishing, trebly guitar riff. MES’s vox in top form here. Wonderful.

Immediately after this song ends we get what sounds like the drum intro to Totally Wired! – but it turns out to be White Line Fever. A great cover, very slight musically but with a pleasant rolling bassline. What makes this is the vocals – Mark in crooning mode (not as bad as it sounds) and nice backing vocals from the lads (lads? As they’re American I suppose I should say guys.) MES’s delivery of the lyrics about growing old serves as a nice counterpoint to the brash confidence of Fall Sound. They’ve clearly taken a lot of care with the sequencing of tracks on this album.

Insult Song doesn’t really register on first listen, but it’s a grower. MES sings the whole thing in a cod American drawl which is funny in itself. The lyrics are clever, tying in Beefheart and Greek mythology to observations about the US music scene and taking the mick out of the new band members. But what’s great about this track is the music, which at first seems annoying and directionless, but which draws you in with each listen. The spindly, sneering guitar lines are great, especially towards the end.

My Door Is Never with its incomplete title (open? closed?) and throbbing mutant bassline brings a real sense of menace to proceedings. Murderous lyrics from MES and a cool squiggly guitar freakout at the end that’s not like anything The Fall have done before, yet it somehow fits.

Time for a breather. Coach and Horses is under two minutes long and is quite lounge-jazzy in its laid-back-ness. Helps to make the album more diverse, and together with the next track makes an effective “bridge” between the two halves of the album.

Then – The Usher. Some have called it pointless, but I quite like it, especially the spiky guitar riff. It’s another one of MES’s “list” songs like Glam Racket. I love it when he says, “The Reformation is coming – it is coming fastly.”

And now another change of tone. We’re into “Side 2” now (I’m of the age and inclination where I just can’t help splitting albums into sides – it was the way I was brought up) and things are going to get weird. So, here’s The Wright Stuff, a 6 minute piece based around a trad Fall jam with Mark E. Smith’s wife Eleni Poulo “the mad Greek woman, the Hydra” (from Insult Song) on vocals. An oddity – and lovely. And fun; that’s another thing about this album: fun. It’s fun and funny. Great Fall always is. I love it when she says, “I’m a celebrity – get me out of here.”

The Wright Stuff ends with the sound of audience applause and cheering and then, immediately, Scenario starts, and its an immediate counterpoint to the larks of the previous track. A riff reminiscent of a speeded-up Over! Over! chugs along at some pace, whilst the guitar plays a lonely, evocative, subtle tune as Mark delivers touching, confessional lyrics. The whole thing is moving and absolutely stunning. We’ve come a long way from the beginning of the album and yet it’s far from over.

Das Boat.

Oh my God… my God! Where to start?!

The most divisive Fall “song” ever? Maybe. I love it. It’s pure, insane, experimental Fall and is absolutely what this band are about. Skip it? Are you mad?! Turn it up and revel in it!

The first two-odd minutes are a lurching fairground organ riff whilst a guitar croons somewhere in the ionosphere. And then it mutates into something that merges Neu!, the first Kraftwerk album, early Tangerine Dream and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with pure Fall experimental sensibility.

It’s mesmerising, beautiful, sinister and silly all at once. I love it when MES goes, “Das Boat!… U-Boat.” I love the “e eee e eee!” bits (hard to explain) – it’s oddly scary, as if these are half-human creatures who have just learned to speak.

The track – and to paraphrase noted Fall academic Mark Fisher from his excellent Memorex of the Krakens series of articles, it’s not a “song”, it’s a track, like Spectre Vs Rector – somehow manages to evoke the strangeness and claustrophobia of being on a submarine (I’ve never been on one but have an imagination).

What it also evokes for me are the aliens at the end of Close Encounters trying to communicate with us through music. That’s what this is.

The track doesn’t actually end – it morphs into the next track, The Bad Stuff, again, not a “song” as such and something they probably couldn’t replicate live the way it is on this album.

(By the way, I love the way all these tracks flow into each other – this is a much more cohesive, natural-flowing album, unlike Fall Heads Roll, which just seemed like a bunch of songs chucked together with little care given to running order, and missing such obvious wins as a segue between Pacifying Joint and What About Us.)

The Bad Stuff reminds me of the weird bits on the third side (sides again!) of The Marshall Suite, only better: spooky, spooked, spiky. It’s got some amazing riffs and ideas crammed into its short running time. Great experimental stuff again.

And then Systematic Abuse. Well, I’ve read reviews expressing extreme disappointment with this against its live versions, but I’m not going to let those bother me. This absolutely rocks, and closes the album in triumphant style (unlike the usual half-arsed endings to recent Fall albums). You DO need to turn it up a bit because of the way it’s mixed – at high volume, the bass really comes through.

The simple riff – reminiscent, as some have rightly said, of Stepping Out – is addictive, and they do interesting things with it over the eight minute running time, such as techno-ing it up in an Infotainment Scan stylee. The drumming – and this is true throughout the album – is fantastic.

MES’s vocals do sound a little detached on this one but it doesn’t bother me that much. And I love Eleni’s little valedictory organ flourishes at the end. Wonderful! A great way to close the album – but it’s not over; we get Outro, thirty seconds of mechanical percussion which recalls The Usher, adding to the album’s cyclical, organic nature. Yeah, it’s a bit pointless; but at least it tells you the album’s over, and you can go back to the beginning and listen to it all over again.

Which is precisely what I’m going to do.

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