All in all, the best Fall album since, erm, the last one…
The Fall – Fall Heads Roll
Not so very long ago, everyone had written the Fall off. Some said Mark E Smith was a drunken mess, incapable of seeing through his boozy and bad tempered haze to create something new. Maybe the inspiration had dried up; maybe there was a lack of new musical stimuli in the form of creative new band members to bounce ideas off. 1977 is a long time ago and maybe the old warhorse had had enough... The last time we saw them, in 2001 in Leiden, it was a disaster; a gig lasting all of 10 minutes and ending in a drunken argument. The last few albums weren't all that hot either, too much rockabilly for my liking. Still, Country on the Click was a remarkable turn-around, and hopes were moderately raised by one or two reports of great new songs. The Peel box set raised hopes even further. This was no anonymous cash in, this was more a statement of intent.
A statement of intent. Now I think that is a phrase that can be used as a useful introduction to my review of their new album, Fall Heads Roll. This is a belter of an album. Its got verve. And snap. And yet it starts so incongruously. Ride Away is a maudlin and slow bus ride home from Clayton le Moors in the drizzle. Actually after a few plays its gawky charm really wins you over, but I can't off the top of my head think of a quieter start to a Fall official release, maybe My Frenz off Frenz Experiment? Though I stand to be corrected on this. Pacifying Joint is much more lively, a set of acerbic observations very similar to Carrier Bag Man. The band sound so sharp on this track; there's a real strength sonically inherent in this current line up.
What About Us is a fabulous question and answer number, The livin' legend-ah tells a story about a refugee from East Germany-ah. I went to North Britain/I became an immigrant/I could frolic around all night in the green grass/Iwas sorta happy... Somehow he finds out about the good Dr. Shipman and complains (I think) that he can't get hold of some of Shipman's prescriptions. It's a fabulous number, and is followed by Midnight Aspen; a soft and dreamy tale about staring at the stars; the line about shooting bullets (from the bestest, highest powered rifle..) at the constellations (only to hit passing spy satellites) is brilliant. It's a real gem of a song.
Assume starts with some trippy voices (and the inevitable MES mumble) but soon blossoms into a sprawling, menacing beast on the back of which Mark E grumbles on about something obscure (someone in this song knows all the lyrics to Hey Jude)... Midnight Aspen returns briefly in reprise form allowing a pastoral moment before the dark genius that is Blindness. The song is built round a simple, affecting riff that ebbs and flows brilliantly. It also showcases a crazy tale that I have yet to get to the bottom of (the flat is evil and full of cavalry..) eh? Smith still knows when to press the sonic buttons, Blindness!! is screeched at all the right moments. A potential dancefloor fille methinks. I Can Hear The Grass Grow, the old Move song, dovetails perfectly with Blindness, the exaggerated pop hooks and sing-along melody of this song let off the steam that the previous track had built up quite beautifully. BoD is the Fall's take on Bo Diddley and is perfectly enjoyable in a thrashy way. I have always been mystified why no-one ever picks up on how poppy (or maybe, how immersed in pop culture) Mark E's musical references are.
Next up is Ya Wanner, a powerful, descending and repeated riff over which MES berates some chap who works hard; you're a moaner/you are... you never ever/get the time together... you are a work/in progress/It's you, in about 2026...
Clasp Hands starts off like Tiger Feet and is a pleasant and jaunty ditty that spits around for two minutes before and is some take on airheads at gigs I think... The Early Days of Channel Fuehrer starts so softly, it almost sounds like a Mick Harvey number. It moochess around for three minutes, offset occasionally by a bittersweet guitar riff; sounding for all the world like an early Smiths track at times.
Breaking The Rules (possibly the most un-Mark E Smith title ever?) is another knockabout track about glossy mags and the lifestyles they present (yet again, Im open to correction on this) The music creates a jolly, shiny veneer, under which, you suspect, lies a considerable layer of cynicism. The angular, driving Trust In Me seemingly (though I could be wrong) features another vocalist. Golly... It sounds very, well, (take this in the right way, readers), trendy and young. Which is a vindication of sorts, a hearty two fingers to any lurking detractors and the perfect full stop to the entire project. Classic stuff.
So, to sum up?
Well, I loved reviewing this album. Can't always say that in this line of work, that's for sure. I'd like more of the same please (though, of course, that could never be the case with the Fall).
All in all, the best Fall album since, erm, the last one...
Words: Richard Foster.