Doc Shoe’s Picks: Fallmusic
I suck at the usual Top Ten, Top Five, or Top Whatthefuckever lists, but for what it’s worth I’ve happily dug my way through more than two dozen Fall releases over the last few years and I can tell you that these are the ones I revisit the most. Let’s start with
50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats
This compilation as the best possible starting-point for anyone interested in The Fall. I still play it frequently: It’s amazing to hear almost thirty years of stylistic and lineup changes condensed (in roughly chronological order) to two discs, and the extensive liner-notes by Daryl Easlea are a helpful road-map to The Fall’s overwhelming back-catalog. So listen to this comp, decide which era of The Fall interests you most, and proceed accordingly into the jungle of The Fall’s discography.
Totally Wired: The Rough Trade Anthology
My other favorite Fallmusic comp. Smith has said he’d rather retire than work for the Rough Trade label again, but I think The Fall really hit their stride on RT releases like Grotesque (After The Gramme). This two-disc anthology brings together the best of that era, including lots of otherwise scattered album tracks & selections from hard-to-find 45s & EPs (including Slates, the first Fall record heard by an American girl named Brix), all of which was recorded & first released around the time of
Hex Enduction Hour
Hear The Fall come bounding over the horizon like enemy cavalry. This is chaos restrained just enough to make it beautiful. That overused French phrase, tour de force (“feat of strength”), actually applies here. This is a consistently thrilling record that works great as an album—meaning it wasn’t meant to be heard on “shuffle,” though it totally works that way too.
This Nation’s Saving Grace
…or the equally awesome & accessible The Wonderful & Frightening World of The Fall. Or any Brix-era record, really, including the ballet (!) I Am Kurious Oranj. The brilliant & beautiful Brix Smith added her personal sweetness & Pop-sensibility (not to mention her nimble guitar riffs) to husband Mark’s trademark stomp & snarl. The resulting records were the closest The Fall ever came to being a household name.
Like the exception that proves the rule, this album is dark and moody, particularly for a Brix-era release—yet a classic example of The Fall zigging when you’d expect them to zag.
This is The Fall’s first post-Brix album. Think of this as Mark E. Smith’s divorce record, like Blood On The Tracks or Here, My Dear. Definitely a sharp turn in the band’s career and perhaps a “fan’s only” record, but what Fallmusic isn’t?
The Infotainment Scan
Like many 90’s kids from the pre-internet Midwest, my music selection was at the mercy of Wal-Mart and Top 40 radio. Which was just terrible to say the least, though this may explain to you why guys like me are slobberingly grateful to AC/DC, Metallica, and Nirvana—because they were all we had! Consequently I didn’t hear 1993’s The Infotainment Scan until 2012, and my first thought was: Where was this record when I needed it? Almost as if responding to decades of overproduced dreck flooding the airwaves, Mark E. Smith shows them all how an artist uses a little studio polish to his advantage. This is so purely Fallmusic, and yet it’s an album Prince might have been proud of—and if that doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, I’m afraid we have nothing in common.
The Light User Syndrome
This is a criminally underrated ’90s album featuring Brix Smith, who returned to the band five years after divorcing Mark Smith. Why would any sane woman return after such an acrimonious divorce & band split? Listen to this record—the music outlived the marriage and the music is justification enough.
The Marshall Suite
Smith once boasted: “If it’s just me and your granny on the bongos, that’s The Fall.” This record proves it. Long story short, Mark E. Smith got into a worse-than-usual brawl with his band that began onstage and continued back at the hotel, and before long he’d been arrested and his band quit—as in, the entire goddamn band, and nobody gave a shit about Smith anymore. Except keyboardist/girlfriend Julia Nagle, who bailed him out (literally) and stayed (irony abounds here) to help Smith build a new Fall. This isn’t a comeback album so much as a resurrection. Also: One of the few concept albums that doesn’t suck, at a time when there was something charmingly contrary about making a concept album, albeit a perversely experimental one that unfolds across three sides: “straightforward,” “opening up,” and “really off the wall.” This album looses its fucking marbles while you listen.
The Real New Fall LP, formerly Country On The Click
This record shouldn’t exist. It’s another tour de force that fully deserves the label—yet this album came out in 2004, at which point Mark E. Smith had been at this game for almost thirty goddamn years. I’m not saying this is a good album “considering how old the band is” (e.g., the new Stooges album or anything The Stones released after Some Girls), I’m saying this is a great album, a late-career fucking masterpiece that ranks among this artist’s strongest works (like Muddy Waters’ Hard Again, Bob Dylan’s Love And Theft, or Tom Waits’ Mule Variations). This is the kind of record that makes me want to snarl along with the lyrics and stomp on the gas pedal, made by an old man with a face like an unmade bed.
What are your favorites?