Same but different

The Fall – Ersazt GB

Cherry Red

November 14th 2011

Studio Album 29….. a milestone in anyone’s reckoning but in some respects, in the world of The Fall, business as usual.

Same but different to paraphrase Mr Peel.

The intent is clear from the outset with the exceptionally speedy “Cosmos 7” which motors along like a mad thing. All guttural synths and hyper fast drumming until a glorious guitar sound kicks in.

What strikes from the start is the clarity of the vocals. I am aware, through chatting with the producer, that the attention to detail on capturing Mr Smith was a particular element of the recording of this album. This makes this one of the better Fall releases in respect of being able to hear what he is chunnering on about. He also uses a series of vocal inflections and sounds to deliver the message which sets this apart from previous Fall releases.

What also stands out  is the use of Elena’s synth which burbles and bubbles away creating some sort of alien interference in this mix of garage, surf boogie, post-punk and heavy metal. Keiron Mellings drums are crisp and insisent, Dave Spurr hold the centre like a rock, and Pete Greenway just gets better and better. Pete is  probably the most important Fall guitarist since Martin Bramah and Craig Scanlon in respect of creating a signature sound for the group. The excellent “Taking Off” is quintessentially The Fall but sounds like nothing they have done before.

It  took me four plays to get into the album. Which is always a good sign, initial antipathy, and in some cases  hostility, to a Fall release tends to indicate there is something special going on.  There appears to be more focus on creating something memorable than of late. Whether it is Pete Greenway’s jittery guitar on the effortlessly repetitive “Nate will not return” or the joyous abandonment of Keiron Melling’s drums on the same track – there is a clear sense of a band wanting to make a mark on the industry – which has always been The Fall’s schema when they are at their most potent

To move from the manic repetition of “Nate” to the bubbly Beefheartian world of “Mask Search” in terms of album programming demonstrates the experience and expertise of this group of musicians and technicians. My initial concern at the gravelly nature of Smith’s vocalising on this track has been slowly replaced by a grudging familiarity through to a realisation that it actually works well. Continuity wise the gravel voice continues into the intense and memorising “Greenway” which is somewhat adjacent to a track called “Gameboy” by a greek heavy metal band called  “Anorimo” but at the same time manages to sound close to something Nigel Blackwell would have come out with in his most intemperate moments. Lyrically a bit of a puzzler with Smith narrating a strange tale and demonstrating a unique way of feeding his pets.

The last few albums have featured a signature track for Elena Poulou and that track continues that trend with “Happi Song” which sounds, vocally at least, like Nico, whereas musically it gently probes other areas and features some interesting background  vocal fx.

The centrepiece is the epic “Monocard”, which at 8 minutes is the longest piece on the album, all of the trade-mark Fall typologies are here, a riff battered to death over a slow rhythm (cf Hip Priest, Antidotes etc etc), and the scabrous Smith vocal. However there is a specific martial feel to the track which is heightened by its tension and release structure. The nearest thing I can compare it to in terms of structure, but not in terms of sound I hasten to add, is doom/death metal  – the synthesizer sounds are particularly visceral and Greenways plectrum murdering single string worrying is particular effective. A times I was reminded of Killing Joke for some reason.

“Laptop Dog” is in 4/4 from the drums – but appears to be in some totally different time signature vocally – a maddening contrapuntal piece with Smith sliding around the mix  sibilant and menacing. “I’ve seen them come” harks back to sound of “Fall Heads Roll” to some degree, and is perhaps the only track on the album which refers back to a particular sound rather than creating something new.  The final track  “Age of Chang” closes the album as it began at high tempo with an in your face rhythm section that forces a clear path through your skull,  as Greenway builds the riff with Poulou, and Smith cackles furiously – not a conventional song structure per se – more a series of parts of the same intent with riff variations – and sonic howlings that would not have been out of place on the sound track to “Forbidden Planet”. As he did on the last album Smith leaves us with a chuckle indicating that he still enjoys doing this.

So where does that leave us? Despite my initial concerns about this album it is proving to be a bit of a classic and definitely moves the group on from “Your Future Our Clutter” – there are similarities between the two but this has raised the bar somewhat. Colleagues have argued with me that the current Fall lacks variety – I think this album dispels that assertion. It’s a good ‘un!

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