Mark E Smith’s scabrous wit, defiant strangeness and constant invention still continue to put newer pretenders to shame
In 1998, God-bothering entertainer of the Wimbledon tennis crowds [b]Cliff Richard[/b] managed to overcome public and music industry prejudice by releasing a 12-inch single under the name [b]‘Blacknight’[/b]. The track was an immediate hit with radio playlists – until producers discovered the artist’s true identity. It’s hard not to wish [b]The Fall[/b] would consider a similar tactic. For although the three-decade history of [b]Mark E Smith[/b]’s troupe doesn’t contain a [b]‘Mistletoe And Wine’[/b], every album is judged by the weight of the past.
Really, we should be sat in NME Towers, looking at a press shot (the ravaged glare of MES Photoshopped out) of three young bruisers from Salford and an icily gorgeous German with black hair, putting [b]‘Your Future, Our Clutter’[/b] on the stereo, and demanding that the cover be cleared for an exposé on The Best New Band In Britain. Because that is what [b]The Fall[/b], on their 28th album, still clearly are.
For other Best New Bands In Britain are never entirely new. You can always hear the guilty squeak of the floorboard as they approach music’s dressing-up box, from which they take tattered rags from 10, 20, 30 years ago and use them, like the proverbial Emperor, to cover their nakedness. [b]‘Your Future, Our Clutter’[/b], on the other hand, is cut from rare cloth of mysterious weave. It’s an audacious album of lyrical wit, a defiant record of pugnacious bass, samples from a certain robot-helmet-wearing French electro duo, tangential guitar, synth noise and dark mutterings, much of which concern Smith’s experience of the medical profession following a spate of broken bones.
From a lesser mortal than Smith you might ascribe such a musical gee-up to the fact that [b]The Fall[/b] are now signed to Domino, the same label as [a]Arctic Monkeys[/a] and [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a], both groups who have attracted his ire – Smith suggested that the Arctics ought to give up on music to open a chain of chip shops.
Curiously, there’s a thick-set, lumbering quality to [b]‘Hot Cake’[/b] that you could imagine being ground out somewhere in the desert by [b]Alex Turner[/b] and co. But you get the feeling that they’d never have made the crucial leap to add that weird ‘brrrring’ noise, or the “ah ah oooos” from MES’ wife Elena. The same goes for the second half of [b]‘YFOC/Slippy Floor’[/b], which suddenly bursts into a lusty rock’n’tumble after a hulking bass intro, snappy drums, and talk of [i]“tales… from the Castleford crypt”[/i] and [i]“the encyclopaedia of building and plumbing”[/i]. But these are merely some of the most straightforward moments here.
[b]‘Bury Pts 1 + 3’[/b] starts off as a distant, fuzzy stomp, as if you’re stood outside some warehouse as the latest hot scruffs play inside. It suddenly emerges into clarity, and what was garage simplicity suddenly has oodles of Teutonic Moog, threatening lyrics about [i]“a Spanish king with a council of bad knaves”[/i] and references to Squirrelgate, when Smith was investigated by the RSPCA for saying that he killed some of the fluffy rodents for eating his fence. It’s this unselfconscious sense of difference that sets [b]The Fall[/b] apart. In a world with so many earnest beards pretending to be cowboys that we’re almost out of stools, [b]‘Cowboy George’[/b] is afternoon telly spaghetti western imagined by a paranoid Ritalin fiend: [i]“unseen footage… unseen knowledge”[/i], Smith growls, a sample of [b]Daft Punk[/b]’s [b]‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’[/b] making an unexplained appearance.
Most startling of all is [b]‘Weather Report 2’[/b], with its delicate guitar introduction giving way to huge banks of electronic noise, like nuclear fallout floating gently down over a sylvan valley. The track ends with a bizarre whispered statement: [i]“Never mind Jackson/What about Saxons/Recordings of lost London/You don’t deserve rock’n’roll”[/i]. Faced with [b]The Fall[/b], the Best New Band In Britain until Smith is perched on a cloud supping Pilsner and winding up [b]John Lennon[/b], it’s hard not to agree.
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Click here to get your copy of The Fall’s ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’ from the Rough Trade shop