In Praise of The Fall | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The Fall occupy a weird niche in British music. For anyone of a vaguely indie, punk or alternative leaning, the name is renowned. Under the leadership of Mark E Smith, they have seen scenes and trends come and go, decades start and end, and always emerged victorious at the end. They’re known as one of the great survivors, the original post-punk iconoclasts that never threw in the towel.

Yet the reason for their significance – their incomparable, ever-expanding body of work – is all too often overlooked. Instead, you get the same old stories about changing line-ups, about the hard-drinking, hard-nosed lifestyle of Mark E Smith, about their celebrity fans like John Peel, Stewart Lee and Grayson Perry, about the intransigence of a band and its leader that have always operated on a parallel to the rest of the industry.

It’s apt perhaps that the same old stories get wheeled out to talk about a band that’s always pursued the power of repetition (or, as Smith would point out, just plain discipline). Every line-up has brought its own quirks to the table, be it the nervy, Beefheart-inflected jangle Marc Riley conjured up, the more focused guitar pop of the Brix years or the techno explorations of keyboardists Dave Bush and Julia Nagle. Yet even before Smith’s unmistakeable, attitude-laden voice enters, any Fall song always has a distinct otherness unlike any other band. As much as they’ve become a touchstone along the years for everyone from Pavement to LCD Soundsystem, The Fall have remained impervious to imitation throughout.

any Fall song always has a distinct otherness unlike any other band

This month, the band release their thirty-first full-length studio album, Sublingual Tablet. Aside from the addition of second drummer Daren Garrett in 2013, they’ve retained a stable line-up since 2007, in which time the Fall sound has mutated once again into a dense fog of psychedelic garage rock and analogue synth experimentation. It’s another strong entry into one of rock music’s most startling and extensive canons: curious rhythmic experimentation and noise excursions nestle alongside some of the most direct riffs yet to be found in a Fall album, whilst Smith aims his sights at the mind-warping effects of social media and decries the invasion of Media City UK into Salford.

For any Fall fan, a huge part of the appeal has always been those remarkable, surreal lyrics, sometimes dipped in the most poisonous vitriol, sometimes remarkable narrations that sell our own world back to us in new, fantastical form. Smith’s lyrical style and vision is unlike any other, the work of someone who sees Britain from a brilliantly askew angle to which only he has access. Once you’ve dipped in, you’ll soon find yourself subsumed by the tidal wave of his feverish imagination.

Then of course, there’s the rite of initiation that is The Fall live show. The band, lined up like doomed Jesuits, blast through their set, eyes to the floor, concentration on the task in hand – in the case of bassist Steve Hanley, who was the longest-serving Fall member aside from Smith himself until his departure in 1998, it was like seeing a man actively wrestle with his chosen instrument, seeking to bring it into submission. Meanwhile, MES rules the roost, commandeering instruments and adjusting amps as he sees fit as part of his unique take on rock’n’roll theatrics. When the chemistry is there (or if Smith isn’t playing along), the results can be messy, as those in attendance at their Riverside performance in 2011 can attest.

Right now though, there’s on a real live streak, as demonstrated at the 6 Music Festival in February. As ever, they ignore nostalgia and the safe options to keep ploughing on with new material and new ideas – their current set revolves around the last few years of Fall releases, and is all the better for it. The group will be making the Stephenson Boiler Shop their own this Saturday: it’s hard not to wonder if the venue really knows quite what they’ve let yourself in for, but regardless, whether you’re a life-long fan or completely new to them, Mark E Smith and his band will be delivering you their latest dispatch from the front line of their ceaselessly evolving work. There’s nothing else that compares.

The Fall play at the Stephenson Boiler Shop, Newcastle on Saturday 23rd May.

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