The closing scene of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point shows a building exploding. For six minutes or so, in super-slow motion, and from every possible angle. Fast-moving it isn’t, but it is fascinating, watching refrigerator doors and dust and bits of wire and pipe hurtle towards the camera, arcing and twirling and floating and falling in a ballet of absolute, fiery destruction. It seems to go on forever.
Trying to follow the career of The Fall is a lot like watching the tail end of Zabriskie on endless loop. This is a “band,” using terms loosely, that started collapsing before it was ever formed—nah, not so much as a band name plus the personage of Mark E. Smith plus whatever array of hapless, soon-to-be-dispensed-with side-persons willing to forego personal comfort, tastes, aspirations and dignity in service to a disjointed, fractious, uncomfortable legend. At this point, the legions of former Fall members probably constitutes half of London; talents large and small have been drawn inexorably into the Smith orbit, only to be unceremoniously spat out at His Highness’s pleasure.
Smith and his continually shifting assortment of semi-anonymous and underrated side-persons have been at it for nearly four decades now, defying any and all reasonable expectations of longevity. Few would have reasonably expected much in terms of quality from this outfit, either: When your front man/sole core member has Smith’s reputation for being erratic/difficult/an outright asshole, your band usually can’t boast bright prospects for productive, ongoing collaboration.
And yet: There was Live at The Witch Trials; I Am Kurious Oranj; Wonderful and Frightening World of…; Infotainment Scan and God knows how many other albums—amidst a similarly-sized pile of dross—that just blow you away. Not for musicianship per se, or for overt songwriting brilliance, but for an intangible “something” that just made The Fall utterly compelling. In a public-brawl kind of way. In a car-crash kind of way.
Smith’s greatest achievement may have been in elevating Not Giving A Fuck to a high art, and The Fall at their best exude indifference, contempt, disgust and general sourness by the bucket-load. Workaday punk attitude be damned: This was, and is, the real deal. Total disaffection. A “band” that reaches out through your earbuds to fuck with you, endlessly, relentlessly. That tells you you’re a sucker for buying in, but keeping you coming back for more.
Which brings us to “Sub Lingual Tablet,” The Fall’s 99 thousandth album, and not altogether dissimilar from many of those before it. It is all attitude, drone, drift, thud, and hook. Songs, that on the surface, have no particular reason for existing, with lyrical content akin to the ravings of your irritable drunken neighbor. If you’re a Fall fan, it’s a drill you know well. But you know what? It’s fucking good. Really fucking good, with the band striking the right balance between po-pop gloss, intoxicated meander, and crap attitude. And texture: lots of it, albeit presented in the under-produced don’t-give-a-fuck Fall fashion that you either love or hate. Burbling soft synths, clubbing drum racket, a relentless bass/guitar hook or two, all slathered with Smith snarl. “Pledge” twitches along sounding for all the world like a garage band’s rehearsal improv; “Snazzy” drops prog-funk lite riffs atop an insistent 4/4; “Junger Cloth” lurches and rants; “Stout Man” a by-the-numbers old school punk anthem sorta-thing. And from first to last, The Fall fulfill John Peel’s legendary summation: Always sounding different while always sounding the same. And goddamn if that isn’t art.
They—he—it are literally in the 39th year of existence, 32 official albums under their belt, and not only still at it, but still every bit as overtly abrasive, contrarian, and absolutely indifferent to their audience as they were back in ’77 when they had a girl banging on cans rather than a drummer. The stuff of legend in other words. So, thank Allah they haven’t blown up yet, no matter how hard they've tried. [Cherry Red]
-David B. Livingstone
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