Reformation: Post TLC
’ve been looking away from the Fall juggernaut for a spell (Fall Heads Roll sparked some attention, but the last full-length I dedicated large amounts of time to was probably The Real New Fall LP), yet imagine my lack of surprise when I learned that dastardly prune-faced curmudgeon Mark E. Smith had fired everyone in the middle of a major US tour. Again. Oh, except his wife (romance is alive and well).
Actually, the previous lot may have just walked out. Or perhaps it was a case of “you can’t fire me, I quit!” Whatever the circumstances, Reformation: Post TLC (or possibly Post-TLC Reformation!) sees a new group of musicians ushered into the room and given instructions to carefully sound as though they’re being rolled down a hillside in a dustbin. Unless, of course, this is the dramatic beginning to Smith’s incredible new Acid Jazz Fusion direction? We’d better do a quick spot-check on, ooh, Track 2 (“Reformation!” name-fans).
Noted features are as follows:
-Weighty bass riff drilled directly into the soul by ominous levels of repetition.
-Mr E. Smith haphazardly interjecting with cries of “BLACK RIVER!” and “GOLDFISH BOWL!” and “REFORMATION!”
-Guitarist trying not to get too twiddly in a desperate attempt to avoid (a) withering gaze of band leader and (b) instant sacking.
So yes, they still pretty much sound like The Fall: hurrah!
And it is indeed hurrah, because on occasion they have been known to stop sounding like the Fall—insofar as some lazy tunes have been tossed out with Mark half-slurring out vocals in a disinterested rather than charming fashion. Granted, this is a somewhat subtle distinction at times, but it’s the difference between a marvelous designer rug and one which has become thick with dust. Except instead of a rug, we’re talking about a much-feted musical institution. Anyway, the point is that the spring-cleaning or carpet-beating or whatever has done the world of good. Smith is so chuffed that he’s prepared to dedicate an entire song to this “Fall Sound.”
In other quarters, there are some deeply strange things afoot. Which, naturally, is par for the course too. “Insult Song” is surely the first instance of Mark E. Smith adopting a cod-American accent and enacting what is essentially an extended poetry piece about a day-trip to Rochdale for Medusa and a couple of friends. Specifically, a trip without hats (no, I don’t know either). However, this isn’t quite as strange as Smith’s decision that he can sing on “Over! Over!” Above a predictably steady bass ‘n beat rumble, his usual snarl and drawl is briefly replaced by a scattergun approach to hitting notes. (This is also superseded at one point by a sort of strangled gargle, which sounds a little like an attempt to sing with a mouth full of paint.)
There’s still plenty of space for further eccentricity. “Coach and Horses,” a short piece accompanied by unadorned, even gentle, electric strumming, appears to be an unexpected reflection upon the simpler times and transports of the 1860’s. But that’s just a minor warm-up of weirdness, because towards the close the truly experimental side is unleashed. For ten lengthy minutes, echo and drone hijack the album and rename it “Das Boat,” while Mark and cohorts make various odd noises and bang some household objects together.
All rather strange, all extremely Fall.
As this is the sparkling US release of the album there are some slight differences from the earlier UK version, plus the lure of additional enticements. In the not hugely interesting corner are an altered cover (standard band pic, rather than stained glass window design) and extended forms of “Reformation!” and “Insult Song.” In the rather more relevant department are four videos taken from the Hiro Ballroom performance in April ‘06. These are as rawkus as you might expect, with a manic run-through of “Theme From Sparta FC” particularly deserving of attention.
The general feeling throughout Reformation: Post TLC is actually one of relaxation and even (yikes) enjoyment from Overlord Smith. Playful banter and whimsical larks are left between several tracks, which isn’t something that might have been expected on previous Fall outings; and this upbeat mood translates well to record, resulting in a promising debut for the brave new line-up. It’s not a classic, nor is it an embarrassment. It’s a disc which says: we’re the Fall, we’re still going and, frankly, you should bloody well be pleased about that. A statement with which I’m inclined to agree.