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The Fall: The Real New Fall LP

Album: The Real New Fall LP
Label: Narnack

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The Fall's discography has never been clean. All the band's early singles, EPs, and alternate U.S. and U.K. versions of its albums have been recombined and re-titled countless times, and over the past 10 years, since the group stopped recording for established American labels, its output has become practically impossible to track. The best record shops are filled with Fall imports of dubious origin, combining live cuts with discarded old material and the occasional new song. The Real New Fall LP spoofs that phenomenon in its title and subtitle ("Formerly Country On The Click"). The album's general coherency is also a sign, along with Beggars Banquet's new two-disc Fall anthology, that bandleader Mark E. Smith is starting to take a serious approach to the band's legacy as a jaded, smart-ass punk survivor.

When Smith is rolling, there's no one funnier in rock 'n' roll. Musically, The Real New Fall LP isn't too far removed from the group's recent work—it clatters atonally, with the odd melodic synth line or funky guitar to relieve the drone—but the album finds Smith in fine form, skewering passersby and complaining about the weather, like an unexpectedly cogent street crazy. He spits out "Riddle me this: Who are you?" on the first track, "Green Eyed," and spends the rest of the record laying out his hates and pushing his listeners around, ordering them (in the punchy, possibly Radiohead-baiting "Boxoctosis") to "open the goddamn box!"

As with just about every Fall release ever, the compressed sound and abandonment of melody makes it hard to distinguish one song from the next. As a result, the tauter material is the best: On the whizzy "The Past," Smith points out that what separates humans from animals is the former's preoccupation with history, while on the pounding "Protein Protection," he complains that people won't shut up. And the hysterical, careening "Portugal" seems to be a recitation of a letter complaining about Smith's behavior on tour. By the time The Real New Fall LP ends with the textured, polyrhythmic "Recover Kit 2#," Smith has earned his eccentricity. While his peers wait around for reunion tours and car-commercial residuals, he keeps on his reliably unreliable path, building a body of work as singular and formidable as any in the medium.