There can only be a handful of recording artists who’ve reached the auspicious milestone of thirty studio albums. Such an achievement requires a solid, loyal fanbase and a distinctive, consistent brand that allows for timely musical evolutions to keep the artist relevant. Now, The Fall were never ‘popular’ by any reasonable definition of the word; only one of their 32 albums made the UK Top Ten, and they only scored three UK Top 40 singles (two of which were cover versions). When they released an album, it was usually very hard to see how it will appeal to anybody other than the same people who bought the last one. But Mark E Smith, The Fall’s grizzled lead singer and sole constant member (the band had 66 different people playing for them throughout constant line-up changes), was persistent in his art form, and not one to give up without a fight.
Since their inception in 1978, the early to mid-1980s represented both their commercial and critical pinnacle; a slot supporting U2 on their Joshua Tree tour of Britain in 1987 the reward for steady and modest increases in success. For many reasons, including fights with bandmates, substance abuse, insulting the press among others, their form and popularity waxed and waned ever since. But among the ill-advised jungle experiments and concept albums about popes, every now and again The Fall wrong-footed you with something catchy, populist and totally breathtaking.
But Smith’s penchant for career sabotage meant that it never lasts – he would have a fight with his band, hire a new one and head off in a new direction. It is for this reason that being a Fall fan, more so than other band, was like supporting a football team – you don’t give up after a couple of bad results, you stick it through to the end and keep buying the albums. The late John Peel, for whom The Fall recorded 24 Radio 1 sessions between 1979 and 2004, summed them up best: “they are always different, but always the same”.
Essential ownership: ‘50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong’ compilation
As an introduction to this most special of bands, the 2003 compilation 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats is the best entry-level album to purchase, as it spans their entire career up until that point. Even better is their 6xCD box set The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004, if you want to shell out the best part of £50. But for the hard-bitten fan, or anybody interested in where to start wading through the labyrinth of their back catalogue, here’s a whistle-stop tour of all 32 of their albums, and what the best diving-in point is.
Everybody has their own opinions on this musical institution, and fans may not necessarily agree with my list, but please bear in my mind that I’ve attempted to rank them from least to most accessible for a new listener – in my opinion.
And yes, I do have them all, since you ask. I’m both a Fall fan, and a completist. It’s been… expensive.
Tags: A Beginner's Guide To The Fall, albums list, Ed Biggs, Guinness On Your Cornflakes, Mark E Smith, profile, The Fall
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