10) Shift-Work (1991)
Shift-Work neatly straddles both ‘pop’ Fall and ‘experimental’ Fall. While it contains a clutch of memorable melodies like ‘Idiot Joy Showland’ and ‘The War Against Intelligence’, it builds these tendencies into twisted, unconventional structures. When they let rip with experimentation, the results are distinctively weird (‘A Lot Of Wind’, ‘Edinburgh Man’). Enough for the NME to award it 10/10!
09) Fall Heads Roll (2005)
This was a continuation of the back-to-basics garage rock of 2003’s The Real New Fall LP. As an introduction, Fall Heads Roll is up there with the very best Fall albums. It positively crackles with energy, and belies the age of its creator. Quality surf rock covers sit comfortably with some monstrous original compositions. Raucous opening trio ‘Ride Away’, ‘Pacifying Joint’ and ‘What About Us’ leave the listener reeling, but best of all is the awesome ‘Blindness’, a psychedelic groove built around a rubbery bass riff.
08) The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… (1984)
After the lengthy excesses of Perverted By Language, The Fall made things a little bit simpler for this consistent and more pop-oriented affair. By this time, they were beginning to attract some mainstream attention, making a handful of TV appearances as a result of alternative rock diamonds like ‘2×4’ and ‘Lay Of The Land’. The extended CD edition is essential buying, as it contains contemporary Peel sessions and the extraordinary ‘C.R.E.E.P.’, the most commercial-sounding song The Fall have ever recorded.
07) Perverted By Language (1983)
Mark E Smith fully explores his ranting, psychedelic poet persona on this interesting offering. Perverted By Language is arguably the most intelligent Fall album, full of intriguing compositions and complex arrangements, but it doesn’t skimp on melody or hooks. It’s also the first album to feature Brix (Smith’s first wife) on guitar. A number of tracks are long improvisations on a simple riff, the best of which is the 9-minute ‘Garden’, but the explorations make perfect sense and keep the listener engaged. The Peel sessions on the CD reissue are superb – the version of ‘Eat Y’self Fitter’ is reported to have made the great DJ himself faint!
06) Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1980)
Which marks the start of an astonishing run of consecutive great Fall albums. The ‘Mancabilly’ guitar sound for which they were initially feted is very prominent on Grotesque, and it provides the framework for some classic Smith rants (about lorry drivers, football fans and secret police among others). In many ways, it’s the end of the Fall’s ‘early’ period before they moved away from a ‘punk’ sound and into more complex territory. The kazoo-featuring ‘New Face In Hell’ is an all-time Fall classic, an extremely unorthodox moment for which they would become famous over the years. The sound of a band really picking up steam.
05) Extricate (1990)
Following a brief stutter with The Frenz Experiment at the end of the decade, The Fall began the next with one of their most enduring and varied collections. ’Telephone Thing’ saw them collaborate with Coldcut; ‘And Therein…’ a retro piece of rockabilly-punk, ‘Sing! Harpy’ with its odd instrumentation… it has that adventure-playground feel where no song is sounds the same but is strangely in keeping with the collection. But Extricate is most notable for the beautiful ‘Bill Is Dead’, about the death of his father, on which Smith ACTUALLY SINGS, and bloody good he is too. Stunning.
04) The Real New Fall LP (a.k.a. ‘Country On The Click’) (2003)
If a book is ever written on the art of silencing critics, The Real New Fall LP would be cited as key evidence. With the exception of The Unutterable, the mid-to-late ’90s and early-’00s had been extremely inconsistent for The Fall, but this stripped back collection of choppy, angular post-punk and garage rock made them the toast of the indie world once again, re-establishing Mark E Smith’s status as a national treasure and displaying his relevance just as he was at risk of becoming a relic. Tracks like ’Theme From Sparta F.C.’, ‘Green-Eyed Loco Man’ and ‘Mountain Energei’ set the template for a lot of subsequent latter-day Fall songs – aggressive, purposeful and simple riffs with a re-energised Smith in top lyrical form. The Real New Fall LP marks the start of the current Fall era.
03) This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)
Regarded by many critics and music publications as their finest album, This Nation’s Saving Grace is possibly The Fall’s best-known LP. Belonging in the ‘classic’ era of the early-to-mid-’80s, it’s a full-blooded and consistently engaging collection of memorable riffs. By now, the band were a well-drilled, tight unit that had improved throughout a period of relative stability. Though the tunes are often simple and even quite inane, it succeeds because of the way in which they’re executed. Its CD reissue contains the singles from the era like the fantastic ’Cruiser’s Creek’, and is arguably the essential Fall purchase for the more casual music fan (i.e. if you must own one, then get this).
02) Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
While This Nation’s Saving Grace is the critics’ darling, Hex Enduction Hour is the fans’ favourite. This is the first of the Fall albums to feature two drummers, opening up new vistas and sonic textures for them, as heard on the chaotic opener ’The Classical’ and groovy nagging riff of ‘And This Day’. Rhythms and riffs interact and interlock with each other in a way that is distinctively ‘Fall-esque’ and different from all other post-punk. ‘Hip Priest’ is simply jaw-dropping, maybe the band’s best-ever track. Listening to later albums, it could be argued that Smith spent most of the rest of the ’80s trying to replicate its unique chemistry to varying degrees of success, but those later albums have their own character and are more accessible. Hex Enduction Hour is entertainment becoming art.
01) Bend Sinister (1986)
I’ve picked Bend Sinister for the number one spot because of one factor over any other: its sheer catchiness. The last of their golden era of consecutive classic albums, in my view it contains the greatest concentration of Smith’s overt ‘pop’ moments, like the indie disco classic ’Mr. Pharmacist’, the head-nodding rhythm of ‘U.S. ’80s-’90s’ and the cheerful tune of the two interludes entitled ‘Shoulder Pads’. These sit neatly alongside some of the most hopelessly addictive guitar riffs the group ever laid down – the likes of ‘R.O.D.’, ‘Riddler!’ and ‘Dktr. Faustus’ will simply not leave your head. It’s for this reason that Bend Sinister is my favourite. It’s the best introduction to The Fall’s back catalogue, and it’s the ideal place for anybody who wants to explore this most fascinating of bands to start.
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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