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The Fall:: Reformation Post TLC (Album Review)

Mark E Smith sets out his stall early doors on “Reformation Post TLC”. It’s clear from the off that this is a two-pronged attack. Target number one: the ageing punk/post-punk/indie types displaying their beer guts, if not their initial spirit, on
money-grabbing reunion tours. Target number two: the Manchester-based musicians who either quit or were fired during The Fall’s last American tour.

Most saliently, “Reformation Post TLC” demonstrates a consistency no other band has managed in the past decade. Since 1999’s underrated, “The Marshall Suite”, The Fall have released three excellent albums (“The Unutterable”, “Country On The Click”, “Fall Heads Roll”), not including this latest effort. It’s hard to think of any younger bands who’ve managed the same feat, even with the security of proper record deals and warming blankets of hype.

Today, The Fall are as musically diverse as they have been for some time, with the departure of the Manchester boys seeming to have freed up the songwriting. It still sounds like The Fall, of course, but the staple rockabilly guitars and complaining electronics are joined by what sounds like the product of jam sessions. Those Fall fans shocked when a bearded hippie appeared behind the bass will doubtless scratch their bald pates in alarm, but comfort is at hand.

The album opens with three of the hardest tracks The Fall have recorded since “The Unutterable”, with “Fall Sound”‘s serpentine repeated riff and Smith’s rolled r’s and yelps making it the unholiest of the trinity. The ten minutes of random claps and buzzes that form “Das Boat” might try patience, but it’s become a tradition of Fall records to feature one meandering bit of nonsense. Plus, you get the feeling that some piss-taking is intended. In any case, the flickering nuances of “Systematic Abuse” prop up the tail of the album.

Importantly, “Reformation Post TLC” sees Mark E Smith putting more emotion into an album than usual. The record opens with his malevolent cackle, while “Insult Song” finds him chortling as he mocks his American band and even his stern-looking Greek wife Elena. The cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever”, meanwhile, is almost shockingly tender, as the man who once exhorted ‘Mr Pharmacist’ to pay him a visit realises what a toll prescribed chemicals can exact.

Even while half the youthful bands in Britain ham-fistedly try to capture the state of the nation (see Bloc Party, Jamie T), Smith manages to nail it with the likes of “The Wright Stuff”, a critique of celebrity culture and junk TV. “Reformation Post TLC” is a record put together with care by a man who still does. Tender and loving it might not be, but one of the albums of the year? Definitely.
(Luke Turner)