Friday, March 9, 2007

The Feelgood Album of the Year: the Fall's "Reformation Post-TLC"

The Fall might well be my favorite band. I can't think of any other band with more great songs to their name, or more near-perfect albums. Of course, the Fall aren't really a band. They're either a vehicle for the unique musical vision of one Mark E. Smith, or they're actually a multitude of bands held together by the unique musica vision of one Mark E. Smith. The Clash, the Smiths, Blur, Radiohead, and U2 are a bit more coherent in their band-dom.

The line-up who backed Smith in the era of The Real New Fall LP and Fall Heads Roll was one of the very best, comparable to the line-up in the Brix era. These players appear on some of the songs on Reformation Post-TLC, but apparently the band dissolved halfway through recording and the rest of the songs are played by musicians from LA. Luckily Mark's Greek, keyboarding-playing wife, so vital to the brilliance of "Theme from Sparta F.C.," is still here (she even sings lead vocals on "The Wright Stuff"), and I think one other fellow from the previous line-up decided to stick it out as well.

Mark E. Smith is, of course, notorious for sacking his lieutenants and making great albums in spite of them. I can't say that Reformation Post-TLC (the title itself is a slap in the face to Smith's former comrades) is one of the Fall's best, but it's still very good. I only measure it against Smith and co.'s best work because The Real New Fall LP and Heads Roll ARE some of the Fall's finest albums. The gleaming, ferocious, and fun Fall Heads Roll is particularly brilliant I think, one of his/their very best.

The aesthetic of Reformation Post-TLC calls to mind The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, Middle Class Revolt, and early tunes like "Rosche Rumble" and "How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'" more than anything else in their catalogue. And what is that aesthetic? It's a highly bass-driven record, and the songs are washed in surf-rock guitar and synths that hover somewhere between Krautrock and Californian fun in the sun. The Fall in their Demented Surfer mode, then. And what fun it is! "Over! Over!" is an exuberant and catchy opening track, with Mark singing and shouting at his most energetic: the song and album actually begin with a truly menacing cackle.

"Reformation" and "Fall Sound" are great noisy romps, and there's even a good country/western waltz (Fall-style) called "White Line Fever." I could go on listing songs that I like, but that would be pointless, really. Reformation Post-TLC is great good fun; like I said, not Smith at this finest, but the Fall in their sub-brilliant mode are still pretty damn amazing. There's not an album this year that will offer better and more amusing company on your iPod as you walk across town, walk to school, walk down the beach, throw a party, etc. I know I'll be listening to it all summer. There's nothing like the diabolical glee of Mark E. Smith.

Correction: Upon further deliberation I've concluded that Reformation Post-TLC will have to be content with runner-up Feelgood Album of the Year. The real Feelgood Album of this year (so far) is actually Grinderman. But Monsieur Catalogues will get to that in due time.

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