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You big dumb dogshit eating hillbilly!
-- Ratsnatcher

Your Repetition Will Never Be Accepted

by Tjames Madison

1999-08-11 08:49:58

The Fall has a new album out. It is like all the 30-odd albums they've put out before. It is real good, and it sounds just like the Fall.

'There's nothing new in acid house for me, pal. I've been using that process for years, bloody years.'
MES, 1989

Mr. Bad has been listening to a lot of British poppy stuff lately.  This follows his sensitive chick DIY singer/songwriter phase, when he used to shove Beth Orton and the like down your throat.  Now it's the latest in British fashion, the people in shiny track suits with zippers all the way up to their necks looking like a cross between Mark Mothersbaugh and the twerpy guy from high school who ran cross country and owned every album by Kate Bush.  It's techno, and it talks about dripping suns and pointless optimism in the face of the Big Bowl of Fuck that's coming down any day now.  A friend of mine calls it "Millenial Shamanism," but I just think it's cute.  Happy music for people who are essentially unhappy.  Take the Teletubbies and give them even more bad drugs and see what they can come up with given an infinite number of microphones and an infinite number of mixing decks and David Gilmour's entire library of creepy sci-fi effects on reel-to-reel.  This is Musica Britannica, 1999.  The Year of the Teletubbies.  The Year of British people in ill-fitting track suits writing songs about baked goods and bad weather.

Touch Sensitive

'Johnny Rotten's got an autobiography out - fucking pathetic! He's only 35! That's not a book, it's fucking middle-class propaganda, man!'
MES, 1994

It's 1998.  You're Mark E. Smith.  But it doesn't matter what year it actually is, because every year since 1979 or so has been the Year of Mark Smith. 'Cept that nobody actually seems to notice that fact; actually, NME keeps giving you awards for being a genius, but you always seem to get swept off the cover to make room for somebody shite like Oasis.  Teletubbies make you angry!  No one listens to you.  No one can feel your pain.  So you fire your whole band!  Why not?  You've made 31 or 23 or 27 albums (somebody's keeping track somewhere) and they all sound about the same; they're all very good, everyone knows this.  They are all roughly equal in quality, and this has always been a source of pride to you.  They all sound completely different from the last one, too.  Let's see Orbital try that!

So you hire a new bunch of musicians, game replacements with grim looks on their faces and significantly more hair than your old mates, who you felt were getting on the paunchy, comfortable side, to tell you the truth.  You make a new album!  It's called The Marshall Suite, and it's a three-part story about some guy you call "The Crying Marshall".  It has something to do with Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge" or somesuch, some story you read somewhere, like when you wrote that song called "Live at the Witch Trials" based on a comic book; you tell everyone you can grab that it has nothing to do with anything else that came before it.  Was that a wink you gave us just there?

It's 1999!  It's the Year of Mark E. Smith!

Not Beautiful

'Mark E. Smith doesn't attract new fans - rather, he maintains an army of utterly indestructible, utterly unquestioning old ones... Drone-rock zombies who, like him, will never die, or change, or repent.'
NME, 1997

MES is not a beautiful man.  His ears stick out way too far and as he's grown older, so has his entire head begun to sink directly into his neck and upper body, leaving him with the general appereance of a wicked elf.  There is a lot of history written into his face, though, and if you can squint past the usual outer mask of boozy detritus that's accumulated there, you can see the face of the earnestly cynical young man still writ large and mostly curious; almost every photo ever taken of Mark E. Smith seems to suggest a man who is 1) just baffled by everything pop culture has to offer, 2) dedicated to its ultimate removal.

A new Fall album is always a good chance to see what MES is puzzled by these days, and The Marshall Suite is hardly an exception, the main difference being, having sacked most of his band, including a rhythm section that's been with him for the better part of two decades, off and on, there is a general sense of trepidation as the needle drops on the leadoff track, "Touch Sensitive": but hey there, this sounds like good old-fashioned Fall-Pop!  These guys actually sound like the Fall, or as a visitor to the Fall mailing list asks, "IS IT JUST ME OR DO THE NEW "fall" SEEM LIKE A fall TRIBUTE BAND TO YOU?"  The answer, an inevitable (since as MES once said, "If it's just me and your granny on bongo drums, it's a Fall gig,) emphatic "YES," is provided with the first notes of the rollicking "F-'oldin' Money," a primo rockabilly ripoff in the same vein as "Rollin' Dany" and countless other glorious Falltunes.

It is at this point that The Marshall Suite does the unexpected, and turns into an actual Fall album.  MES might be a bit of an ass, but maybe he has a point about musicians ("We use the platoon system," he sez, "If the first guys go down we've got 'em lined up behind ready to replace 'em.); this is Fallmusic for Fallpeople, and by the time you get to the brilliant LedZep-meets-Krautrock "Antidotes," you're ready to give in to MES' non-chalant and drunkenly cheerful totalitarianism. The rest of the album is the same inconsistent mix of puke and diamonds that every other Fall release is, and there's a bit of something here for everyone.

I can't follow the story here, but it involved a crying marshall.  I only know that because there's a song called "The Crying Marshall".  I think it's brilliant, like the rest of the album, but I've thought that about every Fall album for the last 20 years, so it's easy to get confused.  The problem with loving the Fall is that, by the time you hear a new album, the last one starts sounding stale.  I think this is why Mark makes so many of them.  Like bread and fresh fish, Fallmusic is intended to be consumed on the spot; just wrap it up and eat it on the way home.

I miss Steven Hanley's authoratative basslines, but I also miss Craig Scanlon and Brix Smith.  You always miss something or somebody when you first hear a new Fall album, but that's the beautiful part: MES works in cycles.  If you miss something, he'll bring it back sooner or later.  Right now I don't miss the Fall that made "Levitate" so much, because this album just totally aces it in so many directions.  Of course, that's a matter of personal taste.  With Mark E. Smith, you get all the flavors.  And you're expected to eat everything on your plate.

Try it out.  It isn't crap, thank god.  I'm going to give a tape of this to Mr. Bad and make him listen to the whole thing at least once, whether he wants to or not.  It's going to be like prune juice, and it's going to make him a better person with a remarkably clean set of bowels.  He'll thank me later.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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