26th album, approximately. 346th new line-up. Still great.
Never predictable, The Fall’s story took another twist in May 2006 when their guitarist, bassist and drummer quit during a US tour, citing intolerable behaviour by Mark E. Smith. Smith and his wife Eleni Poulou (keyboards) finished the tour with a makeshift line-up from LA, an arrangement that blossomed into something more durable in the months afterwards. The three Americans now comprise – alongside some Brits – the pool of musicians currently operating as The Fall.
Seemingly relishing its chance to start afresh (as did previous Fall albums Extricate (1990) and Levitate (1997)), Reformation Post TLC is themed loosely around new relationships and clean slates, and represents a genuine departure from 2005’s guitar-driven, listener-friendly Fall Heads Roll. Recording in what is clearly a fluid and spontaneous environment, Smith sounds revitalised (and often very amused), delivering his most emphatic vocals in years.
The present line-up contains two bassists, so the album sounds muddy at first, but once we get acclimatised to lengthy pieces like “Reformation!” and “Systematic Abuse”, what comes across is a hypnotic post-punk Hawkwind with latent flashes of Joy Division and Michael Karoli. “I have woken up,” snarls Smith at his critics. “This is Fall sound!”
Poulou’s synthesiser plays a subtle role in this darkly-lit psychedelia, while the album’s undisputed stars are guitarist Tim Presley and propulsive bassists Rob Barbato and Dave ‘The Eagle’ Spurr. Liberated, Smith either free-associates over the top (“Scenario”, “Insult Song”) or times his words like punches (“Fall Sound”). There are some brilliant lines to savour. “You’ve just split up with your long-leg rat chick,” is an immediate favourite.
At 61 minutes, Reformation Post TLC does feel diffuse – but it can’t be accused of lacking variety. Poulou lends her German accent to “The Wright Stuff”, a chirpy tale about a pair of “plastic women’s bosoms” and a strange train journey. Steel yourself, meanwhile, for “Das Boat” – eight minutes of submarine sonar buzzes. This madness is indicative of an abundantly confident Fall, and (gulp) long may it last.