, December 13th, 2013 12:00
Since the last album, a fine new Fall track has already emerged: ‘Bag Boy’, by the Pixies. It couldn’t have been a more explicit homage to Mark E Smith’s group. Amid the familiar grinding rhythms, its vocal put the Mark in trademark: all hectoring instructions couched in oddly formal language. "Polish your speech!" is the new "Pay your rates!"
In a further doff of the cap, the Pixies have since added to their live set a cover of the Fall song from which ‘Bag Boy’ borrows most heavily: ‘Big New Prinz’. It’s thus possible that, three-and-a-half decades in, The Fall are now bigger than ever.
Full marks to the Pixies for honesty, and for the adroitness of their salute. After all, the spirit of The Fall is not so easily channelled. It’s certainly possible to make a parodic stab at what a song will sound like based on the title Smith has given it. But coming up with a plausibly Fall-esque title from scratch is a more magical conjuring act. You can, however, imagine a Fall song called ‘Bag Boy’, and thanks to the Pixies, you don’t have to.
How perfect that The Fall should now re-enter the fray with a biting critique of the culture of retromania. "Never forget, remembrance is worth nothing!" barks Smith on this EP’s title track, vying for attention with drummer Keiron Melling and his martial, remorselessly hard-hitting style. His beat carries an echo of ‘Hurricane Edward’, a gem carved amid The Fall’s late-90s chaos.
In the background, new voices make themselves heard, robotically intoning the phrase "Manipulated to leaving". It’s a three-word sum-up of the band’s tumultuous history: the personnel changes, the voodoo-style man management practised by Smith.
Showcased with ferocity at a gig in Dublin in August, ‘The Remainderer’ dominated a strong set, in a way that evoked the shock of first hearing ‘Reformation’, perhaps The Fall’s best song, back in 2006. Like ‘Reformation’, ‘The Remainderer' draws power from a pummelling rhythm, burbling synths, a riff of spiteful simplicity, and that shatteringly loud voice, full of mischief and malevolence.
Muscles flexed, The Fall devote the rest of this EP to answering the call of the weird. ‘Amorator!’ could hardly have a more Fall-esque moniker, but it’s refreshingly unfamiliar fare. When its wheezing electronics and skiffle-like guitars suddenly drop away, Smith offers sage advice: "Never forget, your brain is a bubble of water, and a blank sheet..."
Smith’s mania for repetition is indulged in ‘Mister Rode’, where he sings "I gotta a name I gotta say" again and again over a ceaselessly clanging guitar figure. But towards the end of the track, there’s a terrific transformation, redolent of the classic ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’ or the more recent ‘Weather Report 2’. A crescendo of stuttering guitars and beats slowly builds and builds as Smith intones an echo-laden speech of hazy meaning but infinite menace. It’s electrifying.
‘Remembrance R’, a sister track to ‘The Remainderer’, arrives with a riff that rewrites 80s track ‘Elves’, itself a rewrite of The Stooges’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Another voice is heard here: the sneering Salfordian tones of Fall engineer Simon "Ding" Archer, who embarks on spoken-word mockery of bands that reform, while Black Francis's ears burn in the distance.
Undermining the anti-nostalgia theme, ‘Remembrance R’ is followed by a medley of Gene Vincent covers, recorded live: ‘Say Mama’ and ‘Race With the Devil’. At Fall shows, 50s rock & roll covers serve two purposes. For the diehards, they’re a chance to hit the bar or bathroom. For wary friends who’ve been dragged along to the gig, there’s a comfort break of a different kind: a momentary blast of something recognisable, or of a recognisable form, and a brief respite from not-getting-it. However, it's less easy to see what an EP gains from this perfunctorily rendered, roughly recorded tribute.
With its title, closing track ‘Touchy Pad’ promises a rant about consumer electronics, but something altogether stranger is in store. "Where’s my time machine?" shouts Tamsin Middleton of the Salfordian trio Mr Heart, while Smith offers something about "Asians with weak bones". Later, during a back-and-forth with his guest, a confused-sounding Smith asks: "Are you saying Judas? I love them!" Er, right.
The EP lurches to an abrupt halt, but its work is done. The Remainderer slots into a lineage of interim records that bridge different eras of The Fall, like the sprawling ‘Chiselers’ single, which telegraphed a darkening of mood in the mid-90s, or the Fall Versus 2003 EP, which signalled the band’s reinvigoration after career-low Are You Are Missing Winner?
To judge from this record, the future Fall will be chaotic, cryptic and collaborative. Its music will be shape-shifting, fragmented and fierce. New paths will be taken, after the playfulness of last album Re-Mit and the priceless put-down that its track 'Irish' gave to the world: "They show their bollocks when they eat."
The Fall, as usual, will move on, and leave everything behind: The Remainderer, and the rest.