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Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click)
Luke Turner , January 19th, 2024 09:12

Luke Turner appraises Cherry Red's reissue of The Fall's Real New Fall LP, arguing that Mark E Smith's decision to remix the original version showed his judgement was correct as it paved the way for one of the best periods of the group's operation

In early February 2004, The Fall played three intimate gigs at Camden’s Barfly venue. Promoted by my old bosses at PlayLouder magazine, the idea was to use the 25th anniversary of debut album Live At The Witch Trials to put Mark E Smith & co alongside some of the best new bands of the day, including Mclusky, Pink Grease, Selfish Cunt and Jeffrey Lewis. This was a fantastic concept, yet for me, then the same age as that debut album (it was recorded a week after I was born), The Fall themselves were one of the best new bands of the day. As someone who’d discovered them via 1999 album The Marshall Suite and had my brain rewired by 2000’s masterpiece The Unutterable, The Fall were not a post punk heritage act, but one that I’d go and watch live for the songs off the new and next album, never past glories – which, of course, you were unlikely to hear in any case.

On each of those three nights in February 2004, the heavy, grinding set, mostly taken from the previous year’s The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click), set the stall for much of the rest of the decade’s Fall sound, a sui generis hybrid of imperious rock & roll (‘Theme From Sparta F.C’, 'The Past #2'), caustic electronica (‘Contraflow’, 'Recovery Kit'), heavy rhythmic swing (‘Mountain Energei’, ‘Proteinprotection’) and pop noise (‘Green Eyed Loco-Man’, ‘Open The Boxoctosis #2') as the foundation on which Mark E Smith could build his state of the nation commentaries, observational snark and wit – 2000s-era Fall lyrics are by far the funniest. TRNFLP(FCOTC) has been repackaged here by Cherry Red with b-sides, session tracks and a gig recorded at New York’s Knitting Factory justifying the subtitle of “…or The Fall, November 2002 – November 2004”, a two-year snapshot of the group in a time of revival.

After the often-ugly toxicity of late 90s Fall, the early 2000s had seen a complete turnover in personnel, with guitarist Ben Pritchard, bassist Jim Watts, drummer Dave Milner and keyboard player Elena Poulou on board for album sessions at Lisa Stansfield’s Graceland Studio in Rochdale in the winter of 2002. Poulou, Smith’s wife, hadn’t intended to join The Fall, but reflecting twenty years on I’m fairly convinced that it’s her we have to thank for this fruitful period in the group’s history. She was a magnificent presence at gigs at that time, often walking onstage with a dramatically oversized handbag and coat, doing her lippy, glaring at the crowd, grinding wonderful dirges out of her KORG, vocally a heavily accented, snappy foil for MES. Her deeper influenced is less discussed.

It’s never entirely a good idea to rely on official songwriting credits when it comes to Fall tracks, as Smith was wont to give and to take away on a whim. While ‘Sparta’ is apparently a Smith / Watts / Pritchard composition, in the sleevenotes Poulou mentions her contribution to it. In fact, the only track she’s explicitly credited on here is the lurching drama of ‘Mod Mock Goth’ (one of the best songs of this period). Her impact was perhaps more hidden, though no less important – as producer Grant Showbiz said in 2004 BBC documentary The Wonderful & Frightening World of Mark E Smith, Poulou’s presence “really focused [Smith], another strong woman who knows exactly what she wants to do”. Poulou’s contribution to the sleevenotes are one of the highlights of the reissue and underline her significance in Smith’s creative life. She gives insights (or spins yarns) about just how skint the couple were at this point, claiming that “we couldn’t even buy a packet of cigarettes, I had to work in a restaurant in Fallowfield for £20 a day.” She’s also very funny in a very Fall-like way, writing that “I liked British music and British humour; Mark introduced me to Bernard Manning and Rising Damp” and discussing Pritchard, she says, “He liked Pink Floyd, I’d rather Keith Floyd.” Poulou’s sensibility and ability to fuel the Fall mythology clearly dovetailed with that of her husband, and it’s touching when she writes, “It’s really hard to describe the whole Country On The Click process without Mark being here.” Perhaps romantic contentment was in part what gives the group’s output over this period its levity and spark, what made the band sound so fresh and new, playful even.

It's not just Poulou who in the notes suggests that the recording sessions were more than just toil under the oppressive dictatorship of MES. While Ben Pritchard talks about how he would “slowly start laying in to people” to get them on sufficient edge to make for a good performance, he also speaks about the creative freedom. Simon ‘Ding’ Archer, bassist and then studio engineer, recalls that “I’ve probably never again laughed so hard than I did in 2003/4.”

Not that the process was straightforward. Country On The Click had been recorded and was due for release in April 2003, but Smith decided that it needed more work, ordering it to be remixed before it appeared as The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country On The Click) in October. “You trust people to go away and mix it, and it comes back sounding like Dr. Who meets Posh Spice,” as he memorably put it to the Birmingham Post the following month. In the sleeve notes Poulou says similar, just more bluntly: “The unreleased version has more sound effects and more silly keyboards.” Both are right. Listening to both versions gives a fascinating look under the bonnet of The Fall and what Smith felt had to be done to make the group work.

I seem to recall some claiming that the ‘original’ version, leaked online after a US tour, was the superior, but on the evidence of this it is pure Fall fan contrarianism. Take ‘Theme From Sparta F.C.’ for instance – Poulou is correct, the “silly keyboards” squirl irritatingly, and Smith’s voice is sapped of all its menace, lost amidst muddy guitars. If this was a song of proud defiance from marauding Greek football supporters against the cosseted “English Chelsea fan” in their “ground boutique at match”, they’d have come armed with soggy baklava, not broken bottles. Interestingly, so flat is this incarnation of one of The Fall’s best rock & roll numbers that you can’t imagine it being picked, as it was, to soundtrack the BBC’s Final Score football programme – in Smith’s no-compromise reevaluation of the work there probably lay a few quid in sync royalties. ‘Mountain Energei’ is Heidi to the original’s Where Eagles Dare, the suave chug ruined by whimsical keyboard trilling and strings. ‘Contraflow’ is similarly tepid. It’s striking to discover quite how much work was done to Smith’s vocals in the final version, for if throughout the original they’re weirdly clear and arguably more ‘sung’, they’re often thin and insubstantial, even as bad as resembling an indie kid impersonating Vic Reeves at a Rotherham battle of the bands. Mark E Smith didn't just fiddle with his musicians’ settings, but was clearly aware that his natural voice had to be distorted – or to borrow from a Fall classic, his own paintwork needed messing up – before it was suitable for inclusion on a Fall record.

Overall, the original album mix goes off so half-cocked that you do wonder if releasing it could have damaged The Fall’s trajectory on what went on to be a fantastic run of albums – Fall Heads Roll (2005), Reformation Post TLC (2007), Imperial Wax Solvent (2008), as well as some of the best gigs in The Fall’s history – Last Night At The Palais (recorded 2007, released 2009) is arguably as essential as many of their studio records. In its original form, the album comes across as an awkward attempt to be relevant by a senior group from the 80s and 90s; on the other hand the final The Real New Fall LP version sounds like it did back then – fierce, snappy, without compare. It has barely dated. In recent years there has been a much-needed reappraisal of the dynamics within the band, with former members finally getting the chance to say their piece. However, this reissue is evidence that Smith’s creative instincts were often right.

No doubt some Fall heads will moan that this material has been released before. The Interim disc came out as a compilation in November 2004, the singles and b-sides are already out there, it’s not hard to find the ‘original’ album, The Peel Sessions are already on the Peel Sessions box set, and so on. Yet under the stated aim of providing a comprehensive, deep exploration of this period of the band, to have it all in one place and with such excellent accompanying input from those involved is valuable to completist and new supporter alike.

Sometimes as a fan it was – and still is – easy to get caught up in the mythology, the little mental tricks and illusions performed on us by Mark E Smith in his life-long curation of The Fall entity. Now, six years after his passing, there’s the space to reflect, was I duped? Were they really like one of the best new groups on the planet that long after their Prestwich birth? It’s a joy, then, to spend time immersed in this reissue set, so full of life and well, as much as anything else, fun and to realise that yes, they really were. Bloody hell, I miss them.