Classic-Era Fall Compilations
There’s not necessarily that much critical consensus about what precisely are The Fall’s best albums. Hardcore Fall fanatics will endlessly debate which are the most worthy LPs from every era of the band’s over-30 year existence, with some even willing to claim that unmitigated disasters like Are You Are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC rank among the best!
Nevertheless, there does seem to be some broad agreement among people who are music nerds, generally and not just Fall fans, specifically. What consensus there is identifies 1980 to ’83 as the band’s true glory years, with Hex Enduction Hour as the period’s zenith. This belief may have a good deal to do with music geeks’ ongoing reverence for all things post-punk but it would be hard to argue that the music Mark E. Smith and co produced during this period was anything less than stellar.
It may come as a surprise to many of you, then, that recent scientific studies have conclusively proved that The Fall’s most artistically successful period came directly after the post-punk years: between 1984 and ’86, to be precise. The studies have also strongly suggested the fact that many “generalist” music nerds dismiss anything The Fall did after ’83 is largely due to: (a) ingrained misogyny, leading to distrust of Brix Smith, Mark E.’s blonde Californian (now ex-) wife, who was a driving creative force in the band during the ’84-’86 period; and (b) immovable elitism, leading to distrust of anything that is “properly” recorded and which, therefore, has some potential for adoption by a relatively mainstream audience (for the same reason, many nerds foolishly dismiss Live at the Witch Trials, viewing Dragnet as the band’s true debut).
Again, it’s worth pointing out that the damn-near-perfection of those classic (mostly) John Leckie-produced records created during the early part of Smith’s relationship with Beggar’s Banquet should not detract from the vivid brilliance of The Fall’s ’80-’83 incarnation. On the whole, the wisest move would be to define The Fall’s true classic era as lasting from ’80 to ’86 – even though this era encompasses two distinct periods of the band’s work.
How to begin exploring this seven-year run of unparalleled avant rock genius? Surely not through a jumble of oddly-compiled retrospective LPs, released on a seemingly random selection of labels! Well, it might not be the best way but it’s certainly not the worst. See, it’s well known that, during the ’90s, a terrifying slew of raggedy Fall compilations started to appear, compiling odds and sods from the band’s albums of that time. It’s somewhat less well-known that a similar thing happened during the early-to-mid ’80s, only with rather more satisfying results (partly because the band was working with more scrupulous labels but mainly because the music was better). Here are some of the best….
Palace of Swords Reversed (Cog Sinister) 1987
When the post-punk revival craze really started to kick off in the noughties, a number of compilations appeared covering The Fall’s years with Rough Trade. This earlier LP covering the same period, issued on Smith’s own Cog Sinister label, is still hard to top, though. It collects a string of astonishing A sides, such as “Totally Wired” and “The Man Whose Head Expanded”, some tracks from the Slates 10″, the band’s Best B-side Evar (“Putta Block”) and a magnificent live version of “Neighbourhood of Infinity” from Perverted by Language.
Hip Priest & Kamerads (Situation Two) 1985
This album seems to be an attempt by Beggars Banquet (Situation Two was a Beggars offshoot) to compile some work The Fall did for the obscure Kamera label, during a chill in relations with Rough Trade. This means tracks from the legendary Hex Enduction Hour plus classic singles like “Look, Know” and “Fantastic Life”.
Nord-West Gas (Funf und Vierzig) 1986
Completely produced and engineered by John Leckie, this German collection of work from The Fall’s very-early Beggars period is absolutely essential. Sure, it may be a bit weird to put the Best Album-Closer Evar (“Disney’s Dream Debased”) at track three on side one and to end side two with the Best Album Opener Evar (“Lay of the Land”) but whatever order you put these songs in, they’re fucking awe inspiring. Listen, rock music simply doesn’t get any better than “No Bulbs”.
Domesday Payoff (Big Time) 1978
Bend Sinister – the last Fall LP which Leckie was involved with – is quite possibly the band’s most underrated album. For some, it seems to represent a slide into commercialism – and the breezy garage rock cover “Mr. Pharmacist” might appear to be clear evidence of this. For others, though, it represents a technical failure – brought on by Smith’s insistence that Leckie have the album mastered from a cassette tape. The irony here is that Smith’s lo-fi mastering technique leant a spooky, haunted ambiance to the whole album – even its poppiest tracks.
The point being that Bend Sinister is fucking great. Domesday Payoff, on the other hand, is a slightly curious item – seemingly a resequenced version Bend Sinister put out by a Universal Music subsidiary, for the American market. The resequencing involves some fairly obvious ideas, such as inserting catchy singles like “Hey! Luciani” and the top 40-breaking R. Dean Taylor cover “There’s a Ghost in My House”. It also includes some odd decisions, like including the extremely abstract B side “Haf Found Bormann”. But the really great thing about the Domesday Payoff track-listing is that it institutes “Gross Chapel — British Grenadiers” in its rightful place as an elegiac album closer.
Let the spirited discussion of this here blog’s idiocy commence!