Thirty-six years on from debut album Live at the Witch Trials, The Fall release LP 31, Sublingual Tablet.
The ever-irascible Mark E. Smith has amongst other names been called a tyrant, dictator, despot, a one-man operation/wrecking ball autodidact with his propensity for hiring and firing garnering almost as much copy as the music itself. He’s post-punk’s Captain Bligh, he’s Whiplash’s sadistic teacher, an autocrat with an idiosyncratic way of democracy, the diktak forever ‘if it’s me and your Granny on bongos, it’s The Fall!’
This release again showcases his vicious, arch, caustic cryptic barbs (amidst the dredged up vox-bon-mots many snippets are audible if not coherent) cloaked in a miasma of styles: the seminal Nuggets psyche compilations, motorik, glam, rockabilly, good ol’ rock and roll.
‘Venice with the girls’ kicks off proceedings, the inimitable ‘Fall Sound’, the formula that launched a thousand copyists, Smith’s garbled, gnarled gobbledegook is almost legible, his larynx in fine fettle. ‘She’s off to Venice with the ‘girls’ … he’s been waiting so long … lost and lonely’. One can only wonder.
‘Black Door’ bursts open with a looping carnivalesque organ, all sagging and nagging riffs with familiar megaphone vocals hectoring and berating, emitting strangled exhortations. The kind of song you’d hear internally when tripping. ‘Dedication not medication’ chugs in with a lengthy intro of doomy warped piano and drum rolls replete with throbbing repetitive psyke-warpe. Midway the song turns and rebuilds with addled ramblings, Smith sounds well-oiled (natch) as the song interludes with an interview/dialogue:
‘‘You’re a major player here, Mark … ‘What about the corporation? … Their full cooperation with the anti-Fall association … curly wurly how could you describe … how could you describe … black belt … ’ The feeling is of a waking nightmare with Mark E. Smith supping from your consciousness and unconsciousness and then narrating it back to you.
‘Stout Man’ is a thrashing number having a go at ‘kids off school man … a big fat man pushing a little/big pram’. Whoever ‘he’ is he’s ‘pot-bellied’ to boot. ‘Auto 2014-15’ has a riff that echoes a warped ‘White Wedding’, our hero spewing his consonants, ‘Ssssuffering‘ like Sylvester the cat to a pounding Neu-like thrum.
The 11 minute ‘Facebook Troll’ features a clearly agitated Smith, his antipathy towards the technonanists and screen-addicts in full aural view. A plodding beat with synth stabs and ferocious drumming accompanied by his maniacal hootings it sounds like it was recorded in a subterranean damp-room. This is a man who refuses to have a phone, is sniffy about ‘social media’ and here he casts his wry eye on those I-diot folkers who exist in the virtual ether, sniping, chipping and spreading discontent and malcontent. Staying with his tech-anxiety ‘Quit Iphone’ has Smith carping ‘I wish I was at home … why don’t you just quit that phone, just quit … why don’t you live alone’; the atomising and alienating effects of the endless flow of interruptions and distractions never sounded so bleak.
Abstract and obtuse, always the same, always different … if it sounds like The Fall then it is The Fall. By the way, sublingual tablets ‘easily melt in the mouth, dissolve rapidly and with little or no residue. Not how you’d describe The Fall.