The Fall - New Facts Emerge

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2017-07-28

It’s been a rough, but expectedly paradoxical, year for The Fall. In March, on his birthday, the BBC tweeted of Mark E. Smith’s untimely death before quickly wishing him a happy 60th instead. Then in April, drummer/producer Keiron Melling was severely beaten after interceding in a bullying incident on the train. Smith’s wife, Elena Poulou, disappeared from the live lineup late last year and is also missing in action for their 32nd studio release, New Facts Emerge. Given the run of incidents of the past few months, the album title is an ironic understatement to say the least. Excepting Poulou’s presence, the band basically remains intact over the last five albums which must be something of a record in and of itself.

The album is a study in paradox as well, the first half clearly differing from the second. Those dichotomies also appearing in the songs themselves with grating tempo shifts in places. Smith is as inscrutable as ever, maybe even more so, and on the first half of the songs uses an “I have an ax to grind and you will endure it” delivery. The album starts amusingly enough with a snippet titled ‘Segue’ (from what we don’t know – silence, his first sixty years?) where Smith foreshadows the next track ‘Fol de Rol’ while it sounds like someone is banging a spoon on a glass – fair warning to strap yourself in for the onslaught to come. The first of three six-plus minute songs, ‘Fol de Rol’ – surprised it took forty years to come up with this perfect title for one of their songs – rolls forth with an insistent bass line, ominous guitar that sounds like an air raid siren in spots, and crashing drums. A corrosive Smith spits out the song title from time to time, as well as “giant Hail Mary”, over an intermittent cackle. The song is punishing in its repetitiveness and therein lies its strength. ‘Brillo de Facto’ provides brief respite with a brighter sound and elastic guitars, but still undoubtedly has a dark edge and can’t play it straight all the way through, devolving into noise at the end. The title track plays as a more caustic ‘Cruiser’s Creek’, with that song sounding scary enough in its time. The first half of the album ends with the most despairing of all – ‘Couples vs Jobless Mid 30’s’ – another long form song with echoes of Pere Ubu’s ’30 Seconds Over Tokyo’ – fiddled dials, squiggling static, with maniacal cackling and the band chanting “Heigh Ho” in the background to up the uneasiness. No mistaking this is not a happy song with Smith grousing about a spouse “torturing him in big house” and yelling at the man to “get a job”. Unclear if Poulou’s disappearance from the band mirrors domestic life, but regardless the subjects here are having a rough go of it. An uncompromising but sonically cohesive first half.

Just when Smith has his foot to our throats, he uncharacteristically relents. The second half of the album is light and breezy in comparison to the first – by Fall standards at least. ‘Second House Now’ opens with a carnival atmosphere and skiffle beat with the mix cleaner and clearer throughout. The song ultimately shifts to a darker sound, but still Smith comes off almost encouraging shouting out “C’mon, C’mon” to the band. The next few tracks are softened further by keys/mellotron and ‘Gibbus Gibson’ could have easily come off one of their more “accessible” mid-90s albums. The rockabilly beat of ‘Groundsboy’ recalls Johnny Cash’s ‘Get Rhythm’ with Cash’s shoeshine boy who “has the dirtiest job in town” replaced by Smith’s groundsboy who is “every day at the airstrip, noticed by none”. Whereas the shoeshine boy seems to relish his task, Smith’s protagonist cuts the airstrip grass and, since the misery quotient must be high, “is treated like scum.” The lyrics quite the contrast to the bouncy backbeat and the bands’ vocal backing of “shushes” and “uh, hums”. The album closes with ‘Nine Out of Ten’, which itself ends with five minutes of solo jangly guitar that seems to serve no real purpose if other than to provide the rest of the band a break if this makes it into their live show.

With the second half of the album a mixed bag of styles and tempos it tends to be more about the individual tracks than a thematic whole. The departure from the utter lack of sunlight at the outset ultimately brings this down a notch for me. Not that I prefer the crushing atmosphere and the misanthropic rantings, but you start to get accustomed to how unrelenting that becomes – the monstrous ‘Fol de Rol’ being a great example and the highlight. Regardless of how you slice it, this is an entry point for no one – that ship sailed many moons ago – and the earlier converted will have their say. The album definitely has merit – with the first half serving as a consistent statement of Smithian despair and the second a smorgasbord of more listenable tracks. Smith complained of “unseen facts” back on Your Future Our Clutter, but clearly New Facts Emerge was not meant to totally set things straight.  

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