The Fall - 458489 A Sides

by Jon Burke Rating:10 Release Date:2018-08-17
The Fall - 458489 A Sides
The Fall - 458489 A Sides

Robert Christgau once pronounced The Fall's 458489 A Sides compilation, “The only Fall record any normal person need own”. While I agree with his sentiment to a certain extent, as an abnormal person, I happen to believe that the more recent, more comprehensive, 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong is a much better place to start, and/or finish, with Manchester's most prolific, most iconoclastic musical outfit. With that said, 458489 A Sides is nothing less than brilliant. What it lacks in comprehension, it makes up for with laser targeted precision--mostly by focusing upon the "Brix Smith-era" of the Fall, 1983-89. During this time, the working class band underwent a revolutionary transformation. With Brix Smith's influence, The Fall started to incorporate pop elements into their sound (actual hooks and choruses) and started to care, just a little, about their image. Brix made The Fall care just enough to crank-out several of the most important records of the decade, all of which were drawn from to make 458489. 

This isn't to say that Smith's influence on The Fall ever produced anything resembling a pop hit. Their highest charting single, a cover of R. Dean Taylor's "There's a Ghost In My House", being one of the truest examples of just how twisted Mark E. Smith (MES) and company could be in the face of beauty. The Fall transformed the corny, gorgeous soul of the original into something scraped raw and left to bleed in a pile of jagged, metal shards. Despite MES' occasional attempt to croon and the relatively clean production, the haunting keyboards and long, sliding, buzzsaw guitars definitely highlight the horrific elements of a haunting above the longing, romantic implications of the original song.

In terms of personal favorites and must-hear tracks, the brilliantly unsettling saccharine of "C.R.E.E.P.", the chugging swerve of "No Bulbs 3", the cocksure rock of "Cruisers Creek" and arguably the most contemptuous pop song ever written about its potential audience, "Hit the North pt. 1", are all mandatory listening within an album packed with great songs. What's maybe most interesting about this collection is the way Brix Smith's presence turns MES' iconoclastic, confrontational curmudgeon, persona into an appealing leitmotif, particularly on tracks like "C.R.E.E.P" and "Carry Bag Man". The initially limited appeal of The Fall was in no small part due to Mark E. Smith's contempt for his audience, his critics and the state of popular music in general. Brix Smith smoothed her husband's rough edges just enough to turn good music into great.   

In 2018, Mark E. Smith died. His last proper album, 2017's New Facts Emerge, was critically received as a rather middling affair--especially for a band capable of true greatness. One track from New Facts Emerge in particular, "Victoria Train Station Massacre" stirred the collective pot for its inadvertent reference to the Manchester terrorist attack. And so Smith went out as he came in, sneering, offensive and uncompromising. It was a fitting end for Mark E. Smith, the public figure. 458489 A Sides serves as a much better tribute to Mark E. Smith, the musician. Anyone in the mood for seventeen tracks of glorious, soul-shaking, musical genius will find it on 458489. It's the rare greatest hits record that aggressively justifies its own existence with track after track of definitive proof that conventional wisdom and popular culture are the birthplace of mediocrity.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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