Fall Heads Roll
It’s kind of a wonder that The Fall’s braintrust, Mark E. Smith, is still around and able to terrorize without impunity after 20+ years. His songs and public persona being what they are, it would seem that he should be long dead or at least in a prison or asylum in some remote corner of England. Thankfully, of course, this hasn’t happened and he’s free to berth album from his fertile, festering subconscious.
Fall Heads Roll is the follow-up to last year’s The Real New Fall LP, a collection of new material that saw Smith and the latest version of his backing band energized and ready to storm the dance floor to collect back-payments on the peaking dance-punk fad. As good as that disc was, this one trumps it easily. Relying less on the driving, angular guitars of the past, Smith allows a great deal of latitude in songwriting. It all leads to some great cartoonish forays into rock sub-genres. The opener, “Ride Away,” is a shambolic, post-apocalyptic western, repleat with an abrasive synth stepping all over the rhythm. Later, “Early Days of Channel Fuhrer” plays out like shuffling arcane folk, with ghosts trapped in the machine.
Obviously, Smith’s vocal presence is still the star. His surreality is in rare form throughout; he sounds as if perpetually in a state of post-belch or pre-vomit. Smith’s obtuseness and drunken slur help steer him away from heavy-handed politics of most of his punk peers. Instead, his takes on modern life, science and the various forms of “progress” are more akin to Blur’s great mid-’90s trio of albums than the average “revolutionary” punk outfit. Toward the end of the summer, a friend of mine asked what the last good punk album I’d listened to was. I drew a complete blank. I finally have an answer.