"I think it's over now, I think it's ended," mutters Mark E Smith at the start of Reformation Post TLC, and there was a time, not so long ago, when one would have taken that as referring with typically bracing self-knowledge to the state of his career, as bitter disaffection and on-stage punch-ups saw him stranded without a band, a deal or, it seemed, a future.
But that would be to underestimate the self-generating power of The Fall. Most bands are like starfish: cut off one limb, and it can be easily regrown. But few could so readily pull off the full-scale regenerative process that Smith seems to effect with such nonchalant ease, replacing a complete band line-up and continuing as if nothing has changed. The secret is the sustenance of the "Fall Sound", that great, chugging groove that just rolls over and over, eschewing fancy solos or pointless embellishment, as Smith barks his enigmatic verses over the top. How apt, then, that this continuation of the upward trajectory re-established by 2005's Fall Heads Roll should feature a song called "Fall Sound", and that it should do exactly what it says in the title.
A monstrous, churning Krautrock-abilly riff that carries all before it, it's virtually the Platonic form of Fall-ness, a track which unites both the US and European strains of rock'n'roll in one brutal, steamroller groove, whilst the bandleader dumps what appears to be another lorryload of contemptuous opprobrium on The Fall copyists he hears around every corner of indie-land: "It's a scream for help/ Less desperate/ It's a Fall sound!/ But you're much too late/ For a Fall sound!" Smith doesn't so much sing as declaim his lyrics, most of the individual phrases coming liberally laden with exclamation marks - as indeed do the album's opening tracks, "Over! Over!" and "Reformation!", a pair of titles that seem to encapsulate the group's ceaseless vacillations between creative exhaustion and renewal.
The bass-driven groove rumbles along, developing the power and momentum of a runaway lorry until "White Line Fever"; Smith delivering Merle Haggard's speed anthem in a laconic, slightly flat tone. In "Insult Song", Smith light-heartedly disses the "LA music" and appearance of, presumably, his American bandmates. But there's no denying that the more serious, even professional, attitude brought to the band by its US contingent has instilled a renewed enthusiasm in the group and its leader. The end result is probably the best Fall album since the halcyon days of This Nation's Saving Grace and Hex Enduction Hour, another worthy addition to the guy's track record.
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