In the pop music history books, 2004 will be known as the year of the aging Smiths: Robert, Mark E. and Morrissey. In the cases of Morrissey and Robert Smith, their respective ages have begun to show in their music. In the former, the anger has intensified and wisdom has been earned. In the case of the latter, anger has been replaced by nostalgia and longing. Mark E. Smith, on the other hand, is still the same drunken, unintelligible mess he’s always been. Though aging may be taking a toll on him, physically, his singing and songwriting style continue to be bitter, harsh and strangely accessible.
While Smith’s singing continues to be a sarcastic, garbled mess, the music on The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Known As Country on the Click) has improved from the band’s most recent efforts. In the late-`90s, it seemed that the band was starting to fizzle, being recognized more for their countless compilations and reissues than new studio albums. But after a three-year recording hiatus, The Fall (in its newest incarnation) has returned reinvigorated and ready to get back into making a musical mess.
The band hasn’t sounded this on since 1994’s Middle Class Revolt. “Green Eyed” opens the album with a dark chord progression and Mark E. Smith’s unmistakable lyrical mutterings. The next song, “Mountain,” is an instant standout. Over a catchy glam-rock stomp, Smith injects his vitriol into the song with lines like “Dolly Parton/ and Lord Byron/ say patriotism/ is a last refuge.” The chord progression is reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” while the beat recalls Gary Glitter’s “Rock `n’ Roll Part 2.”
“Sparta 2XX” and “Cowtraflow” continue with the rocking, while “Janet vs. Johnny” revisits early Fall-style rockabilly twang. “Boxoctosis” sees Smith returning to angry old man mode, as he shouts “Get in the God damn box!” And it’s also worth mentioning that “Boxoctosis” is one of many typically weird-assed song titles. “Protein Protection” and “Mike’s Love Hexagon” are also good examples of Smith’s naming skills, as well as “Mad Mock Goth,” which includes a strange vocal effect that makes Smith sound like a satanic robot.
Mark E. Smith isn’t getting any younger, and neither are Robert Smith and Morrissey. But Mark doesn’t appear to be going the “mature” route by putting out a mellower version of his younger self. Nope, if he’s going to get old, he’s going to be a punk-as-fuck curmudgeon that’ll show you whippersnappers what’s up. Good luck trying to figure out what he’s saying, though.
Wire – Send
Mission of Burma – ONoffON
The Fall – Middle Class Revolt
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.