The spiky nature of the Fall makes it such that there’s no real easy entry point for developing an interest in the band. It probably helps if you’re in possession of a surly, cantankerous disposition, but even the sourest crank looks like George Clooney when compared to the Fall’s notoriously unpleasant frontman Mark E. Smith. Due to Smith’s penchant for nastiness, his fellow band members have been publicly berated, punched, and summarily kicked out of the Fall for infractions both minor and imagined.
Yet there’s no denying the Fall. At least, there’s no denying that their music is not only original, but difficult to copy well, and thus still mostly unique to them. There are few alternatives if you’re looking for the sort of repetitive, pissy kicks provided by Hex Enduction Hour, This Nation’s Saving Grace, or the newly reissued The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall.
Fall neophytes would do well to start with one of those last two albums. While there may be no such thing as an immediately endearing Fall album, The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (1984) and This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985) are the best you’re going to do. For you see, even the most hard-hearted among us can fall in love, and that’s just what happened to Manchester’s resident grinch right around the time those aforementioned albums were released.
In 1983, the Fall introduced Brix Smith into the band, who would later become Mark E. Smith’s wife (and ex-wife, naturally). Brix’s pop leanings as a songwriter immeasurably influenced the band, and resulted in probably the hookiest Fall albums to date. Of course, Mark E. Smith is still Mark E. Smith, and even the fact that Wonderful and Frightening was their first release on a somewhat major label wasn’t going to turn the Fall into the Beach Boys. Consequently, Wonderful and Frightening is a bracing, schizophrenic listen, with fleeting moments of sprightly, sociable pop (“Slang King”) butting up against nasty, primitive bass lines (“Copped It”). The Fall may have been willing to embrace elements of commercial music, but they were clearly unwilling to be neutered and domesticated.
Nonetheless, the chorus of opener “Lay of the Land” is, by any measure, a proper chorus. It’s catchy, and even the little artistic flourishes (such as the silent, unpredictably timed gaps that precede the choruses) work to heighten the effect of the hook. The abnormal time signature of “Stephen Song” doesn’t hide the fact that the song is bolstered by an immediately memorable, repeating bass line. In fact, many of the extra tracks provided on the Beggars reissue support the idea that this was the album where the Fall balanced their ugly side and their appealing side most effectively. “C.R.E.E.P” sports a synthesizer hook that could have been lifted out of a children’s show, and it’s followed by “Pat-Trip Dispenser”, a song characterized by brutish chords set against a bouncy rhythm.
Many of these tracks are as indispensable as the original album; however, Beggars Banquet has included most of them with the album for years. There is a four-disc Omnibus edition that features a live set and a number of BBC sessions, in addition to the rough edits and remasters on the two-disc edition. Undoubtedly, the larger edition is the one of more interest to longtime Fall fans, but the two-disc edition will more than suffice for newbies in need of a quick introduction to post-punk’s most important band.