I've always thought of The Fall's Mark E. Smith as not being part of the everyday world; indeed, I like to imagine that he's kept locked in a cell, or maybe a large steamer trunk, and only allowed out to write songs, or play a show, or sack a few of his bandmates. That's why The Real New Fall LP
's back-story is annoying. I understand that rough versions of these songs found their way online, and I support the group's (Smith's?) desire to remix them and alter the album's track sequence in order to "foil" downloaders. The thing that bothers me is that MES (a) would react to something like this, and (b) actually knows what the Internet is. I'd prefer to cast him as rock's Noble Sociopath, free of such worldly trappings.
Fall albums are a genre unto themselves; all that most fans seem to expect from them is that Smith show up, bring along a halfway-decent band, slur his way through a few interesting songs and not sound like he'd rather be at the dentist. In that respect, The Real New Fall LP succeeds -- it comes roaring out of the speakers like an avalanche, whereas 2002's lackluster Are You Are Missing Winner plopped into the sonic headspace like a bundle of damp laundry. In opener "Green Eyed Loco Man", Smith parts a roiling red sea of rumbling chords, undulating drums and squiggling keyboards, staunchly slurring against the encroaching darkness. In "Theme from Sparta F.C.", he offers an animated non-commentary on football hooliganism ("we have to pay for everything / but some things are for free / we live on blood / we are Sparta F.C."), and you'll soon want to chant along with the crowd. "Contraflow"'s jagged, cyclical riffs form a dark, menacing background for Smith's professed hatred of the countryside and its denizens ("I hate the countryside / so much / I hate the country folk / so much"), and the anthemic "Open the Boxoctosis #2" will lodge its chorus in your head like an errant lawn dart. Not only will you sing "Open the box / open the box / open the goddamn box" all day -- you'll feel the song's distinctive log-rolling bassline rumbling in your chest as you sing it.
None of this will surprise longtime Fall fans; much of the allure of any new Fall album is simply hearing Smith make the familiar formula fresh with a new batch of outlandish lyrics and inventive pronunciations. The interesting thing about The Real New Fall LP is how often we can actually understand the lyrics. Rather than the usual torrent of tortured, misshapen, smeared and sneered syllables (a catharsis of spurious nasality?), we're treated to songs that...well, naturally they don't actually make sense, because that would be wrong, but we've got a pretty decent idea of what's being said, if not why. Fortunately, in the universal scheme of things this makes very little difference. "The Past #2" is impenetrable no matter how many of the words you can understand, and although "Mountain Energei" hints at a deeper message (something along the lines of "you can't get anything out if you don't put anything in", perhaps), you'll have to uncover it on your own.
The Fall, like most cult acts with massive discographies (GBV, Jandek, etcetera), breed rabid fans, none of whom will need to be encouraged to acquire a copy of The Real New Fall LP. Therefore, I'm speaking to a fairly narrow cross-section of people -- eager newbies and reasonably committed fans who aren't willing to spring for a costly import CD. To those people, I offer only encouragement: The Real New Fall LP is as solid and interesting as anything the group has released in the last ten years. It's not a revelation, and you might want to wait for the inevitable domestic edition rather than dropping $40 on the import, but the Fall's magic well of inspiration is once again fresh and full.