The Fall - The Remainderer EP
It's hard to know what to say about The Fall anymore, writes Robert W. Getz. Whether Mark E. Smith has lost the thread is difficult to say when a collection sounds as unfocused and routine as The Remainderer. There are moments (that's the incredibly frustrating thing about The Fall - there are always moments) but most of this fits the outline established by recent albums; songs and riffs jostle and blur into one another, the attention wanders and it begins to dawn that the fault may not be in ourselves but in our star.
If you ask why an EP of 30 minutes length, it's a question that goes right to the heart of how Smith works. The Fall have always been a working band in every sense of the word and the false and dictatorial mold of a muse that fits neatly into album after album is something Smith has always chafed against, choosing whenever possible to release material in the shape that suits it - and to do it in a quick and unvarnished fashion. It's why their catalogue is riddled with not-quite or too-long or in-process LPs and what allows even their earliest recordings to continue sounding fresh. It's that first flash of inspiration that Smith wants to somehow paradoxically preserve and his track record proves the value of his intuition. The Fall have generally had no back pages; the point has always been to open the whole notebook.
Ultimately this rising tide has lifted all their boats so that even lacklustre material can sound better than it has a right to, shot through with the same conviction that marks their best work. It's that conviction that's seemed sorely missing of late, with both Ersatz GB and Re-Mit seeming like trips through well-worn walking tours (once again - there are moments) with Smith gargling lyrics lifted from Trout Mask Replica and The United States Of America as if merely reaching for whatever's at hand. 2010's wonderful Your Future Our Clutter even suffered from this, feeling more like an EP than LP with songs that did double duty, but YFOC (arguably the last album to make people pay attention) made up for it with an energy and aim that capped off a decade of work much more hit than miss: Country on The Click (aka The Real New Fall LP) and Fall Heads Roll especially looking more and more like albums that deserved a place in their pantheon of personal bests.
So what to make, then, of The Remainderer? Non-Fall fans will be unsympathetic (or perhaps incredulous) at this complaint, but there doesn't seem to be any real songs here, just loops that Smith declaims against with no particular purpose. This year's Re-Mit had a similar problem until its final track ('Loadstones') popped out of the speakers with such force that it seemed obvious that they had saved the best for last and knew it. There are traces here of the incantatory magic of old: "Whatever you say, it is always remainderered" is a great chorus that grows, while "Never forget, your brain is a bubble of water, a blank sheet for a top-up" (from 'Amorator!') is the kind of line that stays with you simply because you can't hear anything like it anywhere else. 'Rememberance R' features a riff lifted from their own 'Elves' and Christopher Eccleston seems to wander into the studio halfway through to go on about the wife and kids (domesticity never fares well in Fall songs). The obligatory rockabilly covers are represented by a thin and watery Gene Vincent medley and it all finishes with 'Touchy Pad', which almost threatens to become something interesting with its Lovecraftian shout-out to the "tentacles of the Old Ones" but then suddenly stops as if one place were just as good as another.
So what to make of The Fall these days? I've been shocked and surprised by Smith enough to know it's a bad gamble to count him out. But, as 'Amorator!' warns, is this the vacation that's now become a profession? Thinking over John Peel's famous judgment of "Always different, always the same," is it possible that as the clock edges us roughly into 2014, he's finally become half right?