When introducing someone to The Fall, you might start with a disclaimer. Vocalist Mark E. Smith has a polarizing voice, not unlike, say, Tom Waits or The Legendary Pink Dots’ Edward Ka-Spel. At first it might seem jarring, even insurmountably dissonant, but then it grows on you, and you come to appreciate that signature weirdness like the earthy funk of an expensive French cheese.
Nevertheless, unless you’re that rarefied fanatic, it’s doubtful you’ve heard every utterance of this notoriously prickly legend. Smith and his revolving-door cast of musicians have been recording under The Fall moniker since 1976, putting out 32 studio albums, amassing a cult following, and cementing his status as a post-punk icon. New Facts Emerge is the seventh consecutive record with the current rhythm section, the band’s longest-running iteration.
The LP begins with that distinctive Mancunian drawl front and center, an outtake of an a capella Smith singing with drunken-barroom bluster and what sounds like a glass clinking alongside him. The 30-second “Segue” grounds this as a Fall record, a challenging thing to define categorically. The band’s eclecticism is a source of paradox and appeal: “always different… always the same,” as the late BBC DJ John Peel observed. Smith’s music certainly finds a place alongside the angular guitar work of bands like Gang of Four, but also veers into electronica, experimental noise, and in the case of “Fol De Rol,” the first proper song, some big meaty guitars that could almost be justifiably called “grunge.”
As much as I know I’d catch shit for it, I’d almost be willing to call this The Fall’s grunge record, before a Spy Hunter-style synth line takes that song along a less prescribed direction and into a frenzied, shattering chorus of sorts. Smith’s characteristic ranting and growling make it abundantly clear that, yep, it’s The Fall. The title track operates similarly, taking a riff you might expect of Queens of the Stone Age, perverting it through The Fall vocoder, and turning it into a snotty gem. An inherently weird band does “weird” by appropriating the conventional and disorienting the listener. I hadn’t previously thought of them as sounding this “big,” this close to something that could conceivably be cranked at a large stadium, one in which everyone would begin scratching their heads, and in the end, debating whether or not they liked it.
Elsewhere, “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s” begins with thick sludgy guitar before turning into a sublimely strange composition of percussion and bass and singing ghosts, then transforming into stoner metal again before shape-shifting into straight-ahead hard rock and then surf music. It’s is one of the most strangely awesome Fall songs I’ve heard in quite a while. Other tunes flirt with Elvis-style rockabilly, lo-fi punk (the excellent “O! Ztrrkk Man”) and vintage Fall (“Gibbus Gibson” recalls shinier songs like “C.R.E.E.P.” from the band’s mid-‘80s incarnation). The record ends with a nearly nine-minute-long guitar opus called “Nine Out of Ten,” which is probably the least accessible thing on the record, but no less tantalizing. Guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist David Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling outdid themselves on their latest installment. This record caught me off guard; it’s energized, abrasive, and surprisingly rocking. Play it loud and see if you can win some converts.