The Fall

Mark E. Smith: What a grouch. The grizzled limey bastard has already laid off two of the four musicians responsible for the creation of The Real New Fall LP and is no doubt throwing the stink-eye at the remaining pair. Historically, the dismissal is barely even a footnote. Smith loses bandmates the way other people lose their keys. Sonically, however, it's a much bigger deal, because Real is the most relevant and vital the Fall has sounded in years. This is largely because the raucous music makes a virtue of Smith's trademark spoken delivery. Unlike Lou Reed, whose careful narration sounds distant when paired with more volatile arrangements, Smith's bratty contempt is supported by the songs like the ribcage is by the spine. Cascading guitars and primal bass throw up a nervy, melodic backdrop so Smith can use his cynic's snarl to hint at the notes he would sing if he could. His feral bark leads a raucous gang-chant through the volcanic "Sparta 2" and cuts a clean path through grimy guitars on "Mike's Love Hexagon." Real is a masterpiece to be sure, but one that owes as much to its supporting cast as it does its irascible star.

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J. Edward Keyes