18 Oct 2017

The Definitive Rank: Cal Cashin Orders The Fall Albums

"Good evening. We are The Fall and I am Roman Totale and these are my sidekicks. I will lead you on to new visions of proletariat posterity. This is a story." - Mark E Smith, live at the Rainbow in London, 1980.

Friends, peers, countrymen; the day is upon us. The day where, I Cal Cashin, your friend and savant ranks the 34 albums (including Slates, and Bingo Masters Break Out) of The mighty Fall. Not many bands have this many albums, and none have this many that are undeniably brilliant. From their scratchy early days, through their mid-80s pop renaissance and their surprisingly excellent latter period, no one can ever agree on what the band's best work is. Most people prompt for early 80s. Those people are right. However, discussion about just which albums are best never ceases to cease. To end all discussion, to have the final say, I present you the Definitive Rank.

33. Ersatz GB (2011)
It would be churlish to say that The Fall went to shit after a certain point in time, because they have millennial classics coming out of the wazoo. But alas, 2011's Ersatz GB is the very worst of the bunch. When you're releasing an album every year for 40 years, some are bound to be dogarse, and this is absolutely bottom of the pile.

32. Re-Mit (2013)
See description for Ersatz GB. This is just bad as well,  no real redeeming features.

31. Cerebral Caustic (1995)
They slumped in the nineties, quite badly, did The Fall. This and the next few nineties albums listed are devoid of the redeeming features that come with the better of their nineties oeuvre, and in truth, I've only listened to them once, a few years ago, with no real urge to come back. Avoid at all costs. You don't have to listen to every Fall album to know you love them.

30. New Facts Emerge (2017)
This is frustratingly piss poor. There's a few moments of brilliance, but no moments that translate into a whole brilliant song. Every post-2015 Fall song has these drums that go "ch-ch-ch-ch" in 4/4, this guitar lick that goes "baba-baba-banowww" that loops over and over, and Mark E Smith's lyrics are just inaudible. People say they sound more like Can, but really they just sound like a shit Stranglers (despite still being great live).

29. Levitate (1997)
Just awful. After this album, the band nearly broke up for good, before they were reborn with a whole new lineup in 1999.

28. Middle Class Revolt (1994)
Very dull record. I promise I'll write more about the albums further down the list. Decent title though.

27. Code: Selfish (1992)
See no. 26 on the list, Shift Work. This album is like that one, only slightly less alright.

26. Shift Work (1991)
People rave about this one a bit more than anything else on the list's lower leg, but alas. A very considerable slump from Extricate, though, and really the beginning of their 90s slump.

25. Sub Lingual Tablet (2015)
All the issues I pointed out with New Facts Emerge prevail here, in quite a big way, but there are two rather excellent tracks. The rumbling bass and ET synth of Dedication, Not Medication and the kraut-rock grooves of Auto Chip stand out, as pretty excellent tracks, on what is an otherwise not so good album.

24. Are You Are Missing Winner (2001)
After this point on the list come albums you should listen to. Let's be honest, 23 albums that have the Cal Cashin sticker of approval is very good. This album lacks the tunes of its predecessor and successor, but is still pretty listenable all the way through. I seem to remember. Still not recommended.

23. Reformation! Post-TLC (2007)
Maybe I lied, the next few albums aren't recommended all the way through. But boy, is there some scorchers on this record. Over! Over! is great, White Line Fever is probably the best thing to come from Mark E Smith's obsession with sixties garage rock (normally a poisoned chalice), and Fall Sound would probably make it onto a 20 best Fall tracks list. Give these three tracks a go. I seem to remember The Wright Stuff is good too, but any anti-Matthew Wright sentiment will not be tolerated on Vapour Trail while I'm at the keyboard.

22. The Light User Syndrome (1996)
I like Powder Keg and thought it would be churlish if all the nineties albums were grouped together at the bottom of the list. Sorry, this probably shouldn't be this high.

21. The Infotainment Scan (1993)
This has some golden nuggets on, particularly the band's cover of Lost In Music, the Sister Sledge tune. Other highlights include Paranoia Man, A Past Gone Mad and Why Are People Grudgeful?

20. Room To Live (1982)
To add the context of numerical scores to the ranking, let's say this album is the second to last 7/10 or below. By far the least standout-ish of their 80s period, Room To Live is littered with songs that are quite good, but ultimately lacks the greatness that came before and after.

19. The Real New Fall LP (2003)
Theme From Sparta FC sees The Fall at their absolute most accessible; famously, it was the theme tune to the programme with the football results on, which even more famously led to Mark E Smith reading the football results out one day. He called Southampton out as "Southampton Town", and it's forever been a large part of my personal identity. Album itself has some pretty decent tunes on.

18. Bingo Master's Breakout (1977)
This is a mere EP, but every song is pretty brilliant. I didn't know whether I could include 3 track EPs on here, but it's my list, I'll do what I want. Repetition is the first great Fall song, and the other tracks are diamond. They still sound a bit like a regular post-punk band here, but all was to change.

17. The Frenz Experiment (1988)
A solid poppier effort, it isn't quite as memorable as Kurious Oranj or Bend Sinister but is nonetheless pleasing. Mark E Smith actually gets emotionally raw on Frenz, make of that what you will, and their version of Victoria is the definitive version.

16. Live At The Witch Trials (1979)
The beginnings of great things, yet not quite fully formed. They are dogged down here by their sonic ties to all the similar sounding DIY post-punk bands, but glimmers of what would be The Fall shine through. Mother-Sister, industrial Estate and Rebellious Jukebox are certified stompers, although that cohesive "Fall" sound is kinda elusive.

15. Extricate (1990)
The only real nineties Fall album people call a classic, this is one of their braver records. Post-Brix, they embrace an almost funk-infected sound on Telephone Thing, and on Bill Is Dead we really have a one off; a whimsical ballad done as a parody of The Smiths that genuinely hits all the emotional spots. Definitely not my favourite Fall record. Definitely belongs in the top half of the list.

14. Dragnet (1979)
Sure there's a few decent songs on this album, but what makes this essential can be pinpointed to one track, among the most singular in the band's discography. The 9 minute closer, Spectre vs Rector has lyrics that read on paper like Lovecraftian prose, yet the track itself is a mangled, looming beast that grumbles with the grind of industry for its duration. The moment where The Fall become The Fall, this is among the greatest tracks in their discography.

13. Imperial Wax Solvent (2008)
A late career gem, the gall and furore of Mark E Smith's Fifty Year Old Man performance is among the greatest since the eighties. Senior Twilight Stock Replacer is a souped up garage rock oddity and Alton Towers is another brilliant track. Throughout this record, The Fall pull a host of great tracks out the bag, in what is one of the best moments of their late career.

12. The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984)
Divided into a Wonderful and Frightening side. The Frightening side, Lay of the Land, 2 x 4, Copped It and Elves would probably make it into the top five, if this rockabilly gothic gnosis continued then. Lay of the Land taps into the Lovecraftian spirits they harness fully on Hex and Grotesque, with two bassists powering it into the gloaming. The Wonderful side of this album sucks, and probably means that this is officially the most overrated Fall album.

11. The Marshall Suite (1999)
As mentioned at the dregs end of this list, The Fall's 1997 album was a complete plodder. And the band dissolved after an onstange bust up, which one can only guess is because they'd become a bit shit. Their comeback from that, however, is glorious. The Fall have a very clean, often rockabilly tinged  sound on The Marshall Suite, with the most memorable moment being the HEY HEY HEY HEY's of Touch Sensitive. Ushering in a new era for The Fall, this is a crucial album in their back catalogue. For without this noughties renaissance would they be revered in the same way if they were not the eternal entity they are now?

10. Bend Sinister (1986)
Prime Brix Smith era, this album sounds militantly aimed at the charts. Mr Pharmacist is their biggest hit, I believe. US 80s-90s blends this stomping electronic beat with a looming guitar riff. There's a host of gems here, and it would be churlish not to have it as a top 10 album. That is why it's here.

9. The Unutterable (2000)
Dr Bucks Letter is the best Fall song, and Cyber Insekt is in the top 10 (well, maybe 20). Over and over, you'll listen to Dr Buck, and be floored by it. This tectonic plate shifting bassline scratches and pierces the sonic landscape, whilst Mark E Smith's lyrics are nothing short of brilliant. "I was in the realm, of the essence of Tong!" he grumbles. The rest of the album is pretty damn good too, even if Pumpkin Soup and Mash Potatoes makes you wince.  

8. Perverted By Language (1983)
Classic two drummer Fall, this is an album you have to listen to if you haven't before. The first 6 minutes and 38 seconds are taken up by Eat Y'self Fitter, one of the group's absolute all time high points, a stomping odyssey of a song, that sees Smith lead you through an ever entwining uncanny matrix. Garden and Tempo House are two other 7+ minute beasts that sprawl on and on featuring the band at their greatest, and most strangely hypnotic. The track that Brix sings lead on, though, is the very definition of a misstep.

7. Fall Heads Roll (2005)
In all honesty, the band don't sound their best here; very, very clean production is to blame for that; they laid down some of their greatest ever songs to record. What About Us? is a storming number about Harold Shipman, I Can Hear The Grass Grow is a garage rock number with a whirring synth part that makes it actually fun to listen to every time, and Blindness. Oh boy. Seven minutes of the greatest bassline of all time (well, maybe second to Death Disco by PiL), Smith's most depraved yelpings, and Spencer Birtwhistle's most stomping drums. Fall Heads Roll is maybe the band's 00s zenith, but of course, that wasn't enough to stop Smith sacking the whole group as soon as it had been released.

6. I Am Kurious Oranj (1988)
The follow up to The Frenz Experiment, the band's then most successful album, came the same year, and was in every single way better and bolder. The stomp of New Big Prinz opens the album up, and how does it stomp. In the same way that Hip Priest is an almost eerie, sinister, self referential number, Big Prinz is a storming, intermidating number that sees Mark spark chants of "he! Is! Not! Appreciated!". Jerusalem is an electric number, and Right Place Wrong Time is an eternal classic. This album is full of beans, and the best of their poppier forays.

5. This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
If you're going to recommend a Fall album to a friend, then recommend them this one. It's the meeting point of the band as an accessible entity, as a creepy, urban entity with its concrete ghouls and city hobgoblins, and an entity with a leader who is clearly in a league of his own. The high points on this album are so dramatically varied, from the sonic collage of Paintwork, to the looming gothic drawl of Mansion/Bombast, unto the savagery of I Am Damo Suzuki.

4. Your Future, Our Clutter (2010)
The best thing the band released post-80s, this malevolent late career album is among their greatest. The industrial, brutalist menace of Chino sees them at their absolute most intimidating, a simple seering whisper of the titular word every bit as intimidating as anything on the whole of the band's Peel Sessions album. The groove of Bury Pts 1 + 3 is a herculean stomp, and as any devotee of The Fall will tell you, a stomp can go along way. And of course the bleak, almost sentimental closer Weather Report 2 would be the perfect last song for the band, because as I'm sure this list tells you thus; they've not been the same since.

3. Grotesque (1981)
Grotesque begins the top 3 Fall albums, a linear and chronological trilogy of the band at its absolute best. This flings together rockabilly and post punk crudely, yet instead of the result being a cacophony of incohesiveness it makes for an otherworldly urban surrealist landscape that no other band could ever stomach. Smith barks, and howls, Impression of J Temperence being particularly notable as MES caterwauls about "this hideous replica", a gothic Shelley-esque tale of a power hungry dog breeder. Container Drivers is a rickety rockabilly number that, as Mark Fisher points out wonderfully sounds like the inception of rock 'n' roll in a parallel universe where instead of wide American highways, the music feeds off the energy of northern motorways inhabited by the uhh-containers, and their drivers. This album is nothing short of a masterpiece, the skewed world the music creates complete like anything any other artist could ever make, is amazing, fantastical, gothic, and above all, Grotesque.

2. Slates (1981)
People tell me, "hey Cal; you cannot have Slates as your favourite! It is an EP!" To those people I say that anything 20 minutes plus counts as an album, and that there is more quality here than in the whole of The Rolling Stones' back catalogue. Sometimes it's my favourite record. This time, though, I decided it was only my second favourite. Six tracks make up this record, and each one is unbelievable. Leave The Capitol is a prime example of the band at their best, with a vicious refrain and a snarling hatred of London. Prole Art Threat sees Smith parody his unwanted anointed position as a working class spokesman to a guttural snarl, and An Older Lover is gorgeously creepy. A huge step up from the rickety production that some might say was Grotesque's achilles heel, not only was this the bridge between the third best Fall record and the best, but a masterpiece in its own right.

1. Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
One hour of the greatest band at their absolute greatest. The most singular band of all time operating at their absolute best, not dropping in quality until the very end. The Classical opens up the album with a bombastic descending bassline, which sets the stage for Mark E Smith to militantly bark some of his greatest one liners ("made with finest British attention/to the wrong details", "there are twelve people in the world/the rest are paste", "there is no culture is my brag"). Jawbone and the air rifle is a favourite of mine for its lyrical narrative, and Iceland is a ghoulish improvisational number that whistles and whirls with spectres of its titular homeland. Hip Priest remains probably the most iconic Fall song, hollowed chants of "he is not appreciated" usher in a sauntering confrontational, slow moving beast, before Smith's lyrics intensify, rallying with disgust for his lessers, his contemporaries on the music sccene; "all the young groups know, all the young groups know, they can imitate, but I teach, because I'm a hip priest". Every track on this album is essential, if less accessible than on this list's previous two entries, yet this album still pervades like no other. Stewart Lee called it his favourite and "probably the greatest album of all time". Who the fuck are you to disagree?

"All those who mind entitle themselves,
and whose main entitle is themselves,
shall feel the wrath of my bombast!"
Bombast, This Nation's Saving Grace

(Words: Cal Cashin)