• Fall
  • Dragnet (UK Step Forward) 1979  (IRS) 1990  (UK Cog Sinister/Voiceprint) 1999  (UK Castle) 2004  (UK Earmark) 2004 
  • Live at the Witch Trials (Step Forward/IRS) 1979  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2002  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • Grotesque (After the Gramme) (Rough Trade) 1980  (UK Castle Classics) 1993  (UK Castle 1998 + 2004) 1993  (UK Cog Sinister/Voiceprint) 1998 
  • Totale's Turns (It's Now or Never) (UK Rough Trade) 1980  (UK Dojo) 1992  (UK Castle/Essential) 1998  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • Early Years 77-79 (Faulty Products) 1981 [CD]  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • Slates EP (Rough Trade) 1981 [CD]  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • A Part of America, Therein, 1981 (Cottage) 1982 
  • Hex Enduction Hour (UK Kamera) 1982  (Ger. Line) 1986  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1999 + 2002  (UK Castle) 2005 
  • Live in London, 1980 [tape] (UK Chaos) 1982  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • Room to Live: Undilutable Slang Truth! (UK Kamera) 1982  (Ger. Line) 1983  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1998 + 2002  (Castle / Sanctuary) 2005 
  • Fall in a Hole (NZ Flying Nun) 1983  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1997 + 2003  (UK Castle) 2006 
  • Kicker Conspiracy EP (UK Rough Trade) 1983 
  • Perverted by Language (UK Rough Trade) 1983  (UK Castle / Essential) 1998  (Castle / Sanctuary) 2005 
  • Call for Escape Route EP (UK Beggars Banquet) 1984 
  • The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall (Beggars Banquet/PVC) 1984  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • Hip Priest and Kamerads (UK Situation Two) 1985  (Beggars Banquet) 1995 
  • The Fall EP (PVC) 1985 
  • This Nation's Saving Grace (Beggars Banquet / PVC) 1985  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • Bend Sinister (UK Beggars Banquet) 1986  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • Nord-West Gas (Ger. Funf Und Vierzig) 1986 
  • Domesday Pay-Off (Big Time) 1987 
  • The Fall in: Palace of Swords Reversed (compilation: 1980-83) (Cog Sinister / Rough Trade) 1987  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1998 
  • The Peel Sessions EP (UK Strange Fruit) 1987  (UK Castle) 1989 
  • There's a Ghost in My House EP (UK Beggars Banquet) 1987 
  • I Am Kurious Oranj (Beggars Banquet / RCA) 1988  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • Jerusalem EP (UK Beggars Banquet) 1988 
  • The Frenz Experiment (Big Time) 1988  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • Victoria EP (UK Beggars Banquet) 1988 
  • Cab It Up / Dead Beat Descendant EP (UK Beggars Banquet) 1989 
  • Seminal Live (Beggars Banquet / RCA) 1989  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • 458489 A Sides (Beggars Banquet / RCA) 1990  (Beggars Banquet) 1997 
  • 458489 B Sides (UK Beggars Banquet) 1990  (Beggars Banquet) 1995 
  • Dredger EP (UK Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1990 
  • Extricate (Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1990  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1999 + 2002 
  • Shift-work (UK Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1991  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2002 
  • Code: Selfish (UK Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1992  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2002 
  • Ed's Babe EP (UK Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1992 
  • Free Range EP (UK Cog Sinister / Fontana) 1992 
  • Slates / A Part of America Therein, 1981 (UK Dojo) 1992  (UK Castle / Essential) 1998  (UK Castle) 2004 
  • BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (Windsong) 1993 
  • Kimble EP (Strange Fruit / Dutch East India Trading) 1993 
  • The Collection (UK Castle) 1993 
  • The Infotainment Scan (Matador / Atlantic) 1993  (UK Artful) 1999  (UK Castle) 2006 
  • Why Are People Grudgeful? EP (Matador) 1993 
  • Middle Class Revolt (Matador) 1994 
  • Cerebral Caustic (UK Cog Sinister / Permanent) 1995  (UK Artful) 1999  (UK Castle) 2006 
  • The Legendary Chaos Tape (Ger. Scout / Rough Trade) 1995  (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1999 
  • The Twenty-Seven Points (UK Cog Sinister / Permanent) 1995  (UK Castle) 2006 
  • Fiend With a Violin (UK Receiver) 1996 
  • Oswald Defence Lawyer (UK Receiver) 1996 
  • Sinister Waltz (UK Receiver) 1996 
  • The Light User Syndrome (UK Jet) 1996  (UK Receiver) 1999  (UK Castle) 2002 
  • Cheetham Hill (UK Receiver) 1997 
  • In The City... (UK Artful) 1997 
  • Levitate (UK Artful) 1997 
  • Oxymoron (UK Receiver) 1997 
  • The Fall – Archive Series (UK Rialto) 1997 
  • The Fall Live: 15 Ways to Leave Your Man (UK Receiver) 1997 
  • The Less You Look, the More You Find (UK Recall / Snapper) 1997 
  • Live to Air in Melbourne '82 (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1998 
  • Live Various Years (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 1998 
  • Nottingham '92 (UK Cog Sinister/Voiceprint) 1998 
  • Smile... It's the Best of the Fall (UK Castle) 1998 
  • The Marshall Suite (UK Artful) 1999 
  • The Peel Sessions (UK Strange Fruit) 1999 
  • A Past Gone Mad (UK Artful) 2000 
  • I Am as Pure as Oranj (UK NMC / Pilot) 2000 
  • Live 1977 (UK Cog Sinister/Voiceprint) 2000 
  • Live in Cambridge 1988 (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2000 
  • Psykick Dance Hall (UK Eagle) 2000 
  • The Unutterable (UK Eagle) 2000 
  • A World Bewitched: Best of 1990-2000 (UK Artful) 2001 
  • Are You Are Missing Winner (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2001 
  • austurbæjarbíó (Reykjavik Live) (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2001 
  • Backdrop (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2001 
  • Live in Zagreb (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2001 
  • Liverpool 78 (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2001 
  • 2G+2 (UK Action) 2002 
  • Early Singles (UK Cog Sinister / Voiceprint) 2002 
  • High Tension Line (UK Recall / Snapper) 2002 
  • Listening In – Lost Singles Tracks 1990-92 (UK Cog Sinister) 2002 
  • Totally Wired – The Rough Trade Anthology (UK Castle) 2002 
  • Vs. 2003 EP (UK Action) 2002 
  • (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas EP (UK Action) 2003 
  • In a Hole / Liverpool 78 (UK Voiceprint) 2003 
  • It's The New Thing! The Step Forward Years (UK Castle) 2003 
  • Live at the Phoenix Festival (UK Strange Fruit) 2003 
  • Live Various Years / Live in Cambridge 1988 (UK Voiceprint) 2003 
  • Rebellious Jukebox (UK Shakedown) 2003 
  • Shift-Work / Code: Selfish (UK Voiceprint) 2003 
  • The Idiot Joy Show / Pearl City (UK Alchemy / Burning Airlines) 2003  (It. Dynamic) 2005 
  • The Real New Fall LP Formerly 'Country on the Click' (UK Action) 2003  (Narnack) 2004 
  • The War Against Intelligence – The Fontana Years (UK Universal) 2003 
  • Touch Sensitive... Bootleg Box Set (UK Castle) 2003 
  • Words of Expectation – BBC Sessions (UK Castle) 2003 
  • 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong: 39 Golden Greats (Beggars Banquet) 2004 
  • Interim (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2004 
  • Fall Heads Roll (Narnack) 2005 
  • Live at Deeply Vale (UK Ozit) 2005 
  • Live From the Vaults – Glasgow 1981 (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • Live From the Vaults – Hoff Alter Banhoff 1981 (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • Live From the Vaults – Los Angeles 1979 (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • Live From the Vaults – Oldham 1978 (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • Live From the Vaults – Retford 1979 (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • Rude (All the Time) EP (UK Hip Priest / Voiceprint) 2005 
  • The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004 (UK Castle) 2005 
  • The Permanent Years (Paranoia Man in Cheap Shit Room) (UK Artful) 2006 
  • Mark E Smith
  • The Post Nearly Man (UK Artful) 1998 
  • Pander! Panda! Panzer! (UK Action) 2002 
  • Various Artists
  • Perverted by Mark E. – A Tribute to the Fall (Ger. ZickZack) 2004 

Some people think chief Fall guy Mark E. Smith does the same thing over and over again, but he’s such an original that observation hardly rings as criticism. Indeed, on the Manchester band’s first single, back in 1978, Smith presented his manifesto: “Repetition in the music and we’re never gonna lose it.” Turning subtle but powerful changes on a basic but endlessly fascinating form, Smith and the Fall have created influential music through three decades, leaving their mark on hipsters like Pavement, Girls Against Boys, the Sugarcubes and Sonic Youth while helping to ignite the rediscovery of German avantists like Can, Neu! and Faust.

Formed in Manchester in 1977, the Fall attracted a cult following in numerous corners of the globe, but managed to bend commercial necessities to its own needs and carve no small chart success in the UK. The group’s influence on likeminded conceptual noisemakers — in England, the US, Iceland, New Zealand and elsewhere — can’t be overstated. Led by Smith, the acid-tongued poet whose caustic lyrics and accented, amelodic vocals provide the Fall’s primary features, the band has created a huge body of unique, adventurous and challenging (if less so in recent years) rock. From its experimental beginnings, the Fall has continued to explore and grow stronger. Whether you enjoy the sounds or not, the Fall has made a crucial difference in modern music. And that’s what counts.

Smith’s signature Mancunian drawl is far more than an act of defiant regionalism (an attitude noted and emulated by some of the more astute minds of the American indie scene) — it’s also the perfect medium for his half-sung poetry, which both revels in and reviles modern language and its humorous/ominous rhythms and constructions. Paired with stalwart guitarist Craig Scanlon, bassist Stephen Hanley, drummer Karl Burns and/or Simon Wolstencroft and a shifting cast of other musicians pounding out the band’s cantankerous, skiffle-from-hell beats, the simple result is that the Fall isn’t like any other band.

After releasing some singles and contributing two tracks to the watershed Manchester compilation Short Circuit / Live at the Electric Circus, the Fall recorded and mixed a debut LP, Live at the Witch Trials, in an economical two-day studio session with producer Bob Sargeant, who did nothing (audible) to soften the band’s well-organized dissonance. At once leaning towards punk’s directness and charging headlong into poetic pretension, Smith and company (bass, drums, electric piano, guitar) drip sincerity on tracks like “Rebellious Jukebox” and “Crap Rap 2/Like to Blow,” occasionally sounding relatively normal amidst the tempest. Dragnet followed with a rougher-edged sound, as well as a new lineup. The first album to feature Craig Scanlon’s trademark scratchy, dissonant guitar (which has played a major role in the band ever since), Dragnet is not one of the Fall’s best efforts, but contains at least two classic numbers, “Spectre vs. Rector” and “A Figure Walks.”

By the time of their first live album, Totale’s Turns — recorded in late ’79 and early ’80 — the Fall had consolidated a more commanding style, although it’s no easier on the aurals. Jagged, largely recitative and nearly oblivious to musical convention, Smith’s witty repartee carries the show as the band lurches and grunts along noisily. Not for neophytes.

Grotesque removes the Fall even further from the world of easy listening. The songs are mostly one-or-two-chord jams played too slowly to be hardcore, but structured similarly. Smith grafts on socio-political lyrics that would be more interesting on paper than accompanied by this one-take-live-in-the-studio atonality.

All of the Fall’s pre-LP singles (by a lineup with keyboardist Una Baines and guitarist Martin Bramah, who went off together to form the Blue Orchids) are on one side of Early Years; the other collects later 7-inch efforts. One imagines that Public Image listened to the ’77 vintage “Repetition” a couple of times before mapping out their first LP.

The 10-inch Slates has six tracks with substantially better production than the Fall’s preceding ventures; evidence of much greater studio effort abounds. While still not quite Abba-smooth, several numbers, especially “Fit and Working Again” and “Leave the Capitol,” are as close to enjoyable, routine (ahem) rock as the Fall had ever come. A solid record of greater potential appeal than just to cultists.

Part of Hex Enduction Hour was recorded in Iceland, a nation where the Fall’s music had a major cultural impact. An expanded lineup with two drummers turns the sound large and rhythm-conscious; despite a resulting tendency to lumber along at a slow, methodical pace, some of the tracks are intriguingly off the common Fall path. (The German CD edition on the Line label includes some early singles as bonus cuts.)

Room to Live features a sparser, less rhythmic sound than Hex Enduction Hour, occasionally returning to Grotesque‘s flirtation with raw rockabilly. Smith is in top lyrical form, with pungent, satirical views of British life: “Marquis Cha Cha” offers biting commentary on the Falklands War.

Three live Fall albums emerged around this time. A Part of America Therein was taped at five gigs on a US tour. The sound quality varies considerably from track to track, but the performances are uniformly strong, particularly the epic “N.W.R.A.” Even better, though, is Fall in a Hole, a two-disc authorized bootleg released only in New Zealand. Recording quality, execution and song selection (mostly from Hex and Room to Live) are superb. The Live in London, 1980 cassette was recorded in front of a none-too-enthusiastic audience at Acklam Hall; it’s of dubious legal origin, listing neither songwriting nor publishing credits. Drawing mostly from Grotesque and Slates, it warrants mention due to sharp performances (except for “Prole Art Threat,” which falls apart) and very good sound quality. The Legendary Chaos Tape brings the show to compact disc.

The Fall released its next studio LP, Perverted by Language, during a brief return to Rough Trade. On the first record with Smith’s new American wife Brix as co-guitarist, they chug away with more conviction than ever, particularly on the relentless “Smile” and “Eat Y’self Fitter.” Hindsight now shows it to be priming the audience for what was to follow: the John Leckie-produced Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, easily one of the band’s best records. Strengthened by Brix’s songwriting and gutsy guitar, the Fall are able to beckon a variety of styles with panache. All nine tracks (eleven on the American release, which adds “C.R.E.E.P.” and “No Bulbs,” the latter from the subsequent Call for Escape Route EP) jump out, highlighted by the fierce “Lay of the Land,” “Elves” and the almost Syd Barrett-like “Disney’s Dream Debased.”

Hip Priest and Kamerads is a compilation of the band’s releases on the Kamera label. Except for a live version of “Mere Pseud Mag Ed.,” there’s nothing otherwise unavailable, but it does offer a good introduction for the uninitiated. The tape and CD have extra tracks.

With what at this point seems like an embarrassment of riches, the Fall unleashed This Nation’s Saving Grace. Tracks like the (gasp!) synthesized and danceable “L.A.” and the contemporaneous 45, “Cruisers Creek,” reveal that the Fall is no longer averse to commercial potential, but it’s really just a new type of ammo added to the arsenal. “Bombast” builds a guitar din that would make Sonic Youth jealous, while “Paintwork” and “I Am Damo Suzuki” (a song about Can’s onetime lead singer) are two of the strangest things they’ve ever done. The US release substitutes “Cruisers Creek” for “Barmy,” which subsequently turned up on the eponymous American EP, alongside four other 45 cuts, like an unlikely cover of Gene Vincent’s “Rollin’ Dany.” (To confuse matters further, Beggars Banquet issued three of the five songs on a 1985 US 12-inch.)

Named for a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister is a rather gloomy, dark sounding record; minor keys and Joy Division-like guitar riffing dominate tracks like “US 80’s — 90’s” and “Gross Chapel — British Grenadiers.” But then in the middle of all that is “Shoulder Pads,” one of the poppiest, most upbeat songs they’ve ever done. Multi-instrumentalist Simon Rogers has become the Fall’s chief sound-shaper, providing all kinds of odd synths and guitar fills and embellishments. Domesday Pay-Off, the equivalent US release to Bend Sinister, switches song order a bit and substitutes singles from the same approximate period, such as “Hey! Luciani” and a cover of R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s a Ghost in My House.” The four-song Peel Sessions disc (from November 1978) predates the Fall’s debut album; two of the numbers are on that LP, the other two are otherwise unreleased. A must for fans.

The Fall In: Palace of Swords Reversed is a compilation of Rough Trade singles, flipsides and LP tracks from 1980 to 1983, released on Smith’s own label. The Frenz Experiment is an unusual LP — almost a Smith solo — with lower-key backing than usual, and more willfully obscure lyrics than ever, particularly on “Athlete Cured” and the very odd “Oswald Defence Lawyer.” Rogers, no longer a fulltime band member, produced and gave it the most detailed sound of any Fall record. Adding to their growing reputation as an able and imaginative cover band, Frenz includes a totally delightful version of the Kinks’ “Victoria.” (The original UK LP includes a bonus single of “Mark’ll Sink Us” / “Bremen Nacht Run.”)

Fall side projects established the group in other fields. Smith expanded the idea from the “Hey! Luciani” 45 into a play which ran in London. The Fall wrote the adequate but uneventful vocal music (which the group performed as live accompaniment in Amsterdam, Edinburgh and England, then committed to vinyl as the I Am Kurious Oranj album) for I Am Curious Orange, a ballet by Michael Clark’s experimental dance company. A pair of EPs were drawn from the album: Jerusalem (the William Blake song) was released as a boxed pair of 7-inch singles (with a postcard) and as a 3-inch CD, with three more LP tracks, one of them in a drastically altered version. Cab It Up (the Mark E. Smith song) comes on a 12-inch with live renditions of “Kurious Oranj” and “Hit the North” and a new song (“Dead Beat Descendant”) from the then-imminent Seminal Live.

Despite its title, the Fall’s 1989 album mixes a side of new material (casual and largely self-indulgent studio efforts) with a dynamic and cavalier side of live oldies, such as “Cruisers Creek,” “L.A.,” “Pay Your Rates,” “2 by 4” and “Victoria.” Although hardly an ideal artistic coda, that record proved to be Brix’s farewell, thereby ending an extremely productive Fall era.

Brix divorced both Mark E. and the band in 1989 (she made the Adult Net, her side project, into a fulltime endeavor); the sound of her absence quickly underscored the crucial contribution she made-sing-song hooks that turn his abstruse sloganeering downright catchy. The Fall rebounded somewhat tentatively with Extricate, on which her replacement turned out to be Martin Bramah, a Fall co-founder who had left the band roughly a decade before to form the Blue Orchids. While the bilious “Black Monk Theme Part I” (a rebuilt cover of the Monks’ 1966 “I Hate You” in which Smith coughs up a stuttering hairball of invective: “I hate you baby…you make me hate you baby…you maladjusted little monkey…” and, no, it’s not about any ex-relatives, thanks for asking) proves that Brix hadn’t taken all the band’s ammo with her, half the album does fall in a hole. Production by Smith, Craig Leon, dub master Adrian Sherwood and acid house technocrats Coldcut (who co-wrote “Telephone Thing,” another highlight) is only intermittently successful. Dredger, a four-song EP from the same period, is basically a quickie cover of “White Lightning” (which subsequently showed up on Shift-work) plus some filler — “Zagreb” is pieced together from two different not-quite-ripe songs.

It’s rumored that Smith and Bramah wrote an album’s worth of songs together after Extricate. Bramah left the band in 1990, however, and only one of those songs (the uncharacteristically pretty “Rose”) shows up on Shift-work. The album is ostensibly divided into two sections, “Earth’s Impossible Day” and “Notebooks Out Plagiarists,” but there’s no discernible difference between them, or indeed between most of the songs. The band generally sounds like it’s on autopilot. Listen closely, though, and a couple of terrific songs pop out, especially “Edinburgh Man” and “The Book of Lies,” which sports organ, handclaps and a great, nagging vocal hook.

Chronicling the Brix years (and serving as something of an extension to Palace of Swords Reversed), 458489 A Sides is, as billed, a compilation of the Fall’s singles released between ’84 and ’89. The seventeen tracks — including such essential items as “Rollin’ Dany,” “L.A.,” “Hey! Luciani,” “There’s a Ghost in My House” and “Victoria” — follow the band through its pop orientation and subsequent stylistic redeployments. Completing the job, the double-album 458489 B Sides collects all of the remaining tracks from the same era’s singles, including remixes: 31 in all. A major boon to fans who’ve been stymied by the band’s intricate discography.

Things seemed to be looking up with the Free Range EP: four tough, hooky tracks in the great Fall riff-and-repeat mold. The title song, in particular, incorporates techno into its arrangement more powerfully than the group had ever quite managed before. Unfortunately, those four numbers are the only high points of Code: Selfish (except for maybe Smith sneering the title of “The Birmingham School of Business School”). Mark E. sounds almost sedated, and the veteran core band of Scanlon/Hanley/Wolstencroft locks mechanically into its grooves.

Ed’s Babe is another perplexing ‘tweener EP. The title track is a stylistic departure (slick pop) that this Fall incarnation hadn’t tried before and really isn’t very good at. Then there’s a fantastic remix of “Free Range” and two near-instrumental experiments, one of which falls on its face and the other of which (“The Knight, the Devil and Death”) is one of the most powerful pieces of music the Fall has ever produced. You never can tell.

The Kimble EP consists of four tracks, selected seemingly at random from the billion or so sessions the Fall has recorded for John Peel’s radio show. A 1992 cover of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s “Kimble” is a bit slack, but “Gut of the Quantifier” and “Spoilt Victorian Child” from 1985 have a classic, abrasive Fall edge, full of the incantatory repetition that is Smith’s avowed modus operandi. The nine-minute, one-chord “Words of Expectation” (produced by Factory Records chief Tony Wilson) from 1983 is for fans only — which is not to say it isn’t brilliant. The British vinyl version and the American 7-inch of “Kimble” include 1981’s “C ‘n’ C Hassle Schmuk,” which hilariously grafts the early live standard “Cash ‘n’ Carry” onto “Do the Huckle-Buck.”

Also dating from the ’80s (1987) and done for British broadcasting, BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert (only 32 minutes long, despite what the back cover says) finds the Fall in fine form, nailing a headlong groove on the opener “Australians in Europe,” winding up with a veritable rockabilly raveup on “Lucifer Over Lancashire” and overall doing the voodoo they do so well on the intervening tracks. Brix turns in some perky Farfisa work on “Shoulder Pads” and a hoppin’ “Fiery Jack”; for the punters, there are such hits as “There’s a Ghost in My House” and “Hey! Luciani.”

The four-song Why Are People Grudgeful? EP (named after its lead track, another Perry cover) includes three numbers from The Infotainment Scan, but the price of admission is justified by a brilliant bit at the end of “The Re-Mixer” (naturally, a new version of Shift-work‘s “The Mixer”): Smith talking into a Walkman, reading from a computer manual and then the fire escape instructions on the back of his hotel room door.

With The Infotainment Scan, the Fall brought guitars back to the fore, as in the jittery syncopations of “Ladybird.” But the real point of the album is the band’s ginger exploration of different musical feels. “Why Are People Grudgeful?” touches on ska; the version of Chic’s disco-era “Lost in Music” is almost reverent; the chug-trancey “It’s a Curse” displays a serious Neu! influence. While the apparently autobiographical “Paranoia Man in Cheap Sh*t Room” emulates the sound of the largely deplorable turn-of-the-decade Madchester scene, the Fall invests it with far more urgency than any of the form’s E-addled proponents. A remix of “The League of Bald-Headed Men” echoes techno, but “A Past Gone Mad” is far more successful.

On Middle Class Revolt, keyboards burble at the periphery of tracks such as “15 Ways” and “The Reckoning” (which berates “some hippy halfwit who thinks he’s Mr. Mark Smith”). Although Smith is mellowing his approach, stretching out his words and not spitting out reams of verbiage, “Behind the Counter” and “M5#1” boast some of the most flat-out rocking the Fall has done in years. “Shut Up!” is the group’s third Monks cover, there’s a tremendous rewrite of Henry Cow/Slapp Happy’s “War” and the album’s peak is provided by the battering “Hey! Student” — which the Fall was playing back in ’77 as “Hey! Fascist.”

Co-produced by Smith for better and for worse, the resolutely lo-fi, virtually synthless Cerebral Caustic easily overcomes its dinky sound. The high catchiness factor is surely due to the return of Brix, who toured with the band in ’94 and co-wrote five tunes, including a ferocious duet, “Don’t Call Me Darling.” (She also gets to have some fun on a remake of Dredger‘s “Life Just Bounces.”) Meanwhile, the album features some fascinating innovations — not the least of which is an idiosyncratic cover of Frank Zappa’s “I’m Not Satisfied.” The utterly psychedelic “Bonkers in Phoenix” is amazing, while another standout, “North West Fashion,” is just a mesmeric backing track and snippets of recorded conversation. The rest is prime-slice Fall in all its caustic, cerebral glory. Rich with barbed hooklines and canny catch-phrases from a band that continues to refine its deliciously jagged edge, Cerebral Caustic is the best Fall album in years and a good omen for its future.

The Twenty-Seven Points isn’t exactly a live album in the conventional sense — it’s more of a scrapbook of what the band was doing in the first half of the ’90s. Composed of live tracks, rough demos and random interpolations from Glasgow, London, Manchester, New York, Prague and Tel Aviv, the 28-track, two-CD set is frustratingly uneven but ultimately captures the Fall live experience, complete with onstage disasters (“Idiot Joy Showland” collapses and Smith yells “Right! Back in two minutes!”). The tinny, wavering sound quality would make a bootlegger sneer with derision; “Glam Racket/Star” has a very audible splice from a few verses of its original version to a later arrangement with additional vocals by Brix. Still, tracks on Disc One (“Return,” “Hi-Tension Line” and “Big New Prinz”) cook, with the mechanistic thrust of the band’s instrumental core coming through loud and clear; the spoken-word “Ten Points” is a real treat. The second disc is much weirder, with a couple of techno experiments and Brix vocals (a rewrite of “Middle Class Revolt”) and, uh, other people (what sounds like a plastered roadie on “Life Just Bounces”); it also sports a kick-ass cover of the Sonics’ “Strychnine.”

The first of a series of three collections of alternate versions and rarities, Sinister Waltz is a stone disaster: badly mastered demos from Shift-work and Extricate, atrociously recorded live versions (including a “Wings” that fades in on the third verse) and a cover of Jeff Lynne’s “Birthday.” The gem at the end — a version of “Edinburgh Man” even nicer than the original — doesn’t really warrant slogging through the rest.

Sinister Waltz was followed, a month later, by Fiend With a Violin, another barrel-scraping compilation. The highlight is a weird, throbbing remix of “The Man Whose Head Expanded.” The lowlight, though, that’s a tough one — could it be the utterly unclamored-for instrumental version of “Ed’s Babe”? The live recordings of third-rate songs from Code: Selfish? No, for sheer marketing dishonesty, it would have to be the “never heard before” title track, which is simply a retitled, chopped-up instrumental demo for “2 by 4.” Another month later came the third in the series: Oswald Defence Lawyer, which appears to be a board tape from a live show circa 1989. Nine of its twelve tracks appear in studio versions on Kurious Oranj or The Frenz Experiment; the sound is sub-optimal if not terrible, and the same is true of the performances. Only a taut, prickly version of “Bombast” is really top-notch Fall.

Scanlon left before The Light User Syndrome, which introduces Julia Nagle on keyboards/programming. The rushed atmosphere gives the album a garage-band feel on what are, for the most part, bombastic rock numbers. Smith sounds excited, nonplussed even, barely able to keep up with his spew of witty crypticism (“There’s a new drug out / It’s called speed / I wrote a song about it, conceptually, à la Bowie / But it’s been lost”). His momentum drives the centerpieces: “Spinetrak.” “Interlude/Chilinism,” “Powder Keg” (“His radioactive radiohead drips with powder / His aura: round, halo-thin”) and “Oleano.” Covers include Gene Pitney’s “Last Chance to Turn Around” and a wryly delivered (by Burns) rendition of Johnny Paycheck’s “(Stay Away From) the Cocaine Train,” retitled “Stay Away (Old White Train).” Solid.

With Brix gone, Nagle came forward on Levitate, and the band veers into the experimental realm of drum-and-bass/techno, without losing its trademark sound. The lurching rhythm of “4 1/2 Inch” and the jazzy “Spencer Must Die” contrast with odd covers of Hank Mizell’s “Jungle Rock” and the Byrds’ “I Come and Stand at Your Door.” Smith touches on his own image in Rod McKuen’s “I’m a Mummy” (“I don’t try to scare people but look what happens when I walk up to somebody”). The title track feels like an excerpt of a more fully-developed song but that’s the Fall for you. Unique and difficult. Initial copies came with a bonus disc containing remixes of past album tracks, an outtake and two live numbers.

The tour behind Levitate was disastrous. After an incident between Smith and girlfriend Nagle, every one else quit. A new lineup of Neville Wilding (guitar), Tom Head (drums), Adam Halal and Karen Leatham (bass) recorded The Marshall Suite, which employs a similar template to Levitate but adds traditional rock’n’roll to the mix. Covers of troubled rockabilly legend Tommy Blake’s “F-‘Oldin’ Money” and the Saints’ “This Perfect Day” are standouts. The vinyl version has an added track.

The Unutterable begins with an instant Fall standard, “Cyber Insekt,” all nervous beat and space drones. That distant feel persists through aggressive winners (“Two Librans,” “Sons of Temperance”), snaky grooves (“Dr. Bucks’ Letter,” the Blake homage “W.B.”), sci-fi/trance meanderings (“Hot Runes,” the Pixies-like “Ketamine Sun,” rewritten from Lou Reed’s “Kill Yr Sons”), the Broadway-styled “Pumpkin Soup and Mashed Potatoes” and the rave-up “Hand Up Billy.” Was the studio next to an oxygen bar?

Are You Are Missing Winner, with a new line-up of Ben Pritchard (guitar), Jim Watt (bass) and Spencer Birstwistle (drums), finds the air supply pinched. This one heads off into rockabilly territory but, aside from “My Ex-Classmates’ Kids,” it’s a downward dip. The choice of covers is, as always, inexplicable: Leadbelly’s “Bourgeois Town,” “Gotta See Jane” (originally by R. Dean Taylor) and Iggy’s “African Man” reworked as “Ibis-Afro Man” and the least successful of the three.

2G+2 mixes live material from US appearances with three new studio tracks: “New Formation Sermon,” “I Wake Up in the City” and “Distilled Mug Art.” The three-track Vs. 2003 is notable for the addition of Elena Poulou (Smith’s Greco-British wife) on keyboards.

The US and UK versions of The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country on the Click’ feature different artwork; the American edition replaces British album tracks with singles. After an online leak, Smith re-mixed/recorded the tracks and revised the title. Tight and essential, this is one of the Fall’s best, from the pulsing “Mountain Energei” to the mini-hit “Theme From Sparta F.C.,” an exuberant indie-pop classic (but the UK mix is better), and “Contraflow” (“I hate the countryside / so / muchhh”). “Mike’s Love Xexagon” is one of the oddest songs ever to reference the Beach Boys. “Loop41 Houston” is a Lee Hazlewood cover.

(We Wish You) a Protein Christmas EP contains “(We Are) Mod Mock Goth” (from the US version of The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country on the Click’) plus three.

The shambolic studio rehearsal tracks on Interim are unnecessary. Three of the songs (“Clasp Hands,” “Blindness” and “What About Us?”) later appeared on Fall Heads Roll. The Rude (All the Time) EP offers unreleased mixes for trainspotters.

The six-CD Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004 is crucial, not only because of the Fall’s symbiotic relationship with John Peel but because the Fall always delivered terrific representations of their contemporary works. (The late DJ famously said of his favorite band, “They are always different, they are always the same.”) The set accurately serves as a complete retrospective through countless lineups and is a better purchase than most of the “hits” compilations in their catalogue.

Smith likens his role in the band to that of a football coach, overseeing a team through which more than 40 players have passed. Fall Heads Roll challenges those who thought there would be no Fall without Steve Hanley (the longest-serving member aside from Smith) by rotating in Steve Trafford (bass) and Spencer Birstwistle (drums, again). The album opens, inauspiciously, with the spare reggae-polka jam “Ride Away.” “Midnight in Aspen” is an homage to Hunter S. Thompson; Smith sings about his broken hip on “Blindness”; “Pacifying Joint” is bouncy post-punk funk with a fine riff. The whole album has a steady, percolating groove. In “Bo Demmick,” remade as a single called “Bo Doodak,” Smith warns, “The CD you hold in your hand is a construction of a left-sided mind.” “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” is a Move cover.

The Less You Look, A Past Gone Mad, Psykick Dance Hall, Backdrop, High Tension Line, The War Against Intelligence, Rebellious Jukebox, 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong and The Permanent Years are compilations of previously released material and rarities usually with a few live tracks.50,000 is the best of the lot. I Am As Pure As Oranj is a mediocre live version of I Am Kurious Oranj and In the City is a contemporaneous hometown document. Oxymoron and Cheetham Hill are alternate versions of Light User Syndrome. Smith’s solo releases mix spoken-word with Fall outtakes and snippets.

[Michael Azerrad / Douglas Wolk / Jay Pattyn]

See also: Adult Net, Blue Orchids, Marc Riley with the Creepers