50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong ... 39 Golden Greats (Beggars Banquet)

What is the sound of one garbage truck compacting? Why, that would be 27 years of The Fall, of course: England's noisiest, if not loudest, band. (That honor, of course, belongs to Spinal Tap.) Naturally, the entire "band" concept is debatable, since Mark E. Smith, the ensemble's vocalist (singer is too elevated a description) and lyricist, essentially hires and fires like he's the George M. Steinbrenner III of indie rock – all the while releasing albums at a breakneck pace. Their bio insists they've released "around 50 singles, 25 studio albums and perhaps 50 live and compilation albums."

Smith's first Fall lineup, assembled in Manchester in 1976, immediately fused the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat-era droning, churning rhythms and a '60s garage band's pent-up aggression with his own bitterly sniped stream-of-unconsciousness lyrics, delivered in stylistic diction reminiscent of James Cagney seconds before passing out.

The fans numbering "50,000" may be belligerently inflated at this late date, but this two-CD greatest hits collection (40 cuts, counting the bonus track) gives a reasonably satisfying overview of the band's capabilities when feeling inspired. The leadoff cut, the early single "Repetition," spells out the formula in one distorted swipe. The monotonous industrial-factory din that would surface on later cuts ("Prole Art Threat") is subdued, but the band's ambition to work against the traditional sonic solution where a bright chorus saves the day is in place.

Undoubtedly, many who first heard the group didn't give them long, but as this compilation proves repeatedly, Smith's peculiar talent lies in finding something redeemable in awful situations. He attacks with ferocity and alliteration for "Rowche Rumble," turns spacey and slightly coy for "Lie Dream of a Casino Soul" and explores a truly burdensome minimalism for "Hip Priest," where for nearly eight minutes Smith explores the postpunk blues, determined to get more out of life simply by experiencing it for what feels like a longer time.

Smith has remained a distant, stoic presence in his own music throughout the decades. However, the addition of his American bride Brix to 1983's Perverted by Language led to a notable shift toward pop that progressed as she was integrated fully into the group. The spit-forth delivery was never abandoned, but guitar riffs were explored beyond the third note and the band's rhythm section learned to dry-hump like a dance band, ensuring them some level of airplay. Love, however, didn't last; Brix went on to form Adult Net while her hubby reverted to his usual sociopathic ways, stripping tunes of their tunes while smartly keeping the rhythms dexterous, which has made the band an unlikely dance-floor presence.

The last few years have seen The Fall play shambolic live sets – band members in fistfights with Smith as the show goes on – and release an endless slew of live albums and compilations. However, even this album's final cuts show Smith as abrasive and driven as ever. This may be the one collection to keep.

More by Rob O'Connor


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