I bought my first album by The Fall in a record store in Newcastle when I was 16 years of age, and this was the first song I heard:
February was the time. February and March. In all honesty, the death of Mark E Smith hit me a lot harder than I thought it would (institutions are not supposed to fall). I grappled with it the only way I could. The only way that exists, really. This time, however, it called for a much higher degree of intensity. This time, I had to go full-on. Deep dive, no knickers. Over the course of a month and a half, I chose to re-listen to every Fall record starting with New Facts Emerge and all the way back to Bingo-Master's Break-Out! With bizarre singles and barely audible live albums scattered in between. It was a ride. Hence, February was the time. February and March.
Down below, you will find the results of this pastime (terribly unhealthy but ultimately rewarding). Ten best albums by The Fall, numbered here for your enjoyment. Three things have to be said in advance, though. One. No compilations. These are studio albums. Two. I know Smith never gave a fuck about contemporary singles, b-sides and outtakes appearing on later versions of LPs, but for the sake of convenience I chose to focus on the original track listings. Three. I still find This Nation's Saving Grace a tiny bit overrated.
10. OUR FUTURE YOUR CLUTTER (2010)
Apart from being the greatest band in the world, The Fall were the only act I know who released a classic album in five different decades. Arguably the best album of 2010 (nothing in itself, but still), Our Future Your Clutter showed the much needed urgency after the subpar Reformation Post TLC. This is deranged, intense garage rock at its best, with Mark E Smith sounding fully engaged. "Cowboy George" is something else.
Best song: Cowboy George
9. THE MARSHALL SUITE (1999)
If you have never read Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall, do that now. If you have, you'll know about the onstage fight during a New York concert in 1998 that resulted in several band members leaving The Fall (for the umpteenth time). The thing is, Mark E Smith was The Fall, and so The Marshall Suite doesn't break into pieces. Instead, you are greeted with the classic "Touch Sensitive" single that sounds like the band was going through some sort of momentum. What follows is brilliant Fall music, noisy ("Antidotes"), danceable ("The Crying Marshall") and oddly beautiful ("Birthday Song").
Best song: On My Own
8. THE INFOTAINMENT SCAN (1993)
The Infotainment Scan was one of their most accessible LPs. Also, it has the distinction of being a rare Fall record from the 90s with no filler on it. Which is to say, even a song as lightweight as "I'm Going To Spain" (a cover, obviously) is done with great conviction. Elsewhere, "It's A Curse" is hypnotic, "Ladybird" is Mark at his catchiest and the Twilight Zone inspired "Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room" is four minutes of intense Fall perfection. Really well-written stuff.
Best song: Ladybird (Green Grass)
7. THE REAL NEW FALL LP (2003)
The original title was Country On The Click, but then something or other happened and they had to rename it. Which would be a very dull thing for me to say were it not for the fact that this was The Fall's greatest album in a long, long time. The tunes are so good they make you laugh. "Janet Johnny & James" makes you cry. In a way, The Real New Fall LP gives you a rather comprehensive picture of everything this band ever was. From timeless ("Theme From Sparta F.C.") to insane ("Boxoctosis"). As ever, lyrical gems abound.
Best song: Janet Johnny & James
6. BEND SINISTER (1986)
Named after one of my favourite novels by Nabokov, Bend Sinister seems to have a rather dubious reputation among the fans of The Fall. Too dark, they say. Too slight after This Nation's Saving Grace. I never got this. From the chilling guitar line of "R.O.D." to the sparse piano of "Auto-Tech Pilot", this could be The Fall's album I've heard the most. "Mr Pharmacist" is one of their best covers. "Dktr. Faustus" has a riff as annoying as it is genius. Both "Shoulder Pads" songs are brilliant twee pop. "Living Too Late" and "US 80's-90's" are all-time great. Trust me, Bend Sinister is better than anything released by your favourite band.
Best song: US 80's-90's
5. HEX ENDUCTION HOUR (1982)
This album starts with "The Classical", "Jawbone and The Air-Rifle" and "Hip Priest", so I don't even know what I'm supposed to be writing here. Many people consider Hex Enduction Hour to be The Fall's best album and I can't blame them. For my part, I'd say I'm slightly underwhelmed by the overly simplistic "Just Step S'ways" and the brilliantly titled but uneventful "Who Makes The Nazis?". Which is not saying much really, as even their 'somewhat flawed' beats your best.
Best song: Hip Priest
4. THE WONDERFUL AND FRIGHTENING WORLD OF THE FALL (1984)
Major label, big producer. The sound is indeed cleaner but do not confuse it with 'clean'. The songs are of course fantastic, catchy and unique, this being their classic 80s period when they could barely do wrong. Highlights include "Lay Of The Land" which is as good a Fall opener as you can imagine, the keyboard line in the addictive "Slang King", the propulsive "Elves" which is like The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" only better and of course "Disney's Dream Debased". All of them, really. Even the obligatory joke that is "Bug Day".
Best song: Disney's Dream Debased
3. SLATES (1981)
Slates is the most perfect record by The Fall that money can buy. The EP contains six songs, each one of them an absolute classic that no decent Fall compilation should omit. I mean, "Prole Art Threat"? "Middle Mass"? "Leave The Capitol?" Perfection. In fact, the only reason this doesn't top my list is because it's only six songs. But don't let that distract you.
Best song: Leave The Capitol
2. GROTESQUE (1980)
Grotesque (After The Gramme). To be honest, when I first approached the idea of doing this article, I was sure this album would make it to number one. Ever since I first heard it, the catchy pop-rocker "English Scheme", the kazoo classic "New Face In Hell", the bass monster "Impression of J. Temperance", the lengthy spoken-word (spoken-word? they are all spoken-word) epic "The N.W.R.A.", I thought Grotesque was it. The Fall's greatest LP. And in a way, it still is, equal parts circus and punk rock. I mean, look at the cover, it's all in there.
Best song: New Face In Hell
1. PERVERTED BY LANGUAGE (1983)
The Fall album to be lost in. Perverted By Language is dominated by lengthy grooves that sound both addictive and repetitive. "Garden" goes on for almost nine minutes, and it's basically a few guitar patterns with Mark E Smith doing his mad poetry on top of it. But Christ do I never wish it to stop. I admit I hated "Eat Y'self Fitter" first time I heard it, but now I love the broken rhythm as well as the silly chant. I even like the Brix-flavoured (this was her first album with the band) "Hotel Bloedel" that sounds like a perfectly fine demented pop tune to me. And then of course there is "Hexen Definitive, Strife Knot", my favourite Fall song. Still, I believe that Perverted By Language should be taken as a whole. It's a singular experience.
Best song: Hexen Definitive, Strife Knot