One secret to The Fall is that even though on the surface, all the songs sound the same (to borrow a phrase from Mac McCaughan…), closer examination reveals that the selection of detail, and variety within that selection, is often what elevates their superior material above their less-compelling work. In some ways, it’s harder to do good work within a restrictive paradigm (say, riff-based rock), because the restrictions limit what you can do. While I’m prone to be impressed by musicians that are expansively creative in the sounds they use (two examples: the new Björk CD, and Beck’s most recent one which, as it happens, I’m listening to right now), sometimes the sheer variety of colors overwhelms, to the extent that I’m not sure what I’m looking at. That might be intended – but it might sometimes be a distraction along the lines of a flashy magician’s cape.
Anyway, back to The Fall: one reason I’m not warming to the songs on their most recent CD Reformation Post T.L.C. is that they seem, for the most part, to lock into a riff and just run with it – as opposed to subtly varying (or maybe they’re varying it so subtly I just haven’t heard it yet). Two illustrations…not exactly of this point, but sort of outlining the area around it, both sound files extracted from the live video performance contained on that CD. First, this band’s version of “Theme from Sparta FC,” from the most recent undisputably classic Fall album, The Real New Fall Album/Country on the Click (whatever it’s called, in whatever version: in some ways I actually prefer the unreleased, early mix to either the British or American mixes: it tends to place murky synths and sharp guitars in equal billing). One reason this version doesn’t quite work as well for me is that a lot of subtleties from the original(s) are missing: it’s just sort of banged out – energetically enough, yes; and if this were the only version I knew, I’d still think it’s a great song. But…it’s not quite there yet. (Incidentally, my fingers want to make puns my brain won’t cash: first version read “falls a bit short” until I realized it sorta punned on the name of the band…and my first substitution was “misses the mark” until I remembered who’s doing the vocals. Even I have my standards…)
The other is a cover of Frank Zappa’s “Hungry Freaks Daddy” (I think this is the third or fourth Zappa cover the band have done), originally from Zappa’s first album. In that recording, in addition to the main riff (whose monsterositousness The Fall has amped up considerably), there are a couple of other sections, to vary the overall feel of the song. At least one of them is (intentionally) rather cheesy, to go with the satirical intent of Zappa’s lyrics, and at first I missed the variety, if not the satirical cheese, of Zappa’s version. Instead, The Fall basically interrupt that riff only once, for the big, tall, bearded bassist guy to do his funny voice bit (not sure which one he is, given that the band had two bassists at this time – I keep thinking it must be Rob Barbato, but that’s mostly because “Rob Barbato” sounds more like the name of a big bearded bass player). The more I listen to it, though, the more I like the relentlessness of this version – and I do like the thickness achieved by two fuzz basses. (Talk about mud flaps…)