Steve Wilson. On music.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thus Continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown! (with No. 15)

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 15, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. 

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
23. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (ATO)
22. Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
21. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)
20. Peter Case - Wig! (Yep Roc)
19. Bettye Lavette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti-Epitaph) 
18. Super Wild Horses - Fifteen (Hovac) 
17. Parting Gifts - Strychnine Dandelion (In the Red) 
16. No Age - Everything In Between (Sub Pop)
15. The Fall - Your Future Our Clutter (Domino)
"The irascible Mr. Smith sez: 'You don't deserve rock 'n' roll'"

photoYour Future Our Clutter is the Fall’s 28th album. Loosely associated with punk, having emerged from England’s North in 1978, the Fall certainly had a punk-ish defiance, but stylistically they hued to no particular creed. You could populate a small town with the Fall’s discarded and disappeared; the band’s front man Mark E. Smith is reputedly not the easiest guy to work for. Smith, however, may be mellowing ever so slightly at 52. This version of the Fall may set some kind of record, having remained consistent for this, a third consecutive album. Lucky for Mr. Smith, this edition of the band is a monster.

The Fall formula remains more or less the same; the band moves seamlessly from hard rock to rockabilly, from techno to Bitches Brew-vintage Miles and beyond while Mark E. Smith rambles like a tune-challenged improviser who decided to blow off the lyrics as they scrolled on the Karaoke screen. Criticism? Absolutely not. Smith is the one constant and the absolute glue in the Fall. And his rambling mix of poetics, autobiography and random observation is singular. The Fall sound like a god-awful racket to your average Nickelback fan, but once seduced by Smith’s queer artistry it’s hard to look away.

Smith has jokingly referred to the band’s sound as Country and Northern, acknowledging his Salford/Manchester sensibilities, which remain unadulterated. As usual, Smith’s lyrics touch on a variety of his current obsessions — the banality of modern architecture in “Bury Pts. 1 + 3,” intimations of mortality in “Cowboy George,” and throughout Your Future Out Clutter his hospitalization and wheelchair-bound days after suffering a broken leg — in “Chino” Smith wonders “when do I quit this hell / when do I quit this hospital” and adds “my darlin’ is waiting.” … ah!

Ross Orton, the man behind the board for M.I.A.’s Arular, captures the full power of this edition of the Fall and gives it a contemporary sheen. Guitarist Peter “PP” Greenway plays with bruising power, evoking Keith Levene, John McGeoch, Link Wray and Pete Cosey. Smith’s wife Eleni Poulou plays a critical role in the band’s arrangements; her squiggly synth lines are assertive, powerful and as much a part of the band’s ensemble power as Greenway’s guitar work. Dave “The Eagle” Spurr on bass and Keiron Melling on drums make a powerful rhythm section. Their expert, brutal authority gives the band an almost maniacal force.

“Bury Pts. 1 + 3” melds garage-rock, Kraut-rock and Golden Earring-vintage Seventies rock snarl. “Mexico Wax Solvent” features Melling’s Billy Cobham gone punk drum power. The ominous “Cowboy George” sounds like a cross between Love’s “7 & 7 Is” and the Seed’s “Pushin’ Too Hard,” and even tosses in a Daft Punk sample. “Hot Cake” is the Sab’s “Faeries Wear Boots” gone dub. The Fall bash it out all over the musical map, but their groove is relentless.

“Weather Report 2” closes Your Future Our Clutter with, at least for the Fall, something approaching a beautiful ballad. Over a pretty guitar figure from Greenway, Smith meditates on the “best years of my life,” excoriates the cast of Murder She Wrote (“deserved to die”), remarks that “nobody has ever called me sir in my entire life,” and as the music fades concludes that “you don’t deserve rock n’roll.” Who’s he addressing? A select target? All of us? Such are the mysteries of Smith’s art; you’re never 100% sure what he’s on about, but you’re captivated all the same.

Reverberating: 8.5 (original), upgraded 8.8