Reformation! Post TLC
Now that Jean Baudrillard is dead, the last gatekeeper between the actuality of our lives and the projected reality our consumer-self entity that increasingly represents us is gone and the two will start to flow back and forth into each other, like low and high tide happening at the same time - lots of churning and muddying of the waters. I opt to go the late Robert Anton Wilson route and believe that every death is a conspiratorial component of the Illuminati Grand Marketing Scheme. "Once we have Jean out of thee picture," says a hooded Major Software Scion in a secret meeting with the Pope and who ever really runs Wal-Mart and/or Al Qaeda, in the antechamber of the Great Pyramid, "we can sell that Web 2.0 and virtual reality shit to everyone and own their souls!" Baudrillard was particularly adept at prying open the crypt of contemporary machinations by tossing out an inflammatory statement like "The first Gulf war did not exist" to get your feathers riled, and then go about defining his terms. But the last of the wise Frenchman has moved into the realm of the undefined and the holes in the fence between yes and no is seeing traffic not witnessed since streams of East Berliners poured through the fallen wall to shoplift Depeche Mode records from the nearest Tower outpost.
Fortunately, we have Mark E. Smith to stand atop that wall, clicking his dentures against his teeth. The poet of post-hyperreality.
Since the late 70s, Smith and whatever team he could assemble under the banner of The Fall have been attacking both cognition and deterioration with the same rubber mallet - I doubt he has broken any ground with it, but he's certainly made some dents with that thing. Twenty-six studio records and countless compilations and live recordings and we come to the latest of the band's engames Reformation! Post TLC. The interesting human resources aspect of this record: this time the band sacked Mark instead of the usual opposite. Amidst a US tour, ensconced in Phoenix, Mark and his new wife on keyboards (throughout the history of The Fall, he's had a number of new wives on keyboards) awoke to find the rest of the band had fled back to England, apparently sick of his legendary shit. Who can blame them, and I hope they find their newly reclaimed irrelevancy comfortable. Smith assembled a number of local players, finished up some haphazard gigs and took these lucky lotto winners to LA to fulfill a studio agreement, resulting in this record. And surprisingly, given the rocky road it took to get here, it's a great one, one of my favorite Fall records since Levitate back in the 1997.
"Open! Open!" opens with a cackle that would not be out of place on a Halloween sound effects record and a low-rent version of the garage new wave grooves they possessed in their glory years in the late 80s. And unlike other critics, I am a true believer in low-rent, in the slapdash product brought to the counter bloody, heart still beating. The title-ish track "Reformation!" only furthers this. Smith should keep this band around for a while, whoever they are, because unlike his last couple combos, they seem to understand what to do withy his peculiar brand of ranting - you just keep carving away at that knucklehead riff, adding enough little flourishes here and there to keep the wings straight, but you start at point A and go forward until you reach point A again. "Fall Sound" continues the tradition of the meta-Fall track set on Are You Are Missing Winner's "Jim's 'The Fall'" with old school bile and punch.
Now, The Fall usually redeems itself in the eyes of the non-orthodox with their covers (a brilliant version of The Kinks' "Victoria" being their only true hit single in the UK) but they miss the mark on this record. I like Merle Haggard on paper, but in practice, I find his singing too thin to be able to support his material, and that trait is only underscored in blood with the version of Hag's "White Line Fever" placed here. Fortunately, it descends into "Insult Song",a five-minute awkward art-rock vamp where a growling Smith free associates about the song, introduces the band, and slags the band that left him. I love these batshit tracks by The Fall, in that they are the most revealing "The sounded like Amon Duul at first...We thought they wore masks until they took them off. They took the trout replica too far" he mutters at one point, giving me a music geek boner at the mention of both Amon Duul (I, not II) and Capt. Beefheart in the same 30 seconds. The groove here goes on and on, like a laser pointed down a stretch of desert highway, so far that you wonder if it's not making a red spot on the back of your head.
The real garbage-can zen masterpiece here is the 10+ minute "Das Boat" where its recombinant riff creates a sinking submarine of rock around you. It's like "Maggot Brain" for the scared-of-Black-music set. For the deep geek here, a lot of this song and this record reminds me of The Red Krayola's mid career material. In fact, if I won that huge lotto on the billboard I see every day on my way home, I'd finance a chance meeting of Smith and Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson on Eric Drew Feldman's dissecting table, all recorded by Steve Albini, and I'd put enough money behind it to get it on the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack.
The fall is always great at final statements - "And Therein" on Extricate, "And This Day" on Hex Enduction Hour, and "Systematic Abuse" on this record falls in that line, with that repeat-o-matic garage stomp propping up Mark's musings about the paper and his diet and whatever for eight minutes, it feels like a blanket on a chilly night to me. Mark E. Smith makes no concession toward or against his art, even his band. Talk to any motherfucker in any other band, and they speak in interviews like their two-year old combo have the camaraderie of war veterans. Smith sees them as a means to his end, as he does labels and charts and you, dear reader. Mark E. Smith is both real and hyperreal, one foot on the Now, another in the Not and he is pissing all over everything in between.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com