The most recent album from post-punk rockers The Fall may just be a diamond in the rough from "the best new band in Britain," as one critic called them. A curious designation, as Reformation Post-TLC is generally regarded as The Fall's 26th album, and one source even puts their true career total at around 90.
For three decades, onetime Manchester dockworker Mark E. Smith has been ending and then beginning again. In January 2006, a reporter from the Guardian in England wrote a piece about tracking down all 43 of the band members Smith had used up. That May, three more escaped his sardonic wrath by hopping on a plane, mid-tour, in Phoenix.
So the next day, he flew to Los Angeles with his keyboardist wife — his second keyboardist wife, to be exact — and cut Reformation Post-TLC with some fresh American musicians.
Odd as it may seem, Mark E. Smith is perhaps best understood as the post-punk James Brown. That may seem a strange thing to say about a working-class song poet renowned for his mad, knotty, verbose rants. But The Fall has always been about the headlong momentum of Smith's delivery, and the drive of ensembles that always nailed the same signature groove. Above all, The Fall are a groove band (or, at least, a series of them).
The rants themselves are a little less knotty than usual on this album. When his keyboardist Eleni Poulou takes a song, things get a mite too quiet. There's an unfortunate, slow, 11-minute electronic-noise experiment and a rather sweet if barely tonal cover of Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever."
But especially for the first half, Reformation Post-TLC's groove is simultaneously hilarious and unrelenting. Smith turned 50 years old in March, but his energy puts wonders of science like Iggy Pop to shame. He hasn't just maintained physically, but spiritually, as well.
One couldn't in good conscience recommend joining Smith's band. But happily, not everyone will follow that advice.