YMGTA #35 – Reformation Post TLC

“He keeps false, plastic women’s bosoms under his TV desk and dressing room.”

UK version

Details
Recorded: Gracielands Studio, Rochdale late 2006
Released: 12 February 2007

  • Mark E Smith – vocals
  • Rob Barbato – bass
  • Eleni Poulou – keyboards
  • Orpheo McCord – drums, vocals
  • Tim Presley – guitar
  • Dave Spurr – bass
    With:
  • Pete Greenway – guitar
  • Gary Bennett – guitar

Background
The very different line-up on Reformation Post TLC (only MES and Eleni remain from the last album) indicates that 2005-07 was yet another highly turbulent period in the group’s history…

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Sheffield, 7/10/2005, photo by generalist on the Fall Online Forum

After the release of Fall Heads Roll, the group performed extensively in the UK during the autumn, playing 22 gigs in October alone. Reading the many online reviews of the group’s performances in the back end of 2005, it’s hard to evaluate how successful this tour was, as opinions at the time were very divided, people sometimes having hugely diverse views about the same gig.

Liverpool, 8/10/2005, photo by Steve Marriner

When they were on form, (the majority of the time, it would seem) the group rattled through fast-paced and energetic versions of recent material; but a few gigs were marred by the familiar flaws – MES wandering off stage, meandering instrumental versions, truncated sets, etc. According to Dave Simpson1, Ben Pritchard found this tour ‘the most stressful ever’; Steve Trafford described an incident from the tour when Smith stole his suitcase and poured water over its contents.

Autumn 2005 also found Smith taking part in another collaboration, this time with German electronica duo Mouse On Mars. (MES had first worked with Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma on their 2004 EP Wipe That Sound, resulting in the tracks Sound City and Cut The Gain.) His work with the duo led to an album, released in 2007 under the name Von Südenfed, Tromatic Reflexxions.

In January 2006, Dave Simpson published an article in The Guardian, entitled Excuse me, weren’t you in the Fall? upon which he would expand for his book, The Fallen.

Up to this point, Smith had had a relatively harmonious relationship with the group’s online community. However, this changed in February 2006. According to this post, MES demanded ‘that the Fall Forum be taken offline immediately’ because he ‘had taken exception to one or more posts on the forum’. And so the Fall Online Forum became ‘unofficial’. There is an ‘official’ discussion site, but at the time of writing, no one has posted on it for nearly six months (this, depressingly, is the last active thread).

Lausanne, Switzerland 31/3/2006, photo by Beppe 

The fifteen gigs that the group played in the UK and Europe between January and April were generally well-received: the group played several blistering sets in which lengthy, pulverising versions of songs such as What About Us? and Blindness (see below) were a key feature. However, not for the first time, a trip to America saw the wonderful and frightening world descend into discord and chaos.

Information about the first three dates of the tour (Austin, Dallas and Tuscon) is a little sketchy, partly because the Online Forum suffered its ‘great server crash’ a few months later, which resulted in the disappearance of hundreds of posts reviewing the gigs. However, Fall News from 23 May 2006 indicates that all was not well from the first date, with the same old problems: MES messing with amps and drums, walk-offs and short sets. According to one contributor, writing about the opening gig in Austin:

‘…and in 30 minutes it was done. MES left the stage. The band played out the end of the song, the drummer took the mic and said “Mark E. Smith” and they were gone. Obviously folks expected more, but I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. I had been fairly relieved the band had shown at all.’

Steve Trafford2 suggests that the problems began as soon as the group arrived on American soil, as the stage backdrops (which MES has entrusted to the group while he travelled separately) were lost at the airport. At the third gig in Tucson, Smith reportedly ‘lunged at Birtwistle in the dressing room with a corkscrew’3.

The Pritchard / Trafford / Birtwistle line-up disintegrated following the group’s fourth date of the tour, at the Brickhouse Theatre in Phoenix (there’s a heartfelt review here). However, according to Steve Trafford4, he, Pritchard and Birtwistle had  already made their decision to leave before the gig, after an incident where Smith flicked cigarettes at and poured beer over their tour manager whilst he was driving the group between gigs.

In Renegade, MES spends seven rather unbecoming pages5 laying into the three of them with spiteful vitriol. He admits that he did ‘spill some beer over the driver’ and that he ‘did flick a bit of paper at him; because he was asleep’. His account of the Phoenix gig was that ‘one of The Talk [the support band] invaded the stage and whacked me on the side on the head with a banana’.

According to Steve Trafford6, it was a ‘hilarious farce’. The version on the gigography says this:

‘In the middle of What About Us, Justin Williams, the lead singer of tour support The Talk, jumped on stage and threw a banana peel at Mark, hitting him on the side of the face. Mark finished the line he was singing, took off and folded his jacket, and followed the culprit into the parking lot. The set continued but Mark cut it short after a few more songs.’

Ben Pritchard:

‘Mark had decided to cancel a run of shows on that tour whilst we were out there, the whole experience was really unpleasant – he wasn’t very well, he was suffering from toothache, cancelling the shows meant the support band had no more gigs with us. The venue we were playing at had just lost its liquor licence so most of the audience didn’t turn up, someone from the support band threw a banana skin at him whilst we were playing ‘What About Us?’ and it ended up with Mark chasing him around the car park. That was the last time I ever played with The Fall and the last time I ever saw Mark. We all left the next day.’

There’s also a lengthy interview with Pritchard about the break-up here.

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The new recruits (clockwise from top left), Tim Presley, Rob Barbato and Orpheo McCord – photos by Mick Cunningham

Consequently, Smith found himself with a Fall reduced to a husband/wife duo with thirteen dates on the tour remaining. But somehow, as ever, the group kept going. The new recruits (organised by Narnack) were guitarist Tim Presley and bassist Rob Barbato from LA band Darker My Love, and drummer Orpheo McCord (of On The Hill, a band about which there appears to be nothing online).

After his seven-page rant about the old group, Smith spends a couple of pages extolling (in his own peculiar way) the virtues of his 2006 recruits, whom he describes as ‘a solid bunch of lads’. McCord is ‘a complete professional’; Presley, unlike nearly all guitarists, ‘doesn’t sulk and think [he’s] the centre of the universe’; Barbato’s identified quality is that he ‘knows how to balance that drink-and-work thing’.

As can be seen from the picture of Barbato above, Smith seemed to have softened his stance on facial hair. On the 1982 New Zealand/Australia tour, the group had used beard-growing as a form of protest against his behaviour7; Ben Pritchard also described MES insisting on he and Trafford shaving. Smith’s response to this8 seems to be that Barbato was excused because his was a proper, manly beard; the others ‘couldn’t even grow proper stubble’.

‘The Dudes’ – as they came to be known – seem to have been (understandably) ropy at their first gig in San Diego. One reviewer commented:

‘The new backing band hardly had any knowledge of how the songs were played and mostly jammed out playing whatever. The pinnacle worst moment of the show came on the second song when Elena and Mark played/sang the rocking Pacifying Joint while the rest of the band strummed on Midnight In Aspen.’

They seemed to have hit their stride pretty quickly, however, as can be seen by this review of their third gig, at Los Angeles Knitting Factory. A review of their 23 May gig in LA (see video below), said:

Mountain Energei was one of the finest r’n’roll moments I’ve heard in more years than I’d like to think about: Smith in fine form, poetically ruminating extensively over dusty, shuffling drums, a dirty bass pulling like a V8 slowly gunning up the grapevine and shards of guitar dropping like a bottle but never breaking.’

Whilst this new incarnation of the group continued to churn out excellent performances, one reviewer pointed out a potentially substantial problem:

‘What the future holds for these guys is difficult to say…given that I imagine the Fall operate on a shoestring, I would think that its doubtful that they could afford to relocate to England (even if they wanted to) and equally difficult to imagine MES and Eleni relocating to California…so this incarnation of the Fall is probably going to be a short-lived one.’

The logistics of the transatlantic lineup did indeed soon cause an issue. Presley and Barbato were unable to perform at that summer’s Reading Festival because of prior commitments with Darker My Love. Dipping once more into the seemingly endless supply of musicians prepared to join The Fall at short notice, two were recruited who would turn out to be definite ‘keepers’.

Pete Greenway had been guitarist in Das Fringe (aka Pubic Fringe), who had previously supported The Fall. Bassist Dave ‘The Eagle’ Spurr had been in En-tito and MotherJohn. (The internet seems to hold little information about any of these bands, but there is a video of ‘The (mighty) Fringe’ here.)

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(Clockwise from left) Dave ‘The Eagle’ Spurr, Kieron Melling, Pete Greenway

Although originally a stand-in for Barbato, Spurr played alongside him in a two-bassist line up for the next year, before becoming The Fall’s last sole bass player. Greenway stepped aside in early September upon Presley’s return, but was back in the lineup intermittently throughout late 2006 and early 2007. From the summer of 2007 onwards (apart from a brief break for paternity leave in November 2011) he became the group’s permanent – and last – guitarist.

In October, Keiron Melling (who had played in MotherJohn with Spurr) stood in for McCord at the group’s Dublin gig. He joined the group again as part of a one-off two-drummer lineup the following month for the group’s last gig of 2006. He also turned out to be a ‘keeper’: from July 2007, he was The Fall’s sole permanent drummer.

From this point on, Greenway/Spurr/Melling (with, most of the time, Eleni) were the core of the group’s output.

Front cover

October 2006 saw the release of the group’s cover of The Monks’ Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy (see YMGTA #34).

A week after RPTLC came out, Fall Sound was released as an iTunes download. The only song from the album issued as a physical single was the title track, in April 2007. It was backed by ‘rough mixes’ of Over Over and My Door Is Never. The former makes Presley more prominent and trebly (and is arguably preferable to the album version); the latter gains an extra layer of fuzzy guitar. With typical punctuational inconsistency, Over loses its exclamation marks. There’s also a shortened edit of the lead song.

Neither Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy nor Reformation! troubled the charts at all; this would be the case with all the group’s remaining singles.

Front cover

In The Wider World…
In January, Steve Jobs announced that the first iPhone would be launched in June. The England cricket team lost the Ashes series 5-0, the first whitewash for 86 years. The final episode of Grandstand was shown on 28 January, ending nearly 50 years of Saturday afternoon sports broadcasting on the BBC.

On a very different type of TV programme, Jade Goody was evicted from Celebrity Big Brother after having made racist comments about housemate Shilpa Shetty. In another memorable TV incident, The Ordinary Boys’ singer Preston walked off the music quiz Never Mind The Buzzcocks and was replaced by a random audience member.

In the UK charts, Mika was in the middle of a five-week stay at number one with his exhaustingly flamboyant Freddie Mercury impersonation Grace Kelly. (Although, to be fair, it was still better than the stodgy landfill indie of The Kaiser Chief’s Ruby, which followed it to number one.)

At the top of the album charts, there was more dull and predictable indie-rock fare in the shape of The View’s Hats Off to the Buskers, which had succeeded the bafflingly-acclaimed cruise ship cabaret of Back To Black by Amy Winehouse.

The Fall Live In 2005-07
The group rounded off 2005 with 25 UK gigs in October and November. Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy received the first of its ten outings in Manchester on October 1, just before Fall Heads Roll‘s release.

There are several bootlegs available of the tour, the pick of which is probably the one from The Zodiac, Oxford on 23 October. The sound quality is dubious, but the group sound like they’re on blistering form, especially on a frantic eight-minute version of Open The Boxoctosis.

There were, however, a few less successful gigs. The 10 October appearance in Stoke featured a variety of walk-offs and certainly seemed to divide opinion on The Fall Online Forum. The 2 November performance at Islington’s Carling Academy also saw walk-offs, instrumental versions, etc.

Early Days of Channel Führer was played for the first time on 11 October in Middlesbrough, and played for the second and last time 13 days later in Nottingham.

The Fall played 50 dates in 2006. The 15 that they played in the first four months of the year were a mix of UK and European gigs, including Antwerp, Athens, Lausanne and Berlin.

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Wigan 18/1/2006, photo by Vvillager

There’s a bootleg of the first gig of the year, in Wigan. Although one or two fan reviews registered disappointment that it was a similar set to many of the 2005 gigs, most were blown away by how tight and powerful the group sounded; this is captured well on the recording, even though it’s only of average sound quality. As was the case in several performances from this period, the set was dominated by some extravagantly lengthy work-outs. In this case: an eight-minute Touch Sensitive, a twelve-minute Blindness and brutal, relentless What About Us? that clocks in at a whopping fifteen minutes (the group try to draw things to a conclusion at around ten, but MES is having none of it and counts them back in).

On the Fall Online Forum, Sean posted a poignant picture of MES singing Aspen from a door at the back of the stage.

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Wigan 18/1/2006, photo by Sean

The Fall opened their 26 January gig in Antwerp with The Boss, a piece of lively if inconsequential Bo Diddly-esque rock ‘n’ roll. They played it 13 more times over the next four months; the recording below appeared on the 2007 Fall Box Set.

On 10 March in Athens, Systematic Abuse was debuted; White Line Fever followed on the next night in Thessaloniki. On their return to the UK, The Fall played four nights at Croydon’s Cartoon Club. The first night was a challenging one: the group had had a difficult journey back from Greece, and were left with limited time to soundcheck; in the end they played for just over 40 minutes. The (rather muffled) bootleg recording suggests it was a pretty powerful performance, nonetheless. This gig, and the next two nights, saw the group continue to hammer out extended versions of What About Us? and Blindness.

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Croydon 15/3/2006, photo by Hanley Played a Fender P

On the last of the four Croydon gigs, on 15 March, the group opened with a new song, described by the gigography as an ‘instrumental with one line/ad lib before the GEWATF greeting: “(…) over 400 years in Athens”‘.  Reviews seem to make it clear that this wasn’t The Boss or any other known song, and the setlist (which they didn’t keep to anyway) doesn’t provide any clues. As this is the only one of the four nights of which I don’t have a recording, I can’t enlighten you any further.

At the group’s Berlin gig on 21 April, their last before heading off to America, Over! Over! was played for the first time.

Untitled
Austin, Texas 2/5/2006, photo by patita pirata

Pritchard, Birtwistle and Trafford played on the first four gigs of the US tour. After the implosion in Phoenix, the new lineup completed the remaining thirteen dates over the next month. As mentioned above, the ‘Dudes’ soon settled in and quickly began to turn in some excellent performances. On 23 May, at one of their regular haunts, Los Angeles’ Knitting Factory, they played an outstanding (and again lengthy) rendition of Mountain Energei.

Reformation! (at this point labelled on the setlist as Formation F.D., although this may just have been a reminder of the chords) was debuted on the same night.

Scenario was debuted in Boulder on 26 May.

After their return from the US tour, The Fall played a one-off gig in Manchester on 10 June. There’s an enthusiastic review of the performance here. In August, they travelled to Norway, where they delivered a blinding set at the Oya Festival (Øyafestivalen) in Oslo.

In August, with new recruits Greenway and Spurr in the lineup, The Fall played the Reading and Leeds festival. My Door Is Never was debuted at Reading.

For the next five gigs in September, Presley and Barbato returned, but Spurr remained as part of a two-bassist lineup. On 8 September at BestivalFall Sound was played for the first time. Three days later Coach And Horses was debuted in London. Presley had to miss the next date in Cricklewood on 14 September (where The Wright Stuff received its first outing), so Greenway stood in again.

Barbato missed the second night in Cricklewood, when The Wright Stuff had its second outing:

The group’s performance at the Green Synergy Festival in Dublin on 7 October was Kieron Melling’s first appearance. Their next, in Barrow-in-Furness on the 13th, saw McCord back behind the drums and also their first performance of their Frank Zappa cover, Hungry Freaks, Daddy.

In November, The Fall returned to America for two New York dates. They finished 2006 with a performance in Manchester.

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The Fall began 2007 with a one-off gig in Malaga on 21 January, where MES sported a James Bond-style white dinner jacket. There are photos and (very positive) reviews here.

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Malaga 21/1/07, photo by Hanley Played a Fender P

After RPTLC‘s release, the group toured throughout March, playing 17 dates. On 5 March (Smith’s 50th birthday), the group debuted Insult Song and The Bad Stuff at Bilston. The two were played as a medley to open the set, something that the group did twice more that month; these were Bad Stuff‘s only live appearances, although Insult got a couple more outings on its own. The setlist shows the last song as being ‘Wolve Kidult Man‘, but accounts show that it was actually an early incarnation of 50 Year Old Man (which would make sense, given the occasion). Both the gigography page and Reformation suggest that Rob Barbato played a part in its creation; he wasn’t credited when the song was released on the group’s next album, but, this being The Fall, that doesn’t rule it out. It’s interesting to see how the group were billed that night:

Senior Twilight Stock Replacer was debuted on 10 March. On the 26th, Just Step S’Ways made an unlikely one-off comeback in Cardiff, the first time it had been played for 25 years. An apparently rather erratic performance, it also featured MES on harmonica during Systematic Abuse. On the Fall Online Forum, ocelot noted wryly that ‘Mark’s harmonica style is very close to his keyboard one’.

Holmfirth 22 March (lots more pictures here)

The group’s performance on 1 April marked (supposedly) the last ever concert in the Hammersmith Palais‘ 88-year history. (The previous night’s performance by Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon’s ‘supergroup’ The Good, the Bad & the Queen had also been billed as the venue’s final performance; in fact, the actual last gig at the Palais was by Groove Armada on 3 May.)

Front cover

The performance was released as live album/DVD, and you can find the whole thing on YouTube. It also marked a farewell (almost – they would play four more dates) to ‘The Dudes’. Supplemented by both Spurr and Greenway on this occasion, the three Americans demonstrate throughout how they were such an excellent – if all too brief – addition to the Fall Sound. Presley and Greenway complement each other perfectly; as do Barbato and Spurr. McCord’s drumming (delivered with grinning exuberance throughout) is similarly excellent.

Eleni also makes a substantial contribution to the performance, both her keyboard work and vocals adding great depth and breadth to the group’s sound. Often, she presented a slightly icy persona on stage, but here she’s full of smiles and seemingly brimming with confidence. Her delivery of The Wright Stuff here puts the album version to shame, which sounds flat and uninspiring in comparison.

Thankfully, MES also rises to the occasion. Focused, forceful and energetic throughout, he does indulge in the odd bit of knob-twiddling, but it’s good-natured mischief rather than nasty antagonism. Like the rest of the group, he seems to be having a genuinely good time.

That said, the gig wasn’t without its controversial moments. Before the encore, a tired and emotional audience member (who looks like an ageing punk in a mustard-coloured suit – it’s at 51:59 on the YouTube video) got on stage to castigate MES for not making some sort of tribute to the venue. (He can’t have been overly familiar with Smith’s career if he really expected this.) Several reports also suggest that the security got rather heavy-handed with stage invaders during the encore, although you can only catch glimpses of this in the video.  Smith’s parting remark was: ‘Thank you for allowing us in your security area… we’re off to civilisation.’

There are many excellent live recordings of Blindness. The one here is a particularly outstanding one, not just because it’s an intense, bruising and emotional assault on the senses, but also due to the plethora of golden moments in the video: Eleni hanging her handbag under her keyboard at 0:12; MES’s little keyboard frill at 0:19 (plus his longer and almost tuneful solo 6:55-8:05); his surprisingly affectionate little pat on the cheek for Rob Barbato (4:46); his handing over of the mic to the audience member (6:39) who contributes some incoherent but excellent shouting; the way he looks out, impassively and inscrutably at the audience (7:06).

And the best bit of all: 4:11-4:14, where Smith ‘conducts’ the band with impeccable timing.

The Album
There’s a certain amount of mystery, ambiguity and scope for interpretation in many of The Fall’s album titles. There’s not much of that here. Smith was clearly portraying what he saw (or what he wanted others to see) as the complete rebirth of the group. And as for the ‘TLC’ part, Steve Trafford gave his interpretation of its meaning in his interview with Dave Simpson for The Fallen:

‘”That’s us”, he says, referring to himself, Pritchard and Birtwistle. “Thieving Lying C*nts!”‘9

In an interview with Uncut, Smith said: ‘it’s Reformation Post Treacherous Lying C*nts. You follow me? Heh heh heh. No, not really – that’s what somebody said to me, though, and I think it sounded pretty good. No – TLC. It’s Tender Loving Care, isn’t it?’

UK CD booklet

The recording of the album is a slightly mysterious and convoluted story. Some tracks seem to have been recorded with Grant Showbiz before the group headed off to their ill-fated US tour. In a discussion on the Forum, it’s suggested that MES re-started the recordings in LA with the new musicians, then had to make a third attempt after those recordings were lost in the post.

There were some photos of the session with Grant Showbiz posted online at the time. Most of the links are long dead, but academichamilton on the Fall Online Forum managed to dig this one out:

In The Fallen10, Steve Trafford says that the early 2006 lineup recorded an ‘amazing’ album (16-17 tracks) that only he and Grant Showbiz possess; one that Smith never added vocals to because of the split in May 2006.

Ben Pritchard largely supports this version of events in this June 2006 interview, saying that the group had recorded ‘an album and a couple of singles’-worth of material with Showbiz at Chopper Studios in Lincolnshire (this was probably Chapel Studios). He has his own explanation for why Smith didn’t add any vocals to these recordings:

‘…he said he didn’t like any of it and wanted to get it all re-recorded which is a stunt he pulls if he hasn’t got any lyrics. If he’s got no lyrics for his songs he makes us waste studio time by re-recording stuff but it really doesn’t need re-recording.’

Grant Showbiz (who confirms that he does have a copy of the recording, which he says definitely took place in April and has guide vocals on only a couple of tracks) remembers Mark and Eleni returning to Manchester during the session and never coming back. Smith called to give the bizarre explanation that he was ‘snowed in and couldn’t make it back’.

Inevitably, Smith’s own version of events is rather different to everyone else’s. In an interview with The Independent‘s Tim Cumming in February 2007, he said:

‘We did a session in Lincolnshire in March. They had eight days in a studio and came back with 10 Eric Clapton-like tunes, and it was just like not good enough. It was flat as a pancake.’

In Renegade, he disparaged Trafford and Pritchard’s notion that there was some sort of ‘great lost album’ –

‘Ben talks about how they recorded all these great tracks in Lincolnshire, just before the tour. They recorded sh*t – a few lame incarnations of what they thought the Fall should sound like. It was like a Sunday-before-work, been-drinking-all-weekend, karaoke take on Fall Heads Roll. It had no zip to it. I’m amazed he has the audacity to even mention it… The great lost album. What a load of sh*t!’11

In the end, the released version of the album was recorded (as part of Fall Heads Roll had been) at Lisa Stansfield’s Gracielands Studio in Rochdale. The sleeve lists one Gary Bennett as providing some guitar, although nobody seems to know who he was.

UK CD booklet

In general, contemporary reviews expressed admiration for the group’s persistence in the face of adversity, and were far more positive about the album’s contents than has been the case with most retrospective evaluations. In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis’ highly perceptive review concluded with:

‘It doesn’t really sound like anything the Fall have recorded before, which bodes well for the future. As the stoic Fall fan knows, you write them off at your peril.’

Uncut identified an ‘abundantly confident Fall’. Mojo said that, ‘The Fall forge on with standards maintained and high hopes that more music of the same potency will follow.’

The Pitchfork review (4/10) was harsh but fair, and arguably more realistic:

‘The first thing to realize is that the Fall aren’t really a band in the usual sense. It’s MES & Musicians Currently in His Favour, so he and Poulou simply scraped together some guitarists and a drummer and kept going. They wound up going right into a long-scheduled studio session in L.A. as well, where they cut Reformation Post TLC. Remember a few sentences ago when I said the Fall isn’t really a band in the usual sense? Well, on this record they don’t sound like one, either. With only a few exceptions, the album is a mess, and not a very memorable one at that.’

The album reached number 78 on the UK album chart – the group’s best showing for 11 years.

The US CD version of the album omitted The Usher but included four live video recordings. It also had a different cover, one that appeared to have been designed in around 1976.

US CD Cover

The Songs
Over! Over!
The album opens with an impressively demonic cackle from Smith before the group lock onto a loose, fuzzy blues-rock groove. It’s a pretty clear lift, on this occasion from Coming Down, a 1968 song by The United States of America.

Like much of the album, there’s a strange disassociation between Smith’s vocals and the music; his voice floats around the groove that the group creates, only occasionally connecting with what they’re playing. It gives the song a spacious but strangely hollow feel.

There’s a deep, gruff, slightly comical backing vocal lurking in the background, the sort of thing that Karl Burns used to provide; here it’s supplied by Orpheo McCord.

It’s a strange song: somehow aggressive yet muted; exuberant yet reserved. It was played 53 times, right up to the group’s final performance. A looped, instrumental version of the riff was used as a tape intro on some of the 2006 American gigs.

As mentioned above, there’s a case to be made for the ‘rough mix’ from the Reformation  single being the more satisfying version.

Reformation
The title track is an exercise in stripped-back minimalism, adapting the motorik aspect of krautrock and filtering it through a heavy, blues-rock lens. The relentless metronomic fuzzed-up bass riff dominates, whilst Smith interjects with seemingly random but carefully timed barked phrases such as ‘ Black River’, ‘Fall Motel’ and ‘Cheese State’. The Annotated Fall points out that there actually is a Falls Motel in Black River Falls, Wisconsin (it’s here) and that Wisconsin produces about a quarter of the cheese consumed in the US.

It’s easy to see how it became one of the few Fall songs to be played live 100+ times. Its simplistic structure frees the group to lock onto that mammoth groove and leave Smith to contribute as, when and how he sees fit. As a result, the various bootlegs vary widely in length and in the level of Smith’s contributions. The version below (from Liverpool in 2013) is a prime example of an intense and extended approach, and also features MES including some Gary Glitter lyrics.

Fall Sound
This album, like many other Fall albums, is rather oddly sequenced. Fall Sound is undoubtedly a fine track – a snarling, defiant manifesto – but it feels very much like a variation on the preceding title track, and you have to wonder at the motivation for putting the two together.

That said, there’s an admirably driving fury about it. Once again, the group lock on tightly to a fuzzy blues-rock groove, leaving Smith scope to declaim freely and aggressively about ’80s reprobates’ and ‘laptop wankers’. It also contains one of his most notable (if bizarre) put-downs: ‘I’ve seen POWs less hysterical than you’.

Another popular live choice, it was performed 96 times; again, right up to the final gig.

White Line Fever
After three pieces of intense, confrontational aggression, the obligatory cover version makes an early, abrupt and dissatisfying entrance. The Merle Haggard original is a little predictable and plodding, but it has a great deal more spark and feeling than the dreary offering here. It’s nice to hear that the group are clearly having fun, but it’s a piece of slurred, lazy post-pub karaoke that would only just about have passed muster as an obscure b-side. It got seven live outings in early 2006 before the group (thankfully) tired of it.

Insult Song
A funk-Beefheart jam in the spirit of 70s comedy ‘roasts’ – not a phrase that you could imagine being applied to any other artist.

The group, once again, sound like they’re having fun; playing around with a loose-limbed, funky rhythm. Smith’s improvised monologue mentions Amon Düül and Beefheart, and includes references to Eleni (‘the mad Greek woman, The Hydra’), McCord (‘Orpheo, the ancient name from Greece’) and Dave Spurr (‘put a stocking over his head, and you couldn’t tell the difference’).

Although it’s not without musical interest or humour, it’s awfully self-indulgent and falls a long way short  of justifying its nearly seven minute length.

UK vinyl back cover

My Door Is Never
At which point we revert to the relentless riffery of the opening three songs. Not in itself a bad thing – the bass line reverberates thickly and menacingly throughout and there’s some nifty distorted string-bending – but, by this stage, you feel that the group have kind of done this already.

This is as much to do with the sequencing of the album as the quality of the song. Having four such similar songs and front-loading them over the first six tracks seems rather perverse; but not that surprising given the history of Fall albums.

Live, My Door tended to have a bit more vigour than the album version. Here, it’s a little sluggish, despite Presley’s best efforts with the bluesy soloing; the blame mostly rests with MES who seems to lose interest after the first few lines. As for the lyrics, ‘The night to self with the shoulder touch / Aroma for the duvet you slept in’ is interestingly poignant, but overall it feels a little casually tossed off.

A popular live choice: 68 performances 2006-16.

Coach And Horses
Coach And Horses has a distinctly 60s vibe, but its bluesy soft-rock is more like The Doors’ Soft Parade than the group’s customary garage-punk Nuggets approach. It’s a curious little thing, swirling around in a diffident haze before exiting hastily and almost apologetically before it even reaches the two minute mark.

Smith is once again rather off-hand in his delivery, but this rather suits the song’s torpid groove. The lyrics vaguely suggest a time travel narrative (‘I looked through the 1860’s window pane’), but are too opaque and brief to extract much meaning.

On the Annotated Fall, bzfgt comments that:

‘It is typical of the wonderful but confounding Reformation Post TLC that one of the chordally most thought out, tightest (both instrumentally and compositionally), and most accessible songs on the album seems to be almost a throwaway, in terms of how short it is and how little interest MES seems to have in adding any other sections or allowing the band to explore, whereas the longest songs all consist of repetitions of a single hastily composed riff.’

The Usher
Even briefer than Coach And HorsesThe Usher is more of an interlude than an underdeveloped song. It’s not devoid of attraction: its Dr Bucks’-style list is mildly amusing (‘Cut down on rhythm machines and have more guitars and minidisks, etc.
/ Treat PR, security people, agents, etc. with the respect and, er, honour that they deserve’) and the typically Smith-esque perversity of making a list run from A-F and then go to six is a nice touch.

On a stronger album, it might have made for a perfectly enjoyable little intermission; however, here, it sits amongst too many other examples of unfinished ideas. It was never played live.

US CD booklet

The Wright Stuff
As mentioned above, the Palais version is distinctly preferable to this one. The album take has a tight little bass-heavy groove that underpins the verse well enough, and the swirling organ adds a bit of colour, but overall it all feels a little flat and stilted. It’s also at least a couple of minutes too long.

The lyric has its entertaining moments (‘Eccentric lad / He keeps false, plastic women’s bosoms under his TV desk and dressing room’). There seems to be some sort of football theme, (possibly related to Ian Wright, although of course Gazza has a stronger link with plastic breasts). The football connection is reinforced by the fact that the song is another clear ‘borrow’ – this time from Don Fardon’s Belfast Boy, a tribute to George Best.

It was played 23 times 2006-07.

Scenario
A variation on Over! Over! that takes a looser and more melancholy approach but still borrows from Coming Down. It borrows equally clearly from Beefheart’s Veteran’s Day Poppy.

It finds MES in melancholy and introspective mood, reflecting on his ‘childhood days’.  Lyrically, it references the 1920s song Pal Of My Cradle Days. There are several mentions of wearing poppies on TV, which might refer to the growing concerns regarding ‘poppy fascism‘ at the time. The ‘Chindits‘ referred to (at 1:03) were special operations units that fought in Burma during WW2. In an interview, MES said that the lyric had partly been inspired by a friend giving him some poems written by his father, who had served in one of the units.

The song itself is less interesting than the story behind the lyrics. It’s not without its positive features: Spurr and/or Barbato churn out an admirably chunky bass line, and Presley contributes some nicely understated bluesy meanderings. However, there’s something peculiarly stale and lifeless about the sound and there’s a lack of connection between the music and Smith’s unfocused ramble. It was played live 17 times 2006-09, before making a one-off return in 2012.

US CD back cover

Das Boat
In the interview with The Independent mentioned above, Smith said of Das Boat:

‘It just got out of hand, that track… That’s me and Elena. I was going to take it off, but people love it.’

Pretty much all Fall tracks (with the possible exceptions of Tragic Days, Outro (see below) and Taxi) have at least a few admirers. You won’t, however, easily find many who will defend this ten minute slab of noodling electronics – whatever MES might say.

For the first and final time in their career, the group actually manage to sound like Pink Floyd. Not only that, they manage to sound like two different eras of Waters, Gilmour, et al. The portentous opening pulses with oscillating synth and delay/reverb-heavy rock guitar hero soloing that would be right at home on the Floyd’s multi-million selling mid-70s albums. The rest of the track features a variety of random tapping and childish voices that recall the whimsical and silly interludes of Pink Floyd circa 1969-70.

Not without the odd moment of mild interest/amusement, it’s still another piece of overlong self-indulgence. Unsurprisingly, never attempted on stage.

The Bad Stuff
Begins like a reprise of Das Boat, with the same synth oscillation and similarly Floyd-esque guitar. This time, it’s accompanied by studio chatter (some of The Dudes, by the sound of the accents) plus some piping shrieks in the background. After a minute or so, a rather nifty, tight little new wave riff (you could imagine The Jam playing it) kicks in; this then dissolves into a more urgent and punkish rhythm which rattles along promisingly enough for another minute before the whole thing stops dead. It’s like a 21st century update of Putta Block.

On another album, The Bad Stuff might have made for a mildly diverting interlude; here though, RPTLC is by this stage sounding like just a series of incomplete ideas with the odd fully-formed song thrown in. It was played live three times in 2007 as the coda to Insult Song (see above).

Systematic Abuse
Whilst The Bad Stuff crams several underdeveloped ideas into a brief timescale, Systematic Abuse takes the opposite approach, stretching a single idea to nearly the same length as Das Boat.

Another song that’s underpinned by that distinctive, thick and gritty bass sound, it hammers along in a relentless, heads-down blues-rock fashion. It’s more focused than some of the other riff-driven tracks on the album, although evidence suggests that it made more sense live. It certainly meets the “3 Rs” criteria, and, in its unforgiving krautrock drive, just about gets away with its extravagant length. Smith’s vocal, although again a little rambling, is more closely anchored to the music than it is on many RPTLC tracks.

As Reformation quite rightly points out, Barbato, Presley and McCord’s writing credits are a bit of an anomaly. Systematic Abuse was debuted live two months before they even joined the group; listening to the bootleg from Croydon 14 March shows that the song was already fully-formed at that point. It would go on to have a relatively long shelf-life: 53 performances 2006-15.

Outro
A single note repeated in batches of three for 36 seconds. According to the strange world of Fall credits, this required the song-writing skills of five people.

Overall Verdict
It’s hard not to see Reformation Post TLC as a disappointment. The Real New Fall LP and Fall Heads Roll had signalled a renaissance in the group’s fortunes; not the commercial success of the late 80s/early 90s, perhaps, but the first few years of the 21st century had seen the group back on the radar of people who cared about innovative and interesting music. And this, of course, had been strengthened by the acclaim for the Peel Sessions Box Set.

RPTLC feels like a step backwards; a retreat into the inconsistency and wilfully perverse decisions that bedevilled some of their work in the 90s. Once again, the album is unnecessarily long, clearly not having enough strong material to justify its hour plus length. Even where there are stronger songs, they are undermined by overlap and overuse: Over!Fall SoundReformation! and My Door are decent songs, but there’s a distinct air of recycling about them. There is an also an excess of underdeveloped sketches; a couple of which might have added a bit of intrigue to the album, but too many make the whole thing disjointed and underwhelming.

As is the case with every Fall album, it’s not without its high points: the title track’s bloody-minded relentlessness; the exuberant defiance of Fall Sound; the intriguing melancholy of Scenario; even the quirky little groove of Coach And Horses. However, even if you have to admire Smith’s tenacity at getting yet another album out despite the circumstances, overall the album sounds rushed, self-indulgent and simply not thought through properly.

The production doesn’t help. It has an especially curious sound, somehow feeling simultaneously flat and thin but also over-produced and glossy. On several tracks, Smith’s vocals are peculiarly dissociated from the music, like he delivered them without ever hearing the music.

Ultimately, the most frustrating thing about Reformation Post TLC is that a great lineup never got the chance to record a studio album that did them justice. Let’s just be thankful for Last Night At The Palais.

My “Version”
Notable that it just squeaks in over the 35 minute minimum…

Side 1Fall Sound / Reformation! / Coach and Horses / Over Over (Rough Mix)  / Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy (20:40)

Side 2: My Door Is Never / Scenario / The Usher / Systematic Abuse (17:06)

Rankings
Whilst not without its attractions, RPTLC is one of those albums where individual tracks in isolation sometimes work well, but it really doesn’t hang together as a coherent piece of work.

  1. This Nation’s Saving Grace
  2. Perverted By Language
  3. The Wonderful And Frightening World Of
  4. Hex Enduction Hour
  5. The Real New Fall LP Formerly ‘Country On The Click’
  6. Levitate
  7. Slates
  8. Grotesque
  9. The Unutterable
  10. Fall Heads Roll
  11. The Marshall Suite
  12. Cerebral Caustic
  13. I Am Kurious Oranj
  14. Room To Live
  15. The Infotainment Scan
  16. Extricate
  17. Bend Sinister
  18. Dragnet
  19. The Light User Syndrome
  20. Are You Are Missing Winner
  21. Middle Class Revolt
  22. Code: Selfish
  23. Shift-Work
  24. Live At The Witch Trials
  25. Reformation Post TLC
  26. The Frenz Experiment

Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy is a bit of an underrated little gem. Part of the long history of The Fall taking an obscure 60s garage track and thrashing the living daylights out of it, it’s an exemplary example of this aspect of the group’s back catalogue. Reformation! does not, perhaps, represent the height of the group’s creativity; but it does see them whack the hell out of a great riff.

  1. Theme From Sparta F.C. #2
  2. Living Too Late
  3. Jerusalem/Big New Prinz
  4. Kicker Conspiracy
  5. The Man Whose Head Expanded
  6. How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’
  7. Totally Wired
  8. Free Range
  9. Behind The Counter
  10. Marquis Cha-Cha
  11. Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul
  12. The Chiselers
  13. Touch Sensitive
  14. (We Wish You) A Protein Christmas
  15. Reformation! 
  16. Cab It Up
  17. Cruiser’s Creek
  18. Hey! Luciani
  19. F-‘Oldin’ Money
  20. Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy
  21. I Can Hear The Grass Grow
  22. Mr. Pharmacist
  23. Couldn’t Get Ahead/Rollin’ Dany
  24. Look, Know
  25. The Fall vs 2003
  26. Telephone Thing
  27. There’s A Ghost In My House
  28. Victoria
  29. Hit The North
  30. Bingo-Master’s Break-Out!
  31. Rowche Rumble
  32. Fiery Jack
  33. Masquerade
  34. Ed’s Babe
  35. High Tension Line
  36. 15 Ways
  37. It’s The New Thing
  38. White Lightning
  39. Popcorn Double Feature
  40. Why Are People Grudgeful?
  41. Oh! Brother
  42. Rude (All The Time)
  43. Rude (All The Time) EP

Last Night At The Palais isn’t completely perfect: Hungry Freaks plods a little, and White Lightning comes close to veering into cliché in places. But these are minor quibbles. Smith and his excellent musicians completely gelled, producing a series of exuberant, joyful and blistering performances; and a bit of chaos and controversy thrown in to boot – what more could you possibly want?

  1. Last Night At The Palais
  2. Live To Air In Melbourne ’82
  3. In A Hole
  4. A Part Of America Therein, 1981
  5. 2G+2
  6. Live In San Francisco
  7. In The City…
  8. Nottingham ’92
  9. The Legendary Chaos Tape / Live In London 1980
  10. Totale’s Turns
  11. The Idiot Joy Show
  12. Live In Cambridge 1988
  13. I Am As Pure As Oranj
  14. Touch Sensitive… Bootleg Box Set
  15. Creative Distortion
  16. Live 1993 – Batschkapp, Frankfurt
  17. Live 1981 – Jimmy’s Music Club – New Orleans
  18. Live 1977
  19. The Twenty Seven Points
  20. Interim
  21. Seminal Live
  22. Live At The Knitting Factory – New York – 9 April 2004
  23. Live 1998 12th August Astoria 2 London
  24. Live Various Years
  25. Live At The Phoenix Festival
  26. Live In Zagreb
  27. 15 Ways To Leave Your Man – Live
  28. Austurbaejarbio
  29. BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert
  30. Live At The Knitting Factory – L.A. – 14 November 2001
  31. Live At The Garage – London – 20 April 2002
  32. Live 2001 – TJ’s Newport
  33. Live 3rd May 1982 Band On The Wall Manchester
  34. Live 1980 – Cedar Ballroom Birmingham
  35. Live From The Vaults – Alter Banhof, Hof, Germany
  36. Live From The Vaults – Glasgow 1981
  37. Live From The Vaults – Oldham 1978
  38. Live At The ATP Festival – 28 April 2002
  39. Liverpool 78
  40. Live From The Vaults – Los Angeles 1979
  41. Live From The Vaults – Retford 1979
  42. Live At Deeply Vale
  43. Yarbles

References

1-2The Fallen, p290

3-4The Fallen, p291

5Renegade, pp1-7

6The Fallen, p291

7The Big Midweek, pp140-148

8Renegade, p9

9-10The Fallen, p289

11Renegade, p6

 

 

16 thoughts on “YMGTA #35 – Reformation Post TLC

  1. This is roughly where I’d place it. A few good riffs in there (the title track is an absolute belter) but the album as a whole is too unfocussed to really work. Are you planning on writing a piece on the Von Sudenfed LP, or is that beyond the scope of this blog?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw Von Sudenfed at The Liquid Rooms, it’s the only time I ever got handed the Mic by MES at Gigs end Gig was OK from what I remember, but my memory is like a Goldfishes so don’t quote me!
      I love the LP “Tromatic Reflexxions” was hoping for a follow up but no joy there, maybe Mark scared them off?
      OVER OVER!! 🤔✌️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Fair enough. After all, if you were to write in detail about all the side projects, you’d also have to cover the Smith and Blaney album and no sane person would want to go back and listen to that again!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve listened to all 4 Croydon cartoon club shows today and the opening song of the last show is not one I’ve heard anywhere else. It’s definitely not a version of anything that came before or after. It’s sort of a bluesy riff. Sounds very much like Ben might have written it. There aren’t any lyrics to speak of. My guess is it’s a song that might have been on the FHR follow up had the line up survived.

    Liked by 1 person

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