Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Fall
Live Various Years

Released 1998 on Cog Sinister/ Voiceprint
Reviewed by Ian, 17/05/2000ce

You'd have to search far and wide for a less-arsed title than this. And the cover features Mark E Smith doing what was once called a 'Harvey Smith' - ie, flicking the v's (talk about letting the fans know what you think of them). But like the archers at Agincourt, who gave a similar salute the French enemy to show them they still had their vital longbow fingers, this is Smith showing exactly why The Fall, from a certain perspective, are the Best Band Ever And Ever Shall Remain.
It is, you'll be amazed to learn, a collection of live material (from 1993 and 1997). The sound quality's somewhat variable, so much so you could play it on the crappiest dust-covered stack-system and it wouldn't matter. Like all Fall music it's a mangled, malign experience, like being attacked in the dark when disorientated through drink. It's never been particularly pleasant or life-enhancing to listen to The Fall, but something about it makes the subconcious resonate with murky, seance-like suspicions and insights (also like being disorientated through drink). So it continues here - this is the man who's made a life's work swearing at the TV fronting a band (go and see them and Smith still spends as much time chewing the air and trying to sabotage the musicians as he does singing). A known Groundhogs fan, his voice was once memorably described by US writer Cintra Wilson as "that inspired stiletto-slur, that drunk Oxford Nazi methadrine peep-show barker voice, as if coming from elsewhere in the universe and only using Smith as a perverse telephone" (intriguingly Wilson also wrote about Smith's face "backing into itself like an old vegetable"). This is fair comment; it's the inimitable bawling of someone who started off trying to do a Damo Suzuki and ended up stuck in an unenviable life-sentence as himself. Musically, guitars clang and grind and all is confusion with 5p technology slapped over it; 'New Big Prinz' and 'Deadbeat Descendant' are attacked with ruthlessness, there's a Modern Lovers-like fistfight-power-through of anonymous LP number 'Spinetrak' and the first airing of 'Silence Of The Lambs' fave 'Hip Priest' in a decade and a half. Best is a furious version of The Sonics' 'Strychnine', intro'd by Smith declaring "we're not waiting for fucking pot-heads". Murk, murk, murk. And bassist S.Hanley's work, particulary on 'Das Vulture', shows what a div Smith was to make him leave in 1998.
Since this came out, two more Fall albums have appeared with the same sleeve in different colours - one a poo-quality live show from 1977 and the other a half-assed and incomplete concert from Nottingham in 1992. So this is undoubtedly the best Fall album to feature Mark E Smith flicking the v's on the cover, and probably their best overall since 1993's 'Infotainment Scan'.

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