The Fall – ‘Singles 1978-2016’ (7CD Box Set) reviewed

❉ The Fall have never really cared less about being “understood”, and in this respect, deserve to be regarded as a true pop band.

Many years back now, he says with bones creaking like a shipwreck, I set myself a task; to get a complete set of Fall singles before I turned 30. Sounded doable, and was (just about), but it entailed many, many long man-hours flipping sleeves in record shops, often fruitless correspondence with nutters from the small ads in the back of Record Collector and I never did get a copy of Marquis Cha Cha, now you mention it. Plus it cost a bomb, all told. I’d have had your arm off for a collection such as this back then, and am pretty much equally excited about it now it’s here.

51 A-sides, 66 B-sides, over seven disks, you might want to take some suitable refreshments with you if you choose to dive right in. And no, it doesn’t all sound the same, and it’s not just some lairy fuelled-up shouting over ramshackle sounds, neither is it incomprehensible lyrically, nor any of the other bolleaux which reviewers habitually aim at Fall releases. Certainly, they’re not to everyone’s taste, and their eternal lack of chart action reflects this, but give this compilation a listen with an open mind and you’ll surely find yourself wondering why. The first three disks – the A-sides – are shot after shot of energy, with more hooks than you might expect. The remaning four – the B-sides – are a more reflective and varied journey, but throw up a surprising number of tracks which rival their A-sides for power, alongside fascinating, rougher workouts which lead you towards the circular logic and dutch angles of their long players.

Futile, perhaps, to get too involved in describing this music (listen instead to the selected highlights linked to in this review, and find your own descriptions). It resists dissembling and encourages pretension; The Fall have to be experienced to be enjoyed, and have never really cared less about being “understood”, and if only in this respect, deserve to be regarded, at their heights, as a true pop band. In their earliest days, a spindly, psyche’d out garageband, these days a rough-house grinder, their middle years are generally recognised as more streamlined and amenable, so it might sound a preposterous notion, but I’m calling it all “pop”, and in an older sense than its current definition; pop as in pop art, pop as understood by bands in the sixties and seventies who could fit whole worlds into seven inches of vinyl, pop as in the craft of cogency – getting it done’n’dusted with wit and brevity and an earworm. The Fall make often fantastic “rock” albums, and can go to some far-out places, but in singular mode, it’s the “pop” side wins out most of the time.

The box is a welcome delight for two principal reasons. Firstly, it acknowledges how important the single format has been to The Fall down the years, and continues to be today, in defiance of the market. The last two releases represented here (2013’s The Remainderer and 2016’s Wise Ol’ Man) are both stand-alone EPs in an age of single-track streams and downloads, for instance. Plus a 45 can act as a galvaniser and mark-maker in leaner times (such as 2009 being very nearly an unheard-of Fall-less year, the silence wonderfully demolished by the wild clatterbang of Slippy Floor). A Fall 45 is always a shot across the bows.

Secondly, and more importantly, it restates their singles as a proper body of work. The majority of their 45s were non-album tracks, and those that were extracted from an LP were invariably issued in alternative mixes. As albums have been reissued, the relevant single tracks have often been appended, but that somehow conspires to sideline them, as if afterthoughts. Plus, The Fall’s career has always been peripatetic and hand-to-mouth, and their singles in particular have tended to fall in copyright limbo hell, compounding their obscurity. Here they get the chance to gang up and properly throw their weight around.

The effort gone into to secure the release of these tracks shouldn’t be underestimated (thank you Steve Hammonds for what must’ve been Herculean negotiating with the multifarious licensees). As a devotee, I can spot wee tell-tale details which divulge the care and attention gone into here – like Draygo’s Guilt reclaimed as rightful A-side of 1984’s Call For Escape Route EP from prior compilations, the longer take of 1978’s Various Times, rarities like 2001’s Rude (All The Time) 500-copies-only 45 and several Record Store Day and tour-only issues. There’s been some fan grumbles about the B-sides disks omitting some tracks, but if not quite exhaustive, it’s certainly an authoritative selection which captures all the essentials. (You can probably live quite happily without a copy of Where’s The Fuckin Taxi? Cunt, is my take on it.) Also included is a thorough and lavish illustrated singles discography by Fall Online’s tireless admin Conway Paton. As an entire package, it’s a beauty, and as with 2005’s Complete Peel Sessions box, a package you can’t imagine doesn’t already exist, a definite article.

If you’re looking for an intro to The Fall, the cutdown 3-disk A-sides-only edition should go straight on your to-do list. If you’re a lifer like me, then you’ve already got most or all of this, but a double-dip is highly recommended. Gone are the days of Fall reissues being needle-dropped from skippy, scratchy vinyl or sourced from live bootlegs whilst pretending to be the originals; this box is cleanly remastered, no fuss or flash, and sounds just grand. There are several different routes you can take through the world of The Fall – the live Fall isn’t quite the studio Fall, the album-length Fall isn’t quite the singular Fall, and their radio sessions a strange doppelganger to the official works. Although it’s the interaction of these differing facets that gives The Fall their full character, this box is a meticulous refocussing job on a vital seam of that process. An essential release.

❉ The Fall – ‘Singles 1978-2016: Deluxe 7CD Box Set’ (CRCDBOX30) is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £39.99. 

❉ The Fall – ‘A-Sides 1978-2016: Deluxe 3CD Box Set’ (CRCDBOX42) is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £16.99.

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