ALBUM REVIEW: THE FALL – A FRENCH TRIBUTE (VARIOUS ARTISTS)

The Fall existed from 1976 up until Mark E. Smith’s death in January 2018. 42 years of Smith as a lyrical genius and irascible contrarian who is credited with such quotes as “If you’re going to play it out of tune, then play it out of tune properly” and “If it’s me and your Granny on bongos, then it’s a Fall gig”. John Peel, a man of many laconic pronouncements, reserved one of his best for The Fall: “They are always different; they are always the same“.

The Fall – A French Tribute is a collection of Fall songs played by French artists from Paris, Rouen, Lyon, Villejuif, Saint Brieuc, Toulouse and Cobonne. The tracks range across their career from Live At The Witch Trials, Dragnet (1979), Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980), Hex Induction Hour (1982), The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… (1984), This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985), The Frenz Experiment, I am Kurious Oranj (1988) and up to Fall Heads Roll (2005). This compilation was originally released, digital only, at the end of 2019 but is now available on vinyl through Teenage Hate Records. It struck me that the reason this compilation sounds so vibrant and alive is because, like the ever-changing line-up of the Fall, as Mark E. Smith got older and more marinated in substances his band stayed young and vital. So, other than the voice changing on each track, it contains the spirit of The Fall in every noisy sub-five minute tirade. Here’s a track by track:

MNNQNS take on ‘Totally Wired’ dials up the jangle and tops out the treble to create a 90s Indie take on this.

Delacave have give a neurotic nightmare twist on ‘Before the Moon Falls’, edgy and angular with horror house keyboards, saxophone eccentricity and agreeably dispassionate vocals.

On ‘Your Heart Out’, Cannibale have tapped into the feeling of early UK Ska to give us an idea of what would have happened if The Specials had taken on The Fall with Alex Harvey on vocals. I particularly love the feel of drums-in-a-washing-machine that runs through the song.

Apart from a key change ‘Oh! Brother’ by Frustration is a pretty faithful take on the original but offers up a joyous finale that sounds like the band James on MDMA.

The Scaners bring a prowling menace to ‘Sparta FC’ as well as rowdy flavour that feels like the soundtrack to a bar fight; imagine The Glitter Band in a brawl with the New York Dolls.

We Hate You Please Die are the only band who don’t add brightness to their track. On ‘Assume’ they dial down the shiny and drag the song across gravel to bring a lo-fi abrasion to the mix. It sounds like it was recorded in a dank basement on the hottest day of the year and it’s a cracker.

Vox Low have managed to take a sparse song and make it even more barren by stripping out all but bass, synth-pulse bleeps and bloops and ice-white clicks and electric shocks from a drum pad. It’s a crackling paranoid version that had me looking over my shoulder by the end of the song.

Le Villejuif Underground have kept the frenetic pace of ‘No Xmas For John Quays’ with vocals front and centre over a nerve-rattling ride on a poorly maintained roller coaster. It evens goes meta at 2’ 43” and references itself and the tribute album it’s on – outstanding work.

Taking on ‘Hit the North’ must be daunting as it’s one of the widest known Fall songs (apart from UK top 40 songs ‘Victoria’ and their cover of ‘There’s a Ghost In My House’) but Dewaere are more than up to the challenge. Gone are the bursts of horns and guitar in favour of bass distortion and a wall of guitars locked in a wind tunnel the drums. It a beautiful cacophony that sounds like 40 songs by The Alarm playing at once. If you’re going to take on a big hit then hit big. Job done.

‘The Classical’, or as it is retitled by the Michel Cloup Duo, ‘Variations Autour D’un Classique’ is sadly one of the few songs in French and marked it out for me as being one of the more interesting reinventions on the album. It rumbles along ceaselessly; a hypnotic anthem with jolt-pauses and urgent doubled vocals that part-sing, part-shout, fighting to be heard above the intensifying subterranean engineering work churning up the ground underneath.

Whereas The Falls’ version of ‘L.A.’ does have the feel of a night-time ride through neon Los Angeles Spitzer have transplanted the journey to Berlin at the start of the electronic music revolution. The original analogue has been usurped by a collection of sizzling synth hooks and crisp drums. it’s a deliciously arpeggiated end to the album and will have me checking out more music by Spitzer.

Some artists have a catalogue that is fully formed and hermetically sealed against interference i.e. only the most unhinged musician would try do a quiet, nu-folk cover of an Einstürzende Neubauten track for an Apple advert or a string quartet arrangement of Napalm Death’s “Twist the Knife (Slowly)”. I think it’s a shame that more of the artists didn’t sing in their native tongue as I would have loved to hear ‘Totalement Câblé, ‘Avant la Chute de la Lune’ or ‘Frappez le Nord’ but this small gripe aside, there isn’t a bad cover on this album and all the artists seem to revel in the opportunity to play with the toys in The Fall’s toybox. If you are a Fall fan then I suspect you will enjoy this tribute immensely but if you wouldn’t know a Fall song if it shouted at you through a megaphone then you can treat this as a great compilation. And these brilliantly transmogrified songs might just lead you down the rabbit hole to Mark E. Smith’s Malice In Wonderland where you will have 31 studio and 48 live albums to catch up on by one of the most unique bands on the planet.

Tracklist:

MNNQNS – Totally Wired

DELACAVE – Before The Moon Falls

CANNIBALE – Your Heart Out

FRUSTRATION – Oh! Brother

THE SCANERS – Sparta FC (feat. Xanthos Papanikolaou from Bazooka)

WE HATE YOU PLEASE DIE – Assume

VOX LOW – Big New Prinz

LE VILLEJUIF UNDERGROUND – No Xmas For John Quays

DEWAERE – Hit The North

MICHEL CLOUP DUO – Variations Autour D’un Classique (The Classical)

SPITZER – L.A.

The Fall – A French Tribute cover photo by Richard Bellia (who also snapped The Cure, Nirvana, Iggy Pop and Pixies amongst others)

Review by Paul F Cook

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