Album Reviews - Reviews

The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet


Only a fool writes off The Fall, a band that have had more returns to form than most bands have had records. With the current lineup now being their longest serving as a complete unit (aside from the recent addition of second drummer Daren Garratt), some have accused them of getting too comfortable and being in need of another shake-up like the days of old, since 2011’s sloppy Ersatz GB, a surprising misstep after the back-to-back excellence of Imperial Wax Solvent and Your Future Our Clutter before it. 2013’s Re-Mit then failed to fully compensate, being a mish-mash of greatness and filler, as if they started making a great album but got bored halfway through. The same year’s Remainderer EP was interesting for its experimentation but still not quite up to the potential shown previously. Album #31 Sub-Lingual Tablet’s lazy-sounding title and even lazier artwork would suggest that this relative rut looks set to continue, but, thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.

From the garage rock of opening track ‘Venice With The Girls’ the band sound once again reinvigorated, while the krautrock groove of ‘Dedication Not Medication’ is The Fall sounding as fresh and relevant as ever, full of throbbing bass and disorientating keyboards before Mark E. Smith enters with wonderfully bizarre lyrics about Pierce Brosnan prescribing him “sad grief and bed wet pills”. ‘Black Roof’ sees a return of The Fall’s American subs bench (Reformation Post TLC era members Rob Barbato and Tim Presley of White Fence), which may worry the current lineup, considering Smith’s repeated refrain of “How bad are English musicians?” on ‘Auto Chip 2014-2016, a re-recording of a studio track on their last live album. It’s gone from a noodly experiment to a 10-minute Fall classic, built around a one-note bassline and hypnotic guitar riff. ‘Fibre Book Troll’ is similarly addictive, with Smith sounding fiercer than ever as he screams “I want a fucking Facebook troll!” over and over. Facebook is a surprising reference point, but this album is full of such technological allusions – ‘Quit iPhone’ is self-explanatory, while ‘Pledge’ sees him rail against crowdfunding and PledgeMusic, though the vocals are so growled it’s hard to make any of it out.

The album still isn’t without its weaker moments, however, with ‘Stout Man’ (a retitled cover of Iggy Pop’s ‘Cock In My Pocket’) an unnecessary inclusion – despite the joy of Pete Greenway’s proto-punk guitar soloing and hearing Smith shout about a “Big fat man pushing a little pram!”, it feels like needlessly safe territory. ‘First One Today’ boasts a great riff and the double-drumming recalls the early 80s pairing of Paul Hanley and Karl Burns, but otherwise feels directionless. Most of the album, though, is pure gold. It would be pointless to compare Sub-Lingual Tablet to such behemoths as 1982’s masterpiece Hex Enduction Hour, but it’s certainly well equipped to join the list of post-millennial Fall classics.

There’s been another wave of Fall nostalgia in the press lately, ever since the band’s longest serving (and best) bassist Steve Hanley published The Big Midweek, his excellent memoir on his 19-year stretch with the group. Smith doesn’t seem happy about it, so perhaps that’s why he’s put the effort in again with this album, to remind everyone that The Fall are still around and still relevant, and still somehow cranking out albums at the rate of a new band. Album #32 can’t come quick enough. Cathal McBride