Their ninth album, remastered, still sounds dense, punchy, lean and surly.
Martin Aston 2011
Anyone caught fondling the pillar-box format of this deluxe triple-CD reissue who was also there at the dawn of punk will raise a smile. 1977's halcyon digest of grubby 7" singles, Xeroxed fanzines and posters, scuzzy venues with scuzzier sound systems; The Fall were part of the thorny furniture of those times. Admittedly, This Nation's Saving Grace – the band's ninth – dates from 1985, when punk survivors such as The Fall could no longer be labelled "shambling" (the clubs were still scuzzy though), but still. I bet Mark E. Smith never envisaged being packaged like a "venerated musical institution," as the beautiful 40 page booklet puts it, in sturdy A-grade cardboard.
Rest assured, no re-mastering can alter the music's blunt thrust or Smith's lyrical swords. The saving grace is that the album still sounds dense, punchy, lean and surly. Paintwork, for example, still sounds like it's drenched in fog, though (ex) wife Brix Smith's cooing backing vocals peek through with more clarity than before. I Am Damo Suzuki is named after Can's great singer but it sounds much more like the raucous dread and clatter of Pere Ubu. In fact, there's an Ubu-style industrial feel to many of the tracks; everything meshes, cog-like (Pavement were definitely listening) and the sound is a steely monochrome with psych-rock streaks of gleaming mercury; but it’s also graceful and complex, like intricate ironwork. Does this make This Nation's Saving Grace their most quintessentially Mancunian record?
Maybe it was happenstance, because of the ever-changing Fall line-up. Bassist Steve Hanley was back from extended paternity leave but his replacement Simon Rogers moved over to keyboards and guitar, adding support to guitarist Brix's own sprightly slashes. Those could even be echoes of Johnny Marr on Spoilt Victorian Child and My New House while her (American) influence is also blatantly felt on L.A.'s virtual electro-goth groove. To Nkroachment: Yarbles even sounds melancholic - not at Morrissey's level, but still. Not that Smith has room for sentiment. "Feel the wrath of my Bombast!" he fires, tongue in cheek but also fist in hand.
Another saving grace is that the new CD mirrors the original vinyl. The bonus tracks of the 1988 CD version are now compiled on disc three's singles and Peel sessions (Rollin' Dany's garage-billy and the single Cruiser's Creek are especially great). The 17-track second disc is rough mixes and out-takes. This Nation's Saving Grace isn't just one of The Fall's all-time great; it's a veritable Fall-gasm. Save John Peel a copy, would you?