A poor LP that proves that Mark E. Smith alone does not The Fall make.
Garry Mulholland 2011
There is a myth surrounding The Fall. It is of Mark E. Smith’s making, whether intentional or not. And that myth is that is that whoever plays the instruments in The Fall makes no difference. When you form so many line-ups of a band in 35 years and sack so many members in so many acrimonious circumstances that the changes literally fill up a book – The Fallen, by Dave Simpson – it’s no wonder that all your musicians appear interchangeable as far as the media is concerned.
But Fall fans know different. There are two genuinely great versions of The Fall – the 1976-79 line-up and the 1987-90 group. Even they had members come and go – including Marc ‘Lard’ Riley in the first and Smith’s American ex-wife Brix Smith in the second – but they were all great musicians and composers who did interesting things in a very specific and immediately recognisable style; and who, like all Fall members, had to be because Mark E. Smith isn’t a musician and relies on his musicians to co-write the tunes. So the problem with The Fall in 2011 is straightforward, really. The band isn’t very good. Or, to put it another way, they are very slick and versatile rock musicians, but they have absolutely no sound of their own.
On this 29th Fall studio album there is a rockabilly one and a metal one and a Velvet Underground one and a couple of Krautrock ones and a few that sound like a vaguely gothic 80s alt-rock band jamming while the singer’s away taking drugs with Duran Duran. There’s even one – Laptop Dog – that sounds a bit like The Fall. But the only thing that unifies the songs on Ersatz G.B. is Smith doing his disgruntled drunk ranting at the telly while chewing a wasp thing. And no matter how entertaining that can still be – the best moment is when he suddenly yelps "I had to w*** off the cat to feed the f*****’ dog!" on Greenway – turgid and anonymous music is turgid and anonymous music, and especially when the album’s typically Smithian theme of a British culture that "disintegrates in your hands" is picking disappointingly easy targets like Snow Patrol on Mask Search.
Not that one wants to put the jobs of this Fall line-up under any more threat than they naturally are, especially Smith’s current missus Elena Poulou, whose Nico-meets-Ari Up lead vocal on Happi Song is easily the best thing here. But Smith made an electronic album called Tromatic Reflexxions under the name Von Südenfed with the two members of Mouse on Mars back in 2007, and that was far better than anything The Fall have recorded since Shift-Work way back in 1991. The musicians matter. Even in The Fall.