Every fan of music which breathes fire needs this record.
Chris Roberts 2010
The wonderful, bewildering fact that someone feels the need for a lavish four-disc "omnibus" edition of The Fall’s 1984 debut for Beggars Banquet rather hamstrings the enduring notion of the band as perennially neglected underdogs. Still, it’s here; it’s prickly, messy and fun. The original album, that is. This box gathers everything else The Fall did around that year, with singles, rough mixes, radio sessions and a live show. Something unsettles one about this, as if The Fall are to be viewed as studio perfectionists whose every desk-tweak is of importance. Surely Mark E. Smith is the emperor of the take-it-or-leave-it, spontaneous-combustion approach. Their eighth album, and their first for a label that could market, captures a moment in their ongoing, never-ending evolution.
With John Leckie – a proper producer – on board, and Smith enjoying new-found personal contentment with wife Brix Smith (who co-writes half the album), it’s exuberant and flailing. It does not however compromise on the hissing bile, aimed at any target unfortunate enough to pass. The Britain of 1984 is not dissected, exactly – Smith is too random for that – but repeatedly chipped at. From the opening cartoon chanting of Lay of the Land, which then digs into a simple, serrated riff, over which Smith gargles complaints and Craig Scanlon drapes feedback, it’s clear this incarnation of the band is direct and grumpily buoyant. Copped It (an old song reshaped) is Krautrock with extra vinegar (Gavin Friday adds vocals). Elves is a riot of near-demented expectorating. Other key cacophonies include Slang King (pity the fool who served as muse) and Disney’s Dream Debased. This last may be the most (theoretically) pretty track, guitars chiming, but Smith’s (for him) restrained vocal portrays a Bosch-like vision of a modern Hades.
This re-framing, 26 years on, rights the sin of omission that left singles O! Brother and C.R.E.E.P. off the initial track-listing, although since then multiple formats have made the full squad available. Only the obsessive fan needs a primal scream dressed up as an opera. Yet every fan of music which breathes fire needs TWAFWOTF in some way.