By Joseph Viney
Another year, another Fall album. Many have lost count but Mark E. Smith and his merry band of hired hands are on their 29th studio LP of a long and arduous career fraught with bust ups, booze and noise.
Your Future Our Clutter is a record breaking album for The Fall; in terms of longevity the current line-up is the longest since the group’s beginnings in the late 1970s. Moreover, it is the first time since 1994’s Middle Class Revolt that the same line-up has recorded two consecutive albums.
However, longevity does not a great album make. Given the crunching guitars and icy robotic sounds that permeated throughout 2009’s Imperial Wax Solvent the overall sound on Your Future Our Clutter is surprisingly flat.
Backed by relative unknowns Pete Greenway (guitar), Dave Spurr (bass), Keiron Melling (drums) and Mark E. Smith’s third wife Elena Poulou (keyboards) the band are evidently well rehearsed, though The Fall’s early and sustaining mantra of ‘repetition, repetition, repetition’ would stand any jobbing musician in good stead.
A number of albums in The Fall’s canon can be construed as nothing more than ‘plug in and play’ efforts but here the time has been taken to layer the sounds and leave more room for repeat listens.
The male musicians at Smith’s disposal can be excellent at times. Melling is a powerful drummer and it would be a cliché to compare him to Animal from The Muppets, but try not to tap your foot along with his thudding, insistent beats.
Spurr, on bass, looks suspiciously like Dermot O’ Leary but don’t let that fool you. He follows the great Fall tradition of fantastic bassists and blends jazzy rhythms with a good ol’ rock fuzz.
Greenway on guitar has grown as a talent and is not afraid to take advantage of the many technological advances available in a modern recording studio; various sound effects, overdubs and obtuse chord structures. It’s hard to believe it’s the same band that made their name initially on sparse and jagged guitar.
Well, given the multiple line-up changes it’s not the same band of course, but we as pigs with our willing noses in the troughs of capitalist society know that a ‘brand’ is a lot more than just a name; there’s always a certain reputation to uphold.
However, none of this is aided by the persistent and maddening one finger keyboard routine displayed by Poulou, and Smith’s insistence on filling any parts of song without his vocals with distracting samples and Dictaphone led snaps, crackles and pops.
Smith, once so cerebral and caustic in his younger days, is now reduced to spouting such nonsensical epithets like “…Chicory Tip in the shopping centre”, “…X is the third consonant” and a line that sounds rather alarmingly like “…little bagel w***ers”.
Where his lucidity, narrative and ability to grab a listener’s attention and tell a story was once his weapon of choice, he is now left barking out surreal fragments, scatter gunned lyrics and half-digested thoughts.
Despite its limitations there are a number of standout moments. The better-late-than-never George W. Bush baiting Cowboy George features a guitar riff straight out of the Ennio Morricone songbook and an unexpected Kanye West sample. Bury Parts 1 & 3 contains a jibe at their new record label Domino, rumoured to be at loggerheads with Smith over the recording of the album; “…a new way of recording, a chain around the neck” he growls over a throbbing bass line, skirting closely towards biting the hand that feeds him.
Hot Cake is not too dissimilar to fan favourite, 1981 album track Psykick Dancehall, and provides a welcome bridge for the older and perhaps more discerning fan with The Fall’s sprawling and sometimes confusing past and back catalogue. In a typically bizarre twist, up pops a cover of Funnel Of Love, a hit for the pioneering self-proclaimed First Lady Of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson.
As is the norm with The Fall, we are once again landed with an album that shows some massive potential but is lacking in the killer touch, the one song that may well push them over the edge commercially. Arguably, with Smith rapidly edging towards his mid-50s (and looking markedly older than that already), the chance for mainstream recognition has long since disappeared.
This won’t make them any new fans, but nor will it lose them any old ones. Everything will keep ticking over as usual. At least, as per tradition, there will be another album out at the exact same time next year to placate those not fully satisfied with this year’s effort.
In their history, The Fall have so far reached two creative zeniths; 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace and 2000’s The Unutterable, both strikingly fantastic records documenting a man reaching and re-reaching the height of his powers. There’s still time, but it remains to be seen if The Fall can one day make it a hat-trick of perfection.
5 OUT OF 10
Your Future Our Cluster is out in the UK on the 26th April 2010.