Following two excellent reissues (a four disc ‘Reformation! Post-TLC’ and equally extensive ‘Imperial Wax Solvent’), the sixth instalment of Cherry Red’s Fall Sound Archives reissue series turns its attention to 2001 and The Fall’s 22nd LP, ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’, an album which seems to gather more criticism than praise. Although very much an album geared towards the fan rather than the casual admirer, there’s still a lot to enjoy. The material has a rough and ready feel, almost certainly a reaction to the more commercial path the band had taken over the 90s – or at least more “commercial” by Fall standards. It was also recorded on the quick and the cheap, an approach that wouldn’t suit all bands but, in this case, it sort of helped The Fall achieve a factory reset and capture a little of the old ‘Dragnet’ era spirit whilst simultaneously looking to the future with a brand new line up.
The bulk of the album itself does a more than reasonable job of presenting a no-frills Fall – the 37th line up, retaining only Smith from the previous incarnation – and on recordings like ‘Gotta See Jane’ and ‘Jim’s “The Fall”’, Smith’s fascinations with rockabilly sounds and garage rock come through much stronger than ever. That alone gives the album some vitality if you’re a big fan of their more lo-fi oriented material. Granted, these tracks still don’t capture the pure thrills of similar material from the past like the cover of ‘F’Oldin’ Money’ from ‘The Marshall Suite’, but in terms of showing off a raw, guitar heavy, high octane garage rock band, the best recordings push a lot of the right buttons. Of particular note are a trilogy of tracks that would provide the heart of the impending live set. Leadbelly’s ‘Borgeois Town’ mixes a 90s fuzz into an old blues standard and in doing so, actually makes it sound like a Fall original. There’s plenty within the music that harks back to the rougher edges of ‘Dragnet’ and ‘Grotesque (After The Gramme)’, and despite never rising above a standard bluesy stomp, the lead guitar has a real presence and MES adds something of a typical performance, never sounding too far removed from his contribution to the Inspiral Carpets’ ‘I Want You’ back in 1994. As relatively basic as it may be, it sounds superb played back at high volume. Opting for straight garage rock, the soon to be live regular ‘My Ex-Classmates Kids’ borrows from The Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ for it’s core, but MES’s weird interjections and half asleep drawls ensure it could never be mistaken for anyone other than The Fall, before the moody opening of ‘Kick The Can’ allows a twin guitar assault plenty of room to throw out fuzzy guitar lines against a bass groove which occasionally feels as if it’s channelling the darker indie and shoegaze sounds of the era. In a sharp and unexpected twist, the melody then morphs into a perfect rockabilly jam serving u[ one of the most immediately likeable tunes from this line up, and although MES sounds as if he’s found a relative comfort zone, there’s no less power in his performance.
Another highlight comes via ‘Crop-Dust’, offering something a repetitive lo-fi groove that fuses the mechanics of Neu! with the raw edges of The Stooges. With Smith’s voice often mixed louder than the music, there’s certainly a demo quality feel, but given time to adjust, there’s so much to like here. Ben Pritchard’s sharp garage rock guitar leads cut through the hazy riff and although a post production effect making everything seem as if being played back from a damaged cassette can be as disorienting as it is entertaining, it all works well enough. By comparison, the second half of the album meanders a little. This is not helped by the long and directionless ‘Ibis-Afro Man’, a thinly disguised reworking of Iggy Pop’s questionable ‘African Man’ dragging on for the better part of ten minutes, doing little that Smith and his cohorts could have done in a third of the time, and ‘The Acute’ resembling a half finished sketch where MES ventures into the world of drunken country music (best avoided). There’s still a lot of joy to be had, though, and through the basic garage rock sounds of ‘Hollow Mind’ in particular, MES’s quest for a back to basics sound can be heard at its most pure, since the whole thing sounds as if it were recorded during a rehearsal. Spencer Birtwistle’s drums sound thin, but the quieter rhythmic backdrop has the benefit in making Jim Watts’s bass work sound incredibly natural. As a climax, the full scale jam ‘Jane (Reprise) / Prof Mick / Ey Bastardo’ gives the whole band a huge workout. Birtwistle leads the charge by unexpectedly tapping into a drum part that sounds like Bryan Ferry’s cover of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ (likely not on purpose) while Jim indulges in various fat sounding walking basslines. The guitars seem strangely absent for the most part, but that doesn’t damage the overall sound; in fact, it just makes this seem as if it were recorded straight off the cuff. Although this was unlikely to be the case, it captures the spirit of the recording sessions perfectly.
For the criticism it seems to receive, ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’ remains a pivotal release in the Fall canon. It’s one of those strange beasts where the whole seems greater than its individual components and although it probably couldn’t be called “essential Fall”, without this fresh start and MES thinking about the kind of things that made the band great in the first place, the world might not have had the superior ‘Fall Heads Roll’ or ‘Imperial Wax Solvent’ – or at least not in the same way fans have come to love them.
As before, this archive release gives fans plenty of value for money with a wealth of extras. The bonus tracks from the Castle Music edition from 2006 have been appended to the end of the first disc, with a live version of ‘My Ex-Classmate’s Kids’ providing a highlight, along with ‘I Wake Up In The City’ showing The Fall in a rough and ready mood, channelling the garage rock of MC5 but reworking it in their own image. Also excellent, ‘New Formation Sermon’ takes the form of a live jam – part rockabilly backbone and part tossed off two-step – with Smith ranting about the passing of time from a beach scenario. It could almost pass as another lost oddity from the ‘Dragnet’ era, if not for Smith’s obviously deeper and older tones. Despite a Fall fan site claiming the track is hated by almost everyone, it’s a cut above the three remaining studio recordings featured on this set.
‘Rude (All The Time)’ sounds very much like the kind of leftover that should have stayed in the can-ah, with Smith and acoustic guitar accompaniment approximating the work of a bad busker, while ‘Distilled Mug Art’ flips expectations by working some weird electronica in with some Greek sounding rhythms. Musically, it sounds nothing like typical Fall – if such a thing even exists – but Smith’s presence makes it unmistakable even for the Fall novice. Whether you’d choose to listen to it often is very much up for debate. Bonus tracks are always welcome even if they sound like obvious rejects, after all, it’s only Fall completists who’ll plump for an expanded reissue of ‘…Missing Winner’ anyway, but the audio verite recording ‘Where’s The Fuckin’ Taxi? C***’, featuring several members of The Fall and their team arguing over something that seems rather trivial, really scrapes the barrel. It raised a few eyebrows when it crawled out on a limited edition Hip Priest EP in 2005, but it honestly doesn’t warrant more than a cursory once in a decade listen.
In terms of new bonus materials there are no more studio recordings to be had. Since other albums from this period and beyond offer a wealth of demos, rejects and alternate versions, it seems rather sad that there isn’t any buried treasure for ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’. The album was recorded on such a budget and with such a quick turnaround, though, that what you hear is pretty much all that was captured for posterity. To make up for that shortfall, this set turns its attentions to live recordings with three complete shows sourced from 2001-2002.
In the live setting Smith and band continued to retain an incendiary presence and the first show, recorded at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles in November 2001, shows off the new Fall with a genuine vigour. The recording isn’t the best, but its always possible to hear what’s going on with the band always louder than the crowd. On this night, ‘The Joke’ sounds like a veritable tour de force, like a lo-fi garage band pumped on amphetamines than The Fall we’ve come to love. Ben’s guitar buzzes and swirls; Spencer’s drumkit sounds like a clattering noise and MES grumbles indistinctly, but the recording gives the sense of a band going at full pelt. A much clearer ‘Cyber Insekt’ sounds like a rockabilly freight train with Spencer supplying a fantastic driving beat. The recording is such that its impossible to tell whether the audience are totally into it, but with MES’s vocal being one of his most direct and presented with a bunch of new lyrics about British Rail (a long defunct organisation) and some less obvious stuff about films, it’s one of the best live takes ever – a genuine highlight of this set. ‘And Therein…’ sounds especially spooky through slightly muddy sound and with a slurred delivery, and ‘Borgeois Town’ gives bassist Jim plenty of room to flex some musical muscles. All in all, a fantastic start to a set that holds a presence throughout.
‘Crop-Dust’ drops everything down a couple of notches with Spencer supplying a huge beat, against which MES drawls and mithers, throwing out phelgmy growls and sharp remarks with a sense of impending doom. Musically, it’s the closest the set comes to phoning it in, but its clearly a decent platform for Smith to deliver a mantra that could turn at any moment. A medley of ‘Kick The Can’ and ‘F’Oldin’ Money’ brings back a little rougher entertainment, but at this point of the source tape, the audio becomes a little more lo-fi: some of the drums sound underwater and the guitars are all but inaudible. Luckily, there’s enough of a pull between Smith’s voice and Jim’s bass to keep listening. Something of a highlight, a rare outing for ‘Jim’s The Fall’ throws out massive buzzsaw riffs that never let up. With MES repeatedly slurring “We are the new Fall” as if delivering an important message and, perhaps more than ever, listeners are given an insight of a band very much in the moment. Along with the really sharp ‘Cyber Insekt’, this provides a good a reason as any to think this line-up would have achieved real greatness, had MES not let almost the entire band just fifteen months later. Rounded out by a punchy ‘Mr. Pharmacist’, an ‘Antidotes’ brimming with new improv lyrics on a sports and Carry On theme and a (frustratingly incomplete) ‘Way Down’ with a snatch of ‘Dr. Bucks Letter’ closing the audio, this bootleg recording fills a fantastic hour, despite some obvious flaws. Unfortunately, since this just a straight copy of the previously available version, the recording is still missing a chunk of the last part of the set: ‘Two Librans’, ‘My Ex-Classmate’s Kids’ and ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’ forever remain memories for those lucky enough to be there. [Some consolation comes on disc four via an uncredited performance of ‘Damo Suzuki’ at the ATP Festival in April 2002.]
Although taken from an audience source, ‘Live At The Garage 2002’ has a very clear sound, with Smith’s voice and Ben’s guitar filling most of the space. When we join the performance, the band are already a couple of bars into a menacing ‘To Nkroachment: Yarbles’. The groove is intense and the audience (quite audible in a couple of places) are really fierce. A frantic rendition of ‘The Joke’ shows a very fiery side of the new Fall and more than highlights some angry garage rock chops. Moving through ‘Cyber Insekt’, the bass is pushed forth in the mix and although the source is still very bootleg derived, it’s full enough for those who devour Fall recordings on a routine basis to be glad of this release. “You’ll have to excuse the bass player…’, Smith quips at an optimum moment as the tune pulls to an end, and years after the fact, it’s unclear whether he’s referring to a visual component of the show, or merely sniping because Jim’s bass now has just as much – or more – presence in the sound mix as his own vocal. Nevertheless, the set continues without incident and a storming medley of the then new ‘Kick The Can’ – sounding even more like The Fall in the guise of a proto-punk band from 1970 with a full compliment of chunky guitars – and ‘F’oldin’ Money’ proves to be a genuine highlight.
Late set highlights also come ftom a punchy ‘Borgois Town’ and a throwback to ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ (Smith never looked back, so any crowd pleasers or “hits” within the live sets at this point cannot be guaranteed). Unfortunately, that seems to be the point where this show hits a climax, as the on this occasion, ‘Enigramatic Dream’ sounds particularly ugly, with MES mumbling incoherently under a wall of phasered sounds and distortion; ‘Ketimine Sun’ is a little better, taking on the guise of a heavy Krautrock stomp, but again, the recording makes the finer points of the performance something of a moot point and its placing in the set very much loses some of the momentum that’s been gradually built up. A marked improvement, the rougher elements of ‘I Wake Up The City’ and the buzzsaw guitars of set closer ‘Way Round’ really shake up the crowd, before someone who isn’t MES shouts something fairly inaudible across the front row and the band leaves the stage without any kind of formal goodbye. It’s fair to say, there are better sounding live shows out there, but in terms of representing a typical show from the 2001/2 tour cycle, this does a fairly solid job, despite some obvious flaws and inconsistencies.
The final live set comes from the ATP Festival in 2002. The set very closely resembles The Garage show from just over a week earlier, but as always with The Fall, no two performances are the same. The source is a little more distorted, but perfectly listenable if you’re a fan of Fall bootlegs, and a couple of different selections give the set a bit of new interest. ‘To Nkcroachment: Yarbles’ gives the band chance to warm up before MES saunters onto the stage, grumbles a few lines, shouts his expected “We are The Fall” and then spouts something that may or may not be actual words. Instantly, it feels as if this will be a wobbly night, but nothing could be further from the truth and everybody kicks into high gear for ‘Two Librans’ which sounds brilliant with Jim’s bass cranking a fat riff throughout. As the fat groove descends into feedback and morphs its way into ‘The Joke’, The Fall sound even more aggressive as they had eight or nine nights earlier.
The main difference with this particular recording comes from Spencer’s drums having more of a presence than Ben’s guitar, thus giving more of a bootleg feel at times, but in terms of sheer bluster, it sounds superb. Having Spencer more clearly works very much to the advantage of the rattling ‘Cyber Insekt’ and rockabilly grooves of ‘F’oldin’ Money’ – both of which sound amazing, even through a wall of audience noise and reverb – before a solid double whammy of ‘I Wake Up In The City/My Ex-Classmate’s Kids’ appears to resemble Jonathan Richman’s ‘Roadrunner’ more than ever. Despite this rendition almost being derailed by an obviously inebriated Smith going “wargh-argh” randomly during the performance, it’s sort of saved by his shouting “ATP” as an unexpected mantra, very obviously feeling the moment. Throughout ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ MES appears especially sharp and aggressive, though this might have a lot to do with the recording being more sympathetic to an easily recognised melody. It’s otherwise fairly workmanlike, but always a solid addition to any Fall live show.
‘Enigramatic Dream/Ketamine Sun’ shows a massive improvement over the Garage show in that the beats and grooves are much clearer, but it’s still quite challenging to wade through seven minutes of it via an obviously bootleg source, and in closing, the credited ‘Way Round’ is actually a really sparse rendition of ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’, delivered with a rather pointed ugliness. As it slowly bids the festival crowd goodbye with the evening’s most obtuse performance, there’s a feeling that MES might be entirely non-plussed, even the rest of the band are working hard, despite their lack of job security. It’s all rough around the gills, sure, but in many ways, this hour long set represents this short-lived Fall line up at their best: feral, assertive and 100% live. If you don’t have the previous CD edition already, or somehow have the original ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’ missing from your collection, this provides every reason to pick up a copy of this four disc reissue.
Housed in a four panel digipak, the visual aspects of this deluxe set are almost as no-frills as the album and artwork, but from an aesthetic viewpoint, it’ll still look good on the shelf next to the similarly packaged ‘Imperial Wax Solvent’. For those looking to mop up a couple of live albums missing from their collections – and you must get them all, as the fan saying goes – it’ll present a far better option than tracking down several second hand discs. Naturally, this deluxe ‘…Winner’ doesn’t quite have the excitement of previous Fall Sound Archive reissues – a lack of unreleased bits really does have a lot to answer for. However, between making the ATP and Knitting Factory live set available to all once more and allowing newer listeners the opportunity to discover a few of great tracks tucked away on the studio album itself, you could say this four disc set more than “serves a purpose”, even if the absence of previously unheard material is somewhat lamentable.
Other reviews of Fall deluxe sets can be found here.