The Fall’s twenty third studio album had a tricky birth. In 2003, a release called ‘Country On The Click’ was almost ready to make its way into the world, but plans changed at the eleventh hour. Depending on which stories you believe, the original release was either cancelled because Mark E. Smith was unhappy with the final mix, or shelved because it’d somehow found its way onto file-sharing services and bootlegged. Either way, a second version of the record – now titled ‘The Real New Fall LP (formerly Country On The Click)’ – made it onto Britain’s record shop shelves in October of that year.
Initial reviews were generally positive, and over the years, it’s become somewhat of a fan favourite in “later period Fall” terms, and it’s pretty easy to hear why. The bulk of the material adopts a fairly typical “Fall sound” – if, indeed, there ever was such a thing – but the arrangements are often superb, and Smith appears in particularly great form throughout, armed with lyrical barbs and a suitcase worth of obtuse lyrical references that serve some superb riffs and angular noises. It doesn’t seem to matter which way you approach ‘The Real New Fall LP’, it plays very strongly.
There’s barely a weak link within the album’s twelve tracks. Naturally, as with any Fall LP, some tracks pale a little in direct comparison with a few heavy hitters, but there are no outright duds here. There’s nothing to rival ‘Papal Visit’ or ‘Ibis-Afro Man’ in terms of challenging the listener to reach for the skip button as if it were an Olympic event. With the exception of ‘Theme From Sparta FC’ and ‘Open The Boxoctosis #2’, it arguably doesn’t feature any cast iron classics either, but it’s got a feeling of something incredibly solid; a much safer proposition, musically, than many other “late period” MES ventures. It’s the kind of album you’d play someone unfamiliar with the band, as an example of “what The Fall sounded like”, and still present them with something halfway listenable for a complete novice; something that might not cause the instant fear of being immediately faced with a track as challenging as ‘The Classical’.
‘Green Eyed Loco-Man’ sets up a relatively melodic listen by Fall standards by hammering through a very late 60s riff, augmented by a world of fuzzy effects to accentuate Smith’s love of deep garage rock cuts from the era. There’s an extra amount of oomph in the production that brings it in line with a few noisy indie bands from the time of release, but overall, it plays like a great, accessible opener, and Smith’s unique drawl ensures it could be mistaken for no-one else. Delving deep into aggressive post-punk sounds, the spiky ‘Contraflow’ provides a great showcase for Ben Pritchard’s busy guitar work, whilst Jim Watts steers everything into angular noise between verses, carefully orchestrating this line-up’s careful balance between speed driven noise and Velvet Underground meets Wire-esque artiness, whilst Smith barks and sneers at the world around him. Lyrically, it isn’t one of his best; the repetitive hook lays into an obvious target rather than provoking the listener with strange non sequiturs, but he still sounds like a man who totally believes in his art.
Venturing further into a world of Smith’s own making, ‘Mike’s Love Xexagon’ sets a hefty beat in place, over which choirs of vocals call out a wordless hook that’s most un-Fall-like, before the tune descends into a chunky guitar driven groove where the music and vocals constantly battle each other for dominance. There are a few places where these seem hopelessly mismatched; other times, it feels as if MES knows this weird slab of 70s rock meeting post punk art will work out for the best as he drawls a vocal that almost drifts into a massive self-parody. It can be a little hard going – there’s a solid two minute idea, mercilessly pulled across five minutes – but there’s greatness within the ugly, whilst ‘Janet, Johnny + Jane’ shares an uncharacteristic guitar riff that shares more of Smith’s love of 60s fare, before including even more uncharacteristic acoustic flourishes. Remaining unchanged over four minutes, it’s as if Smith has instructed Ben Pritchard to play something from the Pentangle catalogue in the style of Neu! – an idea which only works to a point. If there’s a small criticism to be made, it’s that after a couple of minutes, a once brilliant idea actually starts to drag. A little more interestingly, the second half of the track also sounds tacked on; it’s clearly from a different take, and almost like it has been recorded in a shed. Despite not actually taking any kind of different musical avenue, it is unexpected twists such as this that add extra interest to a Fall album, and this is no exception, even though the main riff really should have moved on after a couple of minutes. It’s the album’s most marginal track, but in relation to other work, it’s still strong in its own way, and can still seem preferable to most of ‘The Unutterable’ or the beat heavy ‘Levitate’.
An album standout, ‘Proteinprotection’ harks back to the heavier sounds of early 80s Fall with the help of a grinding bass and crashing guitar work, yet at the same time, never feels like a lazy rehash of former glories, due to feeling very much like a precursor to the brilliant ‘Blindness’ (a highlight from 2003’s ‘Fall Heads Roll’). As Smith rails against things pulled “out of the mess” – including “the holy terror” and a “self-enforced exile” – against a rather hefty bass, it’s the sound of a really aggressive Fall, but also ample proof that the now veteran MES has lost none of those visceral qualities that made his work unique. In a massive twist – and far more effective due to being sequenced straight after ‘Proteinprotection’ –‘Recovery Kit’ re-instates some of the dance elements that drove albums like ‘Extricate’ in the nineties, but moves them more into the realms of a funk jam, showing a very different side to this line-up’s talents. Jim’s bass is high in the mix, and deservedly so as he plays up a storm, but drummer Dave Milner locks down an impressive groove, over which Smith occasionally sounds out of place, but at the same time, uses the backdrop effectively to share various warped sentiments.
Better than all of those, the brilliant ‘Open The Boxoctosis #2’ sets up one of the album’s biggest earworms with a superb lyrical hook placed atop choppy guitars, in what feels like a huge callback to the brilliant ‘Touch Sensitive’. Beneath the massive melody, there’s also a really busy bass groove that’s almost danceable (presenting Jim’s finest playing this time out) which appears to hark back to 90s Fall in a different way. There are retains a massive garage rock quality that far better serves the band. The music is incredibly tight, and even Smith appears to be dramatically on form as he hisses and mumbles through his chosen lyric. Equally great, ‘Mountain Energei’ shares a shameless 70s glam stomp forced through another garage rock filter. Musically, it’s half a world away from typical Fall fare, but its spacious rhythm allows MES a great backdrop for a stretched out vocal with plenty of the cartoon-ish drawls that could make him sound like a self-parody. Bassist Jim Watts leads the charge musically by offering a massive bass chug throughout, and overall, it’s a blast, sharing both the ugliness and “repetition, repetition, repetition” MES always felt was integral to the heart of the band.
Garage rock sounds are juxtaposed with a crowd pleasing chant throughout ‘Theme From Sparta FC’, and again, despite sharing a familiarity with a few past efforts, there’s a vigour in the chopping guitar and driving rhythm that suggests this line up really worked, and was never content with delivering a substandard job. In many ways, Ben’s guitar work is as vital here as Smith’s lyrical swipes, but the whole vibe is superb. Elements of noisy indie jostle against a post punk angularity; there are faint waves of Krautrock’s uglier side, and an all important dry humour pervading everything. If any one track could be the flagship for this album, this is it.
There’s even time for even more challenging tunes via ‘Last Commands of Xyralothep via MES’ – a repetitive, grinding riff where a post-punk fury is joined by MES throwing out spoken word barbs against a pulsing bass whilst Elena honks out electronic noise – and ‘The Past #2’, which never goes beyond sharing a hefty rhythm overlaid with slam poetry that only MES truly understands, whilst Elena parps away on a cheap sounding Casio keyboard. These are certainly a little more obtuse, but never derail the album’s brilliant momentum. And for those hoping for a massive unexpected curveball, that’s here too, when the band cover Lee Hazelwood’s country tune ‘Houston’ with all the finesse of a demo recording from a semi-inebriated collective. You might think this would be a duffer, or somehow lower the batting average, but ‘The Real New Fall LP’ has so much confidence and relative focus, that even this weird deviation seems to add something to the mix.
The original ‘Real New Fall LP’ is one of the Fall greats, and the five disc 30th anniversary edition – released by Cherry Red Records in January 2024 – is absolutely superb. Rivalled by their four disc edition of ‘Are You Are Missing Winner’, which managed to turn a hit and miss Fall disc into a very strong deluxe set, it offers the album an absolutely jaw-dropping send off, pairing that original disc with a world of b-sides and leftovers, a reissue of the previously available ‘Live At The Knitting Factory, April 2004’, the obligatory Peel Session – including one particularly superb recording – and, perhaps most importantly, an official release for the rejected ‘Country On The Click’. It’s a massively comprehensive set that’s hard to imagine could’ve been handled any better.
Regarding the original ‘Country On The Click’ – presented on disc two of the set – it’s sometimes jarring to hear a few of the tracks in a sometimes bigger sounding, often punchier mix, but for the ardent fan, this “reject” has a lot of its own charm. ‘Theme From Sparta FC’, in particular, sounds massively different since the presented take makes a bigger feature of the bass and keys, pushes Ben’s guitar way into the back, and shares a strange reverb across the vocal. Likewise, the original ‘Boxoctosis’ is markedly different from the subsequently released version, in that it shares a different riff on parts of the verse, places MES right in the centre of the mix, and holds back on some of the indie-centric rhythm guitars, and instead introduces a rockier feel in a couple of places. The main vocal refrain is also shared in a much shoutier manner. Is it better? That’s certainly debatable, but it’s a great listen in its own right.
A more natural sounding ‘Recovery Kit’ provides another of the highlights here, since it feels a little more organic. Much less reliant on the drum loops, it gives the listener a better idea of the interplay between Jim and Dave – a great rhythm section – whilst also featuring MES far more prominently. The original version of ‘The Past’ runs rings around its released equivalent since it’s more basic – a great example of The Fall as a sweaty garage punk outfit, often playing at speed, even occasionally throwing in riffs that sound like a distant relation of ‘Futures & Pasts’ for good measure, despite Smith’s well known reluctance for looking backwards. The ostracised ‘Susan Vs. Youthclub’, meanwhile, is just ugly. MES spends three minutes grumbling against electronic noise augmented by a wall of distortion in a way that makes it a chore to get through. It’s easy to see why this would have been left behind in favour of the also left-field ‘Janet, Johnny + Jane’, even if that still didn’t rank among the released LP’s best cuts. Very different, though not necessarily better, an earlier ‘Contraflow’ can be found drowning under keyboard washes and electronic effects, a move that sometimes masks the energy of a really rocky track, and a superior ‘Last Commands’ shares something closer to a basic track, with Smith’s speech booming from the speakers whilst the band chug through their garage-ish riffs, creating a very welcome alternative to the released album cut.
Elsewhere, you’ll find versions of ‘Mike Love’s Xexagon’, ‘Green Eyed Loco Man’ and ‘Proteinprotection’ (then still plain old ‘Protein Protection’) that anyone but a hardcore fan would find hard to distinguish from their ‘Real New Fall LP’ counterparts, a louder sounding ‘Hou(e)ston’, and a great take of ‘Mountain Energei’ that sounds more like a demo sourced cut. When exploring these tracks in conjunction with the rest of ‘Country On The Click’ it’s easy to hear that they would have made up the core of a strong album in its own right.
Disc three re-presents ‘Interim’, a rag-bag collection of live tracks and leftovers that originally saw a stand-alone release in 2004. Naturally, its scattershot approach means the material works better as a bonus with this set. The collection’s main focus comes from a selection of rehearsal tapes which, as you’d expect, shift between rough and brilliant, with raw takes of ‘Wrong Place’ and ‘Mere Pseud Mag Ed’ joined by a meaty sounding ‘Sparta’ (now credited as ‘Sparta FC #3’), and an almost unrecognisable ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’ where the opening riffs are taken at a breakneck pace. Also worth checking out here is an early version of ‘Blindness’, later to become a highlight of ‘Fall Heads Roll’; even in its singular bass rendition, it’s easy to hear the makings of a future classic. Rounded out by a couple of bootleg recordings from York Fibbers and a bastardised tape of ‘What About Us’ that takes elements of a bootleg recording and then splices that with a later Peel Session take, ‘Interim’ is knowingly hit and miss, but certainly not without enjoyable fare, and even its worst bits are always interesting for the committed fan.
A selection of b-sides and Peel Sessions graces the fourth disc, and its easy to imagine most fans will gravitate here for their archive listening of choice. The featured Peel Session from 19th February 2003 – the band’s 23rd, and first for five years – features just four tracks, but captures MES and cohorts in incendiary form, keen to promote their upcoming LP. Following a brisk count in, ‘Theme From Sparta FC’ is treated to a guitar heavy take, really bringing out the garage rock roots of its main riff, and even with Smith’s vocal drenched in an echo that sounds like he’s mumbling through a cardboard tube, the band sound really fiery. With the guitars cranked and the bass also high in the mix, the Peel Session take of ‘Contraflow’ has more energy than its studio counterpart, advertising a tight band, and with an extra focus on a few of Pritchard’s more abrasive elements, it has an anger that could even make this the definitive take. Dropping back into the past, ‘Mere Pseud Mag Ed’ stokes up the guitars even further, sharing a brilliant garage rock sound and the still wet behind the ears ‘Green Eyed Loco Man’ allows for some great interplay between a fuzzy guitar and groove laden bass, approached in a manner that makes this line up occasionally sound as if they’re channelling ‘October’ era U2, albeit with everything cranked to eleven. With ‘Loco Man’ prefaced by a quick run through of sixties hit ‘Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe’ – showing how well The Fall can hit a melodic retro groove when they want to – this Peel Sessions plays brilliantly; it’s pretty much the perfect distillation of this line-up’s talents.
A few non-album single tracks add extra interest here, and the Fall’s festive double whammy takes pride of place among the assorted extras, with the brilliant ‘We Wish You A Protein Christmas’ sharing a strange mix of darkwave synth goth noise, sharp edged guitar, atonal wailing and MES sounding like a self parody, whilst it’s b-side, ‘(We Are) Mod Mock Goth’, takes a hugely unexpected detour by taking the guitar riff from ‘Boxoctosis #2’ and attaching it to a remix that isn’t a remix. Instead, the guitar and basic rhythm track are overloaded by distorted bass and keys, and subjected to a new, shoutier vocal centring around its new title. Never easy listening, and sometimes even funny, it’s easy to hear why these recordings wouldn’t be considered top tier session material, but from an archive perspective, they now feel invaluable.
The brilliant ‘(Birtwistle’s) Girl In Shop’ eschews the usual garage rock for a sixties beat group groove, driven by live sounding drums and weird honking organ noises. Its raw stance is the perfect foil for MES, who fills four minutes with a brilliantly obtuse ramble, and the equally enthused ‘Portugal (For The Record)’ – a number that, in a further twist on an album with a complicated release history, appeared on the US LP – captures a 70s stomp and smashes that into a repetitive drone rock sound that obviously grew from MES’s love of Krautrock. A couple of other US substitutions do not bring anything quite as revelatory. Despite a retitling, ‘Recovery Kit #2’ seems rather surplus to requirement being almost identical to the main track, and the same can be said for a US edit of ‘We Are Mod Mock Goth’ which, bizarrely, replaced the superior ‘Last Commands’ for the transatlantic market. The “singles and sessions” disc is bolstered by a few single edits, and although, much like ‘Recovery Kit #2’, they aren’t necessarily essential, in terms of completeness, they’re an important addition to this particularly comprehensive set.
With regards to the live set from the Knitting Factory, April 2004 – presented on disc five – it’s a little hit and miss, as is the case with many Fall gigs, but worth exploration. The source is a little rough, clearly taken from an audience tape, but it’s still much clearer than a lot of the earlier bootlegs. Setlist wise, it’s got plenty of interest. The opening montage tape (‘Horror In Clay’) blends bits of spoken word performance with an array of beats, before the clang of a guitar and feedback signifies the arrival of an actual band. A double whammy of the then new ‘Boxoctosis’ and ‘Contraflow’ advertises ‘Click’ with an explosion of sound, despite the guitar playing being rather loose, and on both tracks, Smith appears to be performing with a slurring anger that befits the fiery garage rock-ish tunes. Even with his being half buried under a wall of guitars on the latter, the recording really makes it sound like a vigorous performance that would’ve been even better on the night in question. Other new arrivals are a little more of a mixed bag here: ‘Sparta’ sounds superb, absolutely bristling with an electric fury that The Fall could bring on a great night, whilst ‘Mountain Enegei’ has its groove massively offset by MES sounding too much like a weird homeless guy Ben Pritchard found on a bench during the trip to New York. Not that this will be much of an issue to the hardened Fall fan, of course.
It’s when revisiting a few older tracks that this audience tape is of greater interest, however. The more direct ‘Mr. Pharmacist’ positively swaggers, and fan favourite ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’ really shows off a great, clattering drum part. A set highlight, ‘Mere Pseud Mag Ed’ captures a raw, punky energy that – Smith aside – sounds like a completely different band to that which will lumber their way through ‘Mountain Energi’ immediately afterwards, and an unexpected ‘Telephone Thing’ showcases some great fuzz toned basswork. Even more unexpected is a garage rock cover of The Four Seasons’ ‘Walk Like A Man’, where Elena’s keys offset the melody with an array of strange bleeps. It’s one of those reminders that, even on a good night, a Fall gig could take a strange detour or two. Is this Knitting Factory gig a live Fall essential? Not really, but it has a lot of spirit, and it’s a great collection filler which will certainly bring a reasonable amount of entertainment during its seventy two minutes.
‘The Real New Fall LP’ is never spoken of with the same reverence as ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ or ‘Perverted By Language’, but it’s one of the truly great Fall LPs. It’s better sounding than ‘Live At The Witch Trials’ and ‘Dragnet’; it’s arguably more accessible than ‘Hex’, and massively more Fall-like than those early 90s gems ‘Extricate’ and ‘The Infotainment Scan’, great as they are. It kick-started a late period gold run which ended with the angry ‘Ersatz GB’. You couldn’t call it underrated, as those “in the know” seem to love it, but it’s definitely one of those albums that more casual listeners should check out. …And the extensive bonus materials supplied within this set have made a great album even better. In terms of Fall reissues, this is a top tier release; the opportunity to have the rejected version officially makes it worth the asking price, but there’s a lot more gold within. Possibly even more stuff than some people would deem necessary-ah, but in terms of a deluxe reissue, it’s genuinely impressive – the kind of set that no self-respecting fan should be without.
Buy the deluxe 5CD set here: THE FALL – Country On The Click (Box Set)
November 2023-January 2024