The Fall – The Unutterable

Mark E Smith used to “sing” of spectres, and told ghost stories with loud amplifiers. Nowadays, though the supernatural atmosphere of “Dragnet” and “J Temperance” has all but evaporated in many respects, he is himself a ghostly presence, a poltergeist in a house of musicians.

The vocals pervade the music, rather than fronting it – sometimes (as on “Midwatch 1953”) they seem to ignore it altogether. The lyrics are generally unintelligible and those that can be heard rarely seem to match the standards of the old days (this is no look-back bore point, just a statement of fact). But Smith’s influence is most keenly felt in the music, wrongfooting this writer who had feared a line up of young turks happy to tell him to keep his nose out.

One can only guess at the methods used to ensure that a bunch of clearly quite competent musicians (the drumming in particular is outstanding even by Fall standards) produce such a gloriously ramshackle noise imbued with such energy. The rhythm section are presumably kept isolated from the rest of the group and forced to rehearse together daily for about ten hours, while the others are detained in the pub by Smith and denied access to their instruments. Meanwhile the brilliant producer Grant Showbiz (a man well used to working with The Fall) is blindfolded whenever he is allowed anywhere near the mixing desk.

The sound The Fall make can surely be no accident (except perhaps a deliberate one). This sounds like no music that anyone makes when Smith isn’t around. A brief (make it brief) listen to Ark, the group formed by the Fall’s far-from-past-it but hapless former rhythm section confirms that the raw ingredients Smith uses are the same that everyone else uses – he just hears them and uses them in a different way.

And to an extent The Unutterable contains a larger number of reference points than might normally be expected from a Fall album. There are tracks that call to mind old Fall riffs (“Fit and Working Again”, “Shoulder Pads”), but mangled up and put through new technology and transferred to different instruments. Yet again it is hard to point to resemblances between the sound of the new Fall album and the sounds of the preceding 150. Then there are mangled up snippets of Pixies riffs or 60s garage pop, powered by the unusual freedom granted to guitarist Nev Wilding to use effects (rarely has a Fall guitarist been allowed to make so much noise with so little effort). There is even swinging cabaret on “Pumpkin Soup and Mashed Potatoes” (the funniest Fall moment for many a year). But it is all filtered through a fog of Fallness, the thickest for years, which ensures that The Unutterable, like almost everything The Fall have ever done, sounds like nothing else on earth, only more so.


written by Michael Flack, November 2000