New Facts Emerge fits comfortably in the group’s impossibly large catalog of difficult, abrasive, ultimately enthralling releases.
Every new release from The Fall in the last decade tends to come with a few prerequisite observations. First, it’s impossible not to make mention of the fact that Mark E. Smith, an inscrutable mumbler at the peak of his vocal conditioning, has now devolved into a thesaurus-approved synonym for gurgling, the sound of Tom Waits being tortured in the deepest level of Hell. The second is that the group, once a maverick outfit that used a foundation of grinding, Krautrock-inspired post-punk for explorations in rockabilly, rave music and alt-rock, has now settled into being the world’s most seasoned garage rock act, riding dirty riffs until the wheels fall off. Lastly, and most relevant, is the sense of genuine shock that the group, a revolving door of people either shitcanned by Smith or escaped before he can hand them pink slips, has managed to survive to record yet another album. For close to a full decade now, bassist Dave Spurr, drummer Keiron Melling and guitarist Peter Greenway have managed the unparalleled feat of enduring the pressure of employment in The Fall, with only Smith’s wife/keyboardist Elena Poulou dropping out as of this release to mark the first lineup change since 2008.
The latter detail is crucial to the stable sound of the current-day Fall, and the group’s studied familiarity is all over New Facts Emerge, the 32nd studio album from England’s most volatile group. From the start, Smith attempts to jettison any trendy newcomers who might be up for a sample of his sound, opening up with a Beefheartian piece of taped murk that sounds like the idea for a song hastily muttered into a tape recorder from the bathroom of a pub during a World Cup broadcast. From there, the true first track, “Fol De Rol” lurches out on the back of a bass-heavy riff that immediately shows off how great Spurr and Melling have gotten at playing bedrock for Smith’s ravings. Melling puts the tempo on a seesaw between punkish sprint and garage dirge, while Spurr trades the more propulsive, lead-instrument style of classic bassist Steve Hanley for a dominant but atmospheric sense of menace, driving the riff but making sure to obey all traffic signs. Greenway’s trebly guitar transmits surf guitar squeals from some pirate radio broadcast that appears to be right on the cusp of being out of range. Lyrics? Good luck. Smith’s rasps have the uncanny ability to be abhorrently phlegmatic and completely arid at the same time, and about the only words that come into remote focus are the title being roared intermittently. At one point, Smith drops into a low croon but trolls the listener by opting only for wordless moans, like Nick Cave hit with a tranquilizer dart mid-song.
“Fol De Rol” sets the tenor for much of the album, which locks relentlessly into various grooves and stays there until Smith decides it is time to move on. “Brillo De Facto” is the band’s most traditional post-punk song in an age, with angular riffs charging ahead of the skittering drums and a bass burning doughnuts into the lawn. The track slowly gaining speed until it reverse-engineers itself into classic punk. “Second House Now” perpetuates Smith’s odd fascination with a kind of country music entirely of his own making (country & northern over country & western), with twanging, revved-up guitar gathering steam over faint intrusions of noise. When Smith barks “I‘m going to a big city,” he sounds less like he’s finally made it to the top than he’s going to burn it down for failing to recognize him. A brief late-stage breakdown launches the bass into the foreground with a jumbled solo that shatters the arrangement just because. The title track finds Smith dipping back into the faux-metal of 2011’s Ersatz G.B., albeit with a greater focus than anything on that album. It’s an actual headbanger, complete with a descending bridge and a soaring riff.
At the center of all this is Smith, who could be charitably said to use his voice like an instrument. His genius as a songwriting always resided in his ability to snatch a particularly keen phrase from the air, and of late he has transferred responsibility for this task onto the listener, forcing them to parcel out anything that belches forth from his mouth. Yet in spite of the howling morass of his vocals in the early tracks, Smith sounds in finer voice than he has in years. He’s downright legible in “Gibbus Gibson,” an upbeat piece of jangle pop as Smith lays out a brief shaggy dog story, while both “Groundsboy” and “Second House Now” find the band touring through Smith’s love of rockabilly with the vocalist as clear as he ever gets, moaning and slurring but nonetheless stripped of his recent snarl. He even does a convincing country croon on the latter, though it soon collapses into his abstract pronouncements like “Ghosts are rising” or “Black and white,” the snatches of outré observation gain power for how much space they leave the listener to fill.
These shorter tracks find the band playing around in the available space of their motorik garage sound, yet the album’s most defining tracks are its lengthy jams, which loop riffs to the point of inducing madness but also hide diversions. “Couples vs. Jobless Mid 30s” embodies the antagonistic conflict of its title with a clearly bifurcated structure that changes from psychedelic guitar wash to a listless form of anti-folk that sounds like it drifts deeper and deeper into a void, occasionally tethered back in by bursts of surf guitar. Closer “Nine Out of Ten” quickly burns through its vocals to fade out with several minutes of gently shimmering guitar, the kind of thing you’d normally get in an extended set ender. It tries the patience, sure, but it’s also one of the band’s lovelier turns of their modern incarnation, an invitation to sway on the spot and get lost in the unorthodox rhythms of this singular group. Smith’s indecipherable, cryptic modernism continues to be prophetic, albeit in a self-centered way, as in the eerily predictive song title “Victorian Train Station Massacre” and its preemptive declaration “I crave drama!” in response to anyone who might cite objections of good taste. Through it all, The Fall are as good as they’ve ever been, and New Facts Emerge fits comfortably in the group’s impossibly large catalog of difficult, abrasive, ultimately enthralling releases.