“Always different, always the same”, was the famous quote from the legendary British radio Disc Jockey John Peel who was one The Fall’s biggest fans. The Fall were in fact his favorite group and recorded more sessions for him than any of the numerous artists that he championed over his four-decade career, which came to an end when he died in 2004.
Peel was spot on with this quote. The Fall were quite possibly THE most prolific band in existence. From the release of their debut Live at the Witch Trials in 1979 up until frontman Mark E Smith’s death in 2018, barely a year went by in that time that The Fall did not put out a release, sometimes several a year. In addition to their 32 studio albums, there was countless compilations and live albums. They also had a record-breaking number of line-up changes during their time together, with Smith being the only constant member. The reason why Peel was right was because despite all this, the band still maintained their unique and distinctive sound throughout, whilst at the same time always doing something new with it.
Smith formed the band in Salford, Manchester in 1976. They were among the key bands of the post-punk movement and were defined by their use of repetition and Smith’s misanthropic lyrical outlook. It is never going to be an easy task to narrow down a top 10 album list of a band with such a gigantic discography. However, this writer was up to the challenge, so here are the results…
# 10 -The Infotainment Scan
Kicking off the Fall Albums list is an album from 1993 that saw The Fall at their more accessible side. The album charted in the top 10 in the UK album charts at number 9 and was their only album to ever do so. It notably included a cover of Sister Sledge’s “Lost in Music.” Although this does not sound like it should work on paper, it surprisingly works very well, as when hearing this cover for the first time, the listener realizes that the band’s use of repetition actually has a lot structurally in common with disco.
# 9 – Extricate
This album was the first of The Fall’s 90’s era released in 1990 that marked the end of the commercially successful period that the band had been having which was largely due to Smith’s then-wife Brix Smith being in the band. Brix was heavily involved in the writing process during her time with the group and much of her material was more pop orientated.
This was the first album after her departure and The Fall now found themselves in the era where British alternative music was dominated by the “Manchester” scene with the Happy Mondays and Stone Roses. The standout track from this record is “Telephone Thing,” an unconventionally funky number that was very well received critically. For the first time in the band’s history, it reached number 1 in John Peel’s Festive Fifty Christmas chart of that year.
# 8 – The Real New Fall EP
Next, we have an album from 2003 with an ironically and purposefully lame title, having been previously called Country on the Click. This album saw Smith’s genuine vitriolic bitterness come to the forefront again, after the somewhat more “laid back” 90’s era. The reason for this is because he was unhappy with the sound of how this record initially tuned out. So, in a defiant act of anger, he scrapped the project completely and reworked much of it into this. Smith was never an easy person to get on with, and when he was in a negative mood, it always made for brilliant music, which this album was a prime example of.
# 7 – Cerebral Caustic
In 1995 Brix returned to the band for this record for which she wrote half of the songs and put in some impressive vocal performances. However, there was further turmoil when after the album was finished the band lost two members: Smith fired keyboardist Dave Bush and guitarist Craig Scanlon was also sacked soon after. The band sound refreshed on this album, with Brix’s involvement clearly adding something. However, it was not very successful, spending only one week on the British album charts and reaching only number 67.
# 6 – Hex Induction Hour
Up next is one of the most celebrated in the Fall catalog and it may come as surprise to find it at only number six on this top 10 albums from The Fall list. Released in 1982, The Fall were now in their fourth year as a touring and recording band and in that time had already gone through various line-up changes. The record is very anti-commercial, featuring tracks such as “The Classical” and “Hip Priest.” This was said to be have been purposefully as a reaction to what Smith saw as the very bland music scene at the time such as the New Romantic movement. It was their first album to chart in the U.K. even though it only reached number 71.
# 5 – The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall
This is the band’s seventh album released in 1984. Drummer Paul Hanley left after its recording which marked the end of the period where The Fall had two drummers. The album lives up to its name as it takes on a lot of challenges that are out of the bands comfort zone (not that they really have one). Lyrically, the album takes on a lot of fantastical themes.
Although with this being The Fall it naturally has a demented twist on it. A highlight of this is the album closer “Disney’s Dream Debased” which was inspired by real life incident when Smith visited Disneyland in which a woman was killed after she fell from the ride and was then decapitated by a car. It reached number 62 in the UK album charts.
# 4 – Your Future, Our Clutter
From 2010, The Fall’s 27th album was recorded their most stable line-up. This was one the last truly great albums they ever did, with it standing out from much of their later material in the sense that it quite reminiscent in parts of their early garage rock sound whereas much of their later work was characterized by long ramblings from Smith as well as guitar and keyboard work that did not make for easy listening.
Not that easy listening is usually the case with The Fall, but this album makes for a slightly more entertaining experience than many of the other albums surrounding it. A highlight is the cover of Wanda Jackson’s “Funnell of Love” which is delightfully given the classic Fall treatment. It reached number 38 in the UK album charts, a high number for The Fall.
# 3 – This Nation’s Saving Grace
This album from 1985 is considered to be one the band’s masterpieces and saw The Fall at their most commercially accessible peak which was of course, partly due to Brix Smith. Now the band had lost Paul Hanley and decided to only have one drummer rather than replace him with another. His brother bassist Steve Hanley also took some time out of the band and for this album they enlisted the services of Simon Rogers who was a classically trained musician and stayed in the band when Steve returned, switching to guitar. It charted at number 54.
# 2 – Dragnet
At number two is album number two from 1979 and the first to feature Steve Hanley. The album is very dark. The production is more raw in contrast to the cleaner sounding production of their debut Live at The Witch Trials. The album was released a mere eight months after its predecessor and there were already changes in the line-up. Drummer Karl Burns was replaced by Mike Leigh and guitarist and founder member Martin Bramah, who wrote some of the material on this album, quit before they went into the studio. This led them to recruit Craig Scanlon and bassist Marc Riley then moved to second guitar after Hanley joined on bass. The album was well received critically upon its release.
# 1 – Live at the Witch Trials
At the number 1 spot is the album where The Fall’s long and prolific career started released in 1979. Although many fans would not agree that it is their best album, it is without a doubt one of the greatest debut albums of all time. As previously stated, the album has a very crisp production, which seems odd when you consider how rawer much of their later work sounds. What is even more impressive is that the album was recorded in a single day. Even now, the album sounds exciting and revolutionary despite being released 42 years ago. This is particularly evident songs such as “Music Scene” and “Two Steps Back.”