Depending on how one categorizes their 1981 10″ vinyl Slates (and this apparently matters), New Facts Emerge is The Fall’s 31st or 32nd studio album, and their first full-length release since early 2015’s Sub-Lingual Tablet. In Fall Record Release Time, that’s a dog’s age between albums, and this particular hiatus has been notably defined by the departure of keyboardist Eleni Poulou, who has been the creative and personal partner of stalwart Fall mastermind Mark E. Smith for the past 15 years. Further potential red flags have been recently waved before Fall followers in the form of cancelled gigs and appearances, record release date slippages, a more-ill-looking-than-usual Smith struggling onstage during the occasional shows he has played in 2017, and drummer Keiron Melling suffering a savage and cowardly beating on a British train earlier this year. And that’s before we even mention the fact that The Fall are booked to appear in the United States later this year; their last two American tours each resulted in band-on-band carnage and chaos, so this is something approaching an apocalyptic sign in the venerable Northern English group’s long-running dramatic arc.
Despite the churn and concern, though, there have been stabilizing portents in sight as New Facts Emerge has worked its way toward release, most notably the steadfastness of the mercurial Smith’s current group (Melling, guitarist Peter Greenway and bassist David Spurr have supported their front man for over a decade now), the return of sure-handed engineer (and erstwhile bassist) Simon “Ding” Archer to the studio, and the continued support of Cherry Red Records, removing label uncertainty from the mix. While a new keyboardist has recently appeared onstage with the group, Greenway and Melling were credited with all of the keys (including Mellotron!) in pre-release press regarding New Facts Emerge, and Melling also received triple-duty kudos with a co-production credit (alongside Smith) — meaning that this whole disc was constructed by a compact, all-male (highly unusual for The Fall) crew, perhaps in circling-the-wagons mode, ready to blast through the perimeter at the various negative forces swirling about them, never admitting that they have something to prove, even though they probably do.
Did they get the job done? To these ears, yes: New Facts Emerge is a potent record that likely marks the start of a audibly distinctive new Fall phase, rather than marking the group standing pat as a keyboardless continuation of the Eleni Poulou era. Smith and Company step up the energy significantly here over recent releases, with a unique and defiantly odd blend of power riffage, strange song structures, creative studio trickery, weird production techniques, sounds bleating from disparate corners unexpectedly, tunes descending into chaos only to rebuild themselves as different tunes elsewhere, and a completely nutso sequencing that attaches weird little fragments to some songs, while other elements linger long beyond the point where studio sanity would seemingly dictate “cut.” The Fall have embraced weirdness and repetition and angularity and just being not quite right in pleasing ways over the years, and these new cuts are a part and piece of that tradition, as not a one of them is a straight-up, straight-through rocker with a clean arrangement; they’re all askew and unsettled in one way or another. If Melling’s co-credit as producer is correlated to all of that, then The Fall would be well-served let him fill that role for a long while going forward.
Mark E. Smith remains Mark E. Smith, of course, and if you haven’t liked his voice over the years, well, then this album isn’t the one that’s going to change your mind on that front. Enunciation is no longer his strong suit, and lyrical content (when discernible) isn’t necessarily up to what it once might have been a few million pints ago, but he uses his voice as a weapon of aural destruction here nonetheless, and he sounds enthusiastically engaged here in ways that give the record an over-arching malign warmth lacking in many other modern Fall discs. I suspect there’s a lads alone element to the change; one might feel freer to get all shouty when one’s missus is not about, and the boys have been banging on their kettles and pans all night long. I may not really know what Smith is shouting about anymore, but I’m glad he’s still doing it, at bottom line. He’s the elusive glue that holds the enterprise together, and his presence makes those around him shine more brightly.
Track highlights on New Facts Emerge include “Fol de Rol” (the straight-up best strutting Fall monster-riff rocker since 2005’s epic “Blindness”), “Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s” (a long carnival freak show frappe of styles and textures and noises and grooves), “Gibbus Gibson” (which could almost be a little pop gem, except that it falls apart in a wash of flutter and wow near its end), and “Second House Now” (which opens with an amusing honky-tonk feel before stripping its clutch in an awkward upshift to a great, propulsive guitar-strong groove). Notable oddities include the 30-second opening “Segue” (huh?), “O! ZZTRRK Man” (which might be a paean to legendary footballer George Best), and closer “Nine Out of Ten” (a very long Greenway-Smith guitar-voice duet, that ends with nearly five minutes of the string-bender strumming us into oblivion; of notable perversion is the fact that the song is solely credited to Smith).
All in all, New Facts Emerge is a pleasing new studio album from The Fall group, be it number 31 or number 32, be it packaged with the usual laughably crap cover art, be it a product of turmoil and/or lads’ nights out, be it the final Fall album (always a growing possibility) or yet another link hot-welded onto a long and clanking musical chain that stretches behind and before us. There’s American shows coming, kids, and if they’re going to result in disorder and disarray, then these are strong songs to soundtrack the conflagration.
(Click on the cover art below to purchase this and other recent Fall records via the group’s official website)