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The Fall release their best album for at least, ooh, seven years

"Sub-Lingual Tablet"

The Fall Sub Lingual Tablet
18 May 2015, 17:24 Written by Hayley Scott
“I want a fucking Facebook troll” snarls Mark E Smith on The Fall’s 31st studio album Sub-Lingual Tablet - not one to be underestimated, Smith is obviously very observant of modern culture despite purportedly not owning a mobile phone and being particularly averse to the weird and complicated world of social media and the internet in general.

Along with being the world’s most unlikely Gossip Girl fan (see "Nate Will Not Return" from 2011’s Ersatz), he routinely references aspects of contemporary life, and as evidenced at their live shows in which the bulk of material is mostly new, has little affinity for the past.

Despite MES becoming increasingly indecipherable over the years, thanks to a propensity for practically coughing up and spitting out his lyrics, The Fall still remain relevant because of Smith’s dogged tendency to denounce nostalgia and focus on the present, which is seldom heard of in an era of comeback tours and pointless reissues. Of course, Fall fans are fiercely loyal, sometimes to the point of being uncompromising in their reverence for Mark E Smith and co, such as the proclamation of every new Fall album being a return to form, for example.

Although arguably, despite the current line-up being the most cohesive of recent times, there hasn’t quite been any latter-day releases that match the remarkable consistency of 2005’s Fall Heads Roll: Ersatz GB is a comparative mess despite having its idiosyncratic merits, and while 2013’s Re-Mit and The Remainderer contain moments of familiar genius - such as the skewed rockabilly of "Amorator" and the propulsive, abrasive drive of "Jetplane" - as a whole, neither have withstood the test of time in the same way that sacred favourites Hex Enduction Hour and Slates to this day sound vital as ever.

On hearing Sub-Lingual Tablet for the first time, however, the general consensus is that - quite simply - it’s instantly good; listenable but not accessible enough to be included in the banality of mainstream radio playlists. Prevailing, classic Fall-like moments outnumber the redundant fillers in which Mark E Smith incomprehensively gargles his way through tracks. It’s all well and good declaring that it’s just another method to the madness, but for a group whose reputation has so often rested on Smith’s brilliant lyrical competence, hearing his intelligible slur on opener "Venice With The Girls" and the subsequent, hypnotic "Dedication Not Medication" is a welcome return to form, despite only just making out the contents.

Sub-Lingual Tablet is not completely unfailing, however. After such a promising start, it becomes tepid roughly midway through, but not for long: the needless cover of The Stooges’ "Stout Man" is a substandard effort, while the synth-heavy "Pledge" is similarly uninspired. Sublimely counteracted by the lengthy, driving krautrock of "Auto 2014-15" in between, though, it’s an almost forgivable setback.

Elsewhere, "Black Roof" – the only track to be recorded with two members of the Reformation Post TLC line-up, is a triumphant frantic and twisted number. Elena’s keyboard proficiency is more prominent than ever, bringing life and colour to the peculiarly poppy "Snazzy" – its mix of abrasiveness and accessibility akin to the Brix/Smith juxtapositions of yore. Greenway has a similarly strong presence - his guitar work appropriately repetative, and David Spurr is close to giving Hanley a run for his money on "Dedication.." and "Junger Cloth": often recalling those menacing, bass-heavy tracks that originally defined The Fall.

In terms of coherence, it’s quite possibly their best LP since Imperial Wax Solvent. The impenetrable lyrics and forbidding mix of Captain Beefheart rhythms, rockabilly and krautrock are all at play here. Even the melodic tendencies of the famed Brix era occasionally shine through, yet they still remain a perplexing bunch. Would we have it any other way?

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