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Album Feature: The Fall - Sub-Lingual Tablet

Album Feature: The Fall - Sub-Lingual Tablet

Wednesday 14th October, 2015 3:11PM

Being 31 studio albums deep into your musical career undoubtedly brings with it a level of expectation. With The Fall’s back-catalogue stretching back to 1978 EP Bingo-Master’s Break Out, there is an incredible 37 years of material to stack up against their latest record, Sub-Lingual Tablet. But perhaps, at this point, comparisons are redundant when there are so many subjective yardsticks. At any rate, Mark E Smith certainly doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks.

As the only invariable since The Fall formed in 1976, MES has developed an overwhelming yet endearing reputation as an extraordinarily difficult person to work with, who has a penchant for hiring and firing band members on a whim. So it’s noteworthy that Sub-Lingual Tablet was crafted by the same band who have worked with Smith for the last eight years: keyboardist Elena Poulou (who is also Smith’s third and current wife), guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist Dave Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling. The only change is the recent arrival of second drummer Daren Garratt.

As broadcaster and mega-fan John Peel once said of The Fall: “they are always different, they are always the same”. This sentiment rings true in the context of Sub-Lingual Tablet, in that the group have continued in the vein of 60s garage-rock melded with avant-garde noise and buzzing synths which has been stamped on their sound in recent years. This bedrock of mutated influences forms a solid foundation for Smith to lay down post-punk diatribes he is so well-known for.

One glance at the album’s Amazon page proves that fans enjoy this formula. Amatuer reviewers spew forth five-stars with statements like: “The Fall show no signs of decline in this sonic assertion of their gritty, no nonsense craft” and the less-eloquent but more-direct proclamation of “this one hits the spot!”. And looking to groups that echo musical influences of The Fall, vocalist Joe Casey from American post-punk group Protomartyr (who refers to himself as a mid-level fan for only owning 17 of the group's 31 studio albums) commended the record in a piece on The Talk House website, calling it his “favourite album of the year so far”.


It is almost universally agreed that 10-minute motorik tune ‘Auto-Chip 2014-2016’ is the stand-out track on the album. Having featured on 2014 compilation Uurop V111-X11 in a different incarnation, the sprawling single has MES articulating his ironic disappointment at English musicians. This along with other songs has been helpfully transcribed by the diligent folk at The Annotated Fall, who pore over every word from the salty frontman with a finetooth comb (their breakdown of often-overlooked track ‘Junger Cloth’ is particularly interesting deconstruction of Smith’s lyrical nous).

Another song that raised eyebrows is ‘Stout Man’, an odd reworking of The Stooges’ rarity ‘Cock In My Pocket’, which was co-credited to Iggy Pop in the liner notes. But instead of Pop’s phallic-themed hollering, ‘Stout Man’ paints the obscenely comedic picture of a fat guy pushing a pram around. As Smith attempted to explain in a somewhat unfocused interview with Noisey, the genesis of ‘Stout Man’ basically came from trying to give his band a hard time:

“That came about because the group are always going on about The Stooges and I’m a lot older than them, so I’m going like you don’t like the fucking Stooges. They think the Stooges is A/E/A/E and I said, you fucking do ‘Cock in my Pocket’. You know, they’re saying about the first Stooges album and I’m like don’t you fucking tell me about that, I bought it when I was 16. So, I said to them “alright then, cunt, learn ‘Cock in my Pocket’. Try and find that because I know it’s not on any of their LPs but of course they did because it’s on fucking ebay or something or they fucking Shazammed it. So I said, learn it. It was a challenge.”

“They’d been tricking me, they’d been sneaking back into the studio to keep tightening it up. I couldn’t catch them out but in a car on the way down to London I was looking behind the seat and there was this CD, covered in dirt, with the original rough mix of it. I made them use that; they’d been doing about eight or nine different versions of it, it was pathetic. They must have worked more on that song more than any other on the whole album.”


This enlightening anecdote gives way to Smith’s aversion to technology which is encompassed on several tracks from Sub-Lingual Tablet. The record’s tail-end features the abrasive ‘Fibre Book Troll’ (a re-worked track from 2014 compilation Modeselektion Vol. 03) and ‘Quit Iphone’, where he lets loose an anti-tech tirade in his typical caustic fashion: “Why don't you leave it alone? Why just can't you quit that iPhone?”. The 58-year-old frontman reportedly doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or have internet access.

These tracks could seamlessly fit into any one of The Fall albums from the last few years, a familiarity that is a little tiresome for some listeners. Self-professed Fall fanboy and Quietus editor John Doran commented that “the group are too comfortable in their current line-up to be truly top class”. And Pitchfork critic Stuart Berman gave the album a score middling of 6.0, and took a jab at band dynamics, writing: “on Sub-Lingual Tablet, the distance between frontman and backing band feels more pronounced than ever”. While neglecting to note the record was literally laid down in separate parts - the bulk of it tracked in America and MES adding his lyrics afterwards.

The album may have been pulled together from different sessions, however the group is a tight-knit unit that have the guts to deliver the essence of punk in a live setting. As one reviewer put it following a show earlier this year: “Now that rock ‘n’ roll has been commodified and Rebellion become a T shirt or a Xmas best selling book on anti-capitalism, it’s refreshing to see a band like The Fall careering at the point of out of control madness”. And of course there is the infamous Glastonbury performance From June where MES allegedly pissed his pants on stage. What could be more punk than that? Possibly his general lack of response to the claims.

As British comedian Stewart Lee pointed out more than a decade ago, what fans, critics and other musicians think about Sub-Lingual Tablet, or indeed The Fall as a whole, has zero bearing on what the band will do in the future. “For me, Mark E. Smith’s work is one of life’s few constant pleasures, yet to say I admire him would be an exaggeration,” Lee wrote. “One may as well admire sleet. Your admiration is not a necessary element of the conditions required for wet ice to fall from the sky. Mark E. Smith will continue regardless, with or without anyone’s approval.”

Sub-Lingual Tablet is out now via Cherry Red Records

The Fall
are performing this Saturday 17th October at The Powerstation in Auckland, and then on Sunday 18th October at Bodega in Wellington. Head over here for more information and to buy tickets.


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