Picks and Pans Review: Palace of Swords Reversed
Vito Acconci, the ever-hip conceptual artist and sculptor, commented recently, "I don't think I've heard any new bands that excite me as much as when I first heard the Fall." Avant-garde British choreographer Michael Clark, who has staged dances to the Fall's songs, shares Acconci's taste, as do the intellectual rock fans who make up the band's sizable cult following. All of them will happily greet the release of these two new Fall albums. Palace of Swords Reversed is a compilation of the band's favorite songs from 1980-83; The Frenz Experiment includes 11 new tunes. For those people who don't already know the Fall, both albums will take some getting used to. The six members in the current Fall lineup make music that sounds spontaneous and unedited. Songwriter Mark E. Smith doesn't so much sing as talk and yell; guitars drone and growl, drums pound with headache-inducing intensity, and every so often a surprising shift in tone introduces thin or quiet arrangements, wry or dreamy vocals. Only after repeated listens does the artistry beneath the apparently sloppy surface become evident. The songs project a kind of intense emotion rarely found on slicker albums, and even bands with a much rougher style can't replicate the Fall's unsettling qualities. Since the Fall formed in 1977, the London-based band has mellowed a bit, so the new album is easier on the ears than the old hits. The harmonies of Mark E.'s wife, Brix E., on the opening song, Frenz, almost deserve to be called sweet, and Hit the North is an unapologetically perky dance number. While seeming to emphasize rhythm more than lyrics, many Fall songs repeat simple phrases so many times that the words begin to assume a new meaning. The Steak Place, a new song, depicts a hellishly tacky eatery with a parody of typical ad slogans. Other Fall songs make sarcastic comments about love and/or politics. An Older Lover, on Palace of Swords Reversed, warns that "You're gonna take an older lover/You'll soon get tired of her!" Meanwhile, that album's oldies, Totally Wired and Pay Your Rates, show the band at its most frenetic heights. Even on the new album's relatively tame remake of the 1969 Kinks song Victoria, the Fall infuses the familiar melody with jarring wildness. Such unique talents make it easy to understand the rise of the Fall, even if the band's music isn't always easy to take. (Palace, Rough Trade; Frenz, RCA)
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