The Fall don’t give a fuck about fidelity. Mark E. Smith and company have never been afraid to put studio recordings next to pieces that were essentially muddy four-track sketches — cutting, pasting, and blending until an endpoint is reached. This very approach created dissonance between Smith and producer John Leckie during the recording of 1986’s Bend Sinister, when at one point Smith purportedly wanted to use a cassette version of the album he had been listening to on a Walkman for the final mixing. Add to the fidelity issue that, since the mid-90s, Smith rallies behind him whatever musical thugs he’s managed to find and it would seem a recipe for disaster. How can a band in a continuous state of aesthetic and personnel flux possibly crank out consistent work? Surprisingly, the last few albums have in fact been remarkably consistent — “Blindness,” from Fall Heads Roll, is already a classic in the Fall canon, and 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent might be my favorite Fall album since 1993’s The Infotainment Scan.
Following these recent successes, The Fall’s latest album, Your Future Our Clutter, is absolutely solid. Maybe it’s even great, but it’s difficult to assess an album like this, even after weeks of listening to it. Admittedly, most Fall albums after Bend Sinister require more time to hit my sweet spot than what I would refer to as “classic period” stuff from 1978 to 1986, but it’s in fact this processing time that initially motivated me to delve into their catalog in the first place. The Fall is a band that took me forever to actually like, even longer to love, and each album has revealed its secrets slowly and over many repeated listens. Your Future Our Clutter functions similarly. But while this amount of energy could be considered work for some people, it’s perfect for those who actually desire something challenging.
While much of the album retains their classic aesthetic, Your Future showcases ideas they haven’t yet attempted in their decades-spanning career. One such track is “Cowboy George,” a piss-take on Ennio Morricone-inspired spaghetti western rock. It’s a wholly engrossing listen, and its placement as the fourth track out of nine here makes it something of a centerpiece. While it’s ostensibly about Texan “cowboy” George W. Bush, Fall lyrics are often like the layers of an onion, with the true meaning obscured by Smith’s sardonic wit and his meta-aware perspective. Perhaps even more interesting is “Weather Report 2,” with its (hopefully) knowing self-reference to the lyrics to “Bill Is Dead” from Extricate. The song drifts out on a wave of queasy drone before Smith intones, “You don’t deserve rock ’n’ roll.” It’s easily one of the strongest enders on a Fall album from recent years.
While it doesn’t quite hit with the immediacy of 2008’s Imperial Wax Solvent, Your Future Our Clutter has already proved to be quite the grower, with complex lyrics (Smith grappling with his recent medical issues and overall mortality) and penetrating aesthetics. If The Fall’s last few records, this one included, are any indication, then the band has plenty of life left in it. In fact, there’s really no reason we shouldn’t believe that a 70-year-old Mark E. Smith would be any less captivating as the one who’s been working it for already over 30 years.