MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The British post-punk band, The Fall, made its latest album under stressful circumstances. Music critic Robert Christgau thinks the added edge is a plus.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: "Reformation Post TLC" is generally regarded as The Fall's 26th album. But one source puts their true career total at around 90. Like Grateful Dead fans, Fall fans collect everything. Maybe the new record is a backward step, as one reviewer fan has put it, or it maybe a diamond in the ruff, an opinion I share with a guy who called them the best new band in Britain. What do you think?
(Soundbite of song, "Over! Over!")
Mr. MARK E. SMITH (Vocalist, The Fall): (Singing) I think it's over now, I think it's beginning. I think it's over now, I think it's ending.
CHRISTGAU: For three decades, one-time Manchester dockworker Mark E. Smith has been ending and then beginning again. In January of 2006, a reporter from the Guardian in England wrote a piece about tracking down all 43 of the band members Smith had used up. That May, three more escaped his sardonic wrath by hopping on a plane in Phoenix.
So the next day, Smith flew to L.A. with his keyboardist wife — his second keyboardist wife, to be exact — and cut his album with some fresh Americans. Does that make them the best new band in Britain? This is how Smith describes them.
(Soundbite of song, "Insult Song")
Mr. SMITH: (Singing) Let's go down to Helbick(ph). They were retards from the Los Angeles district. There was Tim. There was Tim 2(ph). There was Rob. There was Dave, the eagle, and the mad Greek woman, the Hydra(ph).
CHRISTGAU: Mark E. Smith is renowned as a working-class song poet, half talking mad, naughty, verbose rants. But The Fall has always been about not just the words, but the headlong, sidelong momentum of Smith's delivery, and the drive of bands that kept disintegrating, it always nail the signature groove. Above all, they're a groove band.
On this album, the rants are less naughty than usual. When his keyboardist wife takes a song, things get a mite too quiet. There's an unfortunate slow 11-mnute electronic-noise experiment, and a rather sweet, if barely tonal, cover of Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever."
(Soundbite of song, "White Line Fever")
Mr. SMITH: (Singing) The wrinkles in my forehead, show the miles I've put behind me. It continues to remind us, how fast I'm growing old.
But especially for the first half, "Reformation TLC's" groove is hilarious and unrelenting at the same time. Smith turned 50 in March, but his energy puts wonders of science like Iggy Pop to shame. He hasn't just maintained physically, but spiritually.
I couldn't in good conscience recommend joining his band. But I'm glad, not everyone will take my advice.
(Soundbite of music)
NORRIS: Our reviewer Robert Christgau is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. The CD from the band The Fall is called "Reformation Post TLC."