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The Fall | Slates / A Part of America Therein, 1981 / Hex Enduction Hour (expanded editions) (Sanctuary/Castle)
With the last twelve months being depressingly dull and disappointing for new releases - at least to this writer's particular ears - immersion in the 'anti-music' of The Fall has been a welcome diversion, at least until greater talents (re)emerge and (re)evolve. With the guidance of the first genuinely essential - and at last career-spanning - Fall compilation, '50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong', there's actually never been a better time to become a Mark E. Smith devotee. Whilst having a solid new album in circulation ('The Real New Fall LP: Formerly Country On The Click') has helped to ameliorate the group's visibility, the conscientious clean-up job that Sanctuary have done with the band's rabidly expansive back catalogue has done both fanatics and late-comers a great public service. With expanded editions of the band's first four proper album releases (namely 'Live At The Witch Trials', 'Dragnet', 'Totale's Turn' and 'Grotesque') already expunging the shoddy sound from earlier reissues (some of which were execrably mastered from vinyl) and installing contemporary extra tracks, we at can finally hear The Fall's early wares in definitive condition. Now comes three more such expanded reissues; 1981's 'Slates', 1982's 'A Part of America Therein, 1981' and 1982's 'Hex Enduction Hour'.
The expanded 'Slates' is definitely a good place to start, bridging, as it does, the gap between The Fall's brittle post-punk beginnings and the complex, yet more accessible, direction the group would gravitate towards in the mid-to-late '80s. Although only six tracks in its original Rough Trade 10" mini-album incarnation and painfully ignored for years just because of its then unusual format, almost every song packs a purposeful poison-laced punch. Whether it be the slower creepy Beefheartisms of the awesome An Older Lover Etc., the vicious slash 'n' grind of the wet-liberal baiting Prole Art Threat or the relatively bouncy punkabilly of Fit And Working Again, this snappy set rarely misses a dirty trick. The seven bonus cuts (a Peel session, a rare seven inch and a previously unheard contemporary outtake) are ugly gems too; notably the organ-driven garage-pop of Life Dream Of A Casino Soul and the Can-like Fantastic Life, which show that M.E.S has never been afraid to mess with melody.
In comparison to the sturdy cohesion of 'Slates', its deeply disparate sequel, 'A Part of America Therein, 1981', is largely best forgotten. Whilst as an historical document it's intriguing, giving a snapshot of the band's second-ever US tour, it is ultimately one of the many surplus-to-requirements live albums that cloud and clog up The Fall's discography. Even though there's a spirited tumble through the classic Totally Wired and a demented drive through The Container Drivers, the original source tapes vary so wildly in quality - between the dreadful and the downright inaudible - that only the very dedicated of Fall followers will persist in listening out for enjoyment within.
However, the best Fall reissue purchase by a far, from this set of three at least, is the brilliantly heinous 'Hex Enduction Hour'. Rightly regarded as one of The Fall's finest, ahem, hours, 'Hex' is M.E.S. at his most lyrically vicious - and at times venerable - with a supporting musical score to match. Arguably The Fall's even darker answer to Public Image Limited's 'Metal Box' and The Birthday Party's nihilistic 'Junkyard', this is an album that reflects the griminess of the early-Thatcher years through The Fall's shattered looking-glass. Great songs and great sounds are in consistent abundance. From the twin-drummer attack of The Classical, via the funereal jazz of the divine Hip Priest, through the superbly bleak two-part tale of Winter (Hostel Maxi) and Winter 2, and right over to the churning pre-Gallon Drunk meltdown of the closing And This Day, this is an album that takes few prisoners. By the end of the main event you'll feel bruised all over, but if you make it to the second CD of extras there's another excellent Peel session, yet another lost single and a squalid set of live tracks to act as a decent enough postscript.
Listening to another formulaic alt. country record after all this lot certainly won't offer the same amount of invention, imagination and sheer bloody-mindedness that The Fall have spoilt the music world with over the years, without us even knowing about it. It's time, more than ever then, to back-pedal and make amends with one of the best back catalogues around.