The Fallen has been on my to-read shelf for a while, but it was The Fall’s new release, Re-Mit that made me actually pick it up. Variously storming and shambling, Re-Mit forcibly recalls legendary BBC DJ John Peel’s oft-quoted praise of the band, “always different, always the same.” Lead single “Sir William Wray” sounds like it would have been at home on The Frenz Experiment, whereas “Irish” and “Noise” could almost have been found on Slates. The whole left me wanting to immerse myself in things Fallish.
Simpson certainly immerses himself in things Fallish: The Fallen is a sometimes inspired pairing of the whacky-formal-quest school of autobiographical journalism (like The Year of Living Biblically, for instance, or almost anything with Morgan Spurlock’s name on it) with more traditional music journalism. His whacky quest: to track down all of The Fall’s former members (who, amazingly, actually outnumber the group’s studio releases). In 1998 there was a notorious incident in which The Fall came unglued on tour in New York. Smith was arrested for assault, and bassist Steve Hanley, after nearly two decades, had finally had enough. The contretemps serves as a sort of focal point around which the book revolves. An interview with the Karl Burns, the drummer/multi-instrumentalist who quit and rejoined the band several times, gradually emerges as the holy grail for which Simpson is questing.
If you love The Fall enough that you bought more than one of those dodgy Receiver label releases (mishmashes of live tracks, remixes, and studio odds-and-ends) then you probably want to read this book. The picture of Smith that emerges is fragmentary and self-contradictory, but weirdly compelling. The book is a bit laddish in places, and it’s increasingly obvious that the zany stories of on- and off-stage antics all have generally the same shape. I doubt it would have much appeal for anyone not already a bit Fall-mad, but It left me keen to listen again to all those albums I played once or twice and wrote off as mediocre.