I’m not too fond of this new relatively new music format of compiling everything a band recorded in a single year into a multi-disc set. Seems like a crass way to corner fans into spending more on their old favorites. Perhaps after decades of free downloads and streaming services these kinds of fan-unfriendly releases are necessary to help keep the industry afloat. If that’s the case, then so be it. At least this six-disc set focuses on a great band, The Fall, at a high point in their career, 1982; so that should be good right? Well, yes and no.
The centerpiece of this collection is Hex Enduction Hour, on of The Fall’s greatest albums. Recording sessions were split between Iceland and an abandoned cinema in Hedfordshire, and the album marks a period when the band featured two drummers. Other than that, and a few more comparatively polished production touches, it’s business as usual for Mark E. Smith and crew as they rail against everything that was mundane and dreary in Thatcher’s Britain. “The Classical”, “Hip Priest” and “Who Makes The Nazis?” are the album’s most recognizable tracks, but the two versions of “Winter” and “Just Step S’ways” are lesser known treats that are well worth your time. I’m partial to Dragnet, but if you wanted to call this the Fall’s best album, I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it.
Hex Enducation Hour was enough of a success that it actually earned The Fall a spot on the UK album charts (#71) and increased interest in the band led to a tour of Australia and New Zealand (more on that later). Prior to embarking on that tour the band quickly convened in Cargo Studios in Rochdale to bash out what would be their follow up mini-album, Room To Live (Undeniable Slang Truth). The sessions, helmed by manager/auxiliary member Kay Carroll, were far rougher and more experimental than the ones that birthed Hex Enduction Hour. Smith pretty much turned everything that people liked about Hex Enduction Hour on its head, getting rid of the double drums, and having certain band members sit out on certain tracks. These seven tracks feature a few diamonds in the rough (“Joker Hysterical Face”, “Marquis Cha-Cha” and “Hard Life In The Country”) but “Detective Instinct” and the clattering “Papal Visit” probably haven’t been featured on anyone’s Best Of The Fall mixtapes. There are six bonus live tracks, but the sound quality is uniformly poor.
That’s it for the studio albums. There’s a hodge-podge disc that compiles a four-song Peel session from 1981, a two-song single (“Look, Know” and “I’m Into C.B.”), and another handful of concert tracks. The Peel Session and non-album single are both top notch, but The Fall’s charms have never translated well to live recordings and these (including a song from 1987??) are no different. Unfortunately, the remaining three discs are all concert recordings. There’s two discs of live material originally released in limited quantities as In A Hole and In A Hole +, mostly recorded in Auckland on their post-Hex Enduction Hour tour. The quality and the playing are dodgy, but at least, buried somewhere in the murk, you get to hear them cover Deep Purple’s “Black Night” for about 90 seconds. The final disc is a recording of a concert in Melbourne a few weeks prior to the Auckland date, given the unimaginative title of “Live To Air In Melbourne ’82. It’s a great setlist, covering most of the highlights from Hex Enduction Hour and Room to Live, but nothing here beats the studio versions.
The sixty-page booklet is great, with informative notes from Daryl Easlea, but unless you’re a Fall lifer who needs to hear it all, you’re probably best off buying Hex Enduction Hour and Room To Live separately and calling it a day.