On this seven-CD set (smaller boxes are available) there are 117 covering more than 40 years – a feat that only someone like the Rolling Stones or a very dedicated reggae artist could match. Unlike the Rolling Stones, however, The Fall have maintained a consistency of tone shipped entire from label to label. Line-ups may have changed like a fop’s underwear, record labels came and went like cabinet members, and The Fall veered from flavour of the month to are-they-still-going of the year, but you can draw a line – a thick one, drenched in tar and beer and sulphate – between Bingo Master’s Breakout from 1977 to this year’s All Leave Cancelled. Certainly, production styles changed, and Smith’s voice resembles cracked concrete more and more each year, but, regardless of who’s in the band, it’s always, audibly and recognisably The Fall.
Repetition, mysticism, Nazis, everyday life, repetition, rockabilly and Mark E Smith are the musical and lyrical themes of the band. I listened to this collection on shuffle, and at no point – even lurching from the warehouse bootleg sound of Kicker Conspiracy to the slick techno of Free Range – did anything sound inconsistent. Listening to this extraordinary set, from covers such as Victoria and Mister Pharmacist to beloved obscurities like Shoulder Pads and Various Times – also reminds the listener what a great singles band The Fall are. Hooks, lines and no stinkers; there’s a reason this band were nearly signed to Motown Records.
It’s an incredible collection that doesn’t feel like seven CDs, or 40 years, it feels like one long, glorious present. At the time of writing, The Fall are (once again) in a precarious state. We can only wish their genius lodestone good luck, better health and the desire to make more records.