The angriest Fall record in recent memory opens with the sound of Mark E. Smith cackling. It's not a happy laugh — instead it's wild and unhinged, a kind of foreshadowing of sinister times.
That a person as stubborn and singular and willful as Smith has been making records for thirty years is itself a kind of weird miracle. Reformation, the twenty-sixth Fall record, arrives in the middle of a particularly verdant period. After suffering an uneven patch in the late '90s, Smith righted himself with The Real New Fall LP (also known as Country on the Click) a brawny comeback so utterly contemporary that PJ Harvey covered its "Janet & Johnny" on her 2005 US tour. Reformation continues Smith's late-game winning streak. It's a dank, filthy record, its basslines all mold-caked, its drumming just short of blunt-force trauma. But unlike The Real New Fall LP, this one dispenses with even the pretense of modernity, sounding like some grizzled leftover from 1978. The album was recorded in fragments; it was half-finished when — depending on whom you ask — Smith either sacked or was abandoned by the group's previous incarnation. The Fall's current lineup then re-recorded it, no doubt contributing to the music's frazzled, anarchic mood.
Reformation is full of buzz and bile, from the two-chord throb that powers the title track to the wail of distortion that shoots up the center of the snide kiss-off "My Door Is Never." Smith seems fully wasted for the duration; his wry baritone is cracked and pickled, and his lyrics are more surreal and nonsensical than they've ever been. The few moments when logic emerges are all wryly self-referential; in "Over! Over!" Smith summarizes the group's constant turnover as "a seven-year cycle seems to happen every day" and verbally lacerates each of its current members in "Insult Song." While the record's title goes a long way to imply its contents (Post-TLC can — and probably should — be read as "post tender loving care"), its sheer nastiness, even for a noted misanthrope like Smith, is genuinely bracing.