Perfect Sound Forever

The Fall The Twenty-Seven Points

Stuart Estell
(May 1998)

'Alright - back in two minutes...'

When I first bought The Twenty-Seven Points, in true Fall style, disc one had a whopping great crack across it, and my CD machine refused to play it. Once I'd got it home a second time, I listened to the whole thing and was horrified and delighted in equal measures. Of no more than three songs that sounded anything like well-recorded, one had Karl Burns mumbling inane (presumably improvised) vocals, Mark Smith having once again decided to bugger off and leave the band to their own devices. If Extricate and Shiftwork-era Fall had all the edges knocked off it, The Twenty-Seven Points was covered in spikes, barbed wire and landmines.

If you've been to a Fall show in the last few years you'll have seen at least some of the live mishaps that are captured on tape here. The failing technology that brings about the "Idiot Walk-out" isn't a million miles away from the perversely delighted Smith who announces on A Part of America Therein that "the keyboards have broke down - so you're gettin' something unique." This time, though, Mark shouts at the sound-man and pulls the band off-stage, leaving a reel-to-reel tape of assorted "Glam-Racket" lyrics burbling out of the PA. Elsewhere he ambles on stage late and manages about half of the words to "The Joke," Brix plays like she's had, er, too much coffee, spends far too much time shouting all over songs that were fine to start with, Simon drops a drumstick or two in "Free Range" and the whole thing's a mess. But a glorious mess.

'Call yourselves bloody professionals?'

On the face of it, The Twenty-Seven Points sounds like it's been thrown together like a two-year-old, in much the same way that Totale's Turns did. In many ways, the later LP is a Totale's Turns '95, but with a significant difference- there's even more crap left in. Intro and outro tapes, with 'advice' barked over the top are left sprawling across the album with joyous abandon; a dreadful dictating-machine recording of Mike Hill and Mark Smith swapping jokes in a pub (though Mark's joke, conveniently enough, seems to have been erased) is tacked onto the beginning of "British People In Hot Weather" for no readily apparent reason.

With this album, then, there is often an overwhelming feeling of waiting for the music to start, which is, after all, very much what the gigs are like - there's real tension in an audience if, as at last year's Oxford show, there are thirty-five minutes or so before the venue's management pull the plug, there's no sign of the band and a tape of Mark's answering machine is still blaring out over the sound system.

'Good evening, we are The Fall, er, thank you for the long intro time...'

When the music does start it's variable in quality- no other band could put out an album of live material like this and expect to be taken seriously ever again. But it's an accurate reflection of 90's Fall - some nights they're great, others they're useless, depending on who is in the band that week. And it's important not to ignore the bloody-mindedness at work here- Mark E. Smith, after all, likes having a bit of a laugh at the expense of, well, everyone really. Including his band-members. He doesn't like musicians, remember, and it's easy to get immensely irritated by a 40-year-old man who makes his drummer walk out two songs into a set by removing one of his mics and pushing a cymbal stand over.

Try it, though, if you get the chance - as I did in a band rehearsal last week. We were rehearsing "The Mummy," a song Smith covers as "I'm A Mummy" on Levitate; I sang "watch what happens when I walk up to somebody," wandered over to the bassist and unplugged him. When I saw the look on his face I understood exactly why Smith arses around so much.

That's the thing about the sense of fun evident in The Twenty-Seven Points. It's supremely self-indulgent - hilariously self-indulgent, even. And the delight Mark Smith has taken in providing his audience with an album that's almost unlistenable end-to-end may mean that it's the only proper Fall album in existence.

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