The Fall

Reformation Post T.L.C. (Narnack Records)

For a world-class misanthrope who's been happily stewing in his own bile for 50 years, the Fall's frontman Mark E. Smith sounds pretty chill on Reformation Post T.L.C. He even pulls out a Muppet-y Fat Albert voice and channels your wacky uncle on a couple of tracks. Bummer — a harmless Mark E. is as much fun as a sober Paula Abdul. For the last 30 years, the Fall has been an industrial-strength irritant lurking in the baby-proofed cabinets of pop music, a garage-punk outfit of famously unstable membership that evolves and devolves to suit the whims of addled dictator Smith. So it wasn't exactly surprising when the band's young rhythm section got fed up with our cantankerous hero and bolted back to the U.K. mid-tour last year, but it was sad; that lineup was responsible for the Real New Fall LP and Fall Heads Roll, two fun and bracingly caustic albums marking the Fall's third golden era in as many decades. Any Fall fan knows a fourth MES resurgence is in the works, but Reformation ain't it — this is a fallow album of weakhearted and muddily recorded blathering. Smith's belligerent rants never make much sense, but at their best his "crap-raps" manage to be sharply prophetic, funny, and cruel; here MES is just vaguely sneering in his sleep. The only song with any drive here is a cover of Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever," where Smith's almost-nodding-off vocals are punched up with thick, countrified backing harmonies. Frances Reade

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