Slates (1981) ****
A six-song 10" EP, under 24 minutes long, that contains all sides of Fallmusic up to that point (punk, prog, rockabilly, pop, noise rock), and every one of those tracks presenting the Fall at their very best; in fact, if this had been a full-length LP, it would have easily ranked as their greatest album, but it isn't, it's an EP, and for once I'm penalizing for length. Plus the nagging doubt that no Fall release can really rise above the four-star level (which is a pretty darn high level, anyway). "Middle Mass," starts the slab off on a ploddingly noisy note, as the band stop-starts before shifting to a more melodic bridge halfway through. "An Older Lover, Etc.," crests on a bass line WAY up in the mix as Mark E. unfolds a tale of romantic betrayal and middle-aging hipsters recalling boring tales of teenage sex in the '60s:
Sexual intercourse began in 1963 (which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP.
Ah, sorry, that's Philip Larkin, not Mark E. Smith, but he might as well have sung that on this track. The tension in the track builds with dramatic intensity with one of Smith's best vocal performances (there, I said it), making it possibly the stand-out track on this six-song release. "Prole Art Threat," is the shortest track at under two minutes, no bridge or even a chorus, just a relentlessly driving monster of a bass attack. "Fit and Working Again," is a bit of throwaway rockabilly with jangling acoustic guitarisms, but the chorus is tastily memorable - just try getting that catchphrase out of your head once you've heard it. "Slates, Slags, Etc.," is the noisest and most ferociously punk attack on this disc, and after its six and a half minute assault you get to catch your breath with the catchily guitar-pop ditty, "Leave the Capitol," which is almost smooth (said almost) and melodic pop, of all things, a Fall first. So if you're totally new to the Fall, I would recommend this as an ideal starting point - it's short and won't take up too much of your time, and covers most of the Fall's bases with consistently top-notch Fallmusic material.