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Review: The Fall - The Singles 1978-2016

The Fall singles box set is available in 3CD or 7CD editions.
The Fall singles box set is available in 3CD or 7CD editions.

Post-punk legends The Fall have always been a bit of a marmite band, who you either love or hate.

Ever the contrarian, I love some of their work and think other bits are unlistenable, but a big part of their appeal is you never know what you're going to get - or, as the legendary John Peel put it, "always different, always the same".

Frontman Mark E.Smith is the only constant in a band which has been plying its trade now for 40 years, with a revolving cast of players around him.

They've released 31 studio albums and even more compilations, including 2004's fairly comprehensive greatest hits set 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong.

This is the first time, however, that all 51 singles, released across a multitude of different labels, have been compiled in one place, bringing their story right up to date.

If you know anything about the band you'll know what to expect; abrasive guitars, a hugely-underrated rhythm section, and lots of repetition, with Smith barking (often incomprehensibly) over the top.

The story starts way back in 1977 with Bingo-Master from debut EP Bingo-Master's Break-Out, and goes all the way up to 2016's The Remainderer and Wise Ol Man, covering all bases in-between.

The singles are spread over a fairly-digestible 3CD box set, but for the utter Fall fanatic in your life there's a 7CD version which includes four discs of B-sides too - a staggering 117 songs in all.

For latecomers to The Fall's charms, it's a particularly essential set, as many of the early singles in particular are now rare items indeed, fetching silly money on auction sites.

Disc one takes some beating, particularly the unimpeachable 1979-80 run of singles - Rowche Rumble, Fiery Jack, How I Wrote Elastic Man and Totally Wired, which to me sum up everything that's great about The Fall.

Disc two covers the band's commercial peak, from 1986-1996, when released classics such as Mr Pharmacist and Hey! Luciani, and even dipped a toe into the Top 40 with a couple of cover versions, Holland/Dozier/Holland's There's A Ghost In My House and The Kinks' Victoria.

Anyone who last lost touch with the band's output over the years might be pleasantly surprised to find disc three also contains plenty of good stuff, even if their commercial peak, such as it was, had passed.

Touch Sensitive, F-Oldin' Money, Theme From Sparta FC, I Can Hear The Grass Grow and the seven-minute-long Reformation all deserve their place up there with the classics.

With their most settled line-up in years, The Fall still clearly have a lot to offer, and it's to be hoped their mercurial leader makes a full recovery from the health problems which have caused them to cancel several shows recently.

While we're waiting to see what happens next, buy this box set for The Fall fan in your life for Christmas and you'll have uninterrupted control of the TV remote for days. 8/10.