The Fall has proven over the last twenty-seven years that it can demonstrate quality over time. Throughout this two-disc retrospective, which covers their defining moments between 1977 and 2004, the band highlights its versatility, offering punk, post-punk, and new wave tracks that recall the Clash, Joy Division and the Buzzcocks. The Fall — not unlike its aforementioned contemporaries — has released an abundance of greatest hits albums, most of which don’t quite get it right. But with 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong (the title an allusion to Elvis’s 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong) organizers have put together the definitive Fall compilation. It reveals enough of the band’s history for any listener to feel comfortable with the band and can effectively act as a crib sheet for the sleepers, the uninitiated or those who may have fallen behind.
Frontman Mark E. Smith accomplishes what many leading vocalists aspire to achieve; he stretches his thick British slur far enough for his drawl to become the focal point of each song, regardless of what’s passing in the background. His commanding but attainable vocal power works to the band’s advantage, though, stressing any line of prose that would otherwise only be mildly attention-grabbing (most discernibly on the conditionally elitist opener “Repetition,” taken from Early Fall 77-79: “All you daughters and sons/ who are sick of fancy music/ We dig repetition/ Repetition on the drums/ and we’re never going to lose it”). The Fall strayed from its simple late-1970s punk beats since “Repetition,” but all things considered, Smith’s voice has remained prominent throughout each of his musical phases.
This compilation’s beauty lies mostly in the chronological order of its songs, which not only tracks the progression of the band itself, but also the trends that fans have followed (endured?) over the last three decades. The first disc is undoubtedly stronger, featuring minimalist punk and post-punk at its best and most classic. From the catchy “Rowche Rumble” and “Fiery Jack” (both released on 1981’s Early Fall ’77-’79 as well as the 2004 reissue of the band’s 1979 debut, Dragnet) to the nearly eight-minute drag “Hip Priest” (off 1982’s Hex Enduction Hour), the first disc is as reliable and unforgettable as London Calling.
Unlike the first half of the compilation, the second half lacks a standout track as energetic as “Totally Wired” or as gritty as “Prole Art Threat.” The first disc covers the band’s career through the first half of the 1980s, and it begins to sound more decade-appropriate by the fifteenth song, “C.R.E.E.P.,” originally released on 1984’s Escape Route from the Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall. By “US 80’s/90’s,” the opening of the second disc, the official transition to the 1980s has taken place.
Except “Feeling Numb” from 1995 and the newly-released “Crop Dust,” the second set fails to maintain the same bite as the songs from the band’s first decade. Still, the transition from early-’80s post-punk to mid- and late-’80s new wave has become so gradual at this point that the Fall could place pure keyboard solos at the end of their compilation and still make you feel as though the entire collection has flowed beautifully. But they don’t; they end with “Green-Eyed Loco Man” off 2003’s The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click), proof that the band is still going strong.
Listening to all thirty-nine songs in one sitting may seem draining, particularly when considering the song’s varying quality. But this is an ideal retrospective collection, tracing the Fall’s history as smoothly as an (accurate) history book. The transitions between genres are so subtle that by the time the set has finished, it’s surprising the band’s sound progressed so heavily from start to finish. The Fall may not have moved the units that Elvis did, but with 50,000 Fall Fans, they’ve shown why they’re established as a cult classic.