To get the clichés out of the way first, the Fall are really literate, mumbling curmudgeon leader Mark E. Smith and anyone he chooses. Smith is famous for firing bandmembers, creating a slew of ex-Fall people who almost outnumber the amount of compilations released under the band's name, and most of those compilations are for "hardcore fans only." The final, and probably most accurate, cliché is that there is no Fall fan but a hardcore one, which brings up the question of who this amazing box set is made for. The Fall Box Set covers the band's whole career in five CDs, one featuring "live rarities" for "hardcore fans only" while the other four cover the band's career chronologically with singles, album tracks, and a handful of unreleased numbers. Fans will have most of it, but newcomers who have gotten their feet wet with the two-CD 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong -- the best entry point -- will find less duplication than one would expect, a testament to how deep this band's canon goes or an example of how many ways there are to pare down 30 years of unclassifiable music. Disc one covers the punk years with fiery blasts like "Rowche Rumble" and "Totally Wired" giving way to looser, more difficult music. Disc two represents the surprising pop turn the band took when keystone member -- and Smith's wife at the time -- Brix joined on guitar. Casual listeners who speak of the band are probably talking about the Brix era, making disc two the one to argue about. Pivotal tracks like "No Bulbs" and "Cruiser's Creek" are missing, but if only one disc is allowed for this time period (1984-1989), it's hard to decide what to sacrifice.
Disc three finds electronic touches being added to the group, and thus the remixes begin. The disc picks the appropriate mixes, but disc four makes a horrible choice when it chooses the silly dance mix of "Touch Sensitive" over the single version, sending buyers back to the record store to obtain the Fall's most popular track of the 21st century. The 1998-2007 Fall found on disc four are a strong group often misrepresented on album, and the amount of parentheses on the track list proves it. These demos, remixes, and alternate versions generally beat their album counterparts and do a better job of displaying how vital the group remained in the 2000s. The "live rarities" on disc five are all over the place as far as sound quality, and if there's a gimmicky cover in the archives -- "Brand New Cadillac," "Jet Boy," "Walk Like a Man" -- it can be found here, no matter how sloppy. Consider it a fun bonus and the set rates a B+. What pushes it all the way to A is the booklet, a well-annotated, well-designed, obvious labor of love with track-by-track information, plenty of gig posters, and an amusing "Fall A to Z," as in "P is for Peel, John." Speaking of Peel, the set's packaging is meant to sit nicely next to the 2005 box The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004, an equally great set but with almost no duplication. The Fall Box Set has to play by a different set of rules. Seeing as how it could have simply expanded upon the mighty 50,000, its ground-up construction is not only admirable but creates a unique brick of music from this eccentric band, one that offers the buyer either a well-chosen rediscovery or a massive, convincing argument that Mark E. Smith is an oddball genius and deserves his iconic status.