Though Live at the Witch Trials was the first Fall album, the band already had some singles and recordings under its belt, conveniently collected on the self-descriptive Early Years, along with a few post-Witch Trials efforts. Various initial lineups appear -- some tracks have Martin Bramah on guitar, others with Marc Riley after he switched from bass, while Craig Scanlon first steps out with the commanding rave-up "Rowche Rumble." Then there's the keyboard work of Una Baines, later Bramah's partner in the Blue Orchids, who brings her own semi-psych feel to the proceedings. No matter who's around, though, it's still very much the Fall, Smith's immediately identifiable vocals leading the way. It's amusing to hear the semi-conventional punk edge in his voice on some of the earliest songs, but that said, his approach did more or less appear fully formed, down to the drawling "-uh" at the end of nearly every word. Bramah's guitar work contains a delicacy that wouldn't last, at least quite the same way, while first and future drummer Karl Burns throws in his own flair more often than not (including the near-disco moves on "Psykick Dancehall"). There are even some gently pretty moments when least expected -- consider the flow of "In My Area," a portrait of urban breakdown that's almost winsome, or would be if Smith was a conventionally calm singer. The leadoff track -- actually a B-side for the first single, "Bingo Master's Breakout" -- is pretty much the Fall manifesto in a nutshell: "Repetition," drawing together punk's obsession with the basics with avant-garage art rock focus courtesy of Krautrock.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett