The Fall

Live: Uurop VIII-XII/Places in Sun & Winter, Son

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After at least 30 studio albums and nearly 40 years into one of the most idiosyncratic careers in British music, it's tempting to think Mark E. Smith might be mellowing just a bit, as the year 2014 finds him working with the same lineup of the Fall for a whole six years, making this the most stable lineup the band has ever had. But some things simply refuse to change, and on Live: Uurop VIII-XII/Places in Sun & Winter, Son, a 12-track set recorded at a number of gigs staged between 2008 and 2012, Smith still veers back and forth between sounding like an inspired lunatic and simply a lunatic, while his band is capable of delivering a caustic blast of guitar-fueled rock, just as expected (with keyboards on hand to give the music additional curious textures). Though the Fall have released more than a few haphazard live albums over the years, Uurop VIII-XII is a tough listen even by their standards; much of the album seems to have been sourced from audience tapes, given the high volume of chatter from fans that can be heard during the performances, and while Pete Greenway's guitars and Eleni Poulou's keys fare well enough and Dave Spurr's bass comes off thick and ominous, Keiron Melling's drums usually sound boxy and distant, and Smith's vocals are all but unintelligible on these recordings, with enunciation and technology teaming up to defeat him. And though the band sounds furious on numbers like "Sir William Way," "Reformation," and "Wolf Kidult Man," most of these songs sound swampy and less than inspired, and the two studio fragments ("Auto [2014] Chip Replace" and "Amorator") feel less like songs than unsuccessful experiments that should have stayed on the shelf. It's hard to say why the inscrutable Smith opted to release Live: Uurop VIII-XII, but unless you're truly a die-hard Fall fan, you won't feel as if you missed much if you pass this by.

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