Few of the original punk-rockers remain as cantankerous and contrary as they were during their initial infamy. But Mark E. Smith, who's been wailing for the Fall since the group's birth in 1977-era Manchester, England, isn't about to go soft. Take Fall Heads Roll, issued by Narnack Records last October. In what feels like a typically obstinate Smith move, he begins the disc with "Ride Away," a meandering, reggae-inflected exercise in lameness that's easily the album's weakest cut, and "Pacifying Joint," a synth-pop flashback that sounds more like an outtake than a finished song. Afterward, though, the material improves dramatically: "What About Us," "Assume" and the concluding "Trust in Me" exude enough edginess and snideness to recall early Fall platters such as 1984's The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall. Did Smith hide the good stuff behind a pair of second-rate efforts as something of a test -- a way to scare off poseurs and reward more resilient listeners? Could be. All these years later, Smith remains enough of a bastard to pull such a stunt. And for that, he should be proud.
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