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The Fall, "Live in Zagreb"

This is the latest in a series of CDs presenting one live performance from each stage of the Fall's more-than-25-years-long career. Most of the tunes on "Live in Zabreb" come from the "Extricate" album of 1990, a point in the Fall's life when they were past the angular, percussive post-punk scream of their classic albums (such as "Hex Enduction Hour") and were moving ever-closer to repetitive techno-rock.

Smith's lyrics are mostly bitter rants about his ex-wife (a tune which might about her then-new solo music career is pointedly titled "Sing! Harpy"? yikes?), but that unhinged quality that made the early 1980s albums unique is gone, replaced by bitter grumbling over dance beats.

The music references funk (as in the overblown wah-pedal exercise that is "Telephone Thing") and disco ("I'm Frank", supposedly a tribute to Frank Zappa, though you'd never know it), yet it bears only a hint of the full-blown Manchester dance-party that would be "The Infotainment Scan" album a few years later. The high point of this Yugoslavian concert is the overexcited organ solo which ends their cover of the Monks' "I Hate You", a beautiful minute of sloppy exuberance that only reminds me of what the band used to be like.

In older days, the band would nervously fight onstage, improvise lyrics, rewrite songs while they played them; songs could be half their recorded length or twice as long; poems were read over some songs, other blurred by tapes of fragmented noise. By comparison, "Live in Zagreb" contains music by a professional group, well rehearsed. The tunes are good, catchy pop, but this is not the place to start if you want to hear what the Fall are all about. It's fine, but ultimately not essential.