The Fall: New Facts Emerge & The Fall: Singles 1978-2016 - The Fall (Cherry Red)
R.I.P. Mark E. Smith, 1957-2018
"New Facts Emerge" came out in late July last year; the singles box (Seven discs! Eight hours!) came out four months later; they're my Christmas present from me to me.
"New Facts Emerge" - it merits seven bottles, if not eight. Bludgeoning, bruising, then it takes you on a short cruise: bloody hell this is good. It also grows on you with repeat listenings. However - and this is critical - while many long-term Fall fans seem contemptuous of the band's turn to powerful cranking rock, most Fall fans would find it difficult to come up with a Top 10 of the band's best 10 songs - you won't have that problem much with Judas Priest, or Alice Cooper, will you?
"Singles 1978-2016" - despite a few tracks not being so wonderful as others (an amazing feat given the 38 year history of music unflinchingly presented here) - I must give the set an overall 10 bottles.
Sorry, just to make that clear, that's 10 bottles out of a possible five. And get this: while it does have every 'A' side, the compilers have - by necessity, I think - not been able to put every B-side and extra song on there; the live tracks, assorted versions and mixes aren't there. 'Slates' isn't there - partly because it was reissued as a full CD. Several other long-EP-mini-LP things aren't there either - the most recent two, "The Remainderer" and "Wise Ol' Man" feature a couple of songs each - probably because they're still available from Cherry Red.
But not for long; I just visited their website and discovered that both versions of the Singles box (there's a three-disc A-Sides) and "New Facts Emerge" have all sold out. Which means they'll be making more (count on it). Anyway, the point is that if this box set were comprehensive and had every b-side... dear god, they'd have to shove in another two discs. At least. And also: The Fall released no singles after 2014, so really the box is 1978-2014 but ... yeah alright. I'm a pedant.
But let's take a breath. Pause. Most of you simply won't "get" The Fall, and it's no bloody earthly use pretending you do or will or can. Any more than most of you would have or did on hearing Kraftwerk or Can or Faust or Neu! or the Velvet Underground or the Stooges way back in the 1970s. Not because you've got rubbish taste (though I won't rule that out, as I know most of you possess secret Eagles and Phil Collins sections hidden at the back of the wardrobe) but because some music really does have to pique your curiosity, or instantly grab you even if you don't understand it.
So I'm not going to assume you're all on-board here. In fact, I'm going to assume you might have heard a few singles and kind of liked them, but The Fall aren't really on your radar, partly because they're usually a bit odd and not immediate enough and they don't tour your miserable ozzie burg every nine months.
In the UK, for generations fans travel up and down the country every fortnight to follow their football team. Hundreds of thousands of people do this every week. England is about the size of Victoria. There are 53 million people in this little island; more than twice the population of the Australia. In the UK, fans do this mountain to mecca thing with bands, too. There are fans out there who've seen The Fall hundreds of times, not the bare handful of times I've seen them. Mark E. Smith's legion of fans - they changed, got older, fell away, to be replaced by hordes of younger fans - were also determined. They admired him. Loved him, in that sense where you recognise yourself in someone who is achieving something you wish you could as well.
Among other things, Smith was determined to keep The Fall going. Many have not realised that, despite a number of gig cancellations last year, the band actually performed in October and November last year.
These photographs, taken at the Boiler Shop in Newcastle by Jamie Stuart, are terribly moving - fluid retention has distorted him, he's clearly having great difficulty ...
... yet it's one of the most heroic and powerful things I've ever seen.
Certainly from a performer.
And you know what performers are like. They're all vain beyond belief, will never let you see what they really look like without make-up, and you'll never see them when they're sick.
Mark? He just wanted to keep The Fall going. He was The Fall. The driving force.
Also, this will one of my few reviews this year, so I might as well go out with the best. But first, I must caution you that any time you so much as think the inaccurate and pseudo intellectual term "post-punk" there will flash into your mind the knowledge that you are a pigeon-holing conservative tool. Before the Grundy Incident, there was a kind of something, a gathering movement which didn't really have a name because the thing was too broad.
After Grundy, some part of that something became defined by the world as 'punk', and then 'new wave'. By mid-1977, there were still bands who thought of themselves as punk (or new wave) but by the beginning of 1978... it was all business as usual, and the industry had learned the value of genre-holing, and began to spread and focus their products to specific pigeons...
Good, with any luck that's got rid of most of you.
... oh, sure, there were still challenging, incredible bands turning up (The Gang of Four, The Pop Group, for example) ... but the industry had turned a threat into a sugar-coated carrot, and the media of the day felt more comfortable with labels - just like today.
Now then. As some of you know, I had a rather stressful computer breakdown over Christmas which was finally resolved on the 24th January: I finally turned the machine on to discover the unpleasant news: Mark E. Smith had died, aged 60.
Like most normal people, I get upset when my friends are ill (never mind die) (and none of this 'passed' garbage - people DIE, they don't 'pass', as if somehow life is a relay race, or a street corner. Do FUCK OFF) and rarely am I disturbed from my equilibrium when a stranger (or, indeed, strangers en masse) suffers or snuffs it as reported by the media unless the manner of misery is somehow repellant or offensive. I don't know them. I regret their suffering - but that's an intellectual thing.
However, while I do recall being quite jolted by Marc Bolan's death - it was sudden, unexpected, and I had been moved by his music - I did not grieve.
Instead, I think I am saddened by the diminution of our civilisation, of our achievements as a culture. My father, a big entertainment fan, who went out of his way to see Louis Armstrong, Laurel and Hardy and Sidney Bechet perform in post-war England, had a couple of huge old cinema reference books (which I still have). In them are his occasional annotations, often the date of death and a comment such as 'the greats are starting to go' - with the implication - how can our civilisation continue without (say) Fats Waller, Cab Calloway or Roy Orbison?
We have lost so much. But history is always the story of what happens now re-told tomorrow.
Bowie and Reed, two men whose music (I confess, more so Reed than Bowie) have given me great inspiration and joy over the years died a couple years ago. Pft. Me? Didn't really care; they were never really real people to me (aside from the Velvet's 'Live 1969' double LP) but rock stars, distant in that rock star world, lost with their fuck-ups. Eleanor Roosevelt was a more interesting person - and she achieved more, in my view.
Prince and Rik Mayall, however - yes, the world is now a lesser place.
And sure, a number of people I've known - more particularly, seen on-stage - have either had horrible illnesses or died in my lifetime and I expect there will be many more. The more people die from your age-group or 'special interest' group, the more life comes to resemble a game of Russian roulette. If you let it, one can become overly cautious and frightened - which might partly explain why so many older people are such shit and slow drivers (although it doesn't explain why older people, walking at a brisk pace in a shopping mall, suddenly stop dead and look around wildly, as if they've suddenly arrived in my bedroom. There really needs to be a government-funded study. I'll do it...).
Mark's death, for me, means that I'm now acutely aware of the absence of one of the few members of the generation (loosely termed 'new wave' who promised so much) who have made such a mark upon me, encouraged me to explore the differences and the possibilities in music, art, culture. I mean, who else is there? Wire are the closest, but Wire are a band, a organisation of equal parts, who are smart enough to take breaks from the boiler room of Wire and let off steam elsewhere... ever hear Githead? or UUUU?
And The Fall were Mark E. Smith, one man running an organisation.
Despite the bizarre aspects (such as the intro: "Segue") there are always songs on a Fall LP which you find yourself dancing to like a newly-escaped nun at her first... Fall gig, I spose.
"New Facts Emerge" is the first LP after the departure of Smith's third wife, Elena (keys). Rather than grab another keyboard player, Smith has opted to keep the band - Elena apart, the longest-running line-up yet - as a four-piece (not for the first time, by the by).
The keys have often filled the part of ... well, hang on. D'you remember all those bands who think it's ESSENTIAL to have a widdly showoff lead break? Well, Mark E.'s idea of keys isn't to have them buried in the sound most of the night only to bring them up for a twee intro. No. It's ... well. One bunch of reason is that Mark E.'s idea of keys mocks the self-importance of r'n'r, regains r'n'r as primal scream, is somewhat daffy yet uplifts the rest of the song and - perfectly in some instances - savagely parodies the rock guitar solo. At other times the keyboard uses the kind of naff binkybonk tune better suited to a children's tv show (you know the sort, where everyone talks in squeaky voices). And, in other line-ups, they provide the hook, the drawcard for the audience... In reality, they always provide a strange sort of balance...
So without the keys The Fall are a different outfit. Er, again. Or, if you like, again again again again...
I-94 Bar readers will dig "New Facts Emerge" mightily because it's just chockas with meaty, beaty garage stomp with Mark's trademark vocal over the top - he's in fine frenzied, intense form here, wrenching everything he can out of his voice. I don't know what the fuck he uses to gargle in the mornings but I can't believe it's legal. "New Facts Emerge" is the kind of Fall LP people will return to over and over again.
As an aside, Nick Cave has published two slim volumes of his lyrics - yet most of them are on his LPs anyway. Yet there isn't a decent book of Mark E. Smith's lyrics - surely Mark is the most puzzled-over vocalist of the twentieth and twenty-first century. But of course - he didn't really want his lyrics pored over. Mark's lyrics are as much part of his art as green is to Turner; take away green and the art is no longer entire, and in fact is ruined. Mark E. Smith's art was that of experience - and his LPs are as much an experience as the band's live sets.
So, like every Fall LP, 'New Facts Emerge' is like a journey. You really have no idea where the bugger is going to take you next. The intro, 'Segue' (which, of course, isn't a fucking segue, is it...) features Mark and what sounds like a handful of spoons before the band stomp on, crushing all before them like some sort of irked mastodon. And then the sixth track, 'Couples Vs Jobless Mid-30s' (a huge unspoken problem in UK) lurches about the shop, veering from the chainsaw shelf to the glass case of Dresden china... It's fabulous, but of course, now you're out on a limb... where to next, guv?
The worst tale
That ever tell,
He's a nice man to have around,
He implodes on shelf, with someone else,
But just watch him
He's raised elf on shelf
I won't spoil anything else, but the extremely well-read MES often hints at the social origins of Nazism - or shall we say, fascist bullshit - in his lyrics. The title 'Second House Now' echoes the chant popularised by the Communist Party and their adherents in UK from late 1942, 'Second Front Now'. Russia was a selfish and ugly ally, which could not comprehend the idea of a discerning and decent life after the war. Similarly (and you don't even need to read the lyrics) Mark knows that the time of fascism in the UK is at hand - and by that, I don't mean either the National Front or the Tory Party. No, it's a social requirement by now, that free people are required to merge into the mass, accept what they're given and be told what to do by the state. This ties in with the lyrics to 'Couples vs Jobless mid-30s' as well, the way in which large chunks of the young population are both disregarded and used as fodder, forcing their ambitions to be selfish and unthreatening to those genuinely in power. This is not the first time MES has compared the social situation in the UK to that of the Communist Bloc.
MES also knew - as do many others - that the UK was heading in this direction in the 1980s, a circumstance exacerbated by the Blairites. (If I was going to write a song about the place now I'd start with 'Land of Roundabouts and Warning Signs'). It might not be too long before we see scenes reminiscent of the Nuremberg rallies - oh, wait... that's on TV now ...
By the by. Because the band's LPs don't include lyrics, and only two lyric books have been published (in small quantities, and those often incorrect) so I've been nicking the lyrics mostly from the poor sods at the Annotated Fall website - a lyrics site dedicated to The Fall. They don't think they've got everything right (and I can't blame them - later songs feature gargles and vocal noises which may or may not be words) but their site is one of the few places online you must peruse at least once. The bewilderment, the wonder, the stories behind the stories... it's a fascinating place to lose yourself in.
As you may imagine, I got a bit lost doing this review, and contacted the Annotated Fall:
"... many of the lyrics seemed impenetrable to me, and one of the first things I noticed is that some of them did not have to be -there were allusions, idioms and references that would probably be relatively clear to an English person that I couldn't understand at all. So my goal in starting the site was to distinguish the mysteries that are a product of my own limited perspective from those that are genuinely mysterious ... "
I got so sidetracked that I'm now doing a short interview with Christopher; should be live soon.
Returning to "New Facts Emerge", by the last track you're either out of your depth, out in the kitchen for a cup of tea or completely astounded. Lyrically, "Nine out of Ten" is a sketch - starting with a journo who gave a Fall LP 9 out of 10 - but Peter Greenway's guitar piece is glorious - and gloriously interfered with by MES - it sounds like he's pulled the tape out at some points.
If a new, young band had produced "New Facts Emerge" the major labels would be scuffling in an ungentlemanly way to get the band's attention, contracts and chequebooks at the ready.
Instead, it was released to a conspicuous lack of acclaim ("just another old man's album"), and Mark wasn't well enough to promote it. And guess what? you can apply that to almost every Fall studio LP ever made.
You? You should take my word for it and go buy the bastard.
By now there are plenty of articles and tributes to MES online. And you can find a veritable catalogue of tittle-tattle (albeit highly entertaining and utterly mind-wiping tittle-tattle) and perhaps the most famous was the stories prised out of ex-members by Dave Simpson in his book "The Fallen" (no longer in print - but give the publisher a couple of weeks ...), outlining appalling acts, bizarre behaviour and self-sabotaging horror stories (some I know to be incorrect) - but things like that are not Mark E. Smith's life's work.
No, and they're not what we should be treasuring about the man, either.
Look, I prefer Ted Hughes' poetry to Plath's, but it's always the tittle-tattle bleeding heart plus sordid voyeurism surrounding the appalling, narcissistic victim Plath which overshadows Hughes' work: how many women have you known who own a copy of 'The Bell Jar'? How many of their partners (poor swine) own anything by Hughes?
Anyway. Find the articles on MES if you like. There's a lot of "15 Most Outrageous Tales of ..." out there. But know there's a lot more to MES than that.
But let's look at a more personal reflection of the man. If Daniel Dylan Wray has it right (in his article at Vice) there's probably another album in the can.
"The last time we spoke, about six months before his death, he was on as good form as ever. He’d moved onto gin chasers instead of whiskey, and was truly excited about the new music The Fall had made. "I've already started on the next one, I'm fucking bursting," he told me around the time the band's last LP, New Facts Emerge, was released. "The new stuff sounds a bit like [The Fall's 25th album] Reformation Post T.L.C. but even madder and a lot of white fucking fuzz in it, and a bit of corny piano, a bit like Van Der Graaf Generator. Maybe a bit of Joe Meek’s Telstar in there – pretty far out.""
The Fall's official website (there's a detailed and very useful unofficial one as well) declares that the band have at least eight new songs ready to roll, too.
While we're on the subject of "Reformation Post T.L.C.": Simpson's book indicates the same line-up which did the stonking "Fall Heads Roll" had also recorded the next Fall LP - but Mark ditched most of it in favour of "Reformation Post T.L.C.".
Hey: Cherry Red? Extract digit!
Returning to Mr Wray's article, it would also seem Mark knew or suspected he was on a shorter timeline:
"... he mentioned the idea of The Fall continuing without him as a front person; that he would act almost like a behind-the scenes director, shaping the band without vocally contributing onstage. It sounded like the loose sketches of an exit plan. There was also a sign that things weren’t too good when he quietly cut himself off midway through a sentence about him likely not being around for something the following year."
Punk was supposed to be so egalitarian that anyone could do it. The reality was that bloody few could do anything remotely decent, and most bands imploded fairly quickly. It was only bands like Johnny and the Self-Abusers who went on to become perennial and endless stadium-fillers under more ridiculous or pretentious names. Wire, Wire we thought were gone fairly early, but they returned after a short break of a few years and ... boy, they're good.
One observer commented that, back in the late '70s, punk bands used choreographed moves and specific dress codes to present an image, a fantasy which the audience could look up to (not too far removed from 1960's bands like The Rolling Stones or The Faces, or heavy metal, or Queen, for example) - tropes as recognisable as those used by a wrestler called Mr Handsome.
Whereas bands like Wire and The Fall deliberately ignored such frippery. In that sense, MES was more of a punk than the punks: an uber punk. When Mark addressed the crowd what he said may as well have been part of the song. The band looked like ordinary people ... but they made this extraordinary melange. And the racket they made... so simple. Surely anyone could make it.
Amusingly, these days so many old punks pull out the old punk songs and do the greatest hits thing around the world. That's fine, there's a ready market for it. The Fall, however, always forged ahead; they'd tour with mostly new material, then stop, not venturing forth again until they had a new LP or something ... "old favourites night" and "singalongasmiff"' was never going to happen. The past was the past, forward to the future...
Over the years (again, see Simpson's book) there have been a bunch of line-ups; Fall-spotters (Fall-spotters are like trainspotters but way more dedicated if not unhinged) squabble about which line-up is their favourite. The two line-ups with Brix seem most popular (as if every half-serious fan of the band had never seen a bottle-blonde with a guitar before; phwoar! It's familiar to us here in Aus; most Queensland farmers had never seen a woman with bright red hair who looked like a bloke before. Flashy females get isolated men frisky, remember that, folks); though some prefer the Bramah-Riley years, or the Scanlons ... oh, fuck. Enough.
Mark E. Smith didn't run the band like the usual rock'n'roll band, but like the kind of band which has the front man's name at the front, followed by 'and the ...', or indeed followed by nothing at all, because PJ Harvey doesn't need a band name after her name; that's not who you're going to see, is it? You know she'll have a band. But it's her.
So why people comment on the number of line-ups I don't really know, just salacious goss, really.
No, I can't resist a bit of salacious goss either. Anyway.
The thing is The Fall remained this most extraordinary creature, mostly real mod lit x [sorry, that's a multiplication symbol, ok?] 60ts garage punk x krautrock x wonky rockabilious. (sorry, real mod lit? yeah, 'cause most modern lit is shit, isn't it? We're sposed to like it but it's such a joyless slog most of the time. MES's lit bursts with life and humour and sly innuendo - think James Joyce mixed with Nabokov and Golding with a nasty Manc accent).
Musically, The Fall remind me of Helios Creed and Chrome: not because they sound remotely alike, but because there's so much going on despite the relentless simplicity (which Smith demanded for decades; an early song, 'Repetition', may as well be a musical manifesto).
Now, some Fall nutters need everything. I don't. What I want is the breadth, the scope, the scale. Just like 'Singles 1978-2016'.
First, you need to know that Fall singles, once released to the world, would often vanish, rarely turning up secondhand. Consequently there have been several singles collections already - some focusing on a period, others a label (such as Beggars Banquet). However, second, let me quote Stuart Berman in his review in Pitchfork;
"'Singles 1978-2016' provides a tidy, linear history of a notoriously unstable band. As with everything about the Fall, however, even this simple strategy is actually a lot more complicated than it appears ... there could likely be a compelling in-depth article written about the effort required to put this box set together. The Fall have released over 50 singles to date, and ... many labels, some of which are long-defunct. Singles 1978-2016 is the product of a nearly four-year, Indiana Jones-worthy quest, but with the religious artefacts replaced by an even more elusive, holier grail: proper publishing-rights paperwork. So the fact that this box set exists at all is a minor miracle. What’s even more remarkable is the fact that, while listening to these seven discs attentively in one sitting would require you to book a day off from your job, it rarely feels like work."
Smith was the ringmaster, monster, daredevil, poet manc and scruff to The Fall since ... 1976? I remember hearing those early Fall singles (in 1979 and 1980) and being impressed. There were a lot of great singles around back then, of course. But ... not many bands kept going. Some solo careers popped up and ... vanished. Some bands drifted apart (for good), others drifted back together for the nostalgia circuit. The Sex Pistols made one studio LP while they were together.
One. And OK, they've done a sterling job marketing their residuals after their dreadful ending all those years ago. But it's still - just one LP.
And what of some of the most significant outfits to emerge from that era? In the period when they were active: The Damned, 10 (although they've never quite managed to go away). The Clash, 6 (although you'd have to add another 4 for 'Sandanista', 'London Calling' and 'Black Market Clash'). Joy Division, two. The Smiths, four. Siouxsie & the Banshees, 11. The Cure, 11. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, 16 (add another 4 for his 'early work').
Wire impress me most, with 16 studio LPs, an armload of EPs, live LPs and an armload of compilations; in-between working on other people's records, it seems each member has clocked up a dozen or so solo releases each - the exception being 'new' member Matthew Simms who is catching up fast.
A quick glance at the official Fall website shows that there have been 31 official Fall studio LPs, with loadsa singles, and 13 EPs and long EPs or mini-LPs (spread over a dozen record labels). Not including 2 solo LPs and 2 collaboration LPs and about a dozen singles there, too. In terms of output... no-one else who's lasted the distance comes close. Like I say, a determined man.
Yeah, sure, some Fall LPs aren't as good as others, but hey. Look at The Stranglers. And Siouxsie... and Cave... and the Cure ... and did you hear the last Damned LP ten years ago? Gawd; if you've a hankering for The Damned and you already have everything, and you know the last few just don't quite cut it... check out Brian James' stuff on Easyaction Records. You know what I mean? When a band do an album with a few good songs and a few indifferent songs ... these days, we expect that. If Smith does it... well, you don't know what's going on. He presents, as I said above... a journey. A conundrum. A spell, an epic poem, a code ...
Mark E. Smith - I mean just who the hell else was there?
And the Singles box provides us with more good news: proof in one package that those wankers who always burble 'I only like their early stuff' are indeed wankers of the highest and most profoundly pretentious degree: so many of The Fall's later works are utterly excellent; I find MES's later way of looking at things to be astonishingly perceptive.
But perspective is important: for example, I am extremely glad I was old enough to hear the Fall's early stuff because, had I been exposed only to (say) the Brix years I wouldn't probably have liked the band as much. As it was, I was fascinated, curious to see where he'd take the band next.
And apart from the thirty-odd official live Fall LPs there's also a rather large number of compilations - quite a few of the compilations include out-takes, versions, drafts and so on. The temptation is in me to review every single Fall LP and box set - but I'd still be writing in three years time (three of the box sets - including the Singles one I'm telling you about today run for over eight hours).
No, The Fall were not the Grateful Dead (apologies to the chap who runs the Annotated Fall website, but surely never were a band so aptly named; on the other hand if they'd called themselves Boring Bastard Musos Who Reek of Fucking Patchouli Oil no-one would've turned up and the world would have been spared); far from it.
(the bloke who runs the Annotated Fall site just defriended me and sent me a dead llama in the mail. Bugger.)
At their best, The Fall's studio recordings are simply essential - particularly if you're a musician or think you like modern literature (or modern anything, really). Hell, even at their most wonky or 'I don't think this one is quite finished, Mark', or 'er, Mark, are you sure this mix is the right one? It sounds like the bass is made of treacle', The Fall were always far more interesting and engaging than the majority of mainstream lame-o's (many of whom are influenced (or say they're influenced) by the Fall, and more successful than the Fall, but ... less original).
I won't take up too much more of your time. I'll take a listen to each of the seven discs for you. The first three discs, the single A-sides, are also available as a set - but The Fall are one of those bands whose B-sides you don't want to miss because they're a part of what the band is, and where it's heading.
Disc One - 1978-1985
Kay Carroll, The Fall's manager in 1977, approached Richard Branson with the recording of The Fall's first single, "Bingo Masters Break-Out!". She said (to Dave Simpson) that "Richard Branson's label offered 26,000 pounds - a lot of money for a new band in 1977 - on the condition The Fall went back into the studio to remix Friel's bass."
"No sell-out" was Carroll's mantra back then (that'd be about 60 grand in Australian dollars - fuck) and Mark E. stuck with this attitude for decades; the single finally appeared in August 1978, un-Bransonised with all the instruments all crushed together in the mix. One really does wonder what might have happened... And consider: Branson had been approached well after the initial wave of punk and new wave had broken, yet before - long before - John Peel asked the band to appear on his BBC show. Branson showed extraordinary foresight (surprising in a way he didn't ask for the guitar lines to be rerecorded - they're a classic example of the old jazz adage, 'there are no wrong notes') so while other labels were gathering up naff bands left and right, Branson must have thought he was hearing something both potentially commercial, but a bit murky. (Imagine if Sleaford Mods hadn't become popular and rich and all that; what would they be like, eh?)
Returning to this first disc, there's so much going on in such a small space of time. Ever hear 'It's the New Thing'? Sure, you can hear that it's a part of its time and place. But it transcends ... and post-punk? Kiss my big fat hairy arse (and squeeze those blackheads while you're down there).
In fact, one thing sticks out clearly from these early singles - the huge humour radiating out of Mark's lyrics. There's a self-deprecatory savagery going on
I sent 70 pounds instead of 70 p to
Pharmaceutical company Rowche AG
The lorry arrived the next day
Swiss gnomes dealing out potions
They're gonna kick your liver in
You gotta treat it like a bin
Beer and speed is okay
But the full use of your body isn't
And all that "northern rockabilly" stuff that was talked about. Gawd. That's not right. The intent with Mark was always to take whatever musical genre/vehicle was around and hang a lyric off it. "Fiery Jack" started with a rockabilly drumbeat and the guitarist came up with the mock/surreal guitar twanging.
Well I'm not going back
To the slow life
Cos every step is a drag
And peace is a kite
Of materials you never catch
Come up for a snatch
Up from hell
Once in a while
I mean, The Clash and The Pistols and all them wrote songs on speed and other things, but how many bands actually incorporated the reality into their songs? Also, how bloody sharp is this guy?! 'peace is a kite/ of materials you never catch'... good Christ.
And how's this for ellipsis? 1980, and if this isn't a man finding a way to write about his public situation ...
I'm living a fake
People say, "You are entitled to and great."
But I haven't wrote for 90 days
I'll get a good deal and I'll go away
Away from the empty brains that ask
How I wrote "Elastic Man"
And take this...
Life leaves you surprised
Slaps you in the eyes
If I was a communist A rich man would bail me
The opposite applies
The morning light
Another fresh fight
Another row, right, right, right, right
The whole of "Totally Wired" is like some sort of savage self-criticism, done in a driving, comical context which, if anything, pulls away the personal punch.
Here's a brilliant portrayal of the everyday in modern UK:
I got no nerves left Monday morning
And I think I'll cut my dick off
The trouble it got me in
Went home to my slum canyon
On my way I looked up
I saw turrets of Victorian wealth
Prominent among these songs are the bonkers piano and off-kilter synths, an occasional trademark of The Fall, which makes the songs far far stronger than, say, a bit of noodling along with the tune in the background. What's even more interesting is that The Fall have by-stepped or mostly ignored all the rapid changes in the new wave and new pop and cocktail crowd and simply zeroed in on Mark's vision - no-one was doing anything like this. "Marquis Cha-Cha" is a musical parody of certain styling popular at the time, now forgotten.
The comparison between The Fall and a football club (no, not AFL. Only expats know what that is in the UK) starts with "Kicker Conspiracy" (1983) where Mark sees the huge corrupting influence in the big football clubs - they're vastly overbearing in the UK now, with players in the second tier mostly millionaires... kinda ironic in hindsight as the Brix factor might have changed their fortunes and direction somewhat up-market...
By 1984, The Fall are a hugely mature, clever band, firmly out-of-kilter with the overall music industry, with only a very small niche market to show for years of slogging up and down the motorways in a cramped van. Their music is simple yet complex, the lyrics constantly hinting while bluntly declaring.
"C.r.e.e.p"' is the only song of this title you really need, by the by - fuck Radiohead. I mean, c'mon.
Then there's "Draygo's Guilt", with a lyric so broad that meanings leap to the sky like startled pigeons. And what a fantastic song it is.
By 1985, "Couldn't Get Ahead" and "Cruiser's Creek" have the band finally circling the charts with a huge sound reminiscent of a 40's big-band (and significantly improved recording). You recall 40's big bands? - they took pride in how loud they were - with fuck-all amplification.
Here's a clip of Mark at 37. It's wonderful, watch it.
Disc Two - 1986 to 1996
By now The Fall are part of the English scene, but ever-present which means that people wouldn't always go out to see them, and what was once a sort of underground nerdy club filled with weedy men who didn't quite fit the punk or skin or goth or clubber moulds, are finding themselves out-numbered by normal people. You know, the people who usually dress like Mark E. Smith, because it's you know. Normal. The Brix years saw a lot of older fans back away into their shadows.
Some of the songs here will be familiar to you. Curiously, a tactic Mark started using was to do an unusual cover version - it got the band attention, which meant people would be curious enough to buy the single or see the band. A slightly cynical strategy - if The Fall were just starting out. But they'd created songs they felt were hits, so by toeing the record company line they were able to produce what they wanted while keeping the industry accountants happy.
Also, the nature of the songs chosen are ... overground but underground. Fully a third of the songs on this disc are covers, often unfamiliar yet familiar. Also, compared to the original ... they're innovative and smart. It's as if The Fall are holding out a carrot to the great British public (with the exception of "Popcorn Double Feature", which only Mark E. would've thought would get into the charts. It's a brilliant song, of course, but... )
Then there's Mark's hilariously deadpan vocal - mixed right up in 50s style - on "White Lightning" with, again, the band hammering away like troopers behind. Fantastically, he doesn't bother mimicking the american accent, it's pure Manc.
Also, the reason for a single has changed now: it's an attention-getter, a reminder, a drawcard. So for the best part of a decade The Fall's singles aren't always representative of the band live - particularly their mostly original set, or of the current LP. (I can hear the Fallspotters rustling through their first pressings of everything right now, organising the decade into neat piles in chronological order and preparing to spend a couple of weeks relistening and preparing scathing rebuttals.)
There is another aspect to The Fall from about this point - most of the singles sound fairly well-recorded. This is partly the increasing ubiquitous nature of modern technology, of course, although Smith does find ways to subvert it...
Certainly one triumph is "Hit the North" with it's deliberately self-mocking mid-80s synth beat which mimics the early MDMA fashion which gripped Britain from about 1986 (though the drug hit the US underground in 1984). Or take 1990's "Telephone Thing", or 1988's "Jerusalem", the latter surely one of Mark's high points - the LP version is longer... with different lyrics. It's astonishing; I can't really quote from it as it's a fable.
Also, John Peel's show is hugely popular; by now, every new Fall Peel session is a much-anticipated event. Fans of the band - in ever increasing numbers - are discovering that sometimes songs recorded at a Peel session are in fact superior to those which eventually turn up on the official LP. Fall fans want greatness ... and sometimes, for whatever reason, Mark wilfully fails to deliver. Genius is occasionally buried or blurred ... and, on top of which, his lyric-writing has changed...
And the adventures of the band who appear normal, but whose songs present a distinctly slanted perspective of normal, such that normality is, in effect, abnormal, grotesque.
... here, have a few lyrics...
Once talking was my favourite while
But now I know a conversation's end
Before it's done
Maybe I'm living too long
I'm living too late
I'm living too late
Also Sprach Zarathustra
It pays to talk to no one. No one!
Proliferating across the earth
This is the spring without end
This is the winter of your mind
You'll get a dallying notion,
But you will soon recover.
No longer undercover,
Branch out into complete disorder.
You gotta be cheerful-hearted,
There's at least 15 ways to leave your man.
Get a flat and a magazine,
Get your body ahead and out of that scene.
"Cab It Up" is another rather genius pop song which both mocks the pop format while using it. The kiddie-synth tune, in context with the slamming rock band with those looping rough bass lines... you gotta hear this...
"High Tension Line", similarly, is a deliberately-aimed pop song. And it's very, very fine; hooks and smart lines...
Life is nothing more than a disposable
Facial tissue in a brass bin and spawn
Take it out, I notice face imprint
And please excuse my words, I'm wandering
High tension line, step down
By this stage your dancing shoes should be seriously worn through. And you may not have noticed the anti-Fascist references - though really, they're indictments of human weakness and human nature.
Now, I'd be lying if I said there were no lesser points. But - and this is a big but (fnaar fnaar) - The Fall's lesser songs are, frankly, other people's high points. I won't name them, but there are a couple here which could've done with a spot more invention. Toward the end of 1993 I feel The Fall have perhaps become more industry-directed than perhaps is wise, and, apparently, to little avail as the charts were untroubled still - again - untroubled by The Fall. That said, 1994's "15 Ways" is a sardonic view which trounces the endless relationship plaints reiterated in songs, 'I don't know how to leave' ... Sensibility rather than emotional nonsense...
That said, cop this;
Life up in smoke
Babe rolled like a joint
Hunger in their home
I mean is that a brilliant haiku just tossed into a song, or what?
Disc Three - 1998-2016
From here, The Fall are in the tech-predicament most outfits found themselves in. To continue to release the 7" or a CD? or a 12"? Either way, with the increasingly picky music-buyers wanting more for less thanks to free downloads for all, it seems every issue has extras and bonuses.
These years seem difficult for the band - none of these releases come near the UK top 40, although the albums are a different matter. 2008's "Imperial Wax Solvent" got to 35, "Your Future Our Clutter" got to 38, and "Re-Mit" to number 40; the current LP "New Facts Emerge" got to 35. All these LPs are, as far as I am concerned, essential. In fact, regardless of my own experience hearing and loving The Fall as a kid, if I'd heard (say) 'Imperial Wax Solvent' instead of the 'Bingo Master's Break-Out!' EP for the first time I would have been equally as excited.
It's almost as if part of The Fall's audience got their head down and wandered off, only to return some 10 years later and realise how much they loved the band. Apart from the dead-pan "F-olding Money", by 2000 they've given up the tactic of covers as singles - the tactic seemed to have stalled; they take a stab with 2005's "I Can Hear the Grass Grow" - well groovy, but ... just a cover, really. That said, if you've never heard it you'll be bouncing all over the room.
Even so, there are no songs here you could fairly call duds. There are only a couple where I think I could prolly live without. (You know what this means. The box set is indispensable). I mean "Sir William Wray" is bloody good fun (and damn funny to read the lyrics) but doesn't quite rise far enough. The gag is, of course, that people have puzzled over Mark's lyrics for decades - and he's always wrote clearly and concisely what he meant. With 'Sir William Wray', the lyric is mostly utter nonsense anyway. "An anti-lyric", he called it.
Wow wow wow wow
Wow wow wow wow wow wow
And silver transparent,
Are you amphibious,
The first song, "Masquerade" finds the band adopting dance club tropes with considerable musical mockery at the genre's stupid aspects (all genres have stupid aspects, as HM fans know). While I enjoy this satirical aspect, I can see that it's also intended as tossing another hat in the direction of the top 40 peg and missing. 'Touch Sensitive' returns the band to the wall of guitar and beaty stuff they're obviously more comfortable with - and it's a weird mix.
And you’re dying for a pee
So you go behind a tree
And a Star Wars police vehicle pulls up
I say gimme a taxi
Great stuff. But ridiculous that it got nowhere near the top 40. The next, an adaptation from an Ed Blaney song, was "Rude (All the Time)", just an uncharacteristically noisy acoustic guitar and Mark's voice. It's arguably the most striking single they've done in several years.
'Susan Vs Youthclub' is quite an extraordinary creature, at home in a modern nightclub or a Chrome LP from 1978; Mark portrays a few fractured pictures here, with an appallingly sardonic chorus, 'And it was all in all safe and warm' ... disturbing to say the least. It's the first single to feature Mrs Elena Smith (nee Poulou)'s keyboards, and like several keyboard players before her, brings a very unique landscape to the band.
"We Wish You a Protein Christmas" seems to be widely misinterpreted - the idea of the Son of Man returning to Earth and witnessing Christmas is about as intelligent as it gets - it may seem obvious, but who the hell else has put this in a song?
The feast of man in October
Menus for hampers
Why did I come back?
I came back to Earth
The only thing good to say is
All the politicians are on holiday
And as for the brilliantly nasty football chant "Theme from Sparta F.C." (football culture Euro style ain't known here) ... I can't believe this wasn't a fucking hit. That said I'm sure it's been adapted by fans who chant the thing in stadia around the world.
Some of Mark's lyrics in this period verge on mental shorthand - "Distilled Mug Art" is amusing (but the barbs aren't sharp enough). "Reformation!", from the "Reformation Post TLC" is one of Mark's bitter tirades - yet the truth is, it seems more like he's savaging himself. Fallen have commented that the entire band recorded a new LP - but that Mark ditched most of it after the band (minus Elena) left him en masse, and this variant of the original remains.
With "Slippy Floor", Mark seems to have taken the band back to 1982 or something. It's great stuff but veers far too close to an ordinary rock song for my liking. Oh, what the hell, you'll love it, it's a grand rawk workout with a lyric which ... well, you'll have fun figuring it out.
And don't get me started on "Bury!" - it's a sly cracker, commenting on the British snobbery of origin and place; the chorus of "I'm not from Bury, I'm not from Bury, man" is inspired.
By contrast, the deadpan "Laptop Dog" with its steady pound, takes rather lovely aim at the overdependence on digital reality;
Do not underrate what I say
And the intolerant of laptop craze
A big creature will stalk you
And it will alliterate and proclaim
And the line about the Stones' rhythm guitarist is quite amusing.
But I will just say, perhaps I'm repeating myself: but these singles do not in any way signpost what the LPs are about, or like. The full experience is, of course, to travel back in time and buy the singles, EPs etc, LPs and see the band on that tour. And in between. These days ... mate, just get the relevant LPs. Because the Singles Box only shows you the singles - and that's an inevitable consequence.
Anyway, by the time we get to "Victrola Time" we're looking forward to Elena's keys ... incidentally one of life's little joys is perusing the annotated Fall website, and with songs like this ... they are just so delightfully confused. Puns are missed, english slang terms, Mark's tendency to use a sort of initialese...
The last two songs on this disc, "The Remainderer" and "Wise Ol' Man" are from the long EPs (or short LPs) of the same names, both recently issued by Cherry Red. One wonders if The Fall would have continued releasing singles anyway, instead issuing shorter LPs and LPs, given the fickle nature of the music industry and the continued reluctance of punters to fork out for anything without unearned bonuses.
'The Remainderer' is Loki-like, stuffed with an evil glee, and we can hear Mark having the time of his life transforming words into gargled, spiteful gloop. The song alone is worth the price of admission to the entire EP/ mini-LP.
Similarly, "Wise Ol' Man" is a stonker, with Mark's lyrics more elliptical (and causing considerable confusion in the Fallspotter world) and ... yeah.
Just to reiterate before we descend into the next 4 CDs of (**fuck**) B-Sides - the later Fall is far, far better than you'd expect, and far sharper. He always could line up several concepts and crush them together to create multiple meanings and implications; finishing this CD, frankly I'm terribly sad the man has gone.
Disc Four - 1978-1984
Some bands are "singles" bands. You know the sort of thing, like ABBA, every damn track gets issued as a single or a B-side to a single. The Beatles tried not to do that, by the by; but by the time the 1970s rolled around the idea of a B-side being something interesting or an "extra" to an LP side was, generally speaking ... a novel idea, shall we say. The creature before, during and after punk (as far as I'm concerned it hasn't existed for 40 years) (oh, belt up. Bicker amongst yourselves. I need another gin) had the bright idea of using the B-side for all sorts of purposes; those songs which don't quite fit the LP, a bit of fun in the studio, that sort of thing. The best use of the single was a remarkable mindset.
So we plummet back to 1977 (when, I believe, the first tracks were recorded) and 1978 (when The Fall's first single was released). You recall "Bingo Master's Break-Out!". The B-sides are essential.
You can't escape the feeling that within the rock framework is a chittering imp mocking the very structure - you can hear it particularly in the slightly off keys. Yes, them again. I'd love to hear who came up with these simple little pieces - sure, part of it is lack of facility - but that's not all by any stretch.
Certainly "Repetition" is an inverse call to arms; rather than the frantic r'n'r expected by punters, the band deliberately keep the pace right down, taunting the crowd with 'we dig repetition'... 'this is the three hours, the three hours' ... one wonders how long they dared play this one...
OK. Now I won't carry on endlessly about these B-side songs. Because: most of them you're unfamiliar with, and they bear repeat listening - unlike most B-sides by more established acts. This disc reeks of Smith's acerbic, alert humour - he doesn't spell out the gags, even though they're right in front of you... curiously you can still imagine The Fall as they might once have been, everyone banging away while Mark did a sort of poetry thing over the top.
Curiously, it's not until the third single that you really get a full sense of the potential bigness of The Fall; the flip of "Rowche Rumble", "In My Area" is where Mark declares that his home is also his inspiration. Few artists understand this, that inspiration is found at home as well in exotic locales - Smith was an extremely well-travelled man, yet he always returned to Prestwich. He saw the unbalance there, the gaps between acceptance and madness. This is a novelist who, eschewing novels, writes songs, who considers each song a very short, full novel.
Fabulous. And I'll try to leave it there - the rest of the songs on this disc are, simply, as essential as their A-side fellows; classic singles with a completely original way of perceiving the immediate world. The pounding, clever drums, the looping bass lines, the spiky, scything guitar, the smart and childish key choons... and by god the humour - for example, "that's what you get for having a hobby" - "I'm into C.B." is pant-wettingly funny (and danceable).
Disc Five - 1984-1986
Okay. This is the mid-period "Brix Years", where the band were heading into more commercial terrain. Looking back on it, it really does seem bizarre that they didn't quite get into the Top 10 in the UK, particularly as they seem to be ticking a lot of boxes. However... this period is also the one marked by Goth and dance and fairly urgh pop, so... again, they just didn't fit in. There's only one cover here, 'Rollin Dany', which is a kinda rockabilly meets glam thing. Completely brilliant and - of course - completely out of step...
Personally, I find this period to be rather charming; but it's far from my favourite. But this disc alone is worth owning. Groovy ain't in it, mate.
Only Mark E. Smith could take the rather gorgeous melody and languid grace of "Clear Off!" and put a lyric about the isolation of the civil servant, drawing comparisons with the USSR-controlled Czechs.
One favourite is "No Bulbs"; a groovy lil tune which has everyone bopping round the room... and Mark's lyric? He's living in poverty in a trash mount[ain] - self-deprecating, funny and smart. It really sums up a lot of what The Fall were about
They say damp records the past
if that's so I've got the biggest library yet
"Petty Thief Lout" takes - as many Fall lyrics do - inspiration from Mark's own life; (from "Reformation": "It's about my early teenage years, when I hung around with petty criminals. It's about petty crime, by people under 16-years-old.")
There's a distinct sense of regret pervading this song, and an anger with himself; that said, taking the song away from the definitely personal and into the broader realm: we're looking at a wider world, Mark as usual using his experiences as a metaphoric platform. Sure, we can imagine Mark thinking...
One must make sure
When leaving the house
Never to have white powder on the nose about
...but the real punchline is aimed at - and includes - us:
Suburbia holds more than you care for
...and that's the key. Whatever subject Mark sounds off on, it has a broader implication. Always. Even when he's being spiteful and idiotic, there's a broader backdrop, and a bigger set of meanings.
"L.A." is one of the most evocative Fall lyrics, effectively two modern haikus with a wokka wokka helicopter backbeat. It's quite an extraordinary achievement, understated and yet... quite huge. 'Lucifer over Lancashire''s broad-brush implications arise from fragments with a chugging beat.
"Auto Tech Pilot" is that rare thing, a song critical of "this computer thing", that the online world distorts the priorities of the real world; whereas 'Entitled' is basically about the confusion of attractions, with a rather beautiful, regretful, yearning tune. 'Shoulder Pads 1B' is just gloriously funny, observing the dreadful taste taken for granted in the '80s; remember these horrid clothes?
Cosy flecked with green bits
Main undercurrent, white spermatoze
And of course, you were stuck with people like this, who clearly thought they knew everything but... no. They didn't;
Was embarrassed but stuck with them
Walked, at shoulder, down the street, ridicule
They couldn't tell Lou Reed from Doug Yule
Suppressed hate romance
Even so, the singles and B-sides from this period can be criticised as being overly simple (compared to The Fall's previous work). But in truth, it's just another development in the trajectory of a man who wrote nineteen to the dozen his entire life. If you were to judge only on the singles/ bsides of this period, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Mark E. had grown out of a lot of his early bile, and had ... kinda grown up...
Disc Six - 1987-1999
This is where the compilers have to make hard decisions. Firstly, where the singles have tracks which also appear on the related LP, they're (usually) not included. That would probably be another disc in itself. Only one of the 6 variant versions of "Hit the North" is included.
This disc covers the end of Brix's time in the band, and pretty much all of the 1990s; a time when, I suspect, many of the band's fans who'd followed them for years had begun to drop away due to family and exciting mortgage requirements. (Cynical, me figures that the same people returned after their marriages had collapsed and they could listen to The Fall in peace again.)
This is perhaps one of the odder discs - some B-sides seem to be The Fall taking a back step and experimenting a bit more. Others are straightforward songs - 'Zandra' and "Butterflies 4 Brains'"for example. 1988's "Acid Priest 2088" is like a weird clubbers version of the Fall, for example; the following year the B-side of the band's only single that year, "Dead Beat Descendant" is surely better than the A. It's a stomper, that's for sure. Hilariously, a dance-floor favourite about a dance floor dance... on the other hand, looking at it with a quirky eye, it's the evolution of British society.
If further evidence were needed that Mark enjoys borrowing from already established musical forms, look no further than the following year's 'British People in Hot Weather', which uses '30s and '40s big band sounds.
Then we find "Blood Outta Stone" we find Mark bringing the band into a bigger, broader rock framework.
When all your friends have dissolved
And you're yakking on the phone
You're blood outta the stone
Now, you remember that horrid time of year around December? Mark's Christmas song (1990's "Xmas with Simon") is rather jolly - and his lyrics are super. It's a lovely poke at the season - "it's that time again" - with a patently jolly choon. You'll love this one. Bring it out next year and surprise the family, perhaps along with "No Xmas for John Quays" - a real person, apparently.
By 1992 the band are still crackling, and again I think the flip beats the A-side: "Everything Hurtz" - a jab at hip hop heroes which I find fucking hilarious...
I'm dressed like a road beacon
On my way to Valhalla breakfast
And everything hurts
Can't you see the bitches by my side
Followin' me through all my life
And everything hurts
I was born
Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden
I'm a dippy dippy dippy dippy dooby man
All my limbs are disconnected
And everything hurts
It's a great song. And around this time you need to know Mark's lyrics are becoming more elliptical, yet more topical, and you can lose yourself in the variety of implications. I won't tell you the name of this song, but I bet you've never heard it:
Pumpkin head escapes
Pumpkin head escapes
We're coming, we're coming, Leo
We're coming, we're coming, Leo
Smell, clogged up the drains
We are not adults
We are crusty mystics
You're happy now
You're happy now
We're coming, we're coming, Leo
What a great song! It's the flip of another single - and I think it's better than the A-side. And ... have you heard "Glam Racket"? It's basically a very astute poke at the entertainment industry - especially the music part - in the UK. Brilliant, droll; the band cover Slapp Happy's "War" next (it was released on one of the Henry Cow albums). It's a corker; that's another damned under-rated band - and The Fall own it utterly.
So why are the A-sides not as good? Simple, I think. Mark's aiming at the charts (they're different in the UK) things which he think will get people's attention, catch the ear and interest of the broader pundits. The B-sides positively fizz - I mean, have you heard 'Hey! Student!'?
When walking down the street,
It's always you I seem to meet,
Long hair down and sneakers on your feet.
As you listen to Pearl Jam in your room
...I said I woka-to-ma, woka-to-ma
Woka-to-ma, wah wah wah
Er, we may have a couple of those last line slightly wrong.
It's like the Ramones were born in 1972 or something. It's a real earworm, I'm telling you. And The Fall have done more than a couple (no, I won't give them away. Figure it out. Get the damn box).
I'm afraid I've fallen head over heels for the various versions of "The Chiselers"; "(Chilinism)", with its extraordinary acid house break which just takes you somewhere else.
At this point as, it seems, for much of the 90s, The Fall are experiencing internal tensions and what emotional chaos. In the singles, both sides, it's not really borne out.
Disc Seven - 1999-2016
The Saints! Yes! wake up at the back there! Before he had The Fall cover a Stooges song ("Stout Man") he had them do... "Perfect Day" in 1999 - the B-side of another cover "F-Oldin' Money". This single was promoting "The Marshall Suite" - the LP made with an entirely new band bar Julia Nagle and Mark. It's an astounding cover, by the way - inventive and also recognisably Fall - despite the un-MES vocal.
They don't release another single until 2001. By this time the band are a corking violent machine; the mix and intelligence of an excerpted radio broadcast over the vocal track of a pounding rhythm - it's just fantastic. And that guitar! There are two versions of "I Wake Up in the City" - they're both brilliant. Utterly indispensable. This particular song has some kinda overt Velvets/ Richman kinda structures and riffs, sorta underground '60s meets meaty '70s. Fucking brilliant.
The next song was one PJ Harvey covered live in 2004 (not a lot of bands cover The Fall - it's usually "too hard"); "Janet and John and James" - the B-side is a different and still affecting version. Once again, despite the instability of the band, the music and lyrics do not suffer. "(We Are) Mod Mock Goth" is one of the first songs to feature the extraordinarily rough, gravestone-grating tone that Mark increasingly used in the next 15 years, tones where you have no idea what he's saying, or indeed if he's saying anything ...
What particularly interests me is when Mark E. discovered The Monks, the '60s "anti-Beatles"; I think it's the 1990s, but there's one single ("Silver Monk Time" from 2006) which the compilers for some reason either ignored or couldn't put on the collection here; The Fall's version of "Higgle-Dy Piggle-Dy", with the flip of "Monk Time" (by Alec Empire and Gary Burger.
Fascinating to speculate - but here's a bunch of misfit Americans who were instrumental in provoking and inspiring Krautrock itself, and they sound not too dissimilar to The Fall. It must've been like vindication to Mark.
"Clasp Hands" is another song which is, on the surface, about the break-up of another Fall line-up, but hides a more poignant and broader meaning. See if you can dig it. "Over Over" is an extraordinary insight into Mark's mind - the seven year cycle seems prominent... and he applies it both to himself and - again - the wider UK landscape. Poulou's keys are vivid and powerful; he's been blessed with his musicians, he really has.
The rest of this side - the last disc, number seven - I'm going to abandon you. This last-but-one Fall line-up, with Elena, was quite amazing. It seems Mark can trust the band, and the band - again, as always - love him.
Are we near to a skip?
I went into a drip
I can't open the door
I can't open the door
My dialogue is stuck
My dialogue is stuck
One thing which strikes me as I listened over the last few days is that, unlike so many other bands, the singles don't always define the band. These seven discs (which could have been nine or 10) present a rather lopsided view of The Fall. Certainly if you only plump for the three-disc set of A-sides you're doing yourself a disservice (a bit like going to a music festival and thinking you know all about the underground, or a bit like buying the admittedly fine "50, 000 Fall fans Can't be Wrong" comp).
But The Fall's studio LPs held armloads of songs which you simply cannot be without.
Sure, the "50,000 Fall Fans Can't be Wrong" double CD compilation is mighty groovy ... but it also shows us an equally limited view of the world-view of The Mighty Fall... Comparing the Peel Sessions box (24 sessions, Jesus Christ) with the "Singles 1978-2016" ... now there's quite a contrast (I won't do it unless I'm paid).
Even so ... The Fall were never just "an albums band" because there was always so much going on. If you only bought the LP of the moment you'd be sure to miss something special on the EP or single. Some tracks on the Peel sessions were superior to the LP versions, while others would be fascinating glimpses into half-formed songs.
And then, given that The Fall primarily considered themselves a live band ... there are the live LPs... of differing quality. But if you weren't watching the band, you'd be dancing most of the night. Take a listen to those looping basslines and those pounding drums. Mark always insisted his drummers keep it simple. Because that's what people respond to.
Gracious, I hope I haven't sent any of you off on A Noble Quest or worse, set before you a Gordian knot which will engross you for the rest of your natural...
Mark E. Smith was a man who not only couldn't stop, he ignored the realities of the industry he was a part of, and continued to focus his aim to create the perfect racket ...
Like I say, Mark E. Smith was a determined man.
Recently I watched the documentary "The Weird and Wonderful World of Mark E. Smith". Made in 2004, it is (apart from being long overdue) one of those docs which can't get beneath the skin of its subject because it doesn't know it's asking the wrong questions.
Even so, after reading a bunch more articles and books on Mark in preparation for this article, as I watched the doc we realise... the man seems, at times, clinically depressed. I found myself wondering ... at what point did his problems take him over? The schizophrenic aspect of The Fall was always - you can hear the hits, but somehow some of it seems sabotaged, or a bit wonky, imperfect, as if he's hiding himself from "Mark E. Smith of The Fall". Yes, I know he intentionally did this ... pursuing an aspect of the '60s garage punk which only he could hear, shot through with doses of Krautrock freedom...
And Mark knew his work was good, a cut above. Yet didn't allow himself the arrogance so many - considerably less talented - in the world he worked ('entertainment') did. He slogged along because it's what he knew, contributed to continuing that - for all his ability to get the most out of his musicians ('The Fallen') by getting them to see past constructs and anticipation, he could never, I think, get past the level he had become accustomed to.
Take the time The Fall had a deal with Phonogram. Quite seriously, they could've been huge. With a bit of tact and smarts. You don't have to be an industry animal necessarily to succeed in that world (though, clearly that helps) and maintain your dignity and validity.
Even though, paradoxically, he wanted to get past the level he'd kept the band at ... as the doco demonstrates, Mark knew he wasn't appreciated by the great mass, which he obviously wanted, but knew he was appreciated by those cluey enough to investigate... and despite his apparent disdain for the audience, he most certainly did appreciate them.
Hell, you can see all of this and more in so many of Mark's filmed performances ... he looks engrossed in the sound and the music, you can see him concentrating ... and he's utterly, utterly alone. Sure, read the Simpson book and you get intrigued (between gasping in horror and wetting your pants with laughter) but you also realise that ... behind all the expectations thrust upon him... not only did he really not have serious support and back-up, in a personal sense, but that he probably didn't trust enough to allow it. And that state of affairs clearly became more complex and problematic as the years wore on. Yet, Simpson's book portrays aspects of Mark E. Smith which are equal parts myth and hearsay as much as truth - in most of the tributes to him in the media they focus on the band sackings and the apparent addled nature of his personality, rather than his work and its significance.
What you don't get, not really, in any of the books - including Brix or Hanley's, is Mark E. Smith's heightened intelligence, his wit, his wicked, gleeful sense of humour, wrapping you up in his culture to the point where, in the last 20 years or so, elements of disgust with the modern world - and its increasingly self-obsessed population - feature prominently. Smith also had a novelist's eye for drama, the perverse, the satirical. Wray (see above somewhere) talks of Mark eyeing a Friday after-work crowd and labelling them "weird and perverse" - Wray can't see it and appears nonplussed.
But Mark gets it. The real world is all a facade, and then we go home to become ourselves... Hell. Let's go back to the beginning: Albert Camus' "The Fall". Ever read it? It is a huge, immediate, enclosing, real read. It's also not very long (in terms of pages) but is ... a big read.
Even so, Mark's path wasn't easy. I mean, anyone else would've said, "Sod it" years ago. It's just too fucking hard, surely.
Mark learned that his Dad - the subject of The Fall's uncharacteristic 'Bill is Dead' - was proud of him and his achievements after the man was dead at 59. He learned it at Bill's funeral. Now that's what you call Northern. A man who thinks it's 'soft' to tell his son he's proud of him.
Great place, the North of England.
I'll make another couple broad observations here. A lot of creatives have an initial drive and energy when they're young. It can be kinda like therapy. But once they find the key to the Enigma Code they're seeking ... they don't need to be as creative any more. That's one reason why - since we're talking r'n'r - musicians and singers start putting out pap after a certain interval. (Another is the safety and luxury which money can bring). These creatives, they don't need to be creative no more, they don't have the same drive or spark ... so they either stop, or they mimic what they think people want. I'm sure you can think of endless examples of 'artists' running through the motions and foisting it on us to complete industry contracts.
Which is probably the main reason why The Fall never charted significantly enough to matter to the mainstream. Mark E. Smith was always driven. Not just at his last two gigs, when he was brought onstage in a wheelchair (not for the first time) but right up to the end. Like I say, he was a determined man.
Like I say, I ain't grieving. How could I, I didn't know the bugger personally, all I ever saw was a deliberately understated genius bloke on stage. Here.
But, a world without Prince, Cohen and Alan Vega ... or Golding, Hopkins or Blake ... I can't imagine we'll see his like again, and we're damned poorer for it.
Meanwhile, get your credit cards out and rectify your collections.
- New Facts Emerge
- Singles 1978-2016