Wednesday, February 14, 2018

FEATURE 142 - Four Moments When I Loved The Fall

Say what you may about the late Mark E Smith he was something of a one off.  Repeated reputation has it that he was a bit of a git, but a genius, which makes being a git synonymous with genius, which simply cannot be always so. Mark E Smith was, however, one of a bunch of single minded poetic northerners along with John Copper Clarke, Morrissey and Ian Curtis, who were sparked into creative life by punk arriving in Manchester in the mid 70's. What marks out Smith as different is that he resolutely continued to maintain his independence and pursue his own muse, even when that led him close to penury. You have to admire someone for sticking unflinchingly to his guns for thirty years of creative output, and sixty band members!

On one day I could find The Fall's jangly amateurism, delightful, with Smith's traditional mode of vocal delivery; half mangling vowels and half one spit away from derision, emitting a rebellious charm. On another day I could find The Fall abrasive and whingeing, with Smith's writing and delivery sounding like an incomprehensible mess, all of which made for uneasy listening. As he got older, the drink and drugs did take their toll. Smith became the sort of person you'd avoid in a pub, sitting glowering in a corner, occasionally shouting out an addled obscenity. So, though you could like and often feel admiration, even a sort of vicarious pride in the fact that Mark E Smith ever existed, rarely was he or The Fall lovable. But even I have had my moments where I succumbed, and here are four of them.

The Fall in their naive earliest incarnation had a ramshackle spirit, declaring 'fuck 'em if they don't like this,we don't care.'  There are musical moments here to treasure that achieve greatness, by sheer accident. I heard Rowche Rumble first, unsurprisingly, on the John Peel Show, and I was so taken with it I went out and bought it. More than likely recorded in one take, it has this zestful burst of enthusiastic but inept instrument playing that sounds thin and tinny, but it catches your attention from the marching drum beat of its opening bars. Then come the jangly guitars only just on the beat. Its all basic and embellished with the puny sound of a child's organ tinkling tunelessly over the top. This is a joyful few minutes of earnestly left field pop, about chemical addiction! Prophetically Smith sings 'now I've tried crazy things, abusing my body to a great end, but I'll never never never do it again.' , except of course the latter never did happen.

THE SECOND MOMENT I LOVED THE FALL ~  Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul ~ 1981
An almost traditional rock drum opening, quickly becomes perverted into a fast paced demented hand jive. Smith's more confident vocalising is now going at full tilt, his lyrics depicting a grim picture of the seedier run down aspects of urban life, and the northern casino soul scene is painted as a fantasy escapade  ~ ' went home to my slum canyon, on my way I looked up, I saw turrets of Victorian wealth, I saw John the ex-fox, sleeping in some outside bogs, there's a silent rumble, in the buildings of the night council'. Going on behind this rather cracking little number, are off key guitars and keyboards fighting like cats for dominance with those relentless drums.

I first heard this at Sadlers Wells, when it was played behind a lewdly extravagant performance by The Micheal Clark Dance Company. There is something about that plodding bass line with its downtrodden air, as a jarring keyboard stabs repeatedly into it like a knife, that I love. Over the top Smith intones 'Crows feet are on my face, and I'm living too late, try to wash the black off my face, and I'm living too late'  He's writing about a universal melancholic feeling of being out of sync with your life and  times. Though Smith is often characterised as dour, he's never been averse to a bit of lyrical dry humour, something he's rarely credited with ' Sometimes life is like a bar, plastic seats, beer below par, food with no taste, music grates, I'm living too late'  For me this is The Fall's finest moment.

We are still in the Brix Smith era of The Fall, where the band is, lets say, more professional and on the case. They also sound distinctly poppy with an accessible danceable edge to it. However, one look at the cryptic lyrics I think you'd be hard put to find one iota of sense in them. they are more like a series of dissociated abstracted images that paint a picture, albeit a very out of focus one ~ ' In the reflected mirror of delirium, Eastender and Victorian lager, the induced call, mysterious, come forth ~ Hit the North!  
Still, its a great rallying cry, with a very addictive sax riff.

After this, though I've probably missed out on some great music, I lost interest as they seemed to be becoming part of the familiar well worn furniture.  I fell out of love, with The Fall, you might say.

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