I recently stated in a post that my favorite band of all time was Mark Kozelek’s introverted and beautiful the Red House Painters. My next favorite – and the favorite of legendary UK DJ John Peel – are Mark.E.Smith’s post-punk weirdos The Fall.
With a huge and devastating back catalogue of thrilling post-punk/indie-pop magic they are an exciting find. If you are fortunate enough to enjoy their music, you will find yourself in the enviable position of being completely spoiled for choice, with an almost unlimited amount of aural pleasure awaiting you.
And in most cases, if you like them you will probably love them. Equally, if you dislike them you will probably find them unbearable.
Over their many years as a band – they’re still going – the frequently changing line-up has been formed around the misanthropic genius and idiosyncratic front-man Mark.E,Smith. Both the repetitive and carnival-punk sound of the music and Smith’s unusual and original lyrical approach has influenced legions of modern bands, especially in the 90’s indie scene – like indie-darlings Pavement.
A mix of working-class disgust, punk aggression and outsider anti-lit, his lyrics prompted many to suggest a ‘stream of consciousness’ approach, something that Smith famously dispelled during an interview with the NME alongside contemporaries Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan:
One thing that really annoys me is that stream of consciousness thing. I wouldn’t let on to it normally, but it annoys the shit out of me. I put a lot of hard sweat into them, I think about them. They have an inner logic to me so I don’t really care who understands them or not. I see writing and singing as two very different things. My attitude is if you can’t deliver it like a garage band, fuck it. That’s one thing that’s never been explored, delivering complex things in a very straightforward rock ‘n’ roll way. My old excuse is if I’d wanted to be a poet, I’d have been a poet.
Much has also been made over the years of John Peel’s abiding love for the band. Smith, while not disagreeing with the general suggestion that John helped them gain exposure, has characteristically fobbed off the idea that they were in any way friends.
After John’s death, during an episode of Newsnight, Smith appeared largely dismissive of any bond between the two. While this was seen as a strange tack to take considering the reason for the episode, it just further added to his idiosyncratic and dismissive character. Watch the episode here.
Regardless of Smith’s strangeness or other apparent shortcomings, it is impossible to deny how influential The Fall have been to the wider spheres of independent music. Upon listening to songs now like ‘Hip Priest’ or ‘New Face in Hell’, it is impossible to imagine much of the subsequent indie music scene without their existence.
While Smith may loath such comparisons, The Fall’s music owes as much of its sound to English pop as it does to new-wave and no-wave. The experimental aspects of their sound are always tempered by a heavy-leaning towards 60’s and 70’s pop music. This makes for great and unusual listening. There is the feeling of being pulled in different directions at once – somewhere in the middle of that tension lies The Fall’s magic.
While the music is an unsettling pastiche of pop, punk and carnival weirdness, Smith’s lyrics are what truly define the band. At times controversial and acerbic
‘This is the home of the brave! Where are the obligatory niggers?’
Clever and sarcastic
‘I got my last clean dirty shirt outta the wardrobe’
‘To take an older lover
Get ready for old stories
Of teenage sex
From the early sixties
Behind office desks
‘Someone’s always on my tracks
In a dark room you see more than you think
I’m out of my place, got to get back
I sweated a lot, you could feel the violence’
Surreal and disorientating
‘When I’m dead and gone
My vibrations will live on
In vibes on vinyl through the years
People will dance to my waves
Rock it! Rock it!
It’s quester psykick dance-hall
Step aboard for
ESP medium discord
You gotta come
For a mental orgasm’
Or scene-referential and super cool
‘Generous of lyric, Jehovah’s Witness
Stands in Cologne Marktplatz
Drums come in
When the drums come in fast
Drums to shock, into brass evil
What have you got in that paper bag?
Is it a dose of Vitamin C?
Ain’t got no time for Western medicine
I am Damo Suzuki’
Listening to The Fall is like having an LSD experience while being on crowded public transport – funny, weird, unsettling but ultimately strangely enjoyably.