My first true journalistic piece, I wrote this article in late February for my university magazine in a ‘Broken-Up Bands’ feature a few weeks after Mark E. Smith’s death.
Basically a print version of me parading the campus wearing an ‘I Love The Fall Even Though They Confuse Me Sometimes’ shirt, I aimed to get some innocent, anonymous reader to acknowledge who and what The Fall were, stick ‘Pay Your Rates’ or ‘Jawbone and the Air Rifle’ on, listen in mild confusion and swiftly leave, questioning what the hell they’d just heard – standard protocol for all first listens of The Fall, I believe.
I thought many articles on the feature had been somewhat self-indulgent and missed the point, focusing on the author’s love for the artist rather than the artists themselves and their impact as a whole. So I felt I had done their legacy justice to some extent – it’s difficulty to know if you comprehensively can with The Fall.
But anyway, nothing says artistic justice like an article about The Fall, written by a middle-class student from the South, for a middle-class university’s magazine about how great they were. Exactly what Mark would’ve wanted, right?
‘Hey student, You’re gonna get it through the head’
Mark E. Smith’s death in January gave us a timely reminder of what two things The Fall have taught us about musical endeavour over their spellbinding career: You can write critically acclaimed albums of songs consisting only of two guitar chords complimented by absurdly obscure vocals, and it is possible to maintain prolific commendation and musical output despite the coming and going of 66 different members over 42 years. On the topic, Smith famously jibed “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall”.
My first experience of The Fall was in 2016 when listening to their third album Grotesque (After The Gramme), released in 1980. A politically charged bleak outlook on Thatcherite Britain, it opened my eyes to how musical and lyrical creation could be so effortless, humorous and minimalist; the first track ‘Pay Your Rates’ sees Smith rhyme ‘rates’ with itself fourteen times, for example. The album took on themes such as conspiracy theories, the middle-class’ adoption of punk and the lack of career opportunities for the working-class, with Smith’s signature lyrical satirising of all he saw shining through time and time again; “The lower-class, want brass, bad chests, scrounge fags/The clever ones tend to emigrate” he quips in ‘English Scheme’.
Delving deeper into their goldmine discography, the brilliance of The Fall becomes clearer and clearer – Hex Enduction Hour (1982) is an astounding piece of artistry – commanding, jarring and utterly compelling; The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984) offers immense bassline driven headbangers, while The Infotainment Scan (1993) sees Smith and co. take on Madchester beats in an enthralling journey of indie-dance experimentation.
Admittedly, on first listening The Fall can be extremely difficult to follow. They are exceptionally idiosyncratic, reject the current trends of the day and demand great patience from the audience – Smith remarked in 1990 “We do make deliberate decisions to alienate people”, owing to their abrasive and repetitive song structure and production. Though with time you begin to welcome their sounds with open arms. It is impossible to resist the thundering chord sequence of ‘Mr Pharmacist’, the sheer speed and velocity of ‘Jawbone and the Air Rifle’ or the hectic, distorted mess that is ‘Lay of the Land’. I could go on, though I fear the list may be everlasting, perhaps never ending.
Smith’s death – bringing with it the end of The Fall – symbolises a growing disappearance of a vital era for musical creativity, both poetically and instrumentally. The post-punk breed has lost an extravagant yet solitary figure of anti-fashion that broke all rules of conformity and trend, offering up 31 albums of pure rejection and retreat, yet remaining as current, confrontational and up front as physically possible. They are one of a kind, though they’d probably reject that too.