Happy Birthday Mark E. Smith! The Quietus' 60 Favourite Fall Songs
, March 1st, 2017 18:57
Ahead of Mark E Smith's actual birthday on Sunday March 5, Quietus writers and guests including Brett Anderson, Stewart Lee, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Adrian Sherwood, Pat Nevin and Krishnan Guru-Murthy select 60 favourites from The Fall's back catalogue.
Photo by Valerio Berdini
I am fairly sure that on the afternoon late in 2007 when John and I first put together the idea of what The Quietus would become on a few bits of paper, we had The Fall on in the background. Indeed, perhaps that flash of inspiration occurred when, psychically-refreshed, we leapt around to 'Hit The North' in the pub at ATP in December 2004. Even today, after a day of weary mithering at the rubbish music that turns up in the postbag claiming it is extraordinary, we have Perverted By Language on in the background. We've written so much on The Group over the years that for a while we had a section devoted to them to keep things simpler. So to celebrate the 60th birthday of the great Mark E. Smith this weekend we decided to ask our writers, friends and favourite musicians to pick their favourite Fall songs and write about them. 60 songs for 60 years. But when did The Fall begin? I've long nurtured a theory that Mark E Smith's militant approach to the group is not to do with his own ego or control freak psychology but because in its earliest years he spotted the magical potential of what it could be: Mark E Smith has always served The Fall, the hip priest for a greater power. So read on as we celebrate four decades of invention and reinvention, and six of the life of the great man himself.
'Before The Moon Falls' - Dragnet (1979)
Though The Fall's first two albums Live At The Witch Trials and Dragnet were both released in 1979, they could not sound more different. The former is the most straightforward of the band's releases, an 100mph punk album with nary a hint of 'post' to be found across its 17 tracks. The latter sees them slowing down, swapping the aggression of original guitarist Martin Bramah for ex-bassist Marc Riley's more patient approach and settling on the more foreboding sound they've largely stuck to since.
'Before The Moon Falls' is the finest example of this measured approach and stands shoulder to shoulder with 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' and 'Release The Bats´ as one of the most deliciously horrific gothic rock tracks of all time. Steve Hanley's bass-line battles Riley's atonal guitar over the scraps of the devil's interval. Meanwhile Mark E. Smith lays out the band's mission statement - "I must create a new regime, Or live by another man's", a maxim The Fall adhere to to this day.
'Bill Is Dead' - Extricate (1990)
I'm always drawn to the quieter moments of albums, the tender, introspective slow jams, but of course there's not a lot of them in The Fall catalogue. But that just makes 'Bill Is Dead' all the more surprising and significant: it's an extremely rare case of Mark E Smith dropping his guard for a few minutes, not just being warm but actually, genuinely romantic. It's a tranquil, beautiful moment in a career of mostly noise and chaos, recorded at a time when The Fall almost went mainstream. They never really did bother the charts, but I remember John Peel announcing that his listeners had voted this number one in his 1990 Festive Fifty and he was so overjoyed that he might have even cried. Beyond the shock of Smith writing a love song and singing about orgasms, the music and production's gorgeous too – from the opening guitar intro to the lush organ and sexy rhythm, it's as close to an audio hug as I've ever heard.
'Birthday Song' - The Marshall Suite (1999)
There is a fire and a hardness to MES that is all his own. He comes wrapped in his own weather. He is separate from the forces around him. We're used to hearing his meteoric imagination plugged into that inimitable voice, wrestling with the terror and hilarity of life out there in the raw sprawl of the city, thorns and all. We know he comes out fighting. We know he won't back down. But there is a devastating sentience to this song, a sense of resigned reflection that makes it a rarity amongst his general back catalogue. It is as if he's knowingly ran himself into the ground – too many cans and too much narco and too little sleep – and now he’s adrift in 'grief and partial recovery', moving deathward, like psychologist Kris Kelvin in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, all too aware that if you reveal too much you lose something crucial to your sense of self. But sometimes it has to be done, because sometimes you get homesick for the place you are already in.
'Blindness' - Fall Heads Roll (2005)
Unlike almost any other band, The Fall are ever-evolving live, and my favourite song at any one time is usually whichever sounds best at the shows. At the moment, I'd say that is '9 Out of 10', but it'll probably be a different song by the next time I see them. But my all-time favourite Fall song has to be 'Blindness'. For a long time (it seems to have been replaced by 'Autochip 2014-2016' now), its inclusion in a set automatically transformed a good show into a great one. It's futile to try and analyze exactly what makes it so strong (the bass-line? the keyboard? the sheer glee in the delivery of the lyrics?), but for me it seems the most convincing demonstration of the singular ability that have kept The Fall the most continually rewarding band throughout their existence.
'Blindness (Peel Session)' - Peel Session (2004)
Blindness from the final Peel Session is the shout for me. A brilliant, powerful track, but vitally the final song I bought having heard it on Peely's show. Before we lost him.
Pat Nevin (Former Chelsea and Everton footballer)
'Bombast' - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
"All those whose mind entitles themselves, and whose main entitle is themselves shall feel the wrath of my bombast." The opening line of my favourite song off the first LP of The Fall 's I bought, This Nations' Saving Grace, was one of the greatest of all Mark E. Smith's word plays. I wasn't quite sure who or what Smith was directing his wrath at with his distorted intro but I knew they deserved it. This was The Fall at their menacing best and as that bass line pounded through the speakers of my Sharp ghetto blaster in my bedroom in The Midlands I was hooked.
'Bonkers In Phoenix' - (Cerebral Caustic) (1980)
Poor Brix. It's 1994. Her marriage to Mark is over. But she's back in the band while Mark's going through one of his difficult patches. She's contributed a rather pretty, folksy ballad. And her former beau has speeded it up, slathered it in all manner of electronic distortion and used it as a backdrop for some hilariously deadpan musings on the lameness of festival culture - "Would all people who want vegetarian burgers go on the left? And those who want meat burgers on the right? Car parking is available at Glastonbury Phoenix…" Mancunian snark meets Californian hippiedom: everyone wins.
'Bremen Nacht Alternative' - The Frenz Experiment (1988)
It just goes on and on and on. I could listen to this track forever, imagining myself striding down a street, elbows out, like a hyper-surreal cartoon character in a bowler hat off to the bank on the verge of a breakdown, coughing to myself about the balance of payments. It's just so savagely choppy, Smith's voice hacking down in time with the drums, bass and noise. The Fall are always at their best when they do not relent.
'Copped It' - The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall(1984)
In 1988 I had my mind blown by Michael Clark's performance of I Am Curious, Orange at Sadler's Wells Theatre London. I was only really there for The Fall who were to play live on the night but within seconds of Clark stepping on stage I was mesmerised. I am not sure when I first saw Charles Atlas' film Hail the New Puritan but I was equally blown away. One of the greatest documents of London's gay post punk counter culture, the film includes a surreal agitated dance from Clark and his company to the music of 'Copped It'. If ever I need inspiration I turn to this. Four minutes of post-punk perfection.
'Craigness' - The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall (1984)
"T'pau/ Mind moving fast is mad/ Mind moving slow is sane" – The best track of their best album, Mark's finest exploration of a writer's steady derangement this side of 'How I Wrote Elastic Man', coupled with a melody so forlorn and fractured it gives you red-eye and a contact-coma. Pavement must have been taking notes, but never got close.
'Cruisers Creek' - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
A song from the Brix era when The Fall flirted with the charts and popularity. It's got a great riff, repeated and repeated and Mark E Smith's typically scornful lyrics. It's not his best writing but the song stays with me for some reason, though my favourites change all the time.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy (Channel 4 News)
'Cyber Insekt' - The Unutterable (2000)
From the patchy yet thrilling The Unutterable the lead track sets heights the rest of the album struggles to reach – one of the most massively danceable tracks the Fall ever created, arcs of art-rock noise and dubbed-out texture riding the best rattling-rails groove since Beefheart's 'Click Clack'. If you're a DJ, thee Fall track to play out.
'Das Vulture Ans Ein Nutter-Wain - The Light User Syndrome (1996)
The Light User Syndrome is a curiously under-regarded Fall record, perhaps because it emerged at the peak of Britpop and coincided with a spectacularly chaotic phase in their operation, with Smith drinking heavily, Brix leaving and so on. It is patchy as hell but contains some absolute bangers, and much of the record makes me think of Can being chased by the infernal creatures escaped from a cyborg petting zoo. From what I can recall this was one of the first The Fall tracks that really struck with me, a really terrific pop melody hiding under the all the distortion and squelch. I always loved the "conceptually a la Bowie" bit for some reason.
'Dedication Not Medication' - Sub-Lingual Tablet (2015)
A greasy groove; a big ol' greasy groove. 'Dedication Not Medication' is a whomping slab of nasty, blubbery, back room wrongness. Bleaching Agent played this at Perc Trax at Corsica Studios last year. The power and the glory of late period Fall stumbling out of that Function One? It just works. And what pills is Smith talking about here anyway? 'bed wet pills'. And who, perchance, is the doctor? 'Pierce Brosnan' is. Perfection.
'Dr. Buck's Letter' - The Unutterable (2000)
As soon as the dirty rhythm starts up I'm gone… into The Fall pit, captivated by the unrelenting groove, the wonderful melding of such great sounds made all the more irresistible by Mark's slurred delivery. Perfect. Me and Chris used to always play it when we DJ'd and it went down a storm.
Cosey Fanni Tuti
The Unutterable captures The Fall entering the new millennium with an accelerated charge, one lit with a sense of experimentation in which the group feel progressively potent and vital. As displayed on this song, It's an experiment that works, the brooding, bass-heavy electronic rumblings drag the song along as it unfurls with an almost malevolent yet infectiously groovy skip. It's a sonic template that was made for The Fall and it's slightly maddening they haven't returned to it more often; the groggy, almost industrial, gargle of the music is the perfect speed for Smith's lyrics to unfurl and wrap themselves around, the pace is less amphetamine-charged guitar gusto and more groggy whiskey slur.
Lyrically Smith is in fine form in a song that appears to interweave a tale of a collapsed friendship and benefit fraud: he's wickedly humorous, his words sharp, precise and cutting but there's almost a regretful and sorrowful tone; his admission of missing someone after a fall-out feels like a rare revelation, even if the vocal is almost intentionally distorted to disguise the use of the words and it remains unclear whether Smith himself is a primary subject in the song (although there is a Dr LJ Buck registered as a GP in Salford).
As the song ends in a gloriously unpredictable sidestep with Smith reading a list of DJ Pete Tong's essential items from a magazine, the music's rhythm locks in perfectly as Smith's venomous mocking is driven by a snarl and bite in the music that growls beautifully. As Smith lets out the closing line "I was in the realm of the essence of Tong" the beat seems to gain a further crunch and intensity in its final moments. The track works so brilliantly because it not only captures The Fall at their most progressive, with their eyes locked firmly on the horizon, but they do this with such intensity and success that tracks like 'Dr. Bucks' Letter', a whopping 24 years into their career, make you reassess who The Fall are as a band altogether.
Daniel Dylan Wray
'Fall Sound' - Reformation Post TLC (2007)
The greatest gig I ever saw The Fall play was at Hammersmith Palais, 1st April 2007 - the last gig to take place there. It was a brilliant desecration of nostalgia for a terrible venue and a glorious offence to the legacy of The Clash that royally upset half of the audience present. The power of the night came from the band line-up, an Anglo-American, twin-bass attack that brought the best out of the groove-led later period Fall tracks. This was a particular highlight, a fast-paced version of a self-referential track that feels like a marching command or shot in the arm for The Fall. You can imagine Smith prowling behind the musicians, lyrics as the revolver in hand, firing at those who falter in the face of enemy fire: "I've seen POWs less hysterical than you", and so on.
'Fortress/Deer Park' - Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
Picking a favourite is very difficult, I've got quite a lot, but I think 'Fortress/Deer Park' is the best song ever written about the record industry. The lyrics describe how he's come down to London to look for a publishing deal, "spare a thought for the sleeping promo dept, they haven't had an idea in two years," "have you been to the English Deer Park, it's where the old folk congregate in the dark".
All the music from The Fall's got this real healthy tension, it's the only way I can describe it. I know he sits at home and he can hear everything in his head before he even hums it to the musicians. I learnt quite a bit from him about anti-production techniques, from somebody who knew so much about what he wanted.
I used to hear The Fall in Rough Trade because Steve Jameson who ran it was a massive fan of Live At The Witch Trials, but at that time I was engrossed in the reggae world. But going to an actual [Fall] gig was when I suddenly got it. Then I started studying the actual lyrics, which weren't that easy to understand just by hearing. You realise just how good he is.
'Frightened' - Live At The Witch Trials (1979)
'Frightened' is an interesting choice as the opening track on Live At The Witch Trials. Lyrically, it immediately nails Mark E Smith's cussed persona, Northern braggadocio – "I'm better than them and I think I'm the best" – and catch-all misanthropy – "I couldn't live in those people places" – mixed with something altogether stranger, a violence simmering under the surface – "I've got shears pointed straight at my chest." It paints Smith as a perennial malcontent, haunting the back streets of Prestwich in the grip of an existential crisis.
Yet musically, it's atypical of the wired, garage skronk intensity of The Fall's early material. It starts with a pained squeal of guitar, but then settles into a simple yet vaguely sinister ascending keyboard melody – there's a cough syrup sluggishness to it, as though played by a sickly child locked in their nursery, more truculent art rock than post-punk agitation. But the chorus builds dramatically, the spindly guitar increasingly hysterical as Smith comes to the realisation, 'I'm in a trance', though whether via the fug of social conditioning or demonic possession remains unclear. There's a brilliant and revealing couplet towards the end: "I feel trapped by mutual affection / And I don't know how to use freedom." While Smith thinks it's the speed that has him constantly on edge, there's also the dawning sense that, once the arrogance of youth begins to fade, everyday life has more than enough in it to inspire terror.
'Garden' - Perverted By Language (1983)
For me, 'Garden' is The Fall at their peak. It coalesces all the best aspects of the group: hard-hitting, disorientating, and captivatingly repetitious, but with glimmers of something softer - poppier, even - at its core. No doubt thanks to the new inclusion of Brix Smith on guitar. Lyrically, Mark E. Smith is on form, using a typically cutting refrain that carries the song in a way nothing else could. On the surface it's cynical and dark, but driven by a melody that's somewhat sentimental. It's this juxtaposition of light and dark that makes 'Garden' stand out as a defining moment.
You can't talk about this song without mentioning Steve Hanley's contribution. The interplay between guitar and bass during the chorus is arguably what makes it, alongside the poetic surrealism of Mark's lyrics - clear and coherent - a facet that's now lacking because of a tendency to mumble through tracks. Still, 'Garden's sheer potency makes up for any wrongdoing The Fall made later on in their career.
Imagining that The Fall is simply Mark E. Smith on vocals and various temporary prisoners of his obsessive drive towards creation on everything else is insultingly reductive. It understates both the blunt brilliance of the musicians who have passed through the band and the astonishing ongoing conjuring trick performed by the man who cajoles them towards virtuosity.
'Garden' is The Fall in extremis, boasting one of Smith's most perplexing and enigmatic lyrics and nearly ten minutes of their most savage yet artful music. There's a stunning live version on YouTube - taken from a 1984 concert at The Hacienda - which may be my favourite single Fall artifact in existence. Oddly, for something that feels so feral, claustrophobia is the overwhelming sensation; the claustrophobia of the song's eldritch vision, of northern England in the mid-80s, of simply being in The Fall.
The central riff circles ominously but never quite resolves. Smith conducts and confronts, at one point threatening to break the lighting tech's fucking neck if he doesn't stop the flashing. And at the heart of what feels more like a terrifying yet cathartic religious rite than a musical performance are drummers Karl Burns and Paul Hanley; like twin Jaki Liebezeits, raised on service station sausage rolls and Watney's Red Barrel, pounding away, simultaneously anchoring the song and blasting it into infinity.
As Garden hurtles towards its climax, it's clear that somehow, through whatever weird trickery he customarily employs, Mark E Smith has made the people with whom he shares a stage play what's in his head. It's a phenomenal achievement on everyone's part and a glimpse of a remarkable and unique relationship between the conductor and the conducted. Smith, when surrounded by the finer iterations of The Fall, is somehow simultaneously slave-driver and liberator.
'Glam-Racket' - The Infotainment Scan (1993)
I like 'Glam-Racket' for a number of reasons. Part of it is of course the glam stomp in question, because, come on, who couldn't like that? What's great is that it has the rolling, roiling feeling but feels just a hair furrier around the corners, not lo-fi, just a little more…I don't know if the word is 'accessible' or something else. I like it because MES may or may not be complaining about Suede — personally I don't think so but leave it to the writers in 1993 going "It MUST be" — but Suede went ahead and finally released their own explicit Fall tribute "Implement Yeah!"
Or maybe I like it because he and the associates of the time took it and turned it into a random other thing soon thereafter with the same beat called 'Glam Racket-Star.' It still has the suggestion to avoid chocolate in favor of salad, don't get me wrong. Healthy advice, and I say this as a lover of both. Also he often sounds even more aggrieved and high pitched in the Peel show version, while the band is all the more swinging, inhabiting that version of rockabilly that became glam and then turned just a little meaner along the way. Add in the warring vocals between MES and the newly returned Brix in the latter half of the song — plus the fact that Karl Burns was back on drums while it was Craig Scanlon's last appearance with the group —and it's almost like everything great about the Fall across several eras is there in one fell swoop, kicking out with a laugh.
'Gramme Friday - Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1980)
My mum played The Fall all the time when I was a kid and I hated them. I vividly remember her listening to Grotesque while driving us back from my nan's in Rochdale one weekend and Gramme Friday started: "The people I like, the people I like live, the people I like live in kitchens and halls". I thought to myself, what stupid lyrics, you can't call that a proper song. Then I reached my teens, nicked my parents' copy of Grotesque, apologised to my mum for ever doubting her, and realised, of course you fucking can. Mark E. Smith can do whatever the hell he likes.
Ashiya Eastwood (Jupiter C)
'Hark The Herald Angels Sing' - Peel Session (1994)
Hearing that the Fall did a couple of Christmas songs once just makes you wish there was a full album. Sure, they'd been associated with the holiday from almost the get-go thanks to 'No Xmas For John Quays', but on the same Peel Session towards the end of 1994 that simultaneously brought back Karl Burns and Brix Smith as well as providing Craig Scanlon with his departure, not one but two of the four songs allotted were seasonal standards. They split the difference — one was more modern, the droll Bobby Helms/Anita Kerr Singers 50s hit "Jingle Bell Rock," but for the other they went back to the 1700s. Then again, if they could score a ballet about William of Orange's rise to the English throne in 1688, bring on the rest of history.
After all, the Fall seem like they've always been digging around in the detritus of whatever 'England' is supposed to be, and the Dickensian/Victorian imposition upon the holiday has rendered the season so utterly Anglo-focused by default in cultural memory since. The trick here, though, is that this isn't quite what a stereotypical reading of the Fall would expect. This isn't a trashing, all yellow snow and failed carollers shagging in slush while drunk on Carlsberg. The arrangement's slippery, almost an easy strut, and MES delivers the lyrics with his usual aplomb, dry by default perhaps, but without a sense that he's sneering at the subject or just singing along on autopilot. Instead, think their interpretation of Blake's 'Jerusalem' if you like. Brix kicks in with a striking contrast on the chorus, adding in a little unexpected dynamic as the arrangement falls back temporarily to just her and Burns. It's the one Fall song you might just get away with at a more soberly minded holiday party, and why not?
'Hit The North Part 1' - The Frenz Experiment (1988)
I could easily pick 'Eat Y'Self Fitter', 'Big New Prinz', 'Totally Wired', they are all classic records for me, but I'll say 'Hit The North' as it's the first Fall track I heard at a point when alternative music was quite new to me. It sounded other worldly and quite exotic to a 16 year old Londoner. My physics teacher (and music mentor) Colin Hamilton was a massive Fall fan, so I'd always listen to whatever I could borrow from the local library on his recommendation. I've often played 'Telephone Thing' or 'L.A' in clubs, especially in my longer, more detailed all-night DJ sets. Being able to join dots across the musical spectrum towards The Fall and back out again is quite satisfying, pulling in the music of ACR, early Happy Mondays, Konk, Quando Quango or Shriekback (to name a handful) to surround it. I'm not sure whose idea it was to put The Fall in the studio with Coldcut but I think it's genius. I also enjoyed the records he made with D.O.S.E and Inch in the late 90s, I used to play 'Plug Myself In' all the time. I class those records as 'The Fall' as his influence over his collaborator is always titanic.
'How I Wrote Elastic Man' - Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1980)
To me, the most remarkable thing about the Fall has always been their ability to make pedestrian elements sound sideways and experimental in context, and 'How I Wrote Elastic Man' is a prime example of that. The song's structure is simple enough, jumping between the bare-bones rockabilly thump of its verses and a dunderheaded punk chorus, but as with many of the Fall's finest nugs, the secret to the song's success (other than Mr Smith's inimitable raving) is in that numbing repetition which they've celebrated from the jump. As the guitarist becomes a human tape loop, the short verse riff (hardly even long enough to qualify as a full riff, really) builds a tension more akin to minimalist composition than rock, making the stumbling catharsis of its chorus all the more satisfying. As the chorus itself clicks into repeat on the song's resolution, that satisfaction becomes mania.
It's a shit hot lyric, too. The song's narrator is grousing on the torture of notoriety, usually the dumbest subject matter for a song, but somehow MES tackling the subject like a beer-battered, free-associating Ray Davies makes the whole thing sympathetic. If you were nominally famous, would you want to suffer the fools who'd demand a piece of your selfie-sucked soul every time you went out for a curry? Certainly not.
'I Feel Voxish' - Perverted By Language (1983)
Every song by the Fall somehow sounds like a demo tape or a B-side; too much polish means you're trying to hide something. Part of the band's quintessential charm was their directness, and this song—with its talk of sharpening knives in the bathroom and no one fucking with you again-- has always struck me as sort of kick in the face. It doesn't underscore Mark E. Smith's unique talent for oratorical mayhem, there are very few words here, but the simplicity of these ones, delivered as only Smith can, have always haunted me: "Offer! Offer! It was not an unreasonable off-ah- ah!"
'Iceland' - Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
'Iceland' seemed so mysterious, with its cryptic lyrics and nagging, moody music. It made we want to go to Iceland. When I finally got there seventeen years after I heard the song, I felt like I was walking through the lyrics, as all the shards of Smith's stream-of-consciousness fell into place in the Reykjavik streets.
'It's A Curse' - The Infotainment Scan (1993)
There's a theory that your first Fall record is always your favourite. I bought The Infotainment Scan on cassette tape from Woolworths in Withernsea. The lyrics of this song show Mark at his acerbic best 'vimto and spangles were always crap / regardless of the look-back bores.' Of course, he had a point about Britpop there. I watched them play a year after and it was the worst gig I've ever seen. Mark was shit-faced, staggered around the stage in a Christmas jumper, and was like your embarrassing uncle doing a turn after twenty pints. I didn't let that put me off and have remained a fan ever since.
Smith has the acerbic character assassination thing down to a fine art, and in this one from The Infotainment Scan the music journalist (the 'interesting hack') is firmly in his cross-hairs once again with evocative and pustulous lyrics. "Down their long egg breath, Cheap shaving lotion days, Their sandwiches stashed under their side seats, Their froglike chins ready to burst".
Scanlon's one-note riff is like a finger prodding in the temples as Smith bemoans the 'look-back bores' who always harp back to The Fall's illustrious past. Smith even seemingly likens old Fall classics to balti and spangles which "were always crap". By the same account, Smith would probably hate this list and all those who wrote it. Which makes me respect the man more.
'LA (Live At Albany Empire)' - Fruitcakes & Furry Collars (Record Mirror Compilation)(1986)
'Tempo House', the Speed Trails version is my favourite Fall track. Wait a second... No, 'Hit The North'. It reminds me of Thursday nights at the Powerhouse in Birmingham. It was also spray painted on a motorway bridge on the M5 (near Junction 3) it was always amazing to see that as you drove towards it (I think it's still there). You know what, now I've really had a think about it and if I'm being really honest with myself I think 'LA' is my favorite, the one on that Record Mirror comp. I prefer it to the LP version, it's perfect and apparently Peel hated it, which makes it even better. What would a Regis version of this Fall track sound like? It would sound like 'Free Range' obviously!
'Leave The Capitol' - Slates EP (1981)
There is at times a resolve so unmistakable in The Fall, a clarity of purpose utterly at odds with their disintegrating soundscapes, as to render schizophrenia the only natural course of action; that or moving up north. That is power.
Lias Saoudi (Fat White Family / The Moonlandingz)
'Living Too Late' - Bend Sinister (1986)
"Although the umbilical chord of being a mere grinning happy Fall fan was cut a long time ago, I've loved The Fall & Mark E. Smith ever since I was a child of 13. I could pretty much map out my pathetic life in Fall albums , each one taking me back to a time of creative self discovery, failure in love, personal triumphs, high times, dark times, life & death. The Fall have been the soundtrack. They shaped the man I am today. Part sensitive male, part twat.
Choosing my favourite Fall record is near on impossible as it would change every 5 minutes, but I think the one song that turned me from a child , frightened by The Fall's music, to being a teenager with The Fall tattooed with black ink on my heart, was the song 'Living Too Late'. Every line of the lyrics is dipped in pure gold: "Sometimes life is like a new bar - Plastic seats - beer below par - Food with no taste - music grates".
"I'm living too late!", thirty years on and that one line alone pretty much sums up every tasteless, soulless , gentrified shit hole across the globe..God Bless M.E.S!!"
Adrian Flanagan (The Eccentronic Research Council / The Moonlandingz)
'Look, Know' - Single (1982)
It's the first Fall single that I bought. I didn't know that much about them. The Casio VL Tone 'da da da' rhythm at the start grabbed my attention. I probably heard it on Peel, but I can't be sure of that.
It's a great rolling groove. I like the inappropriate guitar chord break down bit too. I like it when he sings 'happy memories', he sounds like a dog getting kicked.
It was quite a good pre-going out record, despite the lyric. Good for bopping around your bedroom, drinking cider while deciding which trousers to wear.
Dean Honer (The Eccentronic Research Council / The Moonlandingz)
'Mark'll Sink Us (Live)' - Bremen Nacht Run Out (B-side) (1988)
Great lyrics, Great guitars, that chord change and that feedback. No messin.
Paddy Shine (Gnod)
'M5' - Middle Class Revolt (1994)
If your mood tends to alternate between wistful and celebratory, you're well catered-to as a music fan. How you respond to The Fall, however, depends on the extent of your paranoia – and whether your brand of it aligns with Mark E Smith's, focused not on grand conspiracies but on everyday irritants: roundabouts, football administrators, nightclub bouncers, the countryside, kids in pubs, Ian McShane...
In his memoir, ex-member Steve Hanley recalls wondering why, at the time when Oasis's anthems were in vogue, The Fall were "still sniping away about Chinese restaurants and acid festival tents". But that, of course, is the beauty of this group.
If paranoia has a sound, it's surely The Fall's, mobile between genres but always urgent, anxious, remorseless, unrelenting. 'M5' is The Fall in extremis, thunderous of bassline and contrarian in spirit. It draws on old-fashioned wisdom ("the devil makes work for idle hands"), but it's a tirade against nostalgia – a favourite bugbear of Smith's. And, just to secure that high score in Fall Bingo, there's a reference to a roundabout, too. An "evil" one.
Seek out the 'single' mix included as a bonus track on the 'Middle Class Revolt' reissue, rather than the album version. This is The Fall, you have to be specific.
'Midnight In Aspen' - Fall Heads Roll (2005)
Fall Heads Roll is the only album containing the line up of Ben Pritchard, Steve Trafford and Spencer Birtwistle. They were branded the "traitors, liars and cunts" in follow-up Reformation TLC yet there must have been something in the hostile bristle between them and Smith that created such a raucous unholy racket. In among the punky garage from a particularly volatile era of a constantly combustible band, there are moments of brittle beauty rarely heard on a Fall record.
Maybe it was that 'Pacifying Joint' but Smith gets wistfully reflective on 'The Early Days of Channel Fuhrer' and on this 'Midnight In Aspen'. In a song written by Trafford, Smith sings in an appropriately gonzoid style apparently about a dying Hunter S. Thompson over a woozy skiffle. The song momentarily breaks for conversational babble and feedback into the 'Glam Racket'-esque 'Assume' as if someone's changed the radio channel back and then returns for a surprise reprise, as if rejoining Thompson in a Quaalude induced stumble across the airwaves and the interstate.
'Mr Pharmacist' - Bend Sinister (1986)
Mark E. Smith - as we all know - is the heavyweight champion of absurdist obfuscation, so it's a surprise 'Mr Pharmacist' works on so few levels lyrically, at least until you remember it's a cover. Recorded by the psychedelic blues outfit The Other Half in 1966, this nudge nudge allusion to meeting with a dealer and scoring one's drug of choice may have been directly influenced by the Beatles' 'Dr Robert', although there were plenty of songs detailing such encounters at the time, including the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting For The Man' the following year (and Lou Reed was adamant the Beatles meant shit to him).
The Other Half's version appeared on a Nuggets compilation in the 1980s, which is probably where Smith first heard it - or it might have simply jogged his memory. The Fall concentrate on the main r'n'r groove and dispense altogether with the frankly unnecessary speeded up midsection - prudent pruning from the post-punk pioneers. 'Mr Pharmacist' turned out to be a boon for The Fall, seeing them creep into the top 75 for the first time. Smith's astute choices of cover have continued to work well for them - 'There's A Ghost In My House' and 'Victoria' both entered the top 40, while a version of The Moves' 'I Can Hear the Grass Grow' was their last UK hit single, peaking at no.104 in 2005.
If The Fall aren't doing the numbers so much these days, then perhaps the leader's greatest numerical achievement thus far is reaching the ripe old age of 60. If you live by the sword and die by the sword then Mark E. Smith is surely a sword swallower. Happy birthday Mark E. Mark, you've earned your lifetime achievement award for services to under-the-counter sedatives and general dionysian bad boy behaviour. Just to add, I was somewhat taken aback recently when my own local chemist gave me a seasonal scented candle to thank me for my custom; the ghosts of Christmas past soon came a-knocking with recollections of depravity, debauchery and shame. When you're being rewarded by a certified healthcare professional with tallow and paraffin wax for loyalty, then you know you were probably very bad in a previous life.
'Nate Will Not Return' - Ersatz GB (2011)
A strange tale set to a tight chug. The character Nate Archibald from Gossip Girl is out in London, visiting art galleries and calling his 'father', adopting an English accent and pondering covering 'The Fall song Hot Cake'. I like to think of Mark E Smith on tour, sitting on thin beds in US hotel rooms, unable to avoid the programme Gossip Girl and pursued - in particular - by the spectre of Nate Archibald, getting to know his ways and fancies by dent of hidden hand.
'New Big Prinz' - I Am Kurious Oranj (1988)
The first time I heard the primal, urgent throb of 'New Big Prinz' and him squawking on about what sounded like the 'hip priest' being 'nuts' was a real defining moment for me. This was extraordinary music; marginal, esoteric, surreal even but undeniably extraordinary. I remember it striking me as both wonderful and sad that something this brilliant wasn't loved by more people .
There's something fundamentally unique about the Fall. They occupy a space that is completely their own. Their style is so distinctive that to borrow anything too obviously is almost to immediately drift into parody . As they get older they seem to strangely become less compromising and more relevant; the last time i saw them live was at Shepherd's Bush Empire a few years ago around the time of Your Future, Our Clutter. Typically they played only new material and even though i'd never heard a note before and Smith spent most of the gig staggering around or hunched over the guitarist's amp fiddling with the settings, the experience was utterly compelling; the music so simple and urgent and so totally effective but somehow never predictable.
I think the influence on Suede was huge. The awful, lazy 'glam' references that sometimes get chucked at us were i suppose born of a desire to emulate the visceral pulse of 'New Big Prinz' and 'Mr Pharmacist' and '2X4' rather than being some horrible, ironic nod to the 70s. Mysteriously though, once these things come out of the blender they never quite taste how you imagined. But that surely is the point.
'New Face In Hell' - Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1980)
A favourite Fall song. An ever-changing, ever-tough question that I ask myself in many a meditative moment. But like the band's approach making music, I always take an up-to-date, instinctive approach. So right now, today the choice on a current re-obsession with Grotesque, an album I first connected with in the early 80's, the sense of humour and non musicianship / ace musicianship means it tops my chart. I played it in the car on a recent trip out with my three and a half year old son, he came up with an amazing car seat dance to New Face In Hell. So that is my favourite Fall song. For now.
'No Bulbs' - The Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall (1984)
If you grew up miles from London or Manchester, and relied for your information about music on the Smash Hits indie page and John Peel, by 1984 The Fall were this incredible, untouchable, monolithic musical edifice. The thought that Smith and co were real people, struggling to pay bills, who went to the chip shop and the pub and bought groceries, just never occurred. 'No Bulbs' sounded like a blast of post-apocalyptic poetry, a tale of a future dystopia where nothing worked, where "your home is a trash mount", with the great Scanlon/Hanley/Hanley line-up soundtracking the disintegration with relentless, metronomic precision. People were saying they had a new melodiousness brought in by Brix, but those of us who'd been listening a while knew that had been there all along.
I don't know when the penny dropped, and I started realising that Smith's lyrics weren't abstract works of the imagination but were often reportage, but 'No Bulbs' was one of the first songs in which I heard it. This wasn't a song imagining a post-nuclear bombsite, this was about the house he shared with Brix, where the lights didn't work and the damp built a record of the tenancy. As great as the record is - and it really is; the band reaching a new peak of excellence that would be maintained beyond 'Bend Sinister', the equal of that great stretch between 'Fiery Jack' and 'Hex Enduction Hour' - you were kind of pleased to hear 'Paintwork' and 'My New House' the following year, knowing that at last they could afford to live somewhere a bit less down-at- heel, where Mark could afford a belt to go with his sensible new trousers, and where there was no shortage of 100W bayonet-fits.
'Printhead' - Dragnet (1979)
As a former 20 pence-an-issue badly xeroxed fanzine writer, 'Printhead' speaks to me. In fact it literally shouts at my teenage spotty-oik self with its aggro opening, "Hey you horror-face!" One of two self-referential songs on second album Dragnet to literally paraphrase reviews of the band's live performances (the other being 'Your Heart Out') 'Printhead' is the most on-the-nose and close to the bone. When Smith says "The singer is a neurotic drinker / The band little more than a big crashing beat, Instruments collide and we all get drunk", he admits "The last two lines were a quote" and by all accounts the review caused the band to metaphorically, although not physically, wet themselves.
With Craig Scanlon replacing Martin Bramah on guitar and Stephen Hanley also in the fold at the start of a fruitful Fall career, Smith barks over a more garage sound than on the spidery debut Live At The Witch Trials. Meanwhile one-time cabaret drummer Mike Leigh beats a louche but unrelenting path on his one album with the band.
When Smith says "There's a barrier between writer and singer" I wince as I imagine most music writers are failed rock stars. With lyrics "We laughed with them, When it was take the piss time", I get transported back to awkward backstage interviews when bands toyed with my impressionable earnestness. I cringe upon Smith's confession about over-wrought reviews "When we read them, we go to pieces". I like to think that despite being a Southerner and an 'egg-head' not an 'ex-worker man' like Mark, that he might think me "uh-huh..a good man". But herein lies the rub, with "print you substitute an ear, for an extra useless eye", and the fact that I want Smith to like me shows that the 'I' in 'Print' is mine, the music writer's own vanity.
'Repetition' - Bingo Master's Break Out EP (1978)
For a while, after I first heard The Fall, I only really pretended to like them. Lent a CD of Live At The Witch Trials by a teenage friend far cooler and more popular than I with whom I'd swap the discoveries from our nascent musical forays, to my fourteen year-old, Smiths and Cure-enamoured self the record, all looping jabs and sparse barbs, was simply too much of a shock. I simply didn't 'get it'.
Of course, sense prevailed in time, and The Fall have since become one of my most lasting musical loves, but at the time it was only 'Repetition', tacked on as a bonus track to the CD with the rest of the Bingo Master's Break Out EP that made the crucial first impression. Though it would take longer for the rest of the record – and subsequently The Fall's career – to make its genius apparent, there was something about this track's hypnotic, well, 'Repetition' that kept me returning to let the whole of Live At The Witch Trials make its mental mark. 'Repetition' gave me a reason to make the effort, and it's a good job I did.
'Riddler!' - Bend Sinister (1986)
Bend Sinister is The Fall's Low, Mark E. Smith's fantasy broadcast from a cold war bunker, with an atmosphere of codes, covert technologies, wire-taps and riddles. 'Riddler!' is the central track, a track that invites decoding while refusing any notion of straightforward intelligibility. "Operation mind control", Smith sings, while fractured riddles are offered, bleak drones rise up like fog under searchlights and images cohere and break apart with a paranoiac intensity that is uncanny and hypnotic.
I take it as one of Smith's most evocative self-portraits, himself locked away, underground, monitoring communications, sat in the glow of a stack of monitors at 3 a.m., a sort of uncanny 'Warszawa'-styled twin of Smog's portrait of "Prince Alone in the Studio". Alongside 'R.O.D.' and 'U.S. 80's – 90's' it represents some of The Fall's bleakest and deepest visions of the night-time of the 1980s.
'Rowche Rumble' - Dragnet (Non-Album Track) (1979)
Stunning skittering drums - oddball rasping keyboards & wobbly rockabilly styles Mark providing his best UK rap feel blasting his target with pure acidic force... Love it.
Jon More (Coldcut)
'Serum' - The Unutterable (2000)
I might own all of The Fall's albums and seen them more times than I can remember but I've never been into the anally retentive completist attitude of many of the league of bald-headed men. I know the history but it hasn't ever got in the way of my pleasure of The Fall doing things new. I think this is partly due to getting into them relatively late in my life and their career. I was a fan of The Marshall Suite, the first Fall LP I properly heard, but it was The Unutterable that blew my mind and to this day remains my favourite album. Others have picked 'Dr. Buck's Letter', which along with The Bug's 'Skeng' is my joint no.1 piece of sonic brutalism from the 00s, so instead I'll have to have 'Serum', a frantic and punishing slab of digital hardcore the like of which I wish The Fall would make again.
'Smile' - Perverted By Language (1983)
Who would break a butterfly upon a wheel? Mark E. Smith, all day, every day, until the Marquis Cha Cha ends up as a 'New Face in Hell'. Never afraid to bring the petty back, some of the Fall's most magnificent moments show Smith unleashing his seemingly endless ability to take offence at arseholes.
Musically, 'Smile' sounds like it should be soundtracking an historical doc about the Allies entering Berlin in 1945, a pummelling all-out assault punctuated by Smith's increasingly frenzied scream of "SMILE!"
But all that's being depicted, somewhat cryptically, is Smith ridiculing a twattish bloke in a club - just what did this "tight faded male arse", "lick spittle southerner" do that makes MES want to "Repeal gun laws in my brain" or comtemplate "positive GBH"? For extra yucks, The Fall decided to play this on The Tube on their national television debut, the director intercutting exactly the kind of people roughed up in the song.
'Spectre Vs Rector' - Dragnet (1979)
This is a horror story - the first line, to make this clear, is "MR James live on, live on". It's the only thing that is clear in the whole song - a great part of its charm is in its intentional obscurity, which makes it scary as well as blackly funny, and a cause for continuous pub conversation.
The production is radical: the first half was recorded in a warehouse on a portable cassette recorder, vocals and instruments bouncing off every wall, an intentional blur of sound; part two (or three? or four?), in the studio, begins with the hero's declaration that he has saved a thousand souls. There are obscure incantations ("yog soggoth... sludge hai choi"), and references to Ray Milland and Roger Corman ("arkorman" is hand written on the album artwork) from a film only Smith seems to have seen - digging around, I'd guess it's The Premature Burial. Then there's the "ghost" vocal behind Smith, oddly reminiscent of the Jeff Beck Group's I've Been Drinking. But of course it doesn't sound like Jeff Beck, or read like MR James, or need much scholarly interpretation to leave a permanent impression. It is entirely without precedent.
Being a fan of MR James I love 'Spectre vs Rector'. We need more punk gothic superhero showdowns with soundtracks like this.
'Spoilt Victorian Child' - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
I knew the Fall were a band the NME rattled on about but I didn't know their music. As a fourteen year old Smiths obsessive, it came as something of a shock. It sounded like a bunch of pissed up bailiffs coming round to kick your front door in. It featured lyrics that read like scrawlings on the wall from an insane asylum barked out over music that hit like simultaneous punch to the chest and boot to the balls. This was not Wolf Child. This was not a bunch of goths from a Welsh seaside town. This was a tripping Lewis Carroll being force fed homemade amphetamines; the angry phone call to the Smiths' lonely hearts ad. Even though I became an obsessive fan for the period following (right up to the end of the Fontana years), I'm not sure a Fall record ever affected me as much as this one.
'Tempo House' - Perverted By Language(1983)
So, has anyone mentioned the theory yet? You know, the one that goes, 'People always look most fondly on the period of The Fall which coincides with the period when they first started listening to them'? Well, 'Tempo House' wasn't the first time I heard The mighty Fall - I'd had my ears disrespected before that point by 'Bingo Master's Breakout' and 'Rowche Rumble' blasting out of my mate's elder brother's bedroom and no doubt thought to myself, 'What the hell is this bleeding racket?' - but I'll happily take 'Tempo House' as my introduction proper. I tuned into John Peel one night hoping to tape the Jesus And Mary Chain's debut single 'Upside Down' but was instead greeted by this bracing Krautrock-influenced oddity from Perverted By Language (recorded live in 1983 at Manchester's Hacienda club) with its strange mentions of Churchill's speech impediment, the (Human League/Heaven 17 related) B.E.F. and "mandrake anthrax". So despite my initial reaction being: "This guy can't sing, all of the instruments are out of tune and the lyrics don't make any sense", I kept the tape and soon became obsessed with it. And, as I may have mentioned before I took to playing it to people in school and telling them it was my band, to which they'd always say: "Jesus, your band is awful." What do they know? "I tell ya, the Dutch are weeping in four languages at least." Many happy returns Mark.
'The Man Whose Head Expanded' - Perverted By Language (1983)
This writer maintains that you will judge all Fall releases by the point at which you entered their wonderful and frightening world. So it is that 'The Man Whose Expanded' - The Fall's first post-Marc Riley single - ranks so highly round these parts. Everything that you want from The Fall at their very best is here: Steve Hanley - a man whose name should be spoken of in far more revered and hushed terms - redefines what a bass guitar is all about as he locks in with the twin drum attack of Paul Hanley and the enigmatic Karl Burns, and Craig Scanlon's cheesewire guitar.
Oh, and Mark E. Smith yelling, "Turn that bloody blimey Space Invader off!"
Like an LSD trip during an audience with the Pope, it's the kind of thing that can change profoundly your world view forever.
'Theme From Sparta FC' - Country On The Click (2003)
Football and music have never been easy bedfellows, which makes what happened in 2003 all the more strange. With the honourable exception of New Order's 'World In Motion', attempts to consolidate the two invariably end in derision, from out-of-tune football squads boasting about the cup they're surely about to win in foreign climes (they usually go out in the first round and come back empty handed) to a glittery simulacrum of the King of Pop hanging ominously outside Craven Cottage with a bag of sweets (okay, I made up the sweets). Then in 2003, two independently released songs - or their riffs at least - went on to huge notoriety. One became a well known theme tune, the other went viral and achieved world domination.
The latter was 'Seven Nation Army' by the White Stripes, which of course has nothing to do with football, but that didn't stop Club Brugge fans chanting the main hook at an away game in the San Siro in Italy. Other fans copied, things snowballed, and eventually the riff became themost ubiquitous sporting chant in history.
The other was 'Theme From Sparta FC', an angry homage to Greek minnows Sparta, imagining them beating Chelsea in the Champions League and telling their fans to "take your fleecy jumper / you won't need in any more"). Sparta fans are known as 300 - which could either be inspired by the film or their average weekly attendance; the chances of them ever getting anywhere near the Champions League are remote, but Mark E. Smith has always had a fertile imagination and you have to applaud it. The song also features the words "knives" and "slaughter", but that didn't stop Auntie picking it up and using the opening riff as the theme music for Final Score for a number of years. Smith even got invited on the show to read the scores from the Videprinter, and he was on his best behaviour too.
In 2004, Smith threw his vocal support behind Greece in the Euros. "My wife [Elena Poulou is] Greek," he told Dave Simpson at The Guardian, "and when Greece won their first game in the European championships, I said, 'Put a bet on now.' We didn't put the bet on, but I know these things. Two of my mates put £500 on at 250-1. When Greece won the tournament the wife went crazy, absolutely mad. We even ran a Greek flag up in the front garden. We were very popular that week."
Although football fans tend to get behind the underdog, the unfancied Greeks played a style of football that was impossible to love, an ultra-defensive, physically aggressive strategy that sets out to frustrate the shit out more talented players. Purists hated them for their brand of football, which has often been called "anti-football". Smith was no doubt in his element.
'Theme From Sparta FC (Peel Session Version)' - Peel Session (2003)
Recorded as part of The Fall's penultimate John Peel session - and their first for the late broadcaster in just over four years - this version of 'Theme From Sparta FC' makes the convincing argument that The Fall should forever be locked up at the BBC's Maida Vale studios to make all subsequent recordings.
This is powerful and muscular stuff that stands as a proud equal to whatever your favourite Fall period is (and probably more so if you don't share mine). In many ways, this version is typical and emblematic of The Fall: just as you're about to give up on them as drunken swine content to sit in their own piss, they always managed to grab you by the scruff of the neck and drag you in for more.
'Totally Wired' - Grotesque (After The Gramme) (1980)
My favourite Fall track is 'Totally Wired', which is also the first Fall song i ever heard. I taped it off of college radio in 1981 or 1982, and it inspired me to start drinking coffee.
When I first heard this it sounded like the achievement of the potential I'd first seen/heard in The Fall, when Pete Shelley took me to a gig at Manchester's Squat venue ("Richard, you really have to see this lot!"). I recall phoning Rough Trade's Geoff Travis (maybe he'd sent me a white label?) to say how totally wired I felt on hearing it.
'Underground Medecin' - Live At The Witch Trials (1979)
I love early Fall; its like a brittle, aggressive art project using vivid textures, imagery and language to paint an impressionistic documentary of Manchester.
"I found a reason not to die... the spark inside" - I'll drink to that. Happy Birthday, Mr Smith.
'Various Times' - It's The New Thing (Single) (1978)
An old flatmate gave me his record collection and this was hidden in his pile of Fast Product 45s. 'Various Times' is the b-side of 'It's The New Thing' and one of his favourites. We often listened to it post-pub and it will always remind me of his genius. One of the many things I like about The Fall is that they didn't look like punks. They were above all of that. Mark wore tank-tops, his hair is in a bowl-cut on the front cover. The Fall work best with a female presence, and Yvonne Pawlett's electric piano really makes this record. Mark takes you into a dark corner, and rambles "we're going back / to 1940 / no money / and I live in Berlin / I think I'll join up / become a camp guard / no war for me". It's ominous and threatening, but low-key – something that The Fall do well on later albums like Bend Sinister, but Various Times is where it all begins and is the record I most regularly return to.
'Victoria' - The Frenz Experiment (1988)
The Kinks did some of the best skewering of the British bourgeoisie in the late sixties with songs like this one. The Fall's cover is a faster, more compact, and rather faithful version of the original. I like to think the purpose of the band's recording, from 1988, wasn't to reimagine the song for a post-punk audience, but to highlight the timelessness and the joy of a brilliantly executed satire in lyrics.
'Weather Report 2' - Your Future Our Clutter (2010)
To my mind, Weather Report is the final truly great Fall track where Mark E Smith puts the personal into his songwriting. In a sort of modern-day Bill Is Dead, Smith's vocals are as if an interior monologue as he walks a street, memories triggered. "you gave me the best years of my life" he sings, perhaps addressing the group that he took control of way back in the late 70s, convinced that only he was able to do justice to this almost magical entity called The Fall. There's something horrifically ominous to the track, all electronic murmur and threatening world pools before the death whisper of the final line "you don't deserve rock & roll". I've long felt that it would have been a fine, final Fall track.
'What About Us?' - Fall Heads Roll (2005)
The album "Fall Heads Roll" came out when I was 12 and was just what I needed. Fantastic gritty energy & extremely catchy! "Pacifying Joint" & "What About Us?" were frequently played in the family car - excellent carpool karaoke material. It was the same year I started playing bass so I also loved playing along to 'Blindness'.
'What You Need' - This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
The Fall have always faced down the currents of their times. But big deal, right? Most left-field rock bands do. Few do it with such a abstracted touch and yet invest their grievances with such heaviness. For The Fall, dissent always feels spiritual rather than literal. 'What You Need' seems to be railing against a prescriptive mediascape in which all lifestyle advice, all fake solutions, blur into meaninglessness; undermined by their sheer banality. But it's where Smith and the band takes it that counts.
The relentlessness and gathering force of the music accentuates this sense of overload. And eventually, Smith's finely honed sense of absurdity (and finely honed taste for vendetta) takes over and his complaints begin to proliferate, touching upon health fascism, the management of Rough Trade records and "slippery shoes for your horrible feet" (who knows?). In an interview cited in reference to this song on the indispensable website The Annotated Fall, Smith mentions a Twilight Zone episode in which "this guy could change his face by looking at a face in the newspaper and have it become his face".
No face in the newspaper ever became Mark E Smith's face, or anything like it.
'Wings' - Kicker Conspiracy (Single) (1983)
Empathy and tenderness aren't qualities perhaps naturally associated with Mark E. Smith, but both are present in 'Wings'. Admittedly, finding them requires interpreting the lyric in a particular way, but it's one that doesn't require unseemly or painful mental contortions on the part of the listener. The song is ostensibly a science-fiction narrative, in which Smith's unnamed, first-person hero acquires an unusual time machine ("a pair of flabby wings") and hovers back to the 1860s, to try to undo "a list of incorrect things".
Yet this isn't a flight of fancy from the pen of that comic-book author whose breakdown is depicted in 'How I Wrote 'Elastic Man' the wings' owner is either a real bloke Smith would have met on one of his long afternoons haunting flock-wallpapered pubs (such as the one the typically low-rent video is shot in), or a stand-in or composite built from recalled and embellished conversations with denizens of the city's twilit streets. "Now I sleep in ditches," he tells us; "the wings rot and curl right under me" - and the narrative takes its final leap of time and place, suddenly presenting us with a homeless man wrestling with mental illness and making sense of a shattered life with the dazzling gifts of an imagination he never will have the opportunity to turn into art.
It helps, of course, that the lyric is set to one of the greatest of all Fall grooves - Craig Scnalon's riff as complicatedly metronomic as something Jimmy Nolen would have played for James Brown; Stephen Hanley's bass rumble never mor intensely seismic; the twin drum power of Karl Burns and Paul Hanley driving the whole thing forward. The performance emphasises the song's beguiling potency - Smith proving that The Fall was never just him and whoever was available, but an entity that functioned best when his singular gifts were allied to the players who most thoroughly understood what he was doing and knew how to turn it into spellbinding music.
'Words Of Expectation' - Peel Session (1984)
The Fall have never been more complex, expansive or rewarding than during their insanely prolific early '80s period. 'Words of Expectation' perfectly captures the creative tension of this era, as MES stretches his legs over nine minutes of half-built, awkward, drum 'n' bass groove.
Classic Smith cut 'n' paste capsules - "I'm proud of the way I've avoided prison, if we carry on like this we'll end up like King Crimson" - work up a maze of disorientation within the track, and as ever with the great man, it's impossible to assign an ideology to his oeuvre - are these lyrics his own viewpoints, advertising slogans, newspaper headlines, character portrayals? The result is as indecipherable and humorously nonsensical as his finest work.
For whatever reason, a studio version of 'Words Of Expectation' never materialised, so we're left to pick through the bones of the Peel session and various bootleg recordings. A shame - cos add this, 'Backdrop', 'Surrogate Mirage', 'Pilsner Trail' and 'I'm Into CB' to their Perverted By Language and it could've been a double LP for the ages.