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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Songs of experience: The Fall are fuckfaced

Well, it wasn't always plain sailing - but I've got to the end of Simon Ford's Hip Priest, his rather exhausting account of the wonderful and frightening world of The Fall, 1977-2001.

It's a good book for people like me. Meaning: a useful chronological tour through the main events (hirings, firings, record releases, critical reaction, Mark E Smith's obnoxious ego) for people who may be longtime Fall admirers, though not fully-paid-up Fall devotees.

Yeah, I do, uh, dig-uh repetition, and I do totally rate a lot of their music: Dragnet, Hex Enduction Hour (maybe their best), most of the 80s output except their Brix-y pop stuff, Levitate, some of Mark E Smith's collaborative material (with Edwyn Collins, Von Südenfed, DOSE etc). It's amazingly good and a track record to be proud of (Check the record / Check the guy's track record ....).

But hey, less of the John Peel-esque rhapsodising. As far as Ford's book is concerned, the monstrousness of Smith's ego is what come across almost as much as the quality of the music. More, really. I can appreciate that Smith is, as Ford observes, wary of revealing too much in interviews and I can understand that part of his approach to being creative is to constantly throw a spanner in the works (interfering with band members' kit on stage, provoking arguments and sacking people over and over again). It's his rather effective destruct-renewal process, though doubtless sometimes more a case of clearing up the wreckage after yet another drunken episode.

OK, fine. But ... well, the semi-aggressive bar room bore routine is all rather wearing (as evidenced in some of his lager-in-hand interviews of recent years) and - I think partly as a result - I've failed to keep tabs on some of The Fall's recent output (meanwhile I couldn't bear that period where Smith was warbling away in pained-crooner mode).

Another part of the problem is the over-praising and all round obsessiveness of The Fall worshippers, the Prestwich ultras. If one more person calls Smith a "genius" or refers to him as "pop's supreme contrarian" I might just ... er, I might just record over my entire collection of Fall albums on C90 cassette. There! Take that, you bloody hip priest!

No, with Smith's "I am the great MES" shtick becoming less and less amusing over time, The Fall definitely constitute one of music's more clotted and claustrophobic affairs. Ford makes the rather startling point that Smith must have been on stage for just about longer than anyone else in modern music (38 years, thousands of gigs), but I doubt many people actually envy Smith his life. Certainly Steve Hanley, after 19 years of supplying (often completely distinctive) bass for The Fall sounds completely worn out by it all at the time of their infamous bust-up in New York in 1998. Understandably enough. If I had to hang around with anyone like Smith I'd be an ex-Fall member in about five minutes, but luckily some good musicians have been more patient and there's a huge musical legacy as a result.

In my opinion one of the least attractive things about mouthy Mark is his anti-intellectual posturing. He's happy to name the band after a Camus book and cite HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe as influences, yet he employs the autodidactic's disdain for other people's intellectualising. Which is rather hilarious when you see the sprawling infrastructure of something like The Annotated Fall site, with its quasi-academic notes on hundreds of The Fall's lyrics (for a taste, check out the notes to Spector vs. Rector: it's PhD-tastic ...). Truly, he has spawned a monster!

I like the Annotated site actually, not least for its William Blake etching on the homepage. Smith is a latterday, Kronenbourg-swilling version of the great old man of Albion. Singing songs of innocence and experience, and songs of fuckfaced fiends ...

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