Friday, January 26, 2018

The Fall

Well, after saying I was going to try to post here once a week - it's been three. Yeah, I know. And what brings me back? The all too constant theme of this blog - another obituary.

A couple, I suppose - last week was Dolores O'Riordan, lead singer from the Cranberries, purveyor of beautiful and moving 90s pop, dying mysteriously in London, aged 46. A sad story - her songs were haunting and powerful, and though I didn't pay much attention to them when they came out, they were work that could hold you. It's a shame.

And then this week - about the only think Mark E Smith had in common with Ms O'Riordan is that they both sang back tot he audience sometimes (she apparently did it early because she as shy.) And they were singers and they died this week, both dying fairly young. Though you'd never know that from Smith - he was 60 - but he looked like he rode those 60 years hard. For a long time, he's looked the part of a dissolute working class British rock star.... Though maybe not always - look at them in 1988, on Tony wilson's show, Brix in ful 80s new wave mode, and Mark - tall, sleek, almost handsome, rocking that purple turtleneck while Wilson pays tribute: "if there was a holy grail, only Mark Smith would be allowed to touch it" -

The years were not kind - but he didn't slack. Working through to the end - this is from last October, confined to a wheelchair, looking very ill, but still raving away like always, compelling and controlling, the center of everything.

The Fall were one of those bands, there were a few, that I heard, when I was young, loved every time I heard them - but didn't, quite, pursue at the time. I don't know why. The Fall, Gang of Four, Wire - post punks all? Maybe. I won't explain it. Tried to make up for it later, but its a daunting proposition with the Fall - lots of records to pick through, and they never really slowed down, putting out new records all through the 00s, always interesting. As it happens, in my dotage, this might be my favorite period/style of music - post-punk, lean, sharp guitars - these bands, PIL, American groups like The Minutemen and Mission of Burma, no wave, early Feelies - which I would expand to include a few groups that pre-date punk (let alone post-punk) - Television, Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, or the punk groups that worked this vein, like Joy Division, the Buzzcocks... (And any style that includes Pere Ubu and Television is going to be my favorite, it is true.)

The Fall were as good as any of them. Propulsive, repetitious riffing, a mix of garage, Krautrock, art rock - Smith ranting over all of it, anchoring the sound, playing around it - almost monotonous, but always rhythmic, with bursts of - otherness.... Vocals like the guitars, then. With the relentless propulsion of the drums and bass in the back - they are endlessly great.

Live Set, 1981:

And still great in the 2000s - here's What About Us? at a festival - "he was dealing out drugs to old ladies" -

I admit - it's hard to parse out what he's raving about a lot of the time, but when you get to the lyrics, they are worthy of the rest - clever, funny, weirdly erudite... Especially how funny they are - jokes and wordplay and mockery - they didn't take themselves to seriously, obviously. What more can you say to something like this? Video to "Eat Yourself Fitter" - words, images, their attempts at dancing - "saw the holy ghost on the screen"...

And so on. I suppose ultimately, though, being who I am, utterly in love with the electric guitar, what caught my ear in the 80s and holds my ear now are the guitars - the riffs - the sound - their propulsive fury. And so to leave you with Brix Smith knocking out one of my favorite riffs ever, Cruiser's Creek, live in 1985 or so...


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