Mark E Smith was the ultimate outlier, a genius contrarian who carved out one of the most singular bodies of work in British music. His sad passing has prompted thousands of heartfelt obituaries. Here, Q’s Simon McEwen revisits The Fall’s 32 studio albums and chooses his six favourites.
The Fans’ Favourite:
Hex Enduction Hour
“Where are the obligatory ni**ers? Hey there fuckface!” yelps Mark E Smith over the pummelling two-drummer assault of The Classical, the opening track from fan-favourite Hex Enduction Hour, The Fall’s fourth album. It’s a startlingly confrontational beginning to a record which saw the charismatic 25-year-old former docker’s clerk from Salford railing against everything from sex criminals, “long-horn breed Nazis” and profile razor units. There’s no let-up from there on in, and while the almighty “Northern rockabilly” rumble – a jagged, post-punk approximation of the Velvets, Stooges, Can and Beefheart recorded in a cupboard – of Hip Priest, Fortress/Deer Park and Iceland sounded as if they could cave in on themselves at any moment, it only ramps up the thrilling tension.
Listen To: The Classical
The Post-Punk Tour De Force:
Perverted By Language
(Rough Trade, 1983)
So shocked was Radio 1 DJ John Peel on hearing the stop-start rockabilly charge of opener Eat Y’Self Fitter for the first time, he fainted in the studio. An extreme reaction, indeed, but reason enough for the Fall obsessive to describe the band as reassuringly “always different, always the same”. For Perverted By Language, though, Smith changed things up a bit and gave his band – Steve Hanley (sinuous bass), Craig Scanlon (scabrous guitar), Karl Burns and Paul Hanley (double-attack drums), and wife Brix (guitar and lead vocals on Hotel Blöedel) – free(ish) rein to express themselves, especially on Smile’s slow-build tumult, while the singer busied himself with his most oblique lyrics yet on Garden (“A Jew on a motorbike!”).
Listen To: Smile
If You Only Listen To One…:
This Nation’s Saving Grace
(Beggars Banquet, 1985)
If the previous year’s The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… found The Fall becoming ever more accessible, thanks largely to Brix’s pop sensibilities and wardrobe direction, it was on John Leckie-produced eighth LP This Nation’s Saving Grace that everything was properly in sync. As Smith’s love of the English language and exquisite phrasing (see Spoilt Victorian Child: “Mirrors can’t hide the toxic of disfigured poxes…”) came to the fore, the crack rhythm section locked into a bouncy, Krautrockin’ groove, effortlessly underpinning Brix’s catchy riffage. Both menacing and strange, This Nation… is The Fall at the peak of their powers, its influence clearly detected in the work of fellow outsiders such as Happy Mondays, LCD Soundsystem, Pavement and Underworld.
Listen To: I Am Damo Suzuki
The Post-Divorce Rebirth:
Recorded straight after Mark and Brix’s divorce, with founding member Martin Bramah drafted in as her replacement, Extricate appeared at first glance to be an “as we were” statement of intent. But the polished, synth-inflected grooves of I’m Frank and Hilary were The Fall in pop mode, even the baggy beats of the Coldcut-produced Telephone Thing suggesting the usually trend-resistant Smith had succumbed to the prevalent “Madchester” vibe. And on the gently-strummed ballad Bill Is Dead, Smith’s heartfelt, if ironic, almost-singing – “This is the greatest time of my life” – showed a rare moment of genuine tenderness. Recently reissued in a box with 1991’s Shift-Work and 1992’s Code: Selfish, these are the pick of ’90s Fall.
Listen To: Chicago, Now!
Still Got It!:
(Cherry Red, 2015)
Despite Mark E Smith’s dogged refusal to reference his past, The Fall’s 31st album could sit comfortably between ’86’s Bend Sinister and ’88’s The Frenz Experiment, were he not grouching about the digital age. Buoyed by a relatively stable line-up that was unchanged in eight years, Smith sounds re-energised here as he put social media in his sights on Fibre Book Troll (“I want a fucking Facebook troll!”) and the self-explanatory Quit iPhone (“Why don’t you leave it alone?”), while the motorik chug of stand-out Auto Chip 2014-2016 is text-book Fall. For a 40-year career marked by volatility and unconventionality, Sub-Lingual Tablet helped redefine Smith’s status as the ultimate maverick, barking abuse from the sidelines at all he sees wrong in the world.
Listen To: Auto Chip 2014-2016
50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong
The Fall have been poorly served by compilations because they’ve been signed to so many different labels, but this “39 Golden Greats” set, spanning 1977-2003, is about as good as it gets. There’s a slew of seminal early singles (Fiery Jack, Totally Wired, Kicker Conspiracy) and mid-’80s gems (No Bulbs, Living Too Late), which make the case for its Elvis-punning title. Couple this with 2001 comp A World Bewitched, a treasure trove of oddities such as Lee Perry cover Kimble and inspired collaborations with the likes of Edwyn Collins and D.O.S.E, and your bluffer’s guide to this country’s most wonderful and frightening national treasure is almost complete.