Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mark E Smith: No More Mr Cranky

Mark E Smith is dead.  I was quite taken aback.

Thus The Fall is no more.  A band whose only constant was Smith, over a period of 40 years there were, at last count, 66 other members, a third of whom lasted less than a year.  Smith famously said "if it's me and your granny on bongos, it's The Fall".  Or, as a recent reviewer said, it's "Mark E Smith and whoever he's barking orders at".

The music was harsh, challenging, rambling, sometimes discordant, always distinctive, sometimes even pleasant.

One of the few bands I've seen in three different countries, I was fortunate not to see them when he had his back to the audience the whole time.  Apparently.  These days, the only albums I have of theirs are Bend Sinister, Infotainment Scam, Extricate, the A-Sides compilation and, hopefully still findable, Slates.  There's a lot to like if you persist, but my personal favourite is Domesday Pay-Off, a rejigged Bend Sinister that excludes Dktr Faustus and Bournemouth Runner, but adds singles There's a Ghost In My House and Hey! Luciani.  Look for the tracks R.O.D., Gross Chapel and Riddler.

My current album favourites are Slates, Bend Sinister and Extricate.  All have much to recommend, but there's so much catalog (31 studio albums) you'll always find something to like.

The cause of death has not been stated, but it's probably due to long years of drinking and smoking.  And crankiness, no doubt.  The above reviewer's characterisation of Smith/the Fall was:

"a shambolic artist whose astonishing productivity, creative restlessness, and utter disdain for the niceties of civil society know no bounds. This is Mark E. Smith’s lawn, and we’re all invited to get the fuck off of it."


bazza said...

Funny thing is that he's getting more media space now than he ever did. They do love a misfit! Who influenced who between them and The Stranglers?
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S Simmonds said...

Good to hear he's been getting a run in the UK - although "Mark E Smith" and "more media space" will always strike me as strange bedfellows.

Someone has made a comparison between the Stranglers and the Fall (basswise in particular), but that's not the same as making a case. I think the Fall's original sound had more to do with their collective capabilities - and the fact that they were inspired to start after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert.

If the Fall were sent back to redo parts of their album - like the record company got the Stranglers to do - they'd drop the company and go somewhere else. They cycled through record companies with alacrity, amidst probably mutual ill will. Which kept the Fall on the outer. As my recollection of New Zealand bands goes, this frees the band to do their own unique thing - and keeps them in semi-poverty. That's the choice they make, and the world is better for it.

But the sheer persistence and volume of output speaks something.

(BTW, I recall another band that cycled through its members at a somewhat similar pace: Pere Ubu (led by David Thomas). And they have very interesting catalogue too.)