Simon Price, "Fall's Gold"
Melody Maker?, ? December 1991, Stockport Town Hall (18 or 23 Dec. 1991)
TOWN HALL, STOCKPORT
They're always be a Fall. And we'll always need one. A sarcy switchblade to the throat of all the mediocre crap we delude ourselves is hip. In these times, in this land of cloth-eared morons, we probably need Mark E. Smith's venomous intellect more than ever (a point underlined all too clearly by the inoffensive, middle-class, so-called dangerous fake-rage of that fucking shite Nirvana album which precedes their appearance). This is the man, remember, whose first words at the Reading festival were "Idiot groups with no shape or form/ Out of their heads on a quid of blow/The shapeless keks flapping up a storm. He must have seen Blur soundchecking.
Stockport is about as grim as the North gets. Inside grotesquely ornamental interior of Stockport Town Hall, amongst all the gaudy Victorian civil pride and cheap festive tinsel, the original Manic Street Preacher shuffles up to the lectern with a crease ironed into his jeans and delivers a welcome blast of the Anti Christmas Spirit: a hybrid of Alf Garnett, James Joyce, Mr Abusing and Scrooge muttering "humbug-ah!" in the face of enforced conviviality. I've always found Mark E Smith's rabid, loaming, bile-spattered vocal physically, almost sexually thrilling. Which may sound strange. But to most Fall apologists - the kind of people who use words like "trippy" (snigger, snigger) and "surreal" when their knowledge of art is roughly zero - Smith is little more than an alternative Vic Reeves, his lyrics deliberately meaningless streams of diseased consciousness. Which is to miss the point entirely. Smith is a clairvoyant to wit: one who sees clearly, storing deep into your soul and cackling at what he sees.
That said a Fall performance is only ever as good as their last couple of albums, because this (with the glorious exception of "Big New Prinz") is invariably all they'll play. And since he hasn't made a great one since Brix left (from which I draw no conclusions whatsoever), we're clearly not in for a classic. "Extricate" and "Shiftwork" not only saw The Fall abandon chart-tickling cover versions: the focussed incisiveness of the...[cut]
Tonight he simply can't be arsed. The perverse old fucker barely even looks at us. Smith's legendary misanthropy isn't quite so attractive when it's turned on the very people who pay the bills. Kurious.
The most troubled, awkward, ill-fitting band in the land are stuck in a rut. It's no headline, no call for obituaries. At his sneering, megaphone-wielding best I can still think of no greater poet in British pop.
Here's to an unhappy new year.