Alex Ross, "The Fall is Heading for a Rise,
With a New Album"
New York Times, August 20, 1993 (C2)
"We're very popular in Greece," says Mark E.Smlth, the waspish
lead singer of the Fall. "They don't like anything over there, but
they like the Fall. I mean, people like Sting can't get gigs there then.
No one knows how it happened." Speaking by phone from home in Manchester,
England, Smith quickly telegraphs the mordant skewed outlook that has given
him and his band legendary status In the indie-rock world.
Lyrics as Weapons
After 16 years and two dozen records the Fall, which will perform at the Grand in the East Village tonight, defies all odds and keeps on going. Its sound and personnel have changed many times; there was a grating-noise period, a sort of Minimalist anthem period, experiments in pop stylings, a ballet score and recently a tendency toward techno and reggae. All along Smith has been the mainstay, seeking out like-minded musicians and maintaining his priceless vocal swagger.
The man has a remarkable way with the English language. He hoards words in spooky clusters -- "Jaw-bone and the Air Rllle," "Who Makes the Nazis?" -- and fires them at assorted targets, far and near. The resulting damage can be either scattershot or frighteningly precise.
Over the years, with varying lucidity, he has bombarded the Falklands expedition, pictured hlmself as a mythical "Oswald Delense Lawyer," and derided the drug-ridden Manchester scene as an "Idiot Joy Showland" and "Glam-Racket".
In words and music, the Fall began as a reaction to the brutal simplicity of English punk. "One of the main reasons for forming the group," Mr. Smith says, "was to put something that mattered in the songs -- intelligent lyrics -- or at least try to. What I hated about punk was that the songs were all the same: 'I want sex, "I'm ticked off,' or whatever." Underneath the singer's singular lyrics was a lurching, seething jumble of guitars and keyboards, descended from Can, Faust and Lou Reed. It was slower and stranger than punk, looser and dirtier than new wave.
The early Fall's dense sound and dense vocabulary have been a major influence on such American Indie bands, young and old, as Sonic Youth, Pavement, Superchunk, the Thinking Fellers and Truman's Water. But although he will soon be performlng with his admirers in Superchunk, Mr. Smith looks askance at all the bright-eyed idolatry. "I'm not particularly flattered, let's put it that way," he says. "Good luck to 'em, it's just that following the Fall is the wrong way up." He now dismisses his own much imitated early efforts as youthful ineptitude.
The Fall's later incarnations have disappointed some diehard fans and gathered new ones, in Greece, Ireland,.New Zealand and other places. In.the '80s, Mr Smith married an American guitarist named Brix, who cleaned up the band's sound, promoting clear-cut song structures, A few actual hits resulted: "Hit The North" and a cover of the Kinks' "Victoria."
"Those were accidents," the singer explains. "Any idiot can get on the pop charts In Britain."
Recent records, independent of the former Mrs Smith, have shown a bent toward danceable grooves, thanks to Dave Bush, a keyboard player versed in the underground rave scene. "I don't like rave music," Mr Smith hastens to say, "but I do like the undercurrent of it; where you abuse the machines rather than just use them to play stiffgrooves." He still has a bias against an excess of polish. Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley, who have been the Fall's guitar and bass backbone since 1979 are periodically given free rein to make a rugged din.
"Thi Infotainment Scan," the Fall's new album on the Matador label, selects a characteristically broad array of victims. "Glam-Racket" attacks the 70's revival movement: "You are bequeathed in suede/ Entrenched in suede." It's a phenomenon that bothers him intensely, in music and everywhere else: "I mean, they're even showing Mork and Mindy" episodes over here, like it was the golden days of television."
Slamming the Prime Minister
His plane to New York is leaving soon, there are bloody thirsty insects in the room, and Mr Smith keeps his diatribes short. He does pause to slam John Major, the British Prime Minister. "He's Neville Chamberlain, very much so. He sent the R.A.F. over to Bosnia, with doctors, to try to help the children who've been blown to shrapnel. The plane came back and it had 15 soldiers on it and 2 kids." He lets out a sinister cackle. (A title for a future Fall song, perhaps "15 Soldiers 2 Kids").
Alert commentators have noted that in his heart of hearts Mark E Smith is an eccentric in the classic English sense. And beneath the stiffling levels of irony, he does seem to take pride, in some sort of Englishness, at least the Northern sort. Folk solidarity lurks behind titles like "The North Will Rise Again". A bonafide Mancunian curmudgeon is at the helm of the Fall, carrying on a one-man war with the obvious. What he'll do next is anyone's guess.
The Fall will perform at the Grand, 76 East 13th Street tonight at 9. Admission $14. Information (212) 777-0600.