Chris Roberts "Manc Outsiders"

MELODY MAKER, May 29, 1993, p. 20



AS a rule, Mark E Smith commands huge respect without exception because he hates everyone and thinks life is shit. Anyone who hates everyone without exception and thinks life is shit is okay in my book. Not for him the kissy-kissy fake friendships and phoney camaraderie of the biz.

No siree. Mark E Smith turns his trick, ploughs a lonely furrow, walks a lonely mile, wilfully perverse and bitter and twisted, GRUDGEFUL as can be, scowling like a Cheshire rhino.

Then again, because of this wilful perversity, this Fall show isn't as inspiring as it should be, given the semiotics at play. Things kick off lively enough, with twin drummers and multiple samples causing all manner of havoc behind Smith's lean, vengeful streams of polemic and, uh, stuff he got off the back of washing powder packets. He's picked a fight with two microphones within the first 15 seconds. It's like a bleak, hungry pantomime, script by Beckett.

Three songs in comes "Lost In Music" -- a (non)event which perfectly sums up the joys or the drawbacks of The Fall. The band drive out a wonderful arrangement of Sister Sledge's camp classic -- not TOO melodramatic, but not TOO irrelevant and the hall, jam-packed with enthusiastic and extremely ugly students (The Fall are, after all, local boys made evil) revs up to actually enjoy itself. But Smith cannot allow this, can't bring himself to give them the cue.

So he doesn't even bother to recite the words, just sort of mumbles whatever here and there if anywhere, and deliberately neutralises the song's dance dynamic. Now, we can admire this refusal to kowtow to the traditions of showbiz and entertainment, this acerbic commentary on the anodyne nature of dance muzak. Or we can feel that such bloody-mindedness is mean-spirited and self-serving, pissing on the punters' party. While many lap it up (I am told Mark "has such presence"; that Pavement T-shirts are being worn "just to wind Mark up"), others find these "arrogant" antics dated, dreary and undignified.

The people carrying the inflatable skeleton, however, are among the majority in having a whale of a time. Prickly, choppy, the predictably unpredictable new album is rendered quite listenable, and dark, bottom-lip-out rhythms hoover us in. "I'm Going To Spain" recaptures some of the pathos evident on "Shiftwork". "Glam Racket" pushes the trashy above the techno, and two encores, incorporating a hissing, crackling "High Tension Line", belie the "reluctant performers" myth.

I can't help wondering what, after all these years, is Smith's motivation for the role -- there are surely only so many chords you can wrap around your invective against infotoinment and the follies of mankind. It's not love for music, otherwise why accost "Lost In Music" so ignobly? I guess the answer lies somewhere in The Fall's very awkwardness, incongruity and incomprehensibility. A constant thorn in the side of whatever's IN, The Fall as a concept are still sharp, contrary, disorientating. As a good night out, they still need a good tune or three. And as a product of a city which has tried to dump on us such cold porridge messiahs as Shaun Ryder, Ian Brown and Bryan Robson, they're still maverick gold dust.