The Frightening World of The Fall

graphicMark E Smith led The Fall out in I977, declaring his intentions: "We are the white crap that talks back", he sneered. Rolling the bones and the poison dice, he promised that his band would always be the outside threat. I984. Seven years on the outside of the pop mess. Seven years spent outside the mainstream. Mark E Smith remains one angry enigma. Now leading The Fall together with his wife Brix, The Fall releases their ninth LP and their first for their new record label, Beggars Banquet. On the outside crashing in ... the wonderful and frightening world of the The Fall. Five hours with Mark and Brix Smith, spent picking apart the seven years of Fall cryptology - still shaking the scheme of things, still stood on the outside, still gnawing at the pop ethics that smarm and stagnate. From Witch Trials to The Wonderful And Frightening World, one lengthening scrawl across the false face of the new pop. Progress? Mark E Smith knows about progress: "There was this American guy who came up to me in a pub, he was like a real nerd - from Harvard University. He'd come to track down The Fall because of my lyrics which he was taking really seriously. He was saying that he got off the boat and the customs guy asks him why he's in Britain. So he says, 'Well, I'm looking for The Fall'. So the customs guy goes, 'Oh, you don't mean the most disliked band in England do you? Mark E Smith - the most hated man in Britain'. They don't like it, the English. They can't take it 'cos they like chubby personalities, the whole vaudeville scene. It's not what I want to do. What I hate in the British music scene is this pseudo-art thing. It's what I've always wanted to break down. Well, I'm never gonna break it down because there's no room for the British artist anymore. They always wonder why British artists piss off abroad. I'm not even gonna piss off down to London. I'm staying where I am and I'm gonna say what I want because that's my right as a human-being"

At this, he laughs. But then Smith, more than any eighties pop figure, reserves the right to a measure of defiance after seven vitriolic years of ungently scraping against the great pop decline that followed in punk rock's wake. Seven years as a pop heathen, offering free-thought vision as an alternative to the buffoonery and artificiality of our Smash Hits new age. It is indicative of the genius of The Fall that the likes of McCulloch, Cope and Wylie look to their own achievements with a definite sense of guilt when they compare their progression (?) to the pluck and guts of Smith's anti-escapist stance. His Fall have spent seven busy years sneering at sell-out, so-cailed alternatives and creeping complacency. From the scrappy, grating flay of 'Witch Trials' (the 1979 debut LP), The Fall have scraped their way to the present, where their paganism is more essential than ever. They remain a thorn in the side of opportunist pop and it is good that they remain ... the unorthodox choice. With their cryptic trails of psychodrama, they exist now like an ethic, an attitude in themselves - having written the idea of Fall-like into pop's limited vocabulary. That idealism forever shifts and slides, while The Mighty Fall unwind as a law unto themselves. Like Rhinehart's 'Diceman', Smith elects to break his own order as much as the pop text book's formula.

"They say music should be fun like reading a story of love But I wanna read a horror story I am the dice-man. I take a chance maaan. " from The Fall's 'Diceman'(Dragnet)

"That song was one of the most truthful. I based it on the book because I loved the idea that this guy would throw dice in the morning to decide how he'd be that day. I believe you have the right to change. We don't have a deliberate policy of keeping people guessing - that's just the way I am. You only look at life through your own eyes. I thrive on being outside the pop mess but not many people see that. I'm dead proud that The Fall aren't just another branch on the tree of show biz. Basically, rock music isn't very interesting, so it's only people like me who can make it interesting."

Still ringing true, five years on, their own craggy route through the rock maze has never found much time for the story of love. Instead, Smith has opted for a full assault upon the stinking star-struck chart world that punk rock was to prove only temporary respite from. Through nine LPs (including the live 'Totale Turns' and the ten-inch 'Slates'), Smith hasn't found time for love and romance in the Fall rap ...

"I think singing about Nazi Germany and flying monks from Tibet is a lot more interesting than love songs - some surreal thing that will stimulate people and make them laugh. It's a lot more interesting than 'Baby I Love You'. If I wrote one of those songs, it would look daft because I'm very conscious of my surroundings and I'm always trying - not to react against them - but to improve them. It's physically impossible for me to write a love song and say something new about it.

"Well really, who's gonna be interested in who I'm having it off with, because that's what love songs come down to - flirting and all that stuff. I love things y'know - I think my love is a lot stronger than the kind people talk about. My penchant has always been for words. I care about them and I want them to look good on paper before I sing them. A love song written down just doesn't look good to me. You can look through Smash Hits to see how self-centred and pubescent it all is." Equally, Smith scorns the obvious lyric and the lowest common denominator that runs through the artlessness of '84 tack. He has always resorted to a dense, abstract barrage intent on shaking some imagination into its listener. Mark E Smith makes the average pop lyricist look like the semi-illiterate berk he usually is.

"I like all the open ends and I believe that's what all good writing is about. Of course, there's always the danger of pushing yourself into a corner. With my writing, people are always trying to make it denser while I'm always going the other way. Everything I try to present is the most accessible to me. Sometimes, I think I've really sold my arse over a song because it's so obvious to me then people don't understand it.

"I hate the way other people imagine their lyrics to be utterly complex. Like Ian McCulloch, when he was slagging me, he was saying, 'Didn't you get the joke when I was singing about the moon in June?' And I was thinking, 'God! (sarcastic) No!! I'd never have thought that.' Y'know. Who's interested? Who can be bothered working it out? It's the same with Lennon - all those concealed meanings. I always thought he was the biggest spaz of all!!

"I don't want anything that will date fast because that would destroy everything The Fall have ever stood for'. If I wrote a song about trade-unions, it would be irrelevant in six months 'cos they would have changed by then. Like I hated 'Nelson Mandela' as a song and I hated the sentiment, but it was good that someone like Dammers could do it. See, I've always thought The Specials were crap but 'Girlfriend' is genius - living truth Y'know." Smith's conversation, like his songs, trails across digressions, picking a point here, pointing the finger there. He's fairly infamous for the controversy that occasionally is slung across his talk - sometimes ending up the victim of his own love of ambiguity and open ends.

bandWHO SAID THAT? "No black man's going to come over to me and say, 'You are the fucking oppressor' because I've never oppressed him. As far as I'm concerned, he's oppressing me, because I have to watch his music on tv and I don't patlicularly like it. " from Allied Propaganda fanzine

Smithy "Of course I know that race is a delicate matter, which is why I said it. I'm not going to back down on a lot of that 'cos I still agree with it. If you're talking about class, I think the English working class were the most shat upon in the world. Now the middle and upper classes have got this great conscience about race, but they still treat the working class like crap. They try to make up for it by going abroad. The English have always been great for going abroad and liberating the slaves and all that, while people are starving over here. While I was on the dole, I hated being lectured by some cow just how oppressed people where in Chile. Well, Chile has always been like that- it's how they live.

"I was criticised for all my comments about The Falklands, how I was supposed to support the war and everything. Well, the Argentinians are the worst Nazis that ever walked the earth."

"I change my politics every day. Sometimes I'm a fascist, sometimes I'm a Nazi. from Blast! magazine

"I get screwed up when the group can't get along, when we get tax demands through the post, we've been on a low wage for years . . then you look around and see these bastards giving out any socialist slogan that comes into their heads. There's my lads ... skint. I get really fascist. Look at all these bastards selling their arses. What's so idealistic about that? Selling socialism - it just stinks. Socialism is messed up in Britain and that's why the country is so fucked up. People think they've got a right to do whatever they want, to be as selfish as they want.

"I don't regret saying that to Blast! because it was taken out of context. I've got to be like that sometimes. The group has to go without food or go down the dole office. The alternative is for me to write a love song.

"People always presume what our politics are, which is why we've always been kicked off a lot of benefits. You get these GLC types arguing among themselves, debating whether we're fascists or socialists. We did the GLC benefit just for the money - we needed it. The Damned, they'd play it for anyone. They'd be the same if the Nazis got in."


mes & brixFor the last twelve months, The Fall's re-activated urge has owed much to the gradual integration of Brix Smith as vocalist and lead guitar. Contributing to a few songs on last year's 'Perverted By Language' LP, she has steadily established herself as a permanent and vital link in their chain. As she explains ...

"Everyone was watching me very critically to start with. After I proved myself, there was a spark that stimulated the band, a new way of looking at things. Even with the old songs, I think I add some shadow and light to them. At first, I was going to be a solo artist with Mark producing me. Then we decided that I could be a good contrast in the band. I give it a lot of drive, as well as adding some 'glamour' to it all.

"Most Americans have a particular view of The Fall. I didn't see it as punk rock or r'n'r, but unique in itself. 'Slates'was the firstthing I heard from the band, when I was living in America. The words really infuriated me because I didn't understand them at all. In fact, the first thing I ever said to Mark was, 'That gig was the best I've ever seen, but those words ... they infuriate me so much!!"

Brix's integration into the band, in addition to rejuvenating the turbulence of The Fall sound, has also added to the visual side. As Mark points out, "From the image point of view, Brix is almost incongruous which is great. She's beautiful y'know, so she's stuck at tha end of a bunch of paddies and me!".

This year, The Fall have emerged from a transition that is radical, even by their wayward standards. Since signing to Beggars, they have relinquished none of their love for the 'corruption' of the pop form, but have shifted to a measure of attack that is far more comprehensible. By 1981, they had wound themselves into what Mark recognises as a 'dead-end'. Their LP from that year - Hex Enduction Hour - was a dense tangle of primal violence that threatened to self-destruct; the most complex and compelling of all their albums, it acted as an exorcism of their snag of direction. From thereon, the. Fall strategy has been one of blunt self-control.

As Mark admits:- "1981 was quite a quagmire. The whole idea of 'Hex' was to clear it all out of our systems. It was like 'I think you're all a bunch of twats - take this!' At that time, I didn't likethe critical acceptance of The Fall because I thought it was all worthless. All false, all wrong." 1982 brought an uncertain, hesitant change - the scratchy, patchy 'Room To Live' (their most critically scourged LP). The following year's 'Perverted By Language' was more like it, abrasive, inverted and kindled with an energy that drewon their early first breaths - 'Bingo Masters' or 'Various Times'.

This year has produced two singles and, this month, their debut Beggars LP. 'Oh Brother' emerged in the summer - jagged, jaundiced and faintly disappointing; it lacked the sour artistry of the highest Fall. 'Creep' came in September, making up for it - their most instantly infectious release to date, lashing out at time-wasters everywhere.

'He reads books; of the list book club And after two months ~ his stance is a familiar hunch It's that same slouch -you had the last time he came around His oppression abounds, his type is doing the rounds He is a scum-egg; a horrid trendy wretch C. R. E. E. P. C. R. E. E. P'

As Mark points out, the song seemed to have an unsettling effect on people.

'I'm so proud of that song. I didn't see it as pure pop because it hasn't been accepted like that. It's got good words in it and that throws people off - their brains are so degenerate now, that if they hear something they don't understand ... they just drop it. I always thought it would appeal to children and it does. A lot of very young kids (seven or eight) seem to like it. I never thought, though, that the creep was the guy who smelt bad at school; it was always the most popular guy in the class, 'cos you knew damn well he wouldn't do well in life, the sort who'd cry when the exam results came out."

Brix:- "Everyone always thinks that Fall songs are about themselves and that was especially so with 'Creep'. Some people thought it was about Morrisey which it wasn't. Marc Riley, our old guitarist, thought it was about him, which it wasn't. It's about every creep in the world."

Which draws us to the present and the latest Fall opus.


In Mark's words, "It was a lot simpler this time because we don't worry about the sound anymore. This is what I've always wanted to do in the past so I'm doing it now. We did more takes of one song on the early LPs, sometimes three or four times before we got it right. With this one, most of them are first takes. The best songs we do are the ones we get right first time. One of my problems is that I think too hard about songs. I'd rather just knock it out in one go. It all seems very 'together' on this one."

Brix, meanwhile, talks of the striving on this new record, with The Fall aiming for.a fresh diversity.

'I'm almost frightened by this one, it's that good. Although I know that we can still get better, we're so close now. The first side is the frightening side and the second the wonderful side of The Fall. We've come close to what it should really be like. It shows our diversity and our different moods. You can listen to it over and over and still not grasp it. There's always new things you can see in it and new revelations you can come to about it. As you change, the music changes too. It's chock full of things. Mark's lyrics have this extraordinary freshness; it's called life. If you see his words on paper, they take on a whole new life of their own. Like sometimes, I think the words should be written down - 'cos people need to be punched in the face with words like that."

On 'Wonderful And Frightening', Smith is as sharp and sourish as ever, spinning out his bloodstream of brittle sarcasm with all the force of old. Some of it takes his continuing habit to turn specific song-targets into many layered, almost surreal word paintings. 'Elves' is like that; "starting out as an attack on Scottish groups and how they sell their arses for any amount of money...turning into something supernatural."

It is almost like the perfect Fall record; resembling a rough, random collage of dishevelled texture. It runs ragged through a hotchpotch muddle of forms, with sour words rumbling through a mess of guitar scrape. The entire scramble of Fall snarl-up is, as always, loaded with upheaval. It ends with 'Disney's Dream Debased' which winds down with a welter of intrigue, spinning the yarn of husband and wife Smith visiting Disneyland for the day and watching 'the wonder turn into nightmare' as some sleighride turns from fun to horror.

"Mark got off this ride with tears in his eyes he was so frightened. This ride is a mountain, 100 ft in the air, a replica of The Matterhorn; you ride at sixty miles an hour. Ten minutes after we get off, a woman fails out of her sleigh, gets trapped and decapitated by the oncoming one. They couldn't get her out, there was fire-engines everywhere coming out of the bushes, and all these Micky Mouse characters rushing out to distract people. It took them seven hours to get the body off. Everyone was pretending nothing had happened, they were all going 'Disneyland is wonderful land'. Mark was saying, 'Whaaat??? There's a woman up there with no head on', but Micky Mouse was just laughing away. Mark thought it was like a bad trip."

The Fall anger, meanwhile, is as acidic as ever - its most full-blooded cynicism reserved for the dullards of the pop world, the shallow Fall-imitators (that Mark sees everywhere) and the audiences that accept the lowest common denominators. Smith, himself, has always been proud of the fact that he could lose audiences whenever he thought it was all becoming routine.

"Hell, yeah! I've destroyed loads of audiences. I hate the likes of Echo And The Bunnymen who panderto bedsit kids who are going through their nineteen year-old crises. I don't wanna know about that. That's why The Fall were formed. We've always picked up all the people who are fed up being treated like dicks."

People in groups are just twats in my eyes. I recognise that a lot of people in groups like The Fall, but that doesn't mean I have to like all those people. I have a distinctive dislike for people in groups y'know. They're all about vaudeville, entertainment. There's nothing in that for me.

'I can't work out what my role is in relation to British pop music", puzzles Mark E Smith for the last time. "I don't know what the fuck's going on. People ask me why The Fall keep going. Well, it's about striving. I'm never satisfied."

If you don't know the claustrophobia of The Fall and its scathing corruption of scorn and slating dissertion, I'll tell ya. The Fall stands pop on its head and shakes its brains out. The Fall snigger at ugly pop, deride its foolishness, mock its dreary vision. The Fall stick their tongue deep down the throat of mediocrity and spit it out. On the outside, crashing in.

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