I knew this day would come, when I was compelled to try to explain the long-running Manchester post-punk cult combo the Fall.
Willfully primitive, purposely abrasive, bewilderingly prolific, yet showing fairly limited stylistic and melodic range (despite drawing from garage rock, rockabilly, punk, German experimental rock, noise, and even electronic experiments and the occasional stab at something like “pop”), I am not sure I understand the Fall myself; so how to explain them?
Here’s an eleven-track attempt (all attempts should go to eleven).
Up top, “Totally Wired”, one of their more, dare I say it, catchy numbers.
“Wired” illustrates the most distinctive quality of the Fall; or more specifically, of headstrong head honcho and only constant member (“If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall”) Mark E. Smith – his cut-up surrealist wordplay.
Smith, as a lyricist/vocalist (and notice I didn’t say “singer”…), is the kind of gimlet-eyed, tattered-Camus-and-Burroughs-paperback-toting barfly who will rant from his tobacco-clouded barstool perch for hours, inspiring both fear and fascination from the other patrons.
Fiercely intelligent and headily belligerent, Smith will take a phrase that makes no sense on its face, and through repetition and/or rearrangement of its phonemes, syllables, or concepts, destabilize the listener’s consciousness, in hopes of achieving something like insight or epiphany (or, perhaps just as frequently, make them feel like they are going crazy). The Fall’s sixth album was called Perverted By Language, and the constantly-mutating virus-like nature of words is embedded in the Fall’s DNA via Smith’s peculiar and torrential verbosity.
“Wired” becomes “weird” becomes “worried” (with “biased”, another term with an electrical meaning, thrown in for good measure). The “opposite applies”.
A band that took a lot of inspiration from the Fall was Pavement (Smith: “Listening to Pavement, it’s just the Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”) – see especially Pavement’s early albums, covered with spidery reams of cryptic text on the outside, filled with blasts of noise and oblique wordplay on the inside (though Pavement is usually more “mellow stoner” than Smith’s, er, “wired” and demented carnival barker of the damned).
Like, this is basically Pavement’s “Conduit For Sale!” (but with kazoo, which automatically gives the Fall the edge):
While Pavement openly took from the Fall, the Fall had the gall to claim they had never heard the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.
What do you think?:
At least this one they openly acknowledge as a cover, by garage-rockers The Other Half:
But frequent US garage-rock covers aside, the Fall are very, very British.
Which is one thing that makes their exuberant and unexpectedly-faithful cover of the also-very-British Kinks so weirdly apposite and so great:
Did I mention that the Fall are very, very British?
This is another of their catchier tunes – for those that don’t know, Northern Britain (from whence hail the Fall) is sort of the mirror image, in England’s self-conception, of the American South – that is, Northerners are frequently perceived by the British as “bumpkins”, it is they who have an “accent”, unlike the supposedly more worldly Southerners (though flipping the mirror yet again, the South of England is far more politically-conservative than the North). There’s a Fall lyric that goes “We are the Fall/Northern white crap that talks back”:
The Fall believe strongly in the three R’s: repetition, repetition, repetition (and also, repetition).
Hence this mission statement:
Good luck ever getting THIS out of your brain (BANANA!):
Who, indeed (NO POLITICS)?:
Are we reusing a video now, but for a different song? Well, it IS the Fall, so I guess that makes as much sense as anything:
Check the record, he is not appreciated:
Post header image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.