Thursday, January 25, 2018

Like Losing a Beloved Uncle Who Turned Into a Right-Wing Crank

I was surprised and saddened to read of the death of Mark E. Smith, frontman of celebrated Manchester post-punk band The Fall, a Bastard fave. Mr Smith was always an irascible figure, but in his later days, he went full-on right-wing nutjob. Rather than dwelling on his unpleasant political and social stances, I figure I'd celebrate his music. The Fall's early singles were jagged, discordant- you can detect their DNA in bands such as The Pixies and Sonic Youth, bands that could mix melody and aural assault.

To convey some idea of The Fall's early sound and transgressive lyrics, I can think of no better example than Spectre vs Rector, from the band's second album, 1979's Dragnet. The song casually name-drops M.R. James and Lovecraftian Elder Entities, and merits at least one trigger warning:

In the 1980s, the band went through an almost accessible phase, with 1988's Hit the North from The Frenz Experiment album being decried by some hardcore fans as a 'sellout', the band's flirtation with disco. I've always thought it was a fun song, a love letter to a quirky Mancunian culture:

The band released a second 1988 album, I Am Kurious Oranj, which yielded the single Big New Prinz:

Another almost-pop single was 1985's Cruiser's Creek from This Nation's Saving Grace:

Smith also wrote a play about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Pope John Paul I, Hey! Luciani: The Life and Codex of John Paul I. The title song of the play was almost poignant:

Mark E. Smith had an interesting career. He was always a prickly fellow, a curmudgeon from day one and a crank at the end. I've long been a fan of his, since first picking up a college radio station on my transistor radio while in middle school. He was always interesting, even if listening to him took some effort... especially when listening to him took effort. As soon as I hit 'publish', I'm going to go on one of my periodic 'Fall' binges.

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