March 9th marked thirty years since The Fall released Hex Enduction Hour. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t like The Fall. Or the nasty piece of work that fronts them. It really doesn’t matter. Hex is still one of the most important independent records you’ll ever hear, or choose not to.
There is no superlative that hasn’t already been exhausted that I could employ to transmit my admiration for The Fall. For each incarnation, for each album released, for each unwilling interview and every incoherent live performance. Each torrid mess and refined shard of chaos that make up Mark E Smith’s repertoire is essential, and Hex is the perfect documentation of the mind at the centre of the unfurling, the confrontational little bastard that can cut through bullshit with a glance-uh.
Whether it’s the bullshit of the music industry, of effete media-type dirgebags and the cultural glitterati, the album sees Smith build on his methods of dismantling that menaced on ‘English Scheme’. He’s not just poking fun with this record, he’s levelling a judgement at the nation, at the ‘highest British attention…to the wrong detail’.
But there’s not much value in re-hashing badly integrated snippets of his words into my own inferior prose, I’m writing to implore. I implore that you buy or steal this record, sit down with the record sleeve, and pay attention to Smith’s mumblings, screeches and terrible falsetto, listen to what he conveys. It’s the Burroughs cut-up, free-association and distorted narrative progressions that are at once unsettling and delicious.
The spiky language is underpinned by the rest of the band; Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon’s warring clangs that ring as often as they do harass, from the eerily barbed jazz shuffle of ‘Hip Priest’, the muted, Can-esque experimentation of ‘Iceland’, and the relentless opener ‘The Classical’. Steve Hanley’s bass seems autonomous in its invention but integrated nonetheless; it broods alongside brother Paul’s and Karl Burns’ duelling drum-kits. It’s this kind of inherent opposition and dischord that lies at the heart of their sound, and these five chaps make up what is arguably the finest Fall line-up I’ve heard, yet to be matched in style and intensity.
Column inches are usually comprised of indictments of Smith as cumbersome, snarling bandleader that can’t maintain a harmonious troupe. But I doubt his stationery is labelled ‘Mark E Smith: Investor in People’. I look on his maltreatment of young musicians with rose-tinted glasses. His belligerence and violence has forced changes that define his output, the same fractured, harrowing articles interpreted by different weavers. They’re not finishing off the same tapestry. They’re all threading parts of a landscape for the stubborn interloper to strut across, he refuses consistent terrain.
So if you’ve never heard The Fall, or if you’ve written Mark of for his belligerence, nastiness or distinct Northernness, I’d urge you to think again. Hex is a wonderful way in to his back catalogue, and as we’ve heard on 2010 release Your Future, Our Clutter, the 55 year old Smith still lacks none of his potency or fury. He is still not appreciated, because nobody’s called him ‘sir’ in his entire life.
So go back 30 years, pay attention, and immerse yourself in the wonderful and frightening world of a band/collective/idea that transcends fashion, record labels and good taste.By Dan Cere