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The improbability of Mark E. Smith

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 26, 2018

Geeta Dayal writes about the late singer, founder, and driving force behind The Fall, one of the most influential and least likely indie bands of the last forty years.

The members of the group shifted constantly and erratically from album to album, or even from month to month, with Smith as the only constant presence. Nearly 70 people have been members of The Fall over the course of the past four decades — an eye-popping number. “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall,” Smith once famously quipped — less a joke than a statement of fact.

On Twitter, I described it this way: Mark E. Smith was like Old Dirty Bastard, if ODB had somehow managed to assemble and reassemble two dozen different versions of the Wu-Tang Clan, they released an album every year, and half of them were unpredictable masterpieces.

Dayal quotes Mark Fisher, one of The Fall’s best critics, who also died in the past year:

A group like The Fall — working class and experimental, popular and modernist — could not and should not exist, and The Fall are remarkable for the way in which they draw out a cultural politics of the weird and the grotesque.

If you’re looking for a place to start with The Fall, I recommend four albums that bridge their early art-damaged punk period with their 1980s pop-damaged indie rock peak:

1. Totally Wired: The Rough Trade Anthology
2. Hex Enduction Hour
3. The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall
4. This Nation’s Saving Grace