When we last left off I was returning, along with a couple of other albums, a 2-CD Roy Harper retrospective to the record store bin. At $16.99 it was a bit much to spend for a lot of music by a folkie I’d heard of but never actually heard.
So, what was I actually going to buy, after having spend a good hour in the store?
How about 2-CD retrospective of a punk band I’d heard of but never actually heard? Why, you ask? Because it was a whole buck cheaper than Roy Harper. That’s why!
At my advanced age, I’ve learned the value of time, and can ruthlessly limit the amount of it I spend with negative people. Misanthropes, on the other hand, can be tremendously entertaining. At least if they’re accompanied by a guitarist and drummer who are game.
And it helps if you’re a funny misanthrope. Check out the hilarious cover, which rips off the famous Elvis one. And Mark E. Smith does Phil Ochs one better by eschewing the gold suit and, well, looking like Mark E. Smith.
If there’s a way to be annoying while delivering a song, Mark E Smith will find it. I typically have no patience for such tactics, so why am I enjoying this record so much? Maybe because he’s so committed to being annoying. There’s the weird vocal tic he stumbles upon midway through “New Face in Hell”. You can almost hear him thinking oh my god that’s annoying, let me do that for the rest of the song. And how he sings like he’s got a head cold (what, you couldn’t have used a tissue before the take?) on “The Man Whose Head Expanded”. And I use the term “sings” lightly. He’s more of a declaimer/disdainer/crazy person on the subway.
If this greatest hits collection is to be believed, the Fall started out at the very beginning of the punk movement, but never quite sound like it. No loud fast guitar chord-based songs. Varying their attack throughout, no two songs sounding alike. Each one having its own unique riff, beat or arrangement. It’s main link with punk would be Smith’s unremitting disdain for … well pretty much everything. But it never quite gets tiresome.
And unlike a lot of punk bands that burst like supernovae and then disappeared, the Fall keeps making music to this day. Thus making it impossible for dilettantes like myself to ever really “get into them” as the hippies used to say. They’ve put out dozens of albums, and this collection just scratches the surface.
I doubt I’d ever want to hang out with Mark E. Smith. Before the first beer was done, he’d tell me exactly what he thought of me. And he doesn’t seem to like a whole lot. So if ever I saw him walking down the street in that ugly sweater, I’d hide in the alley.
But thanks to a canny use of ever changing musicians who articulate and elaborate on his vision so well, listening to his music is a blast. A-