I keep trying to write a blog post about The Fall, and failing.
This is not a blog post about The Fall.
The Fall were a post-punk band from industrial Manchester who were insanely prolific, yet the very definition of a cult act. Frontman Mark E. Smith stomped, snarled and muttered his way through an endless sea of clattering albums over 40 years until his death at age 60 in 2018.
For some people, The Fall are everything. For some, if they’ve even heard of them, they’re just annoying noise.
I have a greatest hits collection, the ironically titled 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong. The first song on it is “Repetition,” and it sums up the band’s gritty ethos with the first words Smith utters – “Right noise!”
Prior to 2018, I liked The Fall, and had a couple of their albums, but I wasn’t what I’d call a super-fan. There’s people who devote a giant chunk of their lives to The Fall.
When Mark E. Smith died, I started listening to them more and more and scooping up albums any time I saw them. I often do that when someone famous dies, I go back to their work, and get a bit obsessive about them for a spell. It’s morbid but I bet I’m not the only person who does it.
The Fall has a song on their 2001 Album Are You Missing Winner? I listened to like five times yesterday. That’s not their best known or loved album, and the song, “Crop-Dust,” is probably not even in their 100 best songs. I kind of love it.
It swirls in and out like a deranged anthem from another world, distorted and spooky, hypnotic, and Smith starts barking away like a lost dog. A YouTube commenter says, “It sounds like a drunk Mark E. Smith phoned the vocal in after getting trapped inside a telephone box.” It really does.
At least 60% of people I know would hate that song.
The late John Peel memorably summed up The Fall by saying, “They are always different; they are always the same.”
Smith was fascinating, querulous and eccentric, but I don’t imagine I’d have liked him much in real life. In his final years he looked like a melting wax figure of himself.
In January 2018, the same month Mark E. Smith died of cancer, I nearly died of something I didn’t even know I had. I’ve kind of divided my life since then into “before, and after.” I began listening to The Fall a lot that year, spurred on by editing news stories about Mark E. Smith’s death, and listening to 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong over and over and over. It was a weird time in my life, and the snarling chaos of The Fall seemed to help it make sense.
Every time I turned around, there was a new album to discover. There’s still a dozen or two I haven’t listened to. I like The Fall a lot, but I wouldn’t call me expert enough in their strange universe to write about the sweep of their career, of their deeper meaning.
Music is weird because it’s like a fingerprint on your brain. The things I see when I hear Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” or Crowded House’s “Distant Sun” aren’t the things you see; the soothing void “Crop-Dust” plunges me into might just give you a migraine.
Sometimes you want right noise, you want a secret language that you feel like only you can understand.
I listen to The Fall a lot, and I’m nowhere near the bottom yet.
This was not a blog post about The Fall.