This is the day we thought couldn't happen. Another year, another Fall album. That was the law of the known universe since as long as most of us can remember. 40 years, 32 studio albums. Now we'll never hear what came next. Mark once said he'd retire at 60 though, and in a way he has.
How to describe The Fall to someone who, for whatever reason, has operated in a Fall-free universe? Personally I had exactly this experience early in December. I was with a colleague late at night in a bar in Brisbane, and the conversation ended up at music. My wife knows what happens next; she's always gently admonished me for forcing innocent people to listen to The Fall when they'd rather be in bed.
I played an old clip of the group (never the 'band') performing 'Smile' on The Tube from 1983, (introduced by John Peel) on my phone. Commentary: "Do you listen to this music for pleasure, or conceptually?". "I can't believe I've got to this age and never heard this band." The following day via text: "The Fall is so fucking good."
I first heard Mark E Smith in the sixth form centre at school: track, "Fiery Jack". I'm 45. I live off pies. And I drink, drink, drink. To start with they were just one of many post-punk operatives, but then I heard "Cash'n'Carry Stop Mithering" on John Peel late at night, and something clicked.
The things that drain you off and drive you off the hinge.
Boils, dirty socks, the ceiling's collapse.
The Sunday morning loud lawn mower,
the upstairs Jewish girl damn hoovering every thirty minutes,
from valium cig withdrawal.
She wants communal, fluent flat household.
I want privacy.
Something 'other' with a cultural specificity, and a brutal disregard for convention (as lo-fi a recording as you could get, even then). Something proudly northern, both primitive and intensely intellectual, but with a disdain for academia. Funny too. And the work of a lyrical genius.
Some people measure the years by the calendar, others by their team's sporting seasons. For others among us, it was by Fall gigs and albums. Reading the review of This Nation's Saving Grace walking through the park on the way to the office for my first job. Meeting my wife of 26 years, and taking her to see the Extricate tour gig. Finally getting to see the band in Melbourne, and explaining to the neophytes I was with that Mark might walk off stage and not return. Perversely he was playful and engaged - and played several encores.
Never again. A sad day. But all men die. Not all men live. Mark E Smith lived, and by his own rules. Which of us can say that? And the results of his cussed independence - the true spirit of rock'n'roll - will always be with us. This tracklist features a smattering of personal favourites but naturally omits some more recognised 'classics'. You can have fun finding them for yourself.
How I wrote 'Elastic Man'
Dr Buck's Letter
Big New Prinz
Bill is Dead
Leave the Capitol
Living Too Late
Janet, Johnny and James
Hexen Definitive Strife Knot