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Music / The Fall

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Mark E. Smith-ah.

"Hey there fuckface, hey there fuckface!"
from "The Classical"

"Always different, always the same"
John Peel

The Fall were a 'country and northern' Post-Punk band from Manchester, England. The favorite band of legendary BBC DJ John Peel, The Fall were formed in 1976 by iconoclastic weirdo Mark E. Smith, and since then the band has had more lineup changes than perhaps any band ever, with Smith being the sole constant member.

Other than Smith, the Fall has had a handful of members that are beloved by fans and spent long tenures with the band, but band members often quit or are fired with almost every album. In fact, after the release of Fall Heads Roll in 2005, the entire band quit on Smith (excluding his keyboardist wife Elena Poulou) in the middle of the night while the band was staying at a hotel in the American Southwest. Smith and Poulou recuperated with a rush-job band and the hastily recorded Reformation Post-TLC in 2007, and after one more lineup change in 2008, the band solidified into its most stable incarnation, remaining virtually unchanged until Poulou left before their final album. The last lineup was Smith, guitarist Peter Greenway, bassist David Spurr, drummer Keiron Melling, and keyboardist Michael Clapham.


Smith died from cancer on 24 January 2018, bringing an end to The Fall forever.

Despite the constant lineup changes, the band was extremely prolific (for most of their career, they released an album annually) and recorded a staggering 32 studio albums between 1979 and 2017.

The Fall's Studio Discography:

  • Bingo Master's Break-Out! EP (1978)
  • Live at the Witch Trials (1979)
  • Dragnet (1979)
  • Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980)
  • Slates EP (1981)
  • Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
  • Room to Live (Undilutable Slang Truth!) (1982)
  • Perverted by Language (1983)
  • The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall (1984)
  • This Nation's Saving Grace (1985)
  • Bend Sinister (1986)
  • The Frenz Experiment (1988)
  • I Am Kurious Oranj (1988)
  • Extricate (1990)
  • Shift-Work (1991)
  • Code: Selfish (1992)
  • The Infotainment Scan (1993)
  • Middle Class Revolt (1994)
  • Cerebral Caustic (1995)
  • Advertisement:
  • The Light User Syndrome (1996)
  • Levitate (1997)
  • The Marshall Suite (1999)
  • The Unutterable (2000)
  • Are You Are Missing Winner (2001)
  • The Real New Fall LP (Formerly Country on the Click) (2003)
  • Fall Heads Roll (2005)
  • Reformation Post-TLC (2006)
  • Imperial Wax Solvent (2008)
  • Your Future Our Clutter (2010)
  • Ersatz GB (2011)
  • Re-Mit (2013)
  • The Remainderer EP (2013)
  • Sub-Lingual Tablet (2015)
  • Wise Ol' Man EP (2016)
  • New Facts Emerge (2017)

This band provides examples of:

  • The Band Minus the Face: After Smith died, three members of the Fall's final lineup formed a new group called Imperial Wax (after the Fall album Imperial Wax Solvent) with a new singer.
  • The Bus Came Back: Smtih rarely re-hired musicians back into the Fall lineup after they left or had been dismissed, but it still happened a few times. Notably, drummer Karl Burns had four separate tenures in the group between 1977 and 1998. Brix Smith returned to the lineup from 1994 to 1996, and co-founder Martin Bramah returned from 1989 to 1990 immediately after Brix left the first time.
  • Cover Version: "Victoria" (The Kinks), "There's a Ghost in My House" (R. Dean Taylor), "Lost In Music" (Sister Sledge), "Strychnine" (The Sonics), "War" (Henry Cow), and three songs by The Monks, among other varied choices.
  • Darker and Edgier: Dragnet was this compared to the relatively straightforward punk style of Live at the Witch Trials, with it's lo-fi, almost Goth Rock sound and supernatural-centric themes.
  • Deadpan Snarker/First-Person Smartass
  • Demonic Possession: The premise of "Spectre vs. Rector", a song from Dragnet. A spectre who has "waited since Caesar for this" possesses a rector, and a detective tries to help but fails. An exorcist who has "saved a thousand souls" finally settles things, although the detective winds up "half insane" and Smith wonders "Is the spectre banished forever?"
  • Driven to Suicide: The protagonist of "Bingo Master's Breakout", who "ended his life with wine and pills".
  • Epic Rocking:
    • "And This Day", "Das Boot", and "Auto-Chip 14-15" top 10 minutes.
    • "50 Year Old Man" is 11 and 1/2 minutes.
    • "Nine Out Of Ten" is almost 9 minutes long, but a lot of it is due to Leave the Camera Running: after about 3 and a half minutes, Mark stops singing but the guitar riff just keeps on going.
  • Humans Are Stupid: A favourite trope of Smith's.
  • I Am the Band: Mark E. Smith. Not only was he the only permanent member of the band, he was also known to put pressure on his bandmates to perform in certain ways - the reason Karl Burns was constantly sacked and re-hired was because, of all members of The Fall, he was the one who most easily challenged Smith's rule.
  • Lead Bassist: Steve Hanley, during his tenure - aside from being the band's second-longest tenured member, he was well-known for his distinctive basslines, and co-wrote over 100 songs with Smith (who once said of him, "he is The Fall sound").
  • Mind Screw: The vast majority of their lyrics from 1979 to 1984, especially on Hex Enduction Hour.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. There have at various points been two Marks (Smith and Marc Riley), two Simons (Rogers and Wolstencroft), and two Craigs (Scanlon and Leon) working with the band at the same time. Another Simon was also a member in the 2000s, and in a literal aversion of this trope, at least five Steves have worked with the band.
  • Oop North: One of the most iconic bands from Manchester.
    • The North and its localities have been the subject of their songs, most notably "Hit the North".
  • Post-Punk
  • Precision F-Strike: The page quote, which comes in about thirty seconds into "The Classical" just as the main riff starts to kick in. The line before it, "where are the obligatory niggers?" (a satirical line not intended to be racist) apparently scuttled an American record deal with Motown Records, who were looking to add more rock music artists at the time.
  • Revolving Door Band: 66 members have past through the band's ranks since they formed in 1976.
    • Guardian reporter Dave Simpson once wrote an article about trying to find all of the ex-members (there were fifty at the time of its publication). He subsequently turned his research into a book, The Fallen. That said, the dynamic duo of Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley held down the fort from 1979 'til 1995, which is damn impressive.
    • Aside from being the group's longest running members aside from Smith, Craig Scanlon and Steve Hanley are also the only two members whose departures Smith has publicly regretted. Smith fired Scanlon on whim in 1995 and almost immediately asked him to return. Scanlon declined, and he did so again when Smith asked a second time in 2001. Hanley left the band in 1998 following an infamous onstage fight in upstate New York. Again, Smith uncharacteristically asked Hanley to return, and he also declined.
    • In a quite surprising move for a band with so many lineup changes, the lineup of Smith, Elena Poulou, Dave Spurr, Pete Greenway and Kerion Melling is the longest lasting lineup the band has ever seen. There were no additions to or departures from the band for the 9 years between Melling joining in 2007 and Poulou's departure in 2016.
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Who Makes The Nazis?" is a very strange, very subtle one.
  • Self-Deprecation: One of the band's career retrospectives is entitled 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong (this is also a Shout-Out to and/or parody of a similarly titled Elvis Presley album which cited a thousand times as many fans).
  • The Sixth Ranger: Bass guitarist Simon "Dingo" Archer only lasted a single year (2003-2004) as a member of the Fall before leaving to join PJ Harvey's band, but he continued to be a frequent studio collaborator right up until Smith's death. He engineered, co-produced or played on several of the band's last dozen or so albums.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Bill is Dead". The original idea of the song was to be a parody of The Smiths. However, Mark was so impressed by the music that Craig Scanlon had come up with, he decided to pair it with lyrics that dealt with both his divorce from Brix and the recent death of his father. It remains one of the few very direct songs in the Fall discography and one of the band's few ballads. It was also the one and only Fall song to top John Peel's Festive Fifty in Peel's lifetime. However, Mark declined to issue the song as a single (he chose "Telephone Thing" instead).
    • There is also "Edinburgh Man", a straightforward and affectionate tribute to the titular city, where Smith had lived following his split from Brix.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: After Mark E. Smith and keyboardist/girlfriend Julia Nagle had a major falling out in the late 1990s, tensions between the two intensified, with the two first breaking up and then Nagle leaving The Fall circa 2001. Suspiciously Similar Substitute — and Smith's eventual third wife — Elena Poulou became The Fall's keyboardist in late 2002.
  • Take That!: Marc Riley (A member of The Fall from 1978-1982, now a DJ on Radio 6 Music) gets special mention as Smith wrote not one but two songs of personal attacks on him, "The Man Whose Head Expanded" (indie hit single, 1983) and "Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot" from the 1983 album Perverted By Language.
    • "Mere Psued. Mag. Ed" from Hex Enduction Hour is an attack on an unidentified music journalist that Mark E. Smith hated for some undetermined reason (the fact that he was a music journalist may have probably been enough).
    • "A Past Gone Mad" from The Infotainment Scan: "If I ever end up like U2 / slit my throat with a garden vegetable."
    • "Mask Search", from Ersatz GB: "But I'm so sick of Snow Patrol..."
    • "Just Waiting" from Code: Selfish: "The cretin is waiting for U2 to come on MTV again...". That album came out the year before The Infotainment Scan, which means they had two albums in a row that included a take that to U2.
    • "Hit The North" includes a sarcastic jibe towards James Anderton, a chief constable of Greater Manchester, who drew controversy for, among other things, claiming to speak to God. Thus, "Cops can't catch criminals/ but what the heck, they're not so bad / they talk to God!"
  • Verbal Tic: Mark E. Smith is known for adding an "-ah" at the end of lines. It's not quite after every line, and generally seems to be his way of emphasizing certain lyrics. It's particularly rampant in "Repetition" - "Ah-we dig-ah, Ah-we dig-ah repetition-ah!".
    • If you heard "It's a Curse" without knowing the title, you'd have a hard time knowing what "It's a Kyass-ah!" meant.
  • Younger Than They Look: Mark E. Smith didn't turn 60 until 2017, but has looked like he's been that age since he was in his late 20s. The fact that his hair started to gray early didn't particularly help. Nor the stupendous quantities of amphetamines he'd taken all his life.