Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mere Pseud Mag Ed

The New Yorker is an august, urbane, steadfastly middle-class journal of record. It gives theatre, classical music and architecture as much coverage as cinema. It also has Sasha Frere-Jones. He has given it instant street cred by giving valuable column inches, over the last five years or so, to artists as wide-ranging as Arthur Russell, Robyn, and Norwegian death-metal purveyors. This week, he writes about The Fall. This would be very high on the list of things I never expected to see in the New Yorker. You can read it here.

While four or five columns in a mainstream magazine is barely going to scratch the surface for those of us who are lifelong devotees of Mark E Smith's long-running circus (and will likely piss off a lot of Fall purists for not being 20 pages long), I reckon he does a pretty fair job of explaining the curious appeal of the band, and perhaps even allowing a cursory listen to their usual mayhem to make sense to the novice. He writes:

The world flows through Mark E. Smith’s lyrics, in all their venom and wonder, while the band keeps us rooted, promising us nothing more than a sure footing.
And you can't argue with that.

Smith's current band, which is now, if my mathematics is right, an astounding three albums old, is the finest rock band he has had behind him since the two-drummers days of "Hex Enduction Hour" et al. The new album, "Ersatz G.B.", shows off one of the most nimble yet forceful rhythm sections of recent vintage, and the guitar has such a classic post-punk sound and fury that those of us who grew up ingesting the sound of records made in the UK between 1978 and 1980 may find ourselves checking our calendars to see what year it is. Smith, too, is in fine form, studiously moving from moments when he sounds like he is doing nothing except clearing his throat into the microphone, to moments when he is a deranged pensioner who has wandered into a recording studio, to other moments of genuine hilarity and/or insight. ("Nate Will Not Return" is a particular lyrical highlight.) You would hesitate to call it a collection of "songs", but I don't know what else you would call it.

And in the midst of all this mayhem Smith generously gives us "Happi Song", which is stop-you-in-your-tracks gorgeous. The Fall have done this before: I am thinking of the chorus of "Slang King". I am also thinking of "Wings", but would have to listen to it again to be certain. It mentions Australia. It is sung by, I am assuming, the current Mrs Mark E Smith, Elena Poulou, who sounds like nobody so much as Clare Grogan with a mittel-European accent. And that's good enough for me. (See what you think.)

One more thing. Frere-Jones, in a blog entry associated with his Fall piece, refers to loons like him who would never be sorry to hear "Cruiser's Creek" for the hundredth time. Those are also loons like me. Make that one hundred and one: