NEITHER fish nor fowl, single nor album, the Fall’s dinky 10-inch Slates is a little record that makes a big impression.
“I was looking through the import bins in Wax Trax in Chicago, and I found Slates,” said Brix Smith in an interview with Guitarist magazine. “I took it home and became obsessed. It was the most brilliant thing I ever heard. It was outrageous. Two weeks later they were playing Chicago at Cabaret Metro, so Lisa and I went along.
“Stephen Hanley was totally, totally hypnotic. I was scared of Mark E Smith. They played a lot from Slates. After the gig, Lisa took off with some boyfriend, leaving me at the bar on my own. Before I knew what was happening I was talking to Mark E Smith ..”
And we all know what happened after that.
Slates made a big impression on me too, although unlike Brix I didn’t end up marrying Mark E Smith. I have a vague recollection of buying it from some record fair some time later. But I’m not entirely sure that people like me and Brix were the target audience for Slates in any case.
“That’s what I was trying to do with Slates in England, you know, get across to people who have no music,” MES told an interviewer in New Zealand. “People who either haven’t been told about the music trappings and the rubbish that surrounds it or people who do know it and don’t like it.
“That’s why it was a 10-inch, neither single nor album. It’s very conceptual, do you understand? It’s like an attempt to get over to these thousands of working class or middle class people, whatever, in England who don’t listen to records anymore, who don’t buy records .. I’d be one of them if I wasn’t in a group, I know that.
“‘GROTESQUE’ is the new LP by The Fall .. The Fall are the group who keep being brought up and slagged by other insecure bands – this automatically invokes a curse on them which usually takes its toll. This is true. Most people who like The Fall don’t like other groups anyway and don’t own coffee tables.
‘GROTESQUE’ contains very few choruses but a lot of beat and the raw edge of The Fall is retained. If they were psychotic, they’d think every other group was mad except – them. This band thrives on being in tight spots, odd knots, and calling the shots .. SHUUT UP! ENTER
JOE TOTALE: As he writes this weak TV rock filters through from the adjoining room. SMITH SAID ‘78 was the year of the average man. WELL IF That’s true ’80 is the year of the average band. The Fall are the GROTESQUE EXCEPTION.
ON this LP Every class gets what’s COMING TO IT. MY FATHER said: THE FALL WILL OUTLIVE YOUR SINS.
Get this – ‘GROTESQUE’ also tells stories ..”
And what stories.
ME AND the Fall go back a long way but there are times when Mark E Smith’s grüppe have just been too heavy and noisy for me, when they’ve been too slickly produced, when they simply played too many guitars for my wildly oscillating tastes (this was, of course, during the rave era and I was a touch confused, a lot of the time).
No offence to our colonial cousins, but I’m not right keen on the current line-up of bearded Americans, it has to be said.
Not to worry. There’ll be another one along in a minute.
The fact that, sooner or later, I generally realise that I’m just being daft, and they were – he was – right all along, is neither here nor there.
Mark E Smith gets under your skin. He’s like a rash that won’t go away. Writing from his own unique and inimitable perspective, his insights into the northern, white working class mindset often have an eerily consistent relevance to those of us who have followed his work for a while – although I‘m sure they have as much relevance in New Zealand or Holland or Brazil.
Weirdly prophetic, darkly sardonic, accusatory, mystical, cynical, nonsensical, just plain odd – sometimes all at the same time – Smith can seem like he’s talking about your life just as much as he is his own, God help us all.