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The Fall: Hex Enduction Hour (1982)

May 13, 2013

The Fall Hex Enduction Hour artwork

Roll: 3-2-9
Album: The Fall, Hex Enduction Hour

My earliest memory of The Fall dates back to 1991, the fall semester of my first year in college.

This tall, rail-thin, mop-haired guy in my drawing class, who looked a bit like Johnathan Richman or William Reid (but with Shane MacGowan‘s unfortunate dentistry) said, “Do you listen to The Fall?”

In an uncharacteristic display of honesty in the face of complete ignorance I said, “I’ve never listened to their stuff.”

“You should listen to The Fall,” he said, a statement of fact more than a friendly suggestion.

In the years since, I’ve noticed this evangelistic attitude in fans of The Fall. They seem to feel the need to spread the gospel. Have you accepted Mark E. Smith into your heart?

I don’t remember this particular missionary’s name though I feel like it might have been Peter. His attempts at initiating a friendship failed miserably. During breaks, he used to say, “Would you be into getting a tea some time and talking about music and stuff?”

I always agreed while carefully not setting a time or date. I remembered being weirded out by him specifying “tea” as the proper social beverage for this activity. I was positive he was hitting on me. At the time (an extremely juvenile 19 years of age) I was still trying to figure out my own sexuality and the thought of having to turn him down (or not turn him down!) was too much for me to handle. My response, rather than face the possibility, was to flee. Flee and neurotically obsess about him and his intentions.

I now don’t believe he was actually propositioning me, I think he was just lonely and trying to make friends.  He did, however, always give me an uneasy feeling. Though he had a certain punky charisma about him, there was the issue of his pointy face and snaggly teeth which gave him a bit of a untrustworthy, weasely look. The day he stole my lunch, I decided my instincts were correct and I began to avoid him.

Of course, he didn’t exactly steal my lunch so much as I forgot it in the studio. When I realized this and returned for it, he’d claimed it as his own.

I said, “You’ve got my lunch.”

He said, “You left it behind,” and gave me this kind of blank look that said, Too bad. Finders keepers.

I convinced him to give it back, which he did with a sneer and a huff, very peeved about the situation and not disguising it at all. Gimme a fucking break, I thought.

It all seemed incredibly dodgy to me at the time but I now think he was probably just really hungry. Looking back, and half-remembering things he’d mentioned, I think he was broke and starving, estranged from his family and living on his own. I should have let him have the sandwich but I was probably a tad peckish not having eaten in the few hours since indulging in a large breakfast at my parents’ house where I was living in relative luxury.

Whatever his name was—I privately dubbed him Ratboy—he seemed to disappear by second semester. Not that I’d necessarily remember if he returned after Christmas break as I’d developed fascinations with new people by then.

He didn’t completely disappear from my life though as I carried him with me for years. Whenever I was in a record store thinking I’d give The Fall a listen, I’d remember him and put it off for another day. People would suggest I’d like The Fall and I’d think, Hmmm. How much do I really want to know this person? 

I couldn’t help but tar all fans of The Fall with the same sketchy and sexually aggressive sandwich-thief brush. My mental portrait of Ratboy had grown more menacing with each passing year to the point where I practically remembered him being half-hidden in perpetual shadow with broken yellow teeth, glowing red eyes and a switchblade in his hand. I think my subconscious was trying to justify how I’d cast him aside over a sandwich. I have no idea what kind of guy he really was. He was probably just an average 20 year old art student. Or maybe he really was a piece of bad news.

Regardless, it’d be 2005 before I finally dipped my toe into The Fall pond. This was on the strength of that year’s Fall Heads Roll which I had somehow been exposed to. Ah! I get it now! I though to myself. It was a refreshing change of pace from the punk-funk and garage-punk revival of all the Franz Ferdinands, Raptures and Hives type bands while tapping into the retro vibes all the kids were milking. It was also surprisingly raw, fresh and passionate for a new album by first-generation punk old timers. If you’d told me it was a reissue of an early ’80s album, I’d have believed you without batting an eye.

So, newly enamored with this band I should have been listening to since 1991, I tried to make up for lost time by purchasing the entire pre-90’s back-catalogue. I started, for better or worse, at the beginning with the recently released double-disc reissue of Live At The Witchtrials (1979). It had a two-prong effect on me. First, like a blowtorch it blasted the bloom off the Fall Heads Roll rose and, second, the density of that package overwhelmed me. It was too many slices of off-kilter gutter-punk for my brain to process. I also gave the reissue of Dragnet (1979) a trial run as well to similar results. It was precisely the kind of helter-skelter rock’n’roll I claimed to champion yet it was all such a mess I couldn’t wade through the tangled weeds of Mark E. Smith’s grizzled-drunk-at-the-end-of-the-bar vocals, the floppy drums and twangy, barely in-tune guitars. At the time, I was much happier listening to the well-tooled groove machine of Gang of Four and my love affair with The Fall ended as suddenly as it had begun.

Looking at the cover art, I’m pretty sure I owned a copy of Hex Enduction Hour at that time and must have listened to it, but I have no memory of my first impressions. I might even have sold it back to the record shop I worked at part-time unlistened-to. If I did listen to it, I must have willfully ignored its brilliance.

Though it’s as loose and ramshackle as all of The Fall’s most powerful work, it’s also deceptively tight and focused (again, like all their most powerful work). From the abstract, jazzy textures in “Hip Priest” to the chugging kraut-punk of “Jawbone And The Air-Rifle” and all fiery 10-minutes and 15-seconds of the psychedelic art-punk closer “And This Day“, it’s has to be one of the best post-punk, noise-rock, art-rock, no-wave  or plain old rock’n’roll records ever recorded. That isn’t to suggest there’s anything approaching a hummable pop-tune on here, but the album is stronger for the lack of one. It’s something like The Velvet Underground‘s second album on amphetamines and steroids (well, steroids. Since amphetamines probably did go into the making of all the Velvet’s records).

I have James Lindsay (of Pleasence Records) to thank for my recent rediscovery of The Fall. About a year ago we were hanging out one afternoon when he said, “Yeah, The Fall. I was talking with my friend the other day and we decided The Fall is our favourite band of all time.”

Re-ally?” I said, immediately thinking of Ratboy, “I was never able to get into them.”

“What? Really?” said James in disbelief.

I knew exactly why he was confused by my statement so I went into the set piece I have prepared for every Fall evangelist I meet, “Well, yeah, I mean on paper they’re, like, my perfect band, right? Messy garage-rock mixed with bizarro psychedelic art-rock. But, I dunno, something’s off for me. I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s just Mark E. Smith I don’t like.”

“Oh, I love him,” James said. I thought, Of course you do. Everyone except me loves Mark E. Smith.

Feeling vaguely uncomfortable, beginning to suspect I had no real reason for disliking The Fall, I tried to explain, “I think his singing just annoys me. All mush-mouth. Maybe because people, like, try to copy it, y’know? And it just seems comes off as affected and annoying. I think that colours his singing for me. Even though he’s probably not putting on an act.”

“Oh yeah, he’s totally just like that. I love how he’s this working class curmudgeon who’s just antagonistic towards, like, everything. He also had no interesting in the whole punk rock thing…”

Apparently James also had a The Fall set piece prepared and his spiel was as long and detailed as any other fan’s I’ve been on the receiving end of. But this time  instead of causing me to write him off as a person, it planted the seed of a renewed interest in The Fall in my brain. A few weeks later I began to buy their records again. Soon I’d re-accumulated most of their early catalogue. And, of course, other than a couple titles that I listened to immediately, they’ve sat on my shelf un-listened to, waiting for a rainy day.

Or to be selected by a roll of the dice for a review on this blog. Which is exactly how I’ve come to spend the last few weeks listening to Hex Enduction Hour, wondering where it’s been all my life and realizing it was buried under a haze of unreliable, possibly false memories of a kid I only know as Ratboy.

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2 comments

  1. I have “Listen to The Fall” on my list for about 25 years now. The reason? Mark E. Smith professed to be an admirer of Peter Hammill. I have a weak spot for any such people. It is part of how I rolled into Canadian independent music (Jade Leary is such a person), i.e. once hooked on JL I thought “Hmmm, Canadian music, let’s see) and rolled into Brad Sucks as well. This was, while not the main cause, one of the catalysts that steered me towards one mr. Rehlinger’s music and from there into more. To properly explain it I need to shift through memory and receipts, get a white-board and write out what influenced what and when. There are no single causes, nor causes that where instrumental in one thing but not another.

    However, I digress.

    This from a Mark E. Smith interview in 1996

    [Tony Herrington]”The Wire did an Invisible Jukebox feature with Peter Hammill (issue 138), and we played him one of your tracks: “Paranoia Man In Cheap Shit Room”. He said you used to correspond with him, and that there was even talk of doing some recordings together.
    [Mark E. Smith]”The collaboration never happened. It would have been good, wouldn’t it?””

    [Mark E. Smith]””You talk about Peter Hammill. What I love about Peter Hammill, Peter Hammill never had a guitarist in his group. That’s what I loved about Van Der Graaf Generator: they didn’t have a guitarist. And there were a lot of Manchester guys who worked in the post office and the docks who thought the same thing. They didn’t have bloody degrees in fucking music. Van Der Graaf were fucking brilliant. They just knew that.” (he must be referring to the first period around 1970 – later Peter played guitar – now in incarnation 3b they either play keyboards/keyboards/drums or guitar/keyboards/drums)

    Is that a good reason? To me it is.


    • Also, The Fall might just be the best band to ever exist. You should just listen to them.

      Whoa! I’ve become a Fall evangelist! Ahhhhhhh.



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