The Fall
Hex Enduction Hour


or the uninitiated, entering the wonderful and frightening world of the Fall can be an overwhelming experience. Not only does the “band” (which has performed in various incarnations since the late 70’s, but always with the indestructible crux of the perennially trashed Mark E. Smith) have more albums than years of existence under their collective belt, but mucked-up distribution of their records has generated barrelfuls of compilations and odd re-re-re-releases. That said, if you are to delve into three records by the Fall in your mortal life, the recently reissued (cleaned up and expanded) Hex Enduction Hour ought to be one of them. To dispense with the formalities, it’s a good remaster for an album that deserved it, and while none of the second disc’s added goodies are particularly stellar, they nevertheless serve as a little gravy to an already superb record.

Originally released in 1982 as their fourth studio album, Hex demonstrates the culmination of “early” Fall: a monolithic beast of ragged grooves piloted through the embittering miasma of English society by the verbose acidity/Joycean all-inclusiveness of Mark E. Smith. By then, the band’s sound had expanded outwards, having graduated to two drummers and allowing the abrasive patchwork of Marc Riley and Craig Scanlon’s guitars to drift further into clattering abstraction, each player pulling their creativity taut from an invisible center. Along with Wire, the Fall serves as one of the earliest and most successful attempts to elevate punk formalism (i.e. the consciously simple, spirited, and non-virtuosic) to the level of more exploratory, experimental music, an approach that we now call “post-punk,” but whereas Wire turned to icy, synth-laden paranoia, the Fall (at this point in their career) folded in the Neanderthalic kitchen sinkism of early Faust and the lovingly crass fusion of Can, peppering them with some of the thudding, demeaned pop-redux that would come to mark their mid-80’s work.

Immediately, “The Classical” sets a tone that characterizes the entirety of the record: dreary, cluttered, and seemingly decaying, but lurching forward with an unflinching certainty—the only flickering torch song in a cavity of deadened automatons. “There is no culture is my brag, your taste for bullshit reveals a lust for a home of office.” Of course, it’s ultimately Smith that gives a name to the beauteous shitstorm, delivering his dense, volatile rants in a trademark nasal snarl with a sing-speak pace that truly lets them cook, unmasking their dissent and pure poetry, erratically crying out “THIS IS THE HOME OF THE VAIN!,” only to consent that “I’ve never felt better in my life” in a bleary deadpan, ad infinitum, a comment whose inscrutability verges on chilling.

What’s tremendous, singular, and affecting about Smith is that it’s hard to tell where he actually stands: the heartbreaking scope and sensitivity of his lyrics shows a mind not of suffocating nihilism, but keen detachment, cynicism, and understanding, setting him as much at odds with the spitting reactionaries of punk as with the tidy Thatcherite society that fueled their hatred. If “The Classical” partially mimicked the illusory freedom and faux-revolutionary discontent of youth, “Fortress/Deer Park” takes aim at it, exposing the squatter squalor of a Nazi fortress where, after talking in circles “with four left wing kids,” Smith tiptoes by the toilets to the sound of a urine-stained fanfare: “and Good King Harry was there fucking [BBC’s original ‘Top of the Pops’ DJ] Jimmy Saville.” It’s upon his exit that the sky begins to open up for the gloriously apocalyptic scene of the deer park: when Smith says “I took a walk down West 11, I had to wade through 500 European punks” his voice coursing through a droning organ, a single flame on the verge of being blown out, it exudes chaos on the brink of pure bliss, the sound of Smith entering hell itself. The band reaches its boiling point, a relentless Stooges-like stomp tied together by an endless ribbon of gnashing teeth, Smith drowning in the deluge of noise, twisting amidst the inescapable artists, kids, and subculture hawks swarming like locusts all around, cheating out “the young blackies… in the English system they implicitly trust, see the A&R; civil servants, they get a sex thrill out of a sixteenth of Moroccan,” a suffocatingly pathetic tableau of disappointments masquerading as hedonistic idealism, an interminably mounting pile of human trash.

And is there a way out? “Just Step S’Ways” is the closest the Fall gets to a motivational moment, and it’s hardly anything to smile about, as Smith leads the Fall Soul-Wrangler Revue trumpeting the empty rah-rah sentiment to “just step outside this grubby place today,” employing the falsely empowering sentiment of advertisements, the illusion of a life-changing consumerism. We’re left with our fists flaccid in the goddamn air with absolutely nowhere to look, before being piled like waste into the subtle, lopsided discord of “Who Makes the Nazis?,” to which the answer is, basically, everyone, from intellectual half-wits to George Orwell to the BBC. If there’s any moral, it’s a difficult one to swallow: everything we see wrong with the world is a conspiracy of our hates and our loves, every antagonist has its circumstances, its foils, its antecedents—more than anything, it’s a plea for thorough consideration of one’s surroundings, a deep-seated skepticism that perpetually disrupts the spirit yet elevates understanding. Smith laments on the loping infinity of “And This Day” that there’s “just no fucking respite for us here… you even mistrust your own feelings.” Like the cover of the record itself, Hex is a concrete chunk of clanging urban graffiti, a haze of cryptically scrawled half-thoughts preached like glossolalia to form a cross section rife with painful contradictions and holes too deep to fill, a picture whose dizzying intersections of raw, loose ends only serve to elevate its bleak beauty.

Reviewed by: Mike Powell

Reviewed on: 2005-02-16

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Log In to Post Comments
Posted 02/16/2005 - 09:15:05 AM by foolsgold13:
 duh. super A+. only This Nation's Saving Grace and Grotesque (after the gramme) beat it, imo
Posted 02/16/2005 - 10:36:56 AM by hutlock:
 Fun Fall story: prior to the release of this record, the Fall were actually in talks to sign with Motown. No, I'm not kidding. And then they heard the opening lines of the album, and that deal was off faster than you could say, "Hey there fuckface!"
Posted 02/16/2005 - 02:45:56 PM by fraew001:
 don't forget 'where are all the obligatory niggers!!'
Posted 02/16/2005 - 04:10:27 PM by hunky_dory:
 Speaking of albums that deserve a good remaster, how about The Stone Roses' debut? There's so much going on, but a lot of it is hard to hear, and everything falls on the high end of the auditory spectrum. I imagine a remaster would reveal some nice atmospherics. And bass. Anything you good folks as Stylus can do to grease the wheels?
Posted 02/16/2005 - 05:02:31 PM by hutlock:
 I am fairly certain that the Stone Roses album has been re-issued at LEAST three times already, maybe more. If there was remastering to be done, I would hope that they had done it already, but you're right, it has always been a little high on the treble end. But no, nothing we can do to grease the wheels, sorry! Maybe someone saw your post though!
Posted 02/16/2005 - 07:20:17 PM by grodinsky:
 hmm, do you have a source for that fall/motown story? google yeilded 4 results that basically said exactly what you said. sounds like a myth.
Posted 02/16/2005 - 09:54:37 PM by skuter666:
 Could be mythical, but MES is the source. "...Mark E. Smith insists that it very nearly happened. "It's true. The Motown office in Britain were going to sign all these English groups, all the 'hot' ones they'd read about in the papers. I had a letter and everything but it was vetoed by the big fat cats in L.A. I think they heard that track on 'Hex Enduction Hour' with the line about obligatory niggers." -"Fall Out" The Hit, September 1985, pp. 15-16
Posted 02/16/2005 - 10:01:30 PM by foolsgold13:
 yeah it's true, what they say about motown. and yeah, that stone roses album could go for a remaster. though i've noticed i prefer basic volume boosts. for example: raw power, okay that needed a remaster. but fun house i love it as it stands. sure, it could sound better, but i like it as is, just wish the cd was louder. same with all that touch and go stuff (big black, jesus lizard, et.c)
Posted 02/17/2005 - 06:38:08 PM by grodinsky:
 hmm, interesting. i dont think motown wouldve released hexenduction hour anyways, obligatory niggers and fuckfaces or not.
Posted 02/17/2005 - 11:33:40 PM by skuter666:
 Anyone who's ever seen Barry Gordy's The Last Dragon knows that Motown was capable of anything, perhaps even releasing a Fall album. It would be nice to believe that BGTLD was just a cocaine decision resulting from Motown's move to LA, but there was that Soupy Sales album they released back in the sixties. Among other oddities.
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