The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour
By the time The Fall completed Hex Enduction Hour for the Kamera label in March 1982, they had already completed five albums including their debut Live At The Witch Trials, the riotous Totale's Turns and Grotesque (After The Gramme). Through these albums, The Fall had nailed a lo-fi punk rockabilly shown off to best effect on How I Wrote Elastic Man and City Hobgoblins but with Hex Enduction Hour, their mood had soured, causing Mark E Smith to think about giving it all up. Hex Enduction Hour, therefore, was to be their farewell statement.
Not helped by cold Mancunian and Icelandic winters and the vitriol felt towards their previous label Rough Trade over their use of the word 'slags', The Fall retreated firstly to an abandoned cinema in Hitchin and then to a studio in Reykjavik, pumped up their sound with the use of two drummers and recorded an hour's worth of seething rock, going from a post-punk clatter to a Krautrock throb minute-by-minute that is both uplifting and spiteful by turns.
Hex Enduction Hour opens with The Classical, a raucous clash between The Glitter Band and early-eighties New Wave that lists the chronic situation faced by a Britain punching above its weight in 1982 before ending with the sincere sentiment that, "I have never felt better in this life". Whilst Jawbone And The Air-Rifle continues the trademark sound of The Fall by being rockabilly with a nod to punk, Hip Priest is where Hex Enduction Hour marks out its own sound, offering a slow sparse rhythm over which Smith rants and Craig Scanlon slashes on sharp guitar, a sound repeated on the Winter [Hostel-Maxi] and Winter 2 with these latter two only made different by the addition of a cheap organ.
Elsewhere, Fortress/Deer Park and Just Step S'ways recall the thumping riffs of the opening pair of tracks and Mere Pseud Mag. Ed. hilariously puts down the music journalists who were yet to grace Smith's band with complimentary reviews. Completing the album are the spiteful and scratchy Who Makes The Nazis?, the Neu-influenced Iceland and the closing And This Day, wherein Smith rants over a two-drum martial beat as Marc Riley's fairground organ fights off Scanlon's guitar.
Forget the photographs within the CD booklet showing The Fall in pastoral Icelandic settings, this recording captures the grey drizzle of an English December and you can almost smell the damp seeping through the walls of the cinema in which it was recorded. Yet, there is a humour-in-the-face-of-misfortune that runs through the album, with Smith cracking, "I just left the Hotel Amnesia...where it is I can't remember" as well as the scratched drawings and text over and within the CD booklet that so offended HMV that they requested the original LP release be stacked backwards.
Of course, much of whether you 'get' The Fall or not will depend on your ability to appreciate Mark E Smith for many have been turned off by the unashamedly Mancunian tone of his singing. He's been likened to a drunk that you'd cross the street to avoid but this only tells a little of the story. His ability to construct lyrics out of obscure words, his North-Western dialect and his use of the rhythm of the barroom tale mean that whilst The Fall can often be musically static, similar at times to Krautrock or the back-to-basics approach of rockabilly, Smith's lyrics burst like firecrackers.
Therefore, it would seem unlikely that a major label would ever be interested in The Fall but Mark E Smith tells that Motown were set to sign the band, even going so far as to draw up a contract. Without thinking too hard, Smith gave them a copy of this, their latest album at the time to listen to but when executives heard the albums opening words, followed by, "Where are the obligatory niggers? Hey there, fuckface! Hey there, fuckface!", an unlikely association between Motor City and Salford was lost before it ever really had a chance to bloom.
Such a tale is the The Fall in brief, ever getting close to a breakthrough but shattering their chances by their own hand at the final moment. Even as the world fell for flares, funky drumming and Madchester, The Fall declared themselves not of Manchester but of Salford and sniped at the term-time population of Western Europe's largest student city. That they have continued this for twenty-five years gives clear intent as to their unwillingness to compromise and if you feel like sampling The Fall, any of the music recorded in the nineties will be easier listening but for a feel of their early, pre-marriage-to-Brix years Hex Enduction Hour is every bit a milestone of post-punk rock.