The Fall Hex Enduction Hour
Most people, if they're lucky, have their lives changed, re-directed by a record only once or twice in their lifetimes. It tends to happen a little more regularly if, like me, you sold your soul to rock'n'roll at an early age or if, like me, you've devoted a large part of your life (and presumably your brain - just say 'No' kids!) to the pursuit and ingestion of various government-prohibited pharmaceuticals. Sergeant Pepper did it for the masses in the sixties; Hex Enduction Hour did it for me just over a decade later.
Of course, if your life is to be changed by an album, the setting is important. Sergeant Pepper was probably most memorably life-changing for those few souls already deeply involved with psychedelia and all the loon-panted tomfoolery that went along with it. Hex changed my life in the most perfect of settings for speed-crazed, late-punk delirium; I first heard it as a righteous maelstrom tearing its way out of the tinny speaker of my pal's portable cassette player, distorted by low batteries and amplifier overload in a badly-driven, rattly, oil-starved Ford Escort 7cwt van. My hearing savagely twisted by little blue pills - I guess holding my head out of the window to shout abuse at the sheep we were passing didn't aid my appreciation of the album's subtlety and delicate chiaroscuro much either- I was unable at first to distinguish any of the words...it didn't seem to matter much, the guy doing the singing was holding a grudge and everyone was invited.
It was the perfect mood to accompany the gathering socio-political gloom (it's been an ambition of mine to include the phrase 'socio-political' in a piece of my writing for some time... another one to cross off my list) brought on by economic decline and the terrifying jurassic dawn of Thatcherism. It was angry, arrogant, swaggering at times yet beset by doubt and paranoia at others. The music hinted at drug use and was filled with snatches of language, images really, that formed a strange and difficult narrative.
The album opened up with a full-on broadside, the swaggering, drum-laden track "The Classical" - a laying-out of all the goods they had to sell me. With time and repeated listenings (I drove my flatmates mad) I got to pick up and inspect every little gem on the counter. "Jawbone and the Air-rifle," the 2nd track, is one of Mark Smith's gorgeous little short stories from hell - anything that includes a couplet like "Gravekeeper says 'You're out of luck, here is a jawbone caked in muck'" merits detailed investigation but it was the 3rd track, "Hip Priest," that had me on me knees, praying in the direction of Manchester.
You see, by the time the album was released, in Smith's own words, "the conventional was now experimental" and the band was no-longer beating its own path through the underground undergrowth - the Fall were being stalked by a new generation of jumped-up chancers desperate to scramble onto their bandwagon. Smith's contempt and amusement at being hailed as a leader was compelling and vital stuff. The rest of the British media scene came under withering fire from Smith's crisp hatred in "Deer Park" and "Mere Pseud Mag. Ed" and there was even a drop of political venom in "Who makes the Nazis?"
"And this Day" is an epic 'chucking-out song' for indie clubs around the world and both "Iceland" and "Winter" are strong enough to send shivers down the spine but that's nothing unusual for the Fall.
This is far too rich an album to be taken in one sitting, and like the finest wine, it's best sipped rather than gulped. There's a lot of stuff to listen to here and you'd better be taking notes 'cos I'll be asking questions later. Now get out of here and study!
Also see our Fall tribute
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