Friday, July 8, 2011
#32 The Fall-Hex Enduction Hour
Artist: The Fall
Album: Hex Endunction Hour
Woo I haven't opened this in two weeks since I started this review.
Oh man. So few albums so perfectly encapsulate everything perfect about a band. Most of my favorite records by my favorite artists are, for lack of a better word, merely them hitting a perfect moment. Exile is almost great because it takes what the Stones were best at and does it differently than they'd ever do it again. Sgt. Pepper, In A Silent Way and others (which will appear high on this list) are alone in their respective artist's canon. The Fall have no album like that, which sticks out for its different-ness. All of the band's work is pretty logically intertwined. But Hex Endunction Hour is perfect in that it works as one of those perfect albums that summarizes everything great about the band. Some Fall albums are more literary, some weirder, and some focus on rocking hard. Hex Endunction Hour manages to simultaneously be the band's most literate, focused, and forceful record.
As usual, the circumstances that worked for The Fall might not have worked for other bands. They were on a new label, Kamera Records. Most classic (and current) indie bands would probably love to be on Rough Trade Records, who released previous Fall work, but Mark E. Smith found the label stifling, as they insisted on lyrics that made sense, etc. Kamera, a label accustomed to heavy metal music, was all for the Fall doing what they wanted, as well as making the record an HOUR long and giving the band creative control without question. The group also elected to record three of the songs in Iceland, a less than friendly environment. Those sessions produced three of the band's greatest songs ever, the epic two-sided suite "Winter", "Iceland" (one of the group's darkest songs of this era) and the classic "Hip Priest." These three songs alone give a great "Fall overview" if you will: the former is a two chord riff over about...eight minutes with lyrics of a warped short-story variety. In "Iceland" we have one of their most repetitive riffs and minimal songs (which the next song, album closer "And This Day" turns on its head to be the same style, but incredibly bombastic) and the latter has MES pumping his own chest better than ever ("They can imitate, but I teach, cus I'm the Hip Priest!").
The band is built on repetition, and this might be the most repetitious of all their work. Most of their songs at least have a bridge or SOMETHING that breaks up the monotony, but not this one. Actually, except for the bridges in "Hip Priest" and "Just Step S'Ways" I can think of no instance where the core of a song is broken up in any way.
Lyrically the album is also genius. "The Classical" sets the scene perfectly, with "There are 12 people in the world/the rest are paste" and "I just left the hotel amnesia, I had to go there--where it is I can't remember..." Short story-esque lyrics also abound (the aforementioned "Winter" for example), but Mark E Smith's delivery is as caustic as ever. And lyrically, this is really the beginning of the end for lines like the above. Once Brix Smith joined the band/they join Beggars and turn to a less chaotic sound, the lyrics, while retaining greatness, are totally different. Gone is the young MES of old spewing forth beat honky tonk crazy poetry comic genius.
The band, unlike many others I praise here, are not known for their subtlety. From what I've read, MES seems to have understood how over-the-top Hex was, which led to the stripped-down tone of their next release, the mini-LP Room To Live. While what I've read primarily points to a feeling that Hex was overproduced, Room To Live sets the production tone for the relatively (compared to Hex) subdued sound they'd employ over the next year, before jumping to Beggars and really changing things up. Hex Endunction Hour is rare and brilliant in that it's a band on top of their game, who would then reinvent itself and reach equal highs again. But nothing of theirs is like Hex Endunction Hour, and as good as the albums are that were (and still are!) to come, nothing beats this record for the band.