The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1982-03-08

Among the staggering heap of Fall records Mark E. Smith left behind, three albums are consistently are cited their finest. Grotesque (After the Gramme), Our Nation’s Saving Grace and Hex Enduction Hour.  Hex was the first Fall record to feature the classic, two-drummer line up. With its deliberate, lo-fi production and caustic word play, it stands the test of time more than any record by Spandau Ballet. A middle finger to the burgeoning slick commercialism of the times. This was 1982 and the underground music scene was increasingly turning careerist, polishing up its act for Top of the Pops. Smith was having none of it. This was intentionally recorded in less than optimal conditions, from a disused cinema in Hertforshire to a lava walled studio in Reykjavík that resembled an “igloo”. Smith didn’t want slick production, he wanted ambience. He wanted noise you could shut out the noise with. With lyrics, “like reading a really good book. You have a couple of beers and sit down and immerse yourself.” And he got what he wanted, in spades.

“Hey there fuckface!”, Mark E Smith says by way of introduction. On a track entitled, ‘The Classical’ no less. “Message For ya! Message for ya!” As for what that message is, “a taste for bullshit reveals a lust for home of office.” Then ‘Jawbone and the Air-Rifle’ batters you on the head with its ominous riffs and schizophrenic tempo changes. A nightmarish tale, irreverently torn from the annals of folklore, involving a rabbit poacher out on a bender. Culminating in a hallucinatory, unholy collision of religious and pagan imagery. I ask, who else was cutting records like this in 1982?  

Thanks to its inclusion in the film, Silence Of The Lambs, ‘Hip Priest’ might be the Fall’s most recognizable number. Spare, unsettling and atmospheric, its and an unforgettable tour through Smith’s drunken subconscious. A besotted raspberry to any notion of being a hipster on the scene. Similarly, ‘Fortress/Deer Park’ is a put down to fashion masquerading as subculture. “I took a walk down W 11, I had to walk through 500 European punks,” Smith grouses. 

Back in the days when records had sides, ‘Winter’ closed side one and opened side two. A positively phantasmagoric depiction of waiting for the pub to open with the bleakest of winter hangovers. A collage of the thoughts running through a hopeless nobody's head like bleak clouds. And the people who cross his path whilst waiting. The “half-wit” child with his black dog. His cleaning lady mother. The feminist. Our protagonist, walking round in circles, waiting not for Godot but a 3:30 opening pint. Passing by the drying out house along the way. In its entirety, ‘Winter’ paints an unforgettable and unflinching depiction of alcoholism. A barfly caught in the web of a vicious circle, with no tomorrow for a drinking buddy.

By contrast, ‘Just Step S’ways’ is a positively jaunty dance number. “Just stepped sideways from this life,” Smith advises. It’s the only way to live. Or more accurately, survive. Then we come to the immortal question: ‘Who Makes The Nazis?’ Despite name checking the likes of Colin Wilson, the answer is simple, “intellectual halfwits”. Let that serve as a warning, Trump America. ‘Nazis’ also features the debut of the dictaphone, a device that would later be a notable fixture on many of the Fall’s releases throughout the 80’s. Most notably on Our Nation’s Saving Grace. The track also boasts Smith’s penchant for kazoo.

‘Iceland’ is the most introspective number on, Hex. It’s also completely improvised. The line, “Fall down flat in the café lol without a glance form the clientele” referring to an incident that happened that morning. Accompaniment includes a two-part piano part, banjo and the sound of wind Smith made on a cassette recorder from his hotel room. If he was attempting to capture and convey the strangeness and the inaccessibility of this foreign clime, he succeeded. It’s a snapshot of a country that is now vastly different than it was in 1981. Later he confessed to being stunned that “beer was against the law. You could only drink shit like pints of peach schnaaps.”  Without a doubt, the trip left an impression on Smith and he captured those impressions with daring spontaneity. The kind one couldn’t get with a major label footing the tab. While Rough Trade would later blow them off in favor of the Smiths, at the time, they were a key factor in Mark E. Smith’s development as an artist.

Hex ends with, the epic, ‘And This Day’. Originally, 25 minutes, the track was edited down to 10 plus minutes and remains one of the Fall's longest studio recordings. With subsequent re-reissues, however, it’s hardly the last word.  Essential bonus tracks include non album singles, ‘Into C.B.’ and ‘Look, Know’. Not to mention, live rarities such as ‘Jazzed Up Punk Shit’. All Fall classics in their own right.

With Smith’s recent demise, it’s become painfully evident, Hex  is criminally out of print at the time of this writing. Leave it to the vultures to descend. Right now, physical copies of Hex are selling for exorbitant amounts (vinyl and cd's fetching from the $70-$250 range on amazon). Something that Smith would either be disgusted or amused by, depending on his mood. But not to worry, you can still download the bonus disc version for a scant $19.99 on iTunes. Call it cashing in, or grave robbery. It all serves to remind me of a few chosen words from the maestro himself, “When you’re mired in the shit of the times, you start to not only question people’s tastes, but their existences.” Which sums up this album beautifully. 

“I have never felt better in my life,” Mark E Smith chants on, ‘The Classical’. And in many ways, the Fall never sounded better. I make no bones about declaring Mark E. Smith a one of a kind genius. The man not only loved Language, he was a genuine Master of It. Like no one else, he merged his mad, incisive word play with gritty Rock & Roll. Creating a sound that is both old, new and timeless. If you’re new to the Fall, let Hex serve as your “Enduction.”

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