Mark E. Smith, who died on Wednesday (Jan. 24) at the age of 60, was one of rock’s strangest and most singular songwriters. He was also one of the most prolific: Over the course of four decades, his band The Fall released over 30 full-length albums, plus numerous singles, EPs, and live records.
Here are ten of the best Fall albums.
10. The Infotainment Scan (1993)
The Infotainment Scan was a surprising pop breakthrough for The Fall. The album broke into the Top 10 UK albums chart, and featured an infectious cover of the 1979 Sister Sledge disco anthem “Lost in Music,” originally written by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Listening to Smith howling “Lost in Music,” with an ace backing band, made you realize that The Fall’s endless repetition and rhythmic groove was sort of disco all along.
9. The Real New Fall Album (Formerly Country on the Click) (2003)
This later-period Fall album showed that Smith hadn’t yet run out of ideas. The album featured more electronic accents, and rock-hard riffing. The dangerous goth swing of “Mountain Energei” brought to mind Depeche Mode in their prime, except Smith spins out baffling lines about Dolly Parton and patriotism.
8. Slates/A Part of America Therein (1981)
Technically an EP released on Rough Trade, Slates featured one of Smith’s most rocking and unforgettable songs – “Leave the Capitol,” which was initially a sleeper hit, released as the last song on Side 2 of the record. It was a tune that you could hear reverberating through rock and roll for decades to come — especially via the band Pavement, whose Fall fandom was indelibly stamped on their music.
7. Perverted by Language (1983)
Perverted by Language was the first album to feature the talents of Brix Smith — who was both married to Smith, and played in the band. (Brix Smith was widely credited with helping to push The Fall into more of a pop direction in the 1980s.) Most of the music on the album was recorded without her, but her contribution – the sweet, youthful vocals on “Hotel Bloedel” – gives you an idea of what The Fall would have sounded like if it had been fronted by a woman who could actually sing in tune.
6. Live at the Witch Trials (1979)
The Fall’s debut full-length album was recorded in one breathless day, and the sloppiness shows. But there were more ideas on this album than there are in some other bands’ entire discographies. The hard-driving “Industrial Estate” hits a frenetic pace, while the grinding repetition of tracks like the eight-minute closer “Music Scene” predate the methods of the American hardcore punk band Flipper.
5. Grotesque (After the Gramme) (1980)
With Grotesque (After the Gramme), the band moved to the U.K.’s famed Rough Trade label, which would prove to be a fruitful collaboration. The album sported a slightly cleaner sound, with production by label founder Geoff Travis, the Red Krayola’s Mayo Thompson and eventual Smiths live sound engineer Grant Showbiz. “The N.W.R.A.” (The North Will Rise Again) was a highlight, along with the askew country-ish dirge “The Container Drivers.” Smith described The Fall’s sound at around this time as “country ‘n Northern” – both an ode to the chilly north of Manchester and a dig at American country and western.
4. Dragnet (1979):
The Fall’s second full-length album, the first featuring guitarist Craig Scanlon and new bassist Steve Hanley, showcased some of Smith’s darkest lyrics. The album had a creepy feel, accented by the stark black-and-white cover art sporting an eerie drawing of a spider. The slow, relentless acceleration of “Muzorewi’s Daughter,” punctuated by Smith’s shrieks, was one of the most terrifying Fall songs of them all, and the song “Spectre vs. Rector” felt like gazing directly into the abyss. But there were moments of light, too, like the upbeat, poppy “Dice Man” and “Flat of Angles.”
3. This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)
This Nation’s Saving Grace charted in the U.K., and the hit “L.A.” even appeared on MTV stateside (though half of the music video was Smith’s then-wife and collaborator Brix Smith coolly smoking a cigarette in a sequined gown). The latter’s lazy, gritty bassline sounds like prime ’90s alternative rock before its time, and “Cruiser’s Creek” (an ’85 single included on the album’s cassette and CD versions) is one of The Fall’s best tunes.
2. The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… (1984)
Another furiously catchy Fall album, The Wonderful and Frightening World Of… sports cover art that looks like a Cubist nightmare and several sing-a-long tunes, including “Lay of the Land,” “C.R.E.E.P.,” and “Craigness.” The chord progression on “Draygo’s Guilt” makes the wily Mancunians sound like a meaty, all-American band – quintessential rock’n’roll with a weirdo twist.
1. Hex Enduction Hour (1982)
The Fall’s fourth album was a masterpiece of forward-moving propulsion, its catchy grooves set into place by two drummers working in tandem. The opener “The Classical” was an instant classic – a tightly wound coil of energy that explodes in all directions into an unlikely and unforgettable chorus. The eerie, mantric repetition of “Hip Priest” (“Hip…Hip….Hip….Hip….”) made a memorable appearance in Jonathan Demme’s 1991 horror thriller Silence of the Lambs.