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THE FALL Mere Pseud Mag. Ed.

Consensus on The Fall is that they step in the same river with every LP, but it was John Peel who made the subtle distinction: "always different, always the same." Beginning with dank garage scratch in the late 70’s, The Fall had mutated into bouncy pop by the late 80's, at which time the keyboards got out of hand, giving way to flirtations with technopunk in the early 90’s, continuing to evolve through trials endured in the years spent wandering between decent label support (one of the more interesting adaptations being 1997's Levitate -- a rock band trying to make club music with club producers who want to make a rock album). Sifting through the mess reveals only one definite source of continuity, frontman (I was careful not to put "singer") Mark E. Smith. MES, as he is known to initiates, has now logged twenty-eight years on the margins, inhabiting his chosen roles of provocateur, Blakean mystic, and self-described "well-read punk peasant" unlike any other. The terms of this contract -- an incredible amount of band turnover, industry indifference, and ensuing personal bankruptcy -- have taken a heavy toll (trainspotters may compare then to now), but now the man racks up the lifetime achievement awards at British industry shows and can take comfort (but, rest assured, won't) in a modicum of success.

In 1982 there was no need to suss out the legacy, but somewhere along the way Peel coined them "the mighty Fall," and they became a kind of fabled institution, more referenced than heard. The Fall, by alternately pursuing and rejecting pop styles, have earned a diehard contingent who appreciate the Manichaean (and Mancunian) tension. All this cult love has finally led to a respectable reissue campaign for the band’s back catalogue. Starting last year with Live at the Witch Trials, Castle's program has finally worked its way up to the most notorious Fall album, Hex Enduction Hour, home of this MP3.

From its slurred intro, "Mere Psued Mag. Ed." quickly manifests in full, an insistent poltergeist feverishly clanging invective. MES’ verbal economy boils down "Mere Pseud" to its essential ingredients, all piss, vinegar, and suspect pharmacology. Critiquing the new breed of music scribes, MES strips away layers of defensive affect ("Real ale, curry as well -- sophisticate!") in no time flat. Unfortunately, the reissue doesn't provide annotation, much less a lyric sheet, so some obscurities beg to be Googled: "His dream girl sings adverts for the Weetabix/A fancied wit that's imitation of Rumpole of Bailey".

When that proves unsatisfying, the wretch’s father is called forth, but the track mercifully ends before punishment can be meted out. This is the Mark E. Smith that rockists revel in, but even a perfunctory listen to the following song, "Winter," reveals a painterly, almost gentle, chiaroscuro approach. MES, for all his vatic mutterings and sneering anti-posturing, is as able a lyricist as any, possessing a sense of humor that allows him to shift into high gear derogation without the shrill grind of didacticism.

[A note on other versions: In a 2003 Peel Session, MES fumbles with the words, either slightly embarrassed or slightly senile, finally conceding, "Etcetera!" On last year's joke/dole subsidy Interim, Smith switches the aforementioned cereal reference for a brand of ice cream, the only innovation in an otherwise bland remake.]

Taken as one battering whole, Hex takes 60 minutes to find no way out, and yet, 23 years later, kids are happy shuffling their Fall MP3s amongst dreck from the latest ahistorical trust fund Brooklynites. Supplemented by music zines, attendant message boards, MP3 blogs (!), and the easy availabilty of gateway drugs, mere psued mag eds are flourishing like never before. It remains a mystery as to what keeps MES going in the face of all this mire (and don’t say speed), but perhaps his attitude in regards to this and other big questions can be taken from the urgent scrawl of Hex's cover graffiti: "HAVE A BLEEDIN GUESS."


From the bloated rock corpus of basement savant/avuncular showman R. Pollard comes this snippet, the unlikely title track from GBV’s 1997 concept-album-that-wasn't. Mag, in this case, meaning magnificent, as in Magnificent Earwhig, the album’s ostensible protagonist. Given his working methods, it’s hard to imagine Pollard pulling off a coherent album; his opaque wordplay and junk construction ethos would seem to preclude that kind of discipline. The history of Mag Earwhig! serves as testimony to this fact. After having recorded 15 songs with his new professional band, Pollard began to have doubts. In his search for a more perfect pop alchemy, he sequenced the album "36 different ways" (the press release notes this with the barest hint of exasperation) before throwing in the towel and calling up his recent exes Tobin Sprout and John Slough to finish the album. Somewhere in the confusion, the idea of a hero earwhig was lost, but he lives on in the inner sleeve in the barest of outlines: "MAGNIFICENT EARWHIG! I AM SMALL YET BIG. I AM EVERYBODY."

There isn’t any sign of him in his own song, even. A processed vocal looped in the background may or may not be saying "Mag!". A quick check of the lyric sheet confirms that there isn't much going on here (though I do dig the ringing rhyme of "I smiled like an electric child"). However, the sleeve's marginalia, "(A sign reading: Welcome To New Limited Dimensions)," does find thematic resonance all over GBV's aching universe (just off the top of my head, backup singing on Earthquake Glue was credited to "The Model Prisoners of the 5 Sense Realm"). There's a rich vein of such stuff running through his work, but unfortunately, Pollard's populist cosmology has yet to find its Boswell. (Maybe next time.)