Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour

Hex Enduction Hour (1982) ***1/2

There are certain albums that hardcore fans drool over as the ultimato and casual fans are considerably more lukewarm towards and newbies shouldn't approach with a ten foot pole, and this is one of those albums.  Though it contains two of their best-known songs, "The Classical," and "Hip Priest," this is not an accessible album.  Let's review our progress so far, shall we?

Album #1 - punk
Album #2 - gothy post-punk
Album #3 - rockabilly
....and so this, Album #4 - noise rock

An oversimplification, but you get the general drift of the Fall's evolving musical directions.  It's easy to see why hard as cider fans clamor over this clamor, as previous Fall studio efforts didn't approach the density of this attack - finally, an album that seems to capture in the studio the full-bodied assault of the Fall whirlwind live.  Two drummers are in the lineup, and the Fall don't use that extra for fancy showing off, he's there to double up on the beat for a rhythmically denser attack, as the grand opener, "The Classical," clatters with a positively ferocious rhythmic drive that, combined with Scanlon/Riley's industrially clanging guitars used not as leads or even color but as one more arsenal in the rhythm section, slams me up the wall and throws me across the room and back again for good measure.  It may very well indeed be the Fall's finest five minutes and up there with "Janie Jones," as one of the most throat-grabbing opening album cuts ever.  According to legend, "The Classical," cost the Fall a deal with Motown, as thirty seconds in Mark E. shouts from behind a veiled megaphone:

This is the home of the vain!
This is the home of the vain!
Where are the obligatory niggers?
Hey there, fuckface!
Hey there, fuckface!

Hey there yourself, I'm not censoring my Fall reviews, I'm quoting the man exactly as he "sings" (ha ha) it.  Political correctness aside....OK, this probably isn't a case where you can easily put political correctness aside, it's a pretty unsettling rant by any objective standard.  So let's deal with it as it is and move on.  The album is more or less evenly divided between relentlessly noisy rockers and sparse to the point of arid and seemingly go-nowhere ballads, the latter of which "Hip Priest," is the centerpiece of side one.  It's a nearly eight-minute breather smack in the middle, and I was bored with it at first (as I was with all the slow ones on this LP), but I've grown to appreciate this slow-building mock-epic mockery of music journos.  Played at the end of Silence of the Lambs in case you didn't notice (or cared).  The other three raconteurs on side one are all poundingly repetitive blasts of rhythmic noise, none nearly as good as "The Classical," (but oh what song in the universe possibly could be?), and all great, and all a bit too similar to each other, and all carrying a handful of poorly played notes too repetitively for several minutes too long, and oh that glorious cascading wave of decibel intensity V-O-L-U-M-E.  "Winter," and "Winter 2," are two parts of the same song, which had to be split over two separate sides in the days of vinyl, but in the post-vinyl era the split makes no sense.  Anyway, I find it kind of a drag, but there's something there that suggests I might find it interesting if I play it a few more times.  Hasn't worked the dozen or so times I've listened to it over the years yet, but you never know.  "Just Step S'ways," is the simplest and most direct track, a catchy-as-rubella slice of non-noise rock garage psychedelia that was initially my favorite song on this album, but is now merely my second favorite.  Could've should've been a Sonics cover but it's a Fall original.  "Who Makes the Nazis?" about the Fall's experience running into longhorn rednecks touring the American South, and "Iceland," about the country where they recorded this album (yes, the Fall are more or less directly responsible for Bjork, as any cursory listen to the Sugarcubes can verify), are pretty boring go-nowhere slow drags.  Some nice bass work on the former, though, and the latter....nah, I don't feel like listening to it again just so I can find something nice to say about it.  That leaves the ten-minute closer, the horrendous "And This Day," a "Sister Ray"-level trainwreck of tribal beats and noise and repetitive chanting of the title, a track that even hardcore Fall-natics have difficulty defending.

The bonus tracks are a small bit of a tangle, so pay attention.  The initial reissue was a single disc appending the "Look, Know" b/w "I'm Into C.B." single.  That's the one to get, because "Look, Know," is the only bonus track worth hearing - a plodding funk-ish vamp with tinkly piano as a cream-on-crop touch.  "I'm Into C.B." is rockabilly crap.  The second reissue, for some godsunknown reason, omits "Look, Know" but keeps its B-side "I'm Into C.B.," and adds an entire second disc of useless Peel sessions and live tracks.  There are a couple of live versions of songs unrecorded elsewhere (for good reason), the unendurably nine-minute go-nowhere noisefest "Session Musician," and the self-descriptively entitled "Jazzed Up Punk Shit."  None of these are worth your time.  Either get the one that specifically has "Look, Know," on it, or just snag the original CD sans bonus tracks on the cheap.

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