by Philip Moss
Mark E. Smith’s tongue has left a massive impact on alternative music. And on New Facts Emerge, it’s business as usual, as the same ranting free verse that has been barked and bawled over compositions by his ever-changing band of merry men and women for the last four and a half decades continues
Just five months before his untimely but not surprising passing last week, the 60-year-old released his final record – New Facts Emerge. His sixth for London based independent label, Cherry Red Records, and the 32nd studio album of his career.
Legendary Radio 1 DJ, John Peel was a famous advocate of the band. In fact his wife Shiela said, ‘There was simply no other band that excited him quite as much.’ And Peel’s love for the ramshackle nature of the group was famously explained in his own words as being partly because ‘they are always different; they are always the same.’ A quote which very much summarises New Facts Emerge.
After thirty seconds of what sounds like Mark E’s dictaphone being accidentally turned on in his pocket, the record kicks off on opening song proper – For De Rol – with a riff that sounds like Franz Ferdinand powered by a new pack of Duracells. Smith delivering a tour-de-force of fuzzy vocals (which are as nonsensical as the title suggests) over six and a half minutes of repetitive, garage segueing Krautrock.
Throughout the record, Smith’s vocals are often buried – no more so than on the album’s centrepiece, Couples vs Jobless Mid 30s – yet another example to add to the list of brilliant song titles from the MES songbook. Over scuzzy bass, Smith’s allegorical lyric is typically ambiguous and open to interpretation as he satirises the comedown of a capitalist businessman who’s dictated to by ‘his bored mother spouse’ who ‘tortures him in big house’.
Sadly (as discussed in Clash and Louder Than War), Victoria Train Station Massacre – written well before the tragic event that occurred in Manchester on 22nd May 2017 – dissonantly echoes the infamous attack. But with the record already pressed and artwork printed, it meant the band – and Smith in particular – picked up criticism for its inclusion. He later confirmed that the lyric was not a foreshadowing to the massacre, but of the architectural butchery the station has suffered over the years since he used to hang out there in the Eighties.
Gibbus Gibson and Groundsboy are both much lighter in tone (the first bounces along over a spiky guitar line and 80’s pop keyboards, while the latter comes complete with doo-wop backing vocals), before the record ends on another melodic note as Smith croons over Nine out of Ten’s nearly nine minutes of scratchy guitars.
So, it’s just two weeks ago that we were praising the brilliant new album by that bunch of 20-year-olds, Shame. Proof that Mark E’s impact on alternative music rages on, much like his vocal lines always have. And while it may not be this record that’s remembered most fondly or found to be of particularly great influence on the next generation, when we look back in future years, his impact cannot be underestimated.
Mark E will be remembered for many things, not least the ever-changing lineup of the group, his drunken, ranting, sneering & snarling live performances, his political outbursts, his slating of his contemporaries and his sprawling back catalogue of hits and misses. But – for me – his legacy goes back to the very reason I first fell for him, which is still here in abundance on New Facts – his punk ethic which will continue to speak to young people, and screams if I can do this, so can you. A beacon for musicians, writers and performers in an age when the alternative is constantly being squeezed.
At a time when we seem to be losing musical icons far too frequently (the likes of David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed) we find ourselves talking about the individuality and sui generis nature of these artists. And while his records may have been mostly the same but different, there is nothing new about this fact: there really will never be another like Mark E. Smith.
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