The Fall: Same old Mark E Smith. But different...

The Fall are back. Tim Cumming meets their unique, splenetic frontman

Mark E Smith and The Fall are one of the constant, cryptic undercurrents of English music. From Live at the Witch Trials, in 1978, through ballet with Michael Clark and Leigh Bowery in the Eighties to pioneering rock and electronica in the Nineties, near-collapse and rebirth in the 2000s, and now, with Re-Mit, the group's 30th studio release some 35 years later, no other band has reinvented itself along the same lines, album after album, and remained as fresh and challenging as The Fall. John Peel's famous dictum, “always different, always the same”, holds true. Re-Mit is a brilliant and essential album, as essential as pain relief in surgery. The word “different” runs through it like Brighton through rock. It is also the same.

When Luke Haines heard an advanced copy, he Tweeted: “Got my mits on Re-Mit. It's extraordinary. MES, speaking in tongues, channeling Wild Man Fischer at the exorcism” (sic). Even set against the illustrious Fall canon, much of Re-Mit is freaky, unnerving and very weird.

On record and in conversation, Mark E Smith's words are often cryptic. On new songs like “Hittite Man”, “Kinder of Spine” and “No Respects Rev”, he's a vocalist singing beyond words, spewing an unsettling stream of cries, shrieks and moans, infant-like whimpers of terror, and cackling, multi-tracked laughter.

I've met Smith a few times and he is stimulating and entertaining, often hilarious, always serious. We meet in Manchester's Kro Bar, which Smith enters wearing a dark blue overcoat, moving slowly towards the bar, looking about him, hair dishevelled.

“It gets harder the more technology there is in the studio,” says Smith of recording the latest LP. He describes the sound as “hard and clear and clean, and vocally, it's his strongest, most detailed work in years. ”Kinder of Spine“ crawls with cowering, overlapping pleas to ”my captain, my judge“ (”it's like miserable 19th-century novels where the captain's going down and all that“) and throughout, there's the feel of a group playing on different levels, from art noise to pure pop, overlaid with surging, sluicing analogue synths and heavily collaged vocals. ”When I do a vocal like 'No Respects Rev', it is deliberate. I want to layer it, but you get some dickhead producer come in and say, 'now can we have the proper vocal?' 'That is the proper vocal.' They think you're drunk.“ He describes it as an ”up“ album.

“Even pop, rock, it's all very miserable right now. Everyone I meet says that to me. All that I hear is that it's shit. Old people, young people, taxi drivers; there's just nothing there. 'When will the new Sex Pistols come, Mark?' It's not going to happen, is it? It's not. The occasions I go to award shows, they're just a bunch of shits. You sit next to The Killers, and it's like, am I on the wrong fucking train here? No, really. Talking about shares and stuff. Mumford and Sons, it's like sitting next to Ernst and Young.”

The primal rock'n'roll glam stomp of “Sir William Wray” is an early highlight. “The idea of the song was to be anti-music,” he says. “The verses aren't on it. The guy who was mixing it said, 'are you sure about this Mark?' and I said, 'yeah, leave it like that'. It's the bare bones of it, no lyrics, just the nasty bits. Stick that up your arse, X Factor. Anti-music.”

Elsewhere, “Jetplane” is a very funny spoken-word narrative set at the head of an airport queue, while “Hittite Man” delves into ancient history, with a guitar sound just one remove from Joe Meek's “Telstar”. “He's in the sand, isn't he?” says Smith, dreamily. “He's coming out from the past.” It ends with the sound of Smith exhaling what sounds like TB or some kind of demon. “I caught a very serious chest infection and thought it would fit in.” It does, but still pales before “No Respects Rev”. This turbo-charged, two-note riot of sound and vocal confusion is ripped open in the middle by a wordless collage of whimpers, shrieks and moans. No one treads the twilight zone of sense and sound like Smith, and rarely has he done it with as much power. He cackles. “Our publisher got this deal with that film Twilight. They said they'd give us $50,000 to come up with a song. So I said, I'll give them some horror…”

The contract dictated payment whether they used the song or not. They didn't, of course. “They don't know anything about horror, do they? It might frighten the children. But it is frightening, isn't it? I've fulfilled my bargain with Satan…” He clears his throat, leans forward, gesticulates. “There's no way they're going to put that in Twilight. But if they were good, they would. Orson Welles would've done it. It's horror.” He growls out the word, as if grinding it to dust. “Their horror is some guy like him” – he gestures to some young men behind us – “wandering through a forest with his eyes glazed.”

The bar's crowded, and loud, and Smith suggests we move on. When I get outside, he's stood by his wife, Elena, the group's keyboard player. They've been married since 2001 and live where Smith has lived since the 1980s, in a semi in Prestwich. We head to an old hotel bar near the station. Smith orders a tequila. Targets of his humorous vitriol include the difficulties of bringing cash into the country – “if you've got more than 1500 euros they think you're a drug dealer” – and Leveson (“I think it is disgusting that some one like Hugh Grant can dictate what newspapers say”).

Then there's the internet, downloads, and smartphones. He still won't use a mobile, and is caustic on his group's habitual usage.

“They are worse than heroin in my experience,” he says. “It's like having the telly on all day. There's no let-up. They never get that rest, contemplation.” Smith cups a hand to his ear, gurning. “It's like putting a little cockroach in your brain, that goes right through your brain and comes out the other side, after laying an egg.” He cackles. It's a vivid image worthy of a great Fall riff. He hunches up, shrugs. “Who are they talking to, and what are they talking about?” Smith's outlook doesn't connect with smart technology; it's more about instinct, and the one loud channel of primal rock'n'roll.

'Re-Mit' is out on Cherry Red now. The Fall tour until 24 May

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?