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The Man Behind Rise of the Fall : Mark E. Smith's genius and stubbornness keep the British band on the cutting edge. It performs at the Roxy Sept. 7.


Mark E. Smith's reputation precedes him, sort of the way a flash of light precedes a mushroom cloud.

The English singer's scathing sensibility and sneering attitude have elevated him to the level of genius curmudgeon, while his stubborn drive has kept his band, the Fall, consistently influential and cutting-edge for well over a decade.

"I say what I want, that's why our managers resign," says Smith. "They don't come back at ya. They never say, 'Shut up, Smith!' And to me, that means they have no faith in their beliefs. They smile and nod as your head gets bloody bigger and bigger."

Obviously, compromise has not been a hallmark of the Manchester-based band, which has drawn an intense cult following over the years. Smith didn't exactly plan on the kind of longevity the Fall has enjoyed.

"I never thought it would go this long," says Smith, who brings the group to the Roxy on Sept. 7. "We take it three months at a time. The record company is on about what's gonna happen after the American tour, but I'm just looking to get through it. I'm a nerve bag, as it is, between recording an LP and it coming out. I've been walking around the house, cleaning the dishes over and over again out of pure tension."

Tension is also what fuels the Fall's high-strung mix of disjointed rhythms and scrambled, bite-size pieces of social and political commentary.

Rather than sing, Smith tends to ramble bluntly about everything from the collapse of communism to football hooligans, never stopping to explain. If you don't get it, too bad. The Fall thrives on the fact that its sharp and cynical sound is often as assaulting and confusing as our environment.

Fans seem to like the challenge. "Infotainment Scan," the Fall's latest album--its 17th!--hit No. 1 in England and No. 4 in the United States on the college music charts. The turbulent and erratic feel of the album reflects Smith's feelings after he left his former record company, Polygram, and began recording "Infotainment" with his own funds.

"I was really nervous about this album, more than I have been in the past," says the 35-year-old chain-smoking Smith, sitting by the pool of a West Hollywood hotel with a shot of Scotch and a beer. "It's because when we were recording it, we were label-less, but it's good because it actually shows in the music. There's even more of an underlying tension."

The band, which also includes guitarist Craig Scanlon, bassist Stephen Hanly, keyboardist Dave Bush and drummer Simon Wolstencroft, finished the album in fellow Manchester band New Order's studio before signing with New York-based Matador Records last February.

Says Smith, "We walked out of Polygram last fall and I was really nervous. Everyone was saying, 'C'mon, mate, you've been on like 12 labels, what's new?' I just get annoyed with people. They take the Fall for granted because we're not starting out and we're not dead and we're not a revival band or mega-huge. The record companies don't know what to do. When I see that 'what's in it for us' attitude creeping in, I just walk out."

Smith, with influences ranging from Lou Reed to the German electronic group Can, started the Fall when he was 18 after two years of loading ships on Manchester docks. It was around the same time the punk scene began thriving in England, but the connection was marginal at best.

"You always read that the Fall were survivors of the punk scene and it's not at all true," Smith says. "The punks never liked us. We played working-men's clubs instead. If we played punk clubs, we'd get bottled off because we didn't have the clothes or spiky hair. We couldn't play long-hair places 'cause they hated us too."

Smith is already writing material for album No. 18. Though he seems fairly content in his relationship with his new record label, well, give him some time.

"They always want to mess with your work. It's not like I want total control, but record companies are there to sell records. It's like too many chefs. Everyone's got an opinion, but I'm the one that gets paid to have one."

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