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Matt Finucane on Mark E Smith: Why I Love

Back in April, Brighton-based Matt Finucane released his To The Outer Worlds album. His music has earned him the tag of being a “troubadour of disharmony, to confront, provoke, and captivate” (Ring Master Reviews). Influenced by the likes of Lou Reed, post-punk and Krautrock, which he mashes into something that’s uniquely his own, it’s perhaps no surprise that he’s written an insightful piece for us about the maverick frontman of The Fall and dour Northern legend, Mark E Smith.

Funnily enough, there’s just been a grand outcry and great consternation reported in the local press (Bury Times) as the man’s house in Prestwich (still packed with some of his belongings reportedly) is put up for sale. Meanwhile…over to Matt.

mark e smith
Mark E Smith

It’s hard to pinpoint when I clicked with The Fall.  I can remember how more and more music sounded flimsy next to theirs – like some primal buzz had been hollowed out of it – and wasn’t thrilled about this… But their power couldn’t be denied: there was too much vitality, adrenaline and brashness – not to mention integrity (of the perverse, self-destructive kind that seems really alluring when you’re a suburban kid).  I was caught

It’s that feeling of bracing, humorous scorn, cutting life down to size in a way that makes it funny and manageable; you don’t see it much now, an exhilaration that skirts the fringe of darkness (something many nice inclusive people are missing, like an essential vitamin).

That humour’s expertly deployed, but the music’s too ugly and brutal to label The Fall a comedy band, the use of language too visionary and weird.

You could feel that weirdness in The Fall’s live presence – this monolithic noise fronted by a man presenting himself as aggressively ordinary, a performance hinting at something impossible to articulate and never fully revealed.

If he’d been friendly and open, those unreachable depths could have been obscured; nowadays the pop-cult currency seems to be a connection, accessibility, this idea we’re all well-meaning social beings searching for greater understanding – or should be.  (The flip side of this is a moralism that asserts all artists have to be spotlessly proper people whose art reflects, undeviatingly, your own values back at you.)  In a way, it’s understandable – the process of society trying to redress old wrongs and find a new level, perhaps over-correcting but fundamentally a constructive urge… Still, what if it’s not the whole story?

Here’s Wings from 1983:

This mindset of certitude’s the sort of thing MES pushed back against; he was a great advocate of making up your own mind, true to his creative self as an artist despite enormous industry pressure to conform – even when that self, and its preoccupations, were unpleasant – or, in 2021, unacceptable.

In short, while you need awkward malcontents like him to sound a cautionary note – or just take the piss a bit – at its weakest his work can curdle into puerile, mean-spirited sneering; dangerously close to all those complaints – stinking out everywhere at present – about wokeness, the defensive sniping of an old order in retreat… If nothing else, the reactionary gobshite vibes get a bit thick sometimes.  (The fact he never troubled to explain himself murks things up, for sure.)

But he’d trust you, the listener, to sort through all the conflicting signals and reach your own conclusion.  And there was more to the man than contrarianism; he navigated the fine line pretty convincingly, for the most part.  He knew what he was doing on a gut level, despite getting patronized as some sort of dancing bear by countless wanky journos.  (Incidentally, that famous Loaded interview… wow.)

This is why his work’s still relevant, three years after his death.  And he always had a full measure of artistic instinct, even when dying: footage of his last few gigs is hard to watch, but the courage and dedication are incredible.  In fact, over the years you can see a man single-mindedly burning himself down for his art – which is not to romanticize it in any way… It’s a life that few would, or could, choose.

But he didn’t encourage hero worship: gazing into his remote eyes with a disciple’s adoration would be the quickest way to see him scowl in disgust at your lack of independent thought, and that’s absolutely how it should be.

Here’s the video for A Friend From Far Away from the new album:

Our thanks to Matt for his insight into his admiration for a musician and icon who was never anything less than ‘interesting.

Matt Finucane online: Website / Facebook / Bandcamp / Instagram / Youtube

Check our Why I Love archive here.

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