The Classical (Hex Enduction Hour, 1982) (Youtube)
PROBLEMATIC. For ages Hex Enduction Hour* was one of my favourite Fall albums, and this is one of my favourite opening bars. CLACK CLACK dung-ee-dumpa-dumb DAAA! Karl ‘Missing Link’ Burns and Paul ‘Not Steve’ Hanley bish-bashing their double drums, kicking off 60 minutes of brash, visceral anger, interspersed with the odd interlude of simmering contempt.
“The Classical” features a whole 30 seconds of brilliant boisterous banging before MES spoils it with a racial slur which I won’t repeat here. Goddammit, MES! I was enjoying that!
Obviously there is a context for its use in the song: MES is railing against tokenism and he doesn’t appear to hate people of colour any more than he hates everyone else, BUT it’s still possible to make a point about the oppressor in a way that doesn’t further harm the oppressed. MES has chosen instead to make everyone feel as oppressed as possible, except potentially Actual Racists who could mistake the intent and take it at face value. Things might have been different in 1982 but it’s still a shitty lyric. Motown Records certainly didn’t like it — the story goes that they were on the verge of signing a distribution deal with The Fall and Hex Enduction Hour was the only sample available for them to listen to. I am very glad I wasn’t in the room for that.
As a good poptimist I can usually separate a problematic creator from their creation (aka ‘The Gary Glitter Rule’), as long as the problems from the former don’t infect the latter (aka ‘The Chris Brown Rule’). But what if the work itself is the problem? Can I separate out 2 seconds of nastiness from 5 minutes of clattering joy as long as the intent is noble (if misguided)? Is my liberal white guilt overreacting? Is it a worthwhile piece of music to listen to, if only for the sake of reminding myself that awful shit like this still happens outside my cosy middle class privileged bubble? Is this even more cringing for me to write about on Tumblr than it is to listen to?
It’s not the only wince-inducing track on Hex Enduction Hour. I strongly advise against playing “Who Makes The Nazis?” to your nan,
because it is despite it being extremely catchy. A chiming bassline like church bells, calling the ignorant cattle home. A dead-eyed zombie recruit, mindlessly repeating what he’s been told. A punch in the stomach when *that* line pops up, dear god I hope my headphones are 100% soundproof when this comes on shuffle on my morning commute.
And then there’s the closing track, “And This Day”. Its lyrics take second place behind ten minutes of deliberately abrasive, itchy, atonal squawking. I swear it’s like ringworm in musical form (and I adore it!), but bloody hell, I wish I hadn’t googled to double check that it was slur-free. SADFACE. But does it count if you’ve got no ears left to hear it with?
I’m sure the MES of 1982 would be immensely satisfied with all this hand-wringing of mine. Hex Enduction Hour is intended to get under your skin and cause problems, and in that it certainly succeeds.
*Grumpy Other Half put our copy in into the CD player to check if it was actually an hour, but it was the remastered version with bonus tracks on it. So I added up all the durations on Spotify and it comes out at 60:18. Don’t say I never do anything for you!
The digital release version from emusic clocks in at almost precisely 60:00 minutes. I’ve never timed my vinyl copy. The word is jarring and I’ve always had mixed feelings about it. There is the part of me that believes that it’s simply nasty and unnecessary. There is also a part of me that believes that it is the only word that makes tokenism sound as ugly as it really is, and the only word that makes it difficult to ignore. It’s the same as the idea of changing the n-word in Huckleberry Finn to slave so we can feel less uncomfortable about racism in the south.
Also, that Motown story sounds like an anecdotal invention. I still can’t imagine why there would be a relationship. They seem like different worlds in terms of the music industry.