The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent
, March 28th, 2008 00:00
The Fall Imperial Wax Solvent Castle/Universal
By John Doran and Luke Turner
John says: Damn that John Peel and his way with words! Was there ever a more prescient, concise and intelligent way of describing The Fall than "Always the same, always different"? Anyway, this time out the difference is one of pure base-line quality, heaviness and clarity of intention and execution. Of course, on paper Post Reformation TLC should have been the best album of recent years given how good the American-led line-up of Orpheo McCord, Rob Barbato and Tim Presley was live. However it is the relatively more Spartan outfit of Dave 'The Eagle' Spurr, Pete Greenway and Keiron Melling (as well as his nibs and The Wife) who have come up with the goods this time around. This isn't immediately apparent on the Beefheartian slur fest of 'Alton Towers' with its queasy dissonant jazz that sounds like Barry Adamson at his most baleful.
Luke says: It's clear that we're dealing with a very different album than Reformation... , which opened with a punishing sprint of three hard and heavy tracks which left the rest of the record wheezing. Lyrically, this is a possible State of the Nation address, Smith swiping at a theme park Britain ruled by tastemaker goons and cloth-eared media pundits.
How many ales had Smithy had? A couple to raise the ire in his mumbling rant against those who've done him a disservice in interviews: "the spawn of J Loaded Brown..." and "L Laverne" etc.
'Wolf Kidult Man'
John says: This is what it's all about; a ferocious wire-taut riff that sparks and fizzes with excessive garage rock energy. Smith sounds emboldened and sober with stentorian tones that are at odds with recent records and the Von Sudenfeld outing.
Luke says: The Eagle and Pete Greenway lead this one, bursting out with a gristly sausage of a riff after some rather half-arsed lupine howling at the track opening. The dense production, courtesy of Grant Showbiz, is great too. It's telling that the best Fall albums of the past decade (The Unutterable, The Real New Fall LP) have had his trusty hands at the helm rather than MES and AN Other.
How many ales had Smithy had? If this track is Smith having a pop at the "kidult phenomenon" of people eschewing growing up and having babies for a life of booze and puking, glass houses and stones come to mind. But he's on emphatic, sober form as far as his vocal delivery goes.
John says: This is my favourite. Hilarious. Brilliant. Defiant. Bonkers. Angry. Is this the longest Fall song ever? It's well over 10 minutes. I'm sure someone over at The Fall site will tell us if we're wrong. Anyway, people who saw the recent tour and the dates before it will already be familiar with this clanging bass punker with an amphetamine high bpm count. There's also a completely unhinged banjo interlude. It's good to hear Mr Smith asserting his relevance by telling us how likes to throw towels on the floor when he stays in hotels and then piss on them. Good work sir. This is also the first of several times he mentions Virgin Trains and rail travel. I fear there may have been an incident last year.
How many ales had Smithy had? Possible stop for a half of mild during the banjo bit, but he's on potent form here. It's not just in the voice either " "I've got a three-foot long hard-on, and I'm too busy to use it," Smith informs us helpfully.
'I've Been Duped'
Luke says: The 'Theme From Sparta FC'-esque pop banger of the album, 'I've Been Duped' is a snappy and playful affair, Elena Smith singing about "hairy men digging up Scotland" over a capering riff that could have been borrowed off Pulp's 'Common People'.
How many ales had Smithy had? The wife's singing so he's at the bar ordering a strong Continental lager and a G&T for his ma.
John says: A cover of a song by obscure Brit blues band The Groundhogs. It's alright, but like 'White Line Fever' before it, they seem to have lost their knack for doing interesting covers. And for the 98th time in their career they've managed to work in the riff from 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'.
Luke: I'd actually argue that The Move's 'I Can Hear The Grass Grow' on Fall Heads Roll, 'Gotta See Jane' (by R Dean Taylor, as heard on Are You Are Missing Winner) and especially 'F-Oldin' Money (by Tommy Blake, and featured on The Marshall Suite) are up there with The Fall's finest interpretations of other people's business. This is one debate that could run on and on...
How many ales had Smithy had? Quite a few. 'Strange Town' falls to bits around the halfway mark, and the vocals are doing that thing where they drop out of the sound of Smith's frenetically masticating gob.
John says: This sounds like some filter house from the late 90s mixed with some WARP style electronica. It's really mint. Although it sounds naggingly familiar to be honest
Luke says: Indeed, I can't help but be sure that I've had a dance to something very similar to this at various dank electro clubs a few years back. But given that at those times my brain was as dank as said clubs, I can't for my life put my finger on it. Still, it's good to hear The Fall fizzing up the brutish guitars with a bit of technology again, and Imperial Wax Solvent makes for the best exploration of Mark E Smith's interest in electronic music since The Unutterable.
How many ales had Smithy had? There's some menacing whispering going on towards the end of 'Taurig', but it doesn't sound much like sweet nothings from the great MES himself. He's off with a half and a pork scratching, then.
'Can Can Summer'
John says: Again this is great, sounds a bit like the sort of post punk disco riff that Steve Harley would come up with on a track like 'Macho City' or something. Yeah, it's got a really insistent riff with a nice little Jonathan Richman reference at the end with someone saying: "Radio off. Radio off."
How many ales had Smithy had? They were all sunk last night, and now he's pissed off and got a bastard behind the eyes that inspires a guttural, angry delivery: "my boss has the imagination of a gnat."
John says: He's going on about chickens again. And his knees have turned to noodles. Another good 'un. There's no filler on this album " well not much anyway.
Luke says: This one used to be called 'I'm Me Mark', read into that what you wish. He paints nightmare visions of nature, chickens with wings unclipped coming home to roost on your shoulder, poodles - fear of dogs being a recurring theme in Fall lyrics. I must admit I thought this one might be a filler, but it's a real grower.
How many ales had Smithy had? Great clear and precise lyrical delivery. "The locals are in the realm of humiliation" is a superb line.
'Latch Key Kid'
John says: This isn't as sentimental as the song title suggests. I didn't like it when he nearly went all mature when he moved to Edinburgh. Too much whisky doesn't give you an edge, it gives you rose tinted glasses. This is very edgy even though he's singing: "I'm a latch key kid and always was."
Luke: The Eagle lays down a particularly vehement backing for excellent blooping keyboard and possible first appearance of kazoo on a Fall track in a while. Ought to get played on the radio, and not just by people on 6music who used to be in The Fall themselves.
How many ales had Smithy had? "I like to relax with tobacco and sugar," he informs us. Possible references to the imperial trade that (might) give the album its theme (if indeed it has one).
'Is This New'
John says: This sounds like it has come straight off Nuggets. Well, musically at least. It sounds like The Amboy Dukes or one of those bands. Lyrically it seems to be a Kafka-esque piece of court reportage about someone who has been falsely accused of a crime.
Luke says: Weird knees-up TV quiz theme music. Superb stuff again " track 10 and not a duffer thus far.
How many ales had Smithy had? Taking John's court theme, Smith could be giving admiral testimony in his own defence for riotous ale-fuelled behavior here. Trying to kill The Bad Seeds with bottles flung off balconies, anyone?
'Senior Twilight Stock Replacer'
John says: This is superb. Fans will already know this as the propulsive, terrace chant song. It has to be said that it bears more than a passing resemblance to a track off Frenz Experiment . . .
Luke says: One of the oldest of the tracks here present, and indeed the cadence of the bass riff and chorus shout are descendents of Brix Smith's chant of "Baghdad, Space Cog, Analyst" back on Frenz Experiment track 'Guest Informant'.
John says: "Baghdad Space cog Analyst"? What does that even mean? It's still brilliant though. I wish other people would raid their own back catalogues a bit more. Imagine if Bowie said 'Right, next album I'm going to have a bit from Low, a bit from Young Americans and a bit from The Man Who Sold The World " that would be brilliant. This is my second favourite I think.
How many ales had Smithy had? Another mumbling one this, and the rest of the band lead the chorus.
John says: This is pretty smart as well. Really scratchy. Can't wait to see 'em live again now. You start getting withdrawal symptoms after a few weeks don't you?
Luke says: That's right, John. I'm currently quivering in my chair, sweating out a desire to be surrounded by fat, bald old men. This is a great climax to the album, the spitting bastard nephew of 'Wings' that underlines the fact that Imperial Wax Solvent is the most consistent Fall album since The Real New Fall LP.
How many ales had Smithy had? After this belter, he deserves a few lager tops and no mistaking.