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The Fall
Imperial Wax Solvent Taylor Parkes , April 24th, 2008 00:00

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The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent

“Believe me, kids... I've been through it all.”

The more The Fall are namechecked and normalised, the more separate, the more singular they seem. The harder it is to get up in the mornings, the harder The Fall become. Smith swaggers out of the latest wreckage, hawks up on the tarmac, gets back to work - and this time, truly, the new Fall album is near as fuck it to a fucking masterpiece. Can you credit it?

Imperial Wax Solvent: pure surge and shudder, the heaviest, grimiest, most guttural Fall of all. Not just the best Fall record for three years, or five years, or eighteen years... IWS is powerful enough to pin you in the present, bellow in your face until all you understand is this, here, now - and what the hell are you doing with your life that it doesn't match up to this? By the time you remember that it's not the best record The Fall have ever made, it's too late. It might as well be.

’I've Been Duped’, a motorik nugget with an ice-precise Elena Poulou vocal, is about sitting around at home watching Six Feet Under and The Edwardians In Colour, and sounds like a snapped-off neon strip-light cleaving an eyeball. ’Latch Key Kid’, the most aggravatingly catchy Fall since 'Shoulder Pads', is a parping riff and a duet for three: the standard drawl, that terrifying angry-OAP grunt, and a stranger, softer, almost wistful Smith, cooing in the dusk. It's seething with life.

Deeper in: ’50 Year Old Man’, the album's whirlpool. A triptych - the same song done as speed-grind, then swamp-grind, then garage-hop, the symmetry shattered by a baffling banjo break like a southern-fried entry in Can's Ethnological Forgery Series - it has our gleeful quinquagenarian snarling and wheezing as if he's being slung out of the Job Centre, muttering about his dick, uttering paranoid oaths against Virgin Trains, throwing hotel towels on the floor and pissing on them. Behind him, a torrent of horrible joy. It's the best example yet of The Fall's endless, effortless mash-up of deep tradition and real innovation: ’50 Year Old Man’ is pure, diseased rock and roll, yet it sounds like nothing that's ever existed, outside of nightmares that fade into pools of urine and blood. The hook inspires big smiles, not least because it's the most straightforward line Smith's ever written: “I'm a 50 year old man. And I like it.”

Elsewhere, there's toytown avant-jazz (a mournful / spiteful ’Alton Towers’), electronic stormclouds (’Taurig’, with its whispered incantations, which could be spells or hungover complaints, or anything) and some of those skittering, weighty grooves, streamlined but not refined with technology and time (’Can Can Summer’). But at heart, this is a garage album, The Fall roughed up from the recent pro-rock past, perhaps not so spidery and cold to the touch as once upon a time, but jagged and lupine and nostril-steaming, lashing out in the twilight. Throwaway pebbles (’Exploding Chimney’, ’Wolf Kidult Man’) bounce off your skull like moons. Then there's this thunderous ’Tommy Shooter’ - a spluttering judgement on gun crime, or something else altogether " a filthy mass of chickens, coming home “to sit on your shoulder bone”, bass riff like a drilling rig, shades of purple bleeding into one another.

More caustic than cerebral, though, still. A hard man has to raise the issue: in his early fifties, Smith should be at his peak as a writer, and while the words here are alternately intriguing, chilling, hard-hitting and side-splitting, anyone waiting for the blooming of sci-fi buds, or the return of dense-text scorched novellas - you can forget all that right now. The man can still write any other rocker off the face of the earth, but there's a sense in which he truly has drunk himself sober, washed away the visions, the apparitions, the perceived occult-interference; this Fall live in the here and now, reactive, sardonic, sitting in front of the screen and shooting at it. No more ten-page threshings of the cultural milieu; no more run-ins with broken-toothed changelings on pale winter afternoons, or things glimpsed out of the corner of an eye in derelict warehouse space. Yet Smith can still locate (instinctively) the same horror and hilarity in pub tales and daytime television, and the puzzle pictures of IWS, all red herrings and dismembered syntax, also tax and teach. There's nothing to whine about when your nerves are alive with something this good, this rich, this stuffed with uncensored, uncut imagination.

It's astonishing - you couldn't show me a single one of those rock-career bastards who ever made an album, 30 years in, that was really worth listening to, never mind better than their damn debut. If a fistful of shiny-haired kids strode out of Prestwich with this record tomorrow, we'd never hear the last of it " even as they listened to flattery, nodded at the wrong moment, said “hi” to Peaches Geldof and pissed themselves away in 18 months.

Fact is, Imperial Wax Solvent, the best record of the year so far, is the latest product from a grizzled 50-plus who never winked nor flinched, and who's seen everything your daddy saw and more - and from The Fall, who are still, despite it all, The Fall. And believe me, it's not good, it's great.

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cockney wag
Apr 24, 2008 2:10pm

another Fall album...another review...another best Fall album for years...the same riffs, the same songs, the same bullshit...the band never changes its sound and gets patted on the back...musically as conservative as its boss's politics...

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Mr Bucket
Apr 24, 2008 6:20pm

And yet another moronic comment from somebody who will never understand the majesty of The Fall. You don't like it, fine. Just leave your idiotic and unfounded views to yourself and go back to groundbreaking music like The Last Shadow Puppets.

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dave angel
Apr 25, 2008 5:10pm

never change their sound? are you talking about another The Fall that the rest of us are unaware of? try The Unutterable then maybe Hex Enduction hour and tell us they never change their sound. And that is just two of the 27 studio albums that all offer something different. I say you are talking utter blowhole cockney wag. Are you a footballers wife?

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Dave Simpson
Apr 25, 2008 5:41pm

Very well written Taylor. And it is one of their/his VERY best.

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Taylor Parkes
Apr 25, 2008 8:24pm

Cheers Dave... ahahahaha, it's like a fucking school reunion round here. Oh! how those cynics will cackle. I liked it better when all this stuff was kept private. I think I'm a bit rusty, myself (as a wriiiiiiter haha). Whatever.

MES got a contract out on you yet? I'm still going to read the book anyway (hide it under my coat).

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patrick ger hargan
Apr 28, 2008 4:58pm

yet again you have all been duped.

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Adam B
Apr 30, 2008 7:46pm

sheer bollocks, agreed

looking forward to the book dave, read renegade yet?

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dave angel
Apr 30, 2008 12:23am

bollocks patrick, bollocks.

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May 1, 2008 8:38pm

Repetitition repetition repetition just like we like it

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May 5, 2008 2:48am

just like we like it-uh, just like we like it-uh

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May 6, 2008 9:29am

Musos like Smith get better with age. A babbling Enigma Machine; wonderfully surreal and sublime. Lov'd it!

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May 17, 2008 11:20pm

Every time you think The Fall have gone off for good, they rally. On Fall Heads Roll his voice was shot and the band one-dimensional. The few good bits of TLC sounded like Joy Divison. Somehow the pop pizzazz is back, welded to spine-jangling grindcore. This despite at least two of the tracks, Is This New (Athlete Cured) and STSR (Oswald Defence Lawyer) being plundered from one of their worst ever albums.

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Jun 11, 2008 10:26am

best fall album for sometime, was expecting a fallow patch after "reformation". "alton towers" a womderful wheezy nightmare and "50-year old man" 12 minutes of rage and challenge. makes the competition look very redundant

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Sam C
Jun 11, 2008 11:05am

I don't give a shit about anything else. Mark E Smith and his various musicians have brought more joy to my life than any other people I've never met, and the vast majority of those I have. Another great album. By the way, is there any hip hop on this website?

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Luke Turner
Jun 11, 2008 12:18pm

There's this column:

A Chuck D interview:

And a Lil Wayne review coming shortly, for starters.

There will be more.

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andrew wilson
Sep 7, 2009 4:59pm

fantastic life! great review of a great record.

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