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

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.