23 April 2008

The Fall - 'Imperial Wax Solvent'

So lately I've been doing other things, like working, or one of the things I do that isn't work, editing a magazine (sadly unmusical, although I like to sneak the odd reference in). But mostly I've been listening to the new Fall LP, repeatedly, obsessively. I've not listened to much else.

And it's great. It's a magnificent work. I say this with some relief. The Fall are at the beginning and end of any musical journey for me. Since I made it over the initial barrier of Mark E Smith's anti-singing vocal style about 20 years ago, they've been the band I revert to. New Fall offerings are feverishly anticipated in this house, but also fretted about. You see the last one, Reformation Post TLC, had its great moments, but overall turned out a disappointment to me, flabby, too obviously filled out with offcuts, overall one of my least favourites. True, even a bad Fall LP is interesting, and better than pretty much anything else out there, but I'd expected more. At that time, the Fall live were nothing other than stunning. It's a little over a year since I saw the greatest Fall gig of my life at the Zodiac in Oxford. But that band went and the new ones I've found pedestrian live. The last few Fall gigs I've seen, since Manchester last summer, haven't inspired. On the last tour I only caught the London show - I usually manage a few more - and found myself that rarest of feelings, bored.

So hopes weren't high but this all goes to show you can never write the man off. A year ago they were great live but flat on record. Now it's reversed. Imperial Wax Solvent tussles with The Unutterable for the crown of best Fall record of this decade. So far. It's packed with ideas, layers, odd concealed sounds, intriguing phrases, snipes at celebrity culture. Vocally Smith finds a bit more of a range here beyond the blood-curdling growl he seems to have adopted as default mode of late, although there's still plenty of that to amuse. He unearths pronunciations of words that just weren't there before.

Musically, to generalise sweepingly, the key ingredients of the Fall have for a long time been garage rock, krautrock, glam rock, rockabilly, heavy metal, techno, goth, country and reggae, and here it's mostly the krautrock side on offer. I'm all for that. (I'm one of the few long time Fall fans, it seems, who had a lot of time for Fall Heads Roll, which I thought took one dimension of the Fall, the garage rock part of their DNA, to an extreme.) Key song Fifty Year Old Man manages to encompass most of the above genres in its sprawling but essential 11 and a half minutes. But then there's a snotty punk number where Mrs Smith gets to sing, then an odd Kraftwerkian piece. You don't settle down here.

This is not to attempt a song by song analysis, which would not be in the half-hearted spirit of this blog, which prefers to talk about individual tunes, or just moments in them. If I had a favourite right now - and it's changed a few times already - it's Is This New, a vintage piece of fractured, almost nonsensical MES spoken narration over something chunky and cheesy that has had me googling 1970s TV show themes to find out which one it's been stolen from. At two and a bit minutes it's all over a little too quickly, something that can be said for a lot of these tunes, with the whole LP just flying past. How gratifying to be left wanting more. And for once, the production seems to get the fine line between clarity and murk just about right.

Brilliant. And, what next?

Imperial Wax Solvent finally comes out on Monday 28 April, although it's been over the internet and inside my head for weeks, and as can be seen, I failed to resist. Of course like pretty much every Fall fan who downloaded it early, I'll be going to buy my copy at the soonest. It's just, I needed to hear it. You do too.


2fs said...

"heavy metal"? Every other genre you namecheck makes perfect sense...but I honestly can't think of a metal moment in a Fall record.

Jonathan Lovett said...

Oops, meant to reply. Maybe it's more live than on record. The Fall live get quite heavy these days, it seems to me. And I mean British, proletarian metal, like Motorhead, rather than poodle-haired LA rock. I think I hear some Hawkwind in there...

Anyway, thanks for leaving a comment in this dusty and ill-frequented corner of the internet.