Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Fall's "Imperial Wax Solvent": Music Review

If you're reading this, you probably already know the sound and the attitude of The Fall. This latest album reminds me of Jack MacGowran, the famous interpreter of Beckett. Smith's on by now reveling into the role of an elder pundit, or at least a raconteur. His poses may throw many listeners off, but watch and listen and you will be rewarded.

Uncompromising, hectoring, erudite, maddening, and either a band you must play immediately, or one that you wait to cue up, depending on when your moods match Mark E Smith and his ever-changing lineups.This latest record proves The Fall's found again a concentration on a rawer, less worked-over, more live-in-the-studio sound. The production is muddier yet when it's The Fall, this mix is intentional, most likely.

This album feels more a product of the streets. It has a twitchy, amp-driven, buggy quality that takes much from dance and DJ-led music today, but which channels this into thirty years of postpunk restlessness, and a love for primitive, plugged-in, garage rock and roots sounds. This album reminded me of the late 90's disc "Levitation" with its electronics and its emphasis on digging into grooves that may not change much, but which intend to repeat and gnaw into the structure of these-- for the Fall-- rather stripped-down, compact songs.

This stress on brevity also recalls an early 00's effort in its tone and feel, "The Unutterable," again by a group of musicians that may not have lasted long as The Fall, but which, as with this one under review, constituted a shift in the members after a period of earlier consistency. Albums tend to vary widely by the musicians who work with MES as The Fall, and the "Reformation" CD that preceded this one did not match the highlights of the more stable band that gave us the decade's solid efforts "Real New Fall" and "Fall Heads Roll." I preface my review of the album, therefore, with context, as this is essential for placing a new disc into a collection of over two dozen studio efforts and counting, pretty much at one each year.

"Alton" opens with lots of processed keyboards, akin to the jungle music experiments on "Levitation." "Wolf" features a straight-ahead, almost retro, guitar riff, akin to mid-00's delivery of short, punchy tunes. "50 Year Old Man" as you'd expect lives up for eleven minutes to its title, as if MES is rapping in his own inimitable fashion to lecture the upstarts. I did not find this as annoying as some have, but certainly it's a test of a true fan, who'd have it no other way given the lyrics.

"I've" returns to "Wolf" in its pared-down style, with a similar rant, even more 50's in its approach. By the way, unlike many recent Fall albums, the sequencing works very well. No song is out of place, no bizarre cover songs throw off the pace, and each track feels exactly where it should fit into the assortment. "Strange", having said this, does make the weakest entry, as Elena's vocal's too languid and imitates her husband's cadences too predictably: I'd have preferred hearing her own voice in her own style. Yet, the music propels the beats along well enough, and it's a brief turn at the mike for Mrs. Smith.

"Taurig" feels endless, lots of electronics and a German influence that may work off of MES with his recent work as Von Sudafed with the duo Mouse on Mars. "Can Can" gives a heavier dose of this mix, but livelier. "Tom" recalls "I've" and "Alton" in a return to spindlier guitar twang; "Latchkey Kid" has a fine fuzz effect over the electronic layers.

"Is" too gives a solid interplay between instruments, locked into a groove. "Senior" reminds me of "Wolf" with a more modern sounding, yet somehow rockabilly feel a title track of sorts. The last song closes with a grinding trade between a sharper sheen and a weary yet wise vocal valediction: "Believe me, kids, I've been through it all."

(Posted to Amazon US today.)

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