Monday, February 22, 2016

The Fall: "Wise Ol' Man": Music Review

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As a faithful fan of the Fall, my shelves fill with their records. Over thirty albums in the studio, and triple that with compilations, concerts and ephemera, this prolific band has long left behind its limited punk or post-punk labels. Yet they continue to remain punk in the truest sense. For Mark E. Smith and whomever he recruits into the line-up produce music that sounds truest to themselves, and no other band. Few musicians or vocalists who started in 1976 can surprise or entertain us so today. The Fall's repetition sustains their prickly music, and their latest, and by now longest-lasting, version of the band has tightened its delivery. This combines discipline with chaos, and it buzzes, clangs, and rambles on, to irritate or inspire. Other British bands totter along on the reunion circuit, churning out their hits, but The Fall look forward, and even the one song remade here from their full-length debut, Live at the Witch Trials gains verve from its fresh restoration, merged with one of their newest songs.

The Wise Ol' Man e.p. introduces two songs along with remixes and alternate takes of others from Sub-Lingual Tablet. Smith's voice warbles his credentials on the opening title track as the sagacious frontman, over a forceful guitar riff from Peter Greenway. This song fits neatly into the band's sound for the last few years, where the instruments collide with the mutters and mumbles of Smith, who challenges and subverts any definition of what constitutes a singer. Smith does what he wants. 

Similarly, "All Leave Cancelled" bursts out, with production from Smith which plunges the listener into a maelstrom. While this may not be the best place for newcomers to The Fall to enter, for veteran  audiences, this satisfies better than some of the post-millennial period. Then, too many songs went on far too long, and felt like the tape kept rolling and the musicians kept doodling or dawdling. 

"Dedication not Medication" remixes that track from the last studio album. It and the instrumental of the e.p.'s title track move along fine, but for me they do not open up the energy or experimentation of the first two tracks. Another remake, of "Venice With Girls" from that album, adds swagger to that tune, and as it opened Sub-Lingual Tablet, on what is here deemed "side two," the band appears to realize its catchy presence and lyrical fun. "Face Book Troll" shows off another great title, and presumably a target of Smith's considerable wrath. It's enriched by the interplay of Elena Poulou's whirling keyboards with Smith's rants, backed by Dave Spurr's bass and Keiron Melling's drums. This segues into "No Xmas For John Quay" from their 1979 debut LP.  Hearing the latest ensemble tackle the shambolic, sneering ditty from Live at the Witch Trials proves a delight. The continuity between a Smith barely out of his teens and the grizzled man pushing 60 now reveals a twisted talent.

Closing this brief recording, "All Leave Cancelled (X)" continues the in-studio trend to take apart Fall songs and kick around the pieces before putting them back on tape. Commendably, Smith and company revel in what may seem to the unconvinced a mess, but to the committed, another success. I look forward to more such revelations from a band whom one can never consign to nostalgia. (Amazon US 2-24-16 + 2-23-16 to Spectrum Culture)

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