The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent

Stephen Bray 09/04/2008

Rating: 3.5/5

“Always different, always the same” was how John Peel used to describe his favourite band, the Fall. Forest Gump's prosaic “You never know quite what you're gonna get” would be similarly appropriate. Fall albums fluctuate wildly from the stunning and sublime to the sloppy and substandard, and there really is no telling just what one will get, or what the overall feelings towards an album will be until the last note has faded.

This is never truer than of the latest offering.

'Imperial Wax Solvent' opens with a song called 'Alton Towers' that seemingly isn't about the theme park. Right from this opener, we have a good indication of just where the record's going to go, in that it sounds like nothing we've really heard before from The Fall. The music is quite indescribable, sounding like something from a night-time trip to a nightmare fairground. Loud vocals and a quite impenetrable intonation combine effectively to dominate proceedings. An impressive start.

'Wolf Kidult Man' is rather more familiar garage rock territory. The music is suitably exciting and somewhat reminiscent of The Fall from a couple of years ago when they were rather more guitar-heavy. This song sets the template for the more normal tracks of this album, such as 'Tommy Shooter', 'Latch Key Kid' and 'Exploding Chimney'. None of these are anything more than decent, and they lack any of the real Fall magic that can propel their best tracks from the every day to the excellent.

'Strange Town' is also Fall by numbers, but is salvaged by a wonderful bassline and an excellent, venomous vocal. 'Can Can Summer' is much the same until the music cuts out and it turns into a blues jam that eventually takes on some vaguely techno-ish beats as Mark E. Smith intones about a town being “anti-wife” and tells us that his boss “has the imagination of a gnat.” The changes of style in the music suggest that either Smith or Grant Showbiz (the veteran producer of this latest opus) realised that the track was becoming dull, and so sought to do something about that. Sometimes this grossly unorthodox approach works and sometimes, as in the case of 'Senior Twilight Stock Replacer', it does not. In this case, they have taken a former shout-along live favourite and reduced it to being rather a dull beast indeed, emasculating its excellent chorus by overdubbing some overly loud and annoying Smith vocals over the top. The verses aren't up to much, either. A real wasted opportunity.

With the bulk of the album now released from microscopic analysis, we can turn our attentions to the odder tracks, on which a Fall album usually stands or, erm, falls.

'50 Year Old Man' is an early track and a particularly bizarre one. It's almost fifteen minutes long and contains barely decipherable, yet harshly barked vocals. A hypnotic and impressive drumbeat carries the song throughout. Apart from the bits where it breaks down, that is. This occurs three times; twice for banjo solos, and once for a 60s garage beat to kick in. Smith seems to be railing against his imagined dotage on this track, as his threatening vocals deliver such treats as, “And don't you forget, you tried to destroy me”.

Less threatening but equally odd is “Is This New”, which starts like 70s Cop Film music which then leads us into a tale about Jeffrey Archer that includes the line, “It was something like judge and jury or Jeremy Kyle,” showing Smith still hasn't taken his finger off the button of popular culture!

The most unlikely sounding two tracks are also the most accessible. “Taurig” is an excellent dancey instrumental that fades in and out as all good, euphoric dance tracks should. And then there's, “I've Been Duped”, which is delivered effectively by Mrs. Elena Smith and sounds like the sort of hidden gem that small indie labels bring out every once in a while. The Fall sound endearingly basic on this track, yet they also wring every piece of magic out of their ability to also sound like the most enthusiastic, snotty nosed indie pop band you've not yet heard.

“Imperial Wax Solvent” is the best Fall album in a number of years. Hopefully it will, itself, be topped again some day. Until then, it's great to have them back on form.

Always different, always the same, indeed.