Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fall -- Imperial Wax Solvent (2008)

The Fall -- Imperial Wax Solvent (Sanctuary)

The second album since Mark E. Smith sacked his entire band (except for the missus) on an American tour, and things are looking up. The last album, Reformation Post TLC, was made with some of the musicians who filled in on tour after Smith had fired a top flight band. The band had no snap or power, which didn’t make too much of a difference, since the songs were equally lifeless. It seemed like The Fall was nearing the end of its usefulness.

Well, Smith has again both added and subtracted to the dole, with another new set of musicians -- Peter Greenway (guitar), Keiron Melling (drums) and David Spurr (bass). This band is a bit more supple than the Reformation crew. While Melling is still not up to the level of the best Fall drummers of the past, he and Spurr do seem to have a great sympathy towards each other.

The songwriting is better this time around. Not consistently so, as it seems like Smith and his new cohorts are taking measure of each other. Over the course of the album, the band investigates various Fall sounds. At times, this approach yields some fairly generic stuff. But there's some very worthy material here.

There is a snap to some tracks that can only be The Fall. "Is This New" has a punch to it that sounds like it came from the Light User Syndrome album. On "Tommy Shooter", the band locks into a percolating groove that is a mid-point between the band’s garage rock and Kraut rock influences, with Elena Polou’s keyboard parts synchronizing with Greenway’s dirty guitar, creating some unusual textures. It’s effective.

The album opener, "Alton Towers", is a change of pace. Rather than the usual clangor or proto-rockabilly, this song is grounded in David Spurr’s tension building bass playing, with Keiron Melling playing creatively on his drum kit, not laying down a beat so much as decorating the atmosphere with percussion.

The album reaches its peak early. "50 Year Old Man" clocks in at 11:33, which could have been very ugly. On Reformation, the lengthy "Das Boat" was an embarrassment, a drunken demo that played more like a bad parody of The Fall rather than the real thing. Thankfully, Smith may have learned from that mistake. Or he may just have forgotten it entirely.

This is typically rambunctious Fall tuneage. The band rumbles along as Smith rants about the drawbacks of becoming middle aged, even as he defiantly enjoys his stature. Wasn’t it Abe Simpson who said that the reason God let us grow old was so that we could point out everything that is wrong with the world? Smith was a curmudgeon in his 20s, so this song is a natural. Now I’m not sure why he thinks Steve Albini and the train system are conspiring against him, but he’s pretty steadfast about that.

The song has three movements. After the initial burst, there’s an out-of-nowhere banjo interlude. The band then goes back to the woodshed, but instead of pounding out the song, Poulou’s keyboards take more prominence. The track then breaks down into ambient shambling for a couple of minutes, before reaching the conclusion, which is a rockabilly-ish jaunt, as Smith proclaims that "I’m the type of guy/who knows what is on CD/how dare they lecture me?" This is a pretty impressive track.

Then Poulou gets her best moment as a member of The Fall, courtesy of her husband, a rare sole Smith composer credit. "I’ve Been Duped" is, plain and simple, a fun piece of garage rock. Poulou’s accented and artless (and enthusiastic!) vocals are the perfect compliment for this song about being pissed off. And the song is catchy as hell.

This is followed by "Strangetown", a cover of a 1970 track by The Groundhogs. I can’t say that I’m familiar with the original. But this sounds like it was tailor made for The Fall. It’s wobbly rock, Smith really tears into the lyrics, and the decision to add weird static and buzz (like a faulty radio transmission) adds to the coolness of the track.

Not all of the tracks are so distinctive. Still, there’s enough here that I hope and pray that Smith keeps this aggregation together for a couple more albums to see what they can produce. This is a very encouraging start for the band that keeps reinventing itself while always sounding like no one else but themselves.

1 comment:

Matt Berlyant said...

Based upon your review, I'm gonna have to revisit this album. I listened to it 3-4 times when it originally came out as an import and it just didn't click with me at all.