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The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent (Sanctuary)
Another year, another fucking Fall LP. With the publication of Mark E. Smith’s ‘autobiography’ and his worrying transformation into Shane McGowan style drunkard icon, maybe it is time for fans and the band themselves to decide what the point of The Fall is. Now, ever since Bingo Master’s Breakout I’ve been in love with the idea of The Fall rather than the reality of their music.
MES’s messianic mantras spoke to those working class kids who were well read and well versed in the classic rock cannon, who knew their Burroughs and their Beefhearts but who were patronised by middle class musicians and music journalists. Smith’s contrary bigotry and aggressiveness, was designed more to provoke the liberal music press than anything else. He’s always played the role of the prole sage, the pisshead poet and reactionary rabble rouser and in doing so, has alienated band members and friends as much as the despised journalists he loves to wind up.
There’s no point attempting to analyse Smith’s lyrical hieroglyphs because he’d only sneer at such a futile exercise; he has been perverted by language and speaks only to and for himself and that’s fair enough. Never apologise, never explain and all that caper. Yet, we can judge him and his band on their music and whilst there are moments of brilliance on Imperial Wax Solvent (see what I mean? De-cypher that fools!), there is too much on here that is simply The Fall knocking out more Fall Songs for Fall Fans with little deviation from the classic Fall formula. Which is like complaining about bread for tasting like bread I suppose.
It begins well enough with the creepily free-form Alton Towers, the ghost of Smith’s brilliant Von Sudenfed side project haunting the eerie electronic ether. But then it’s back to Fall Business As Usual. Wolf Kidult Man is typical Fall; all four four stomping drums, relentless garage riff and nonsensical Smith-isms ‘where is your momma, your power is gone!’ 50 Year Old Man finds his phlegmy delivery first aired on Reformation’s ‘Over! Over!’ back and Mark sounds every day of his 50 years, growling and grumbling like the grumpy old punk he is. On and on and on he goes, informing all and sundry ‘I’m a 50 year old man’ like some OAP constantly telling you how old he is, as if staying alive in itself is some kind of achievement. After four minutes of non-stop ranting the track suddenly lurches into a banjo pickin’ hillbilly boogie before Mark begins again at half speed ’and don’t forget you tried to destroy me’ he spits, his paranoia trailing off into a fatalistic, confrontational reproach to anyone who has ever doubted him and his art (maaan). He’s a 50 year old man and he likes it, he’s a 50 year old man, what’re we gonna do about it? Er, fuck all mate. There follows an instrumental interlude and yet another song begins but it’s the same song, this is ProgFall. All in all 50YOM lasts for over 11 minutes. Infact he’s a 53 year old man by the time it ends.
I’ve Been Duped continues this ’the whole world’s against me’ tirade, this time with Mark’s latest female disciple, Eleni Poulou on vocals, doing what she did on The Wright Stuff. Like Rotten’s ‘ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’ it rails against foes both real and imagined. It’s stated as a MES only composition yet its structure is perhaps the most traditionally poppy with y’know rhymes n’ shit. Maybe it’s meant for the charts, but if so, it’s no Hey Luciani.
Smith’s wobbly up n’ down singing style returns for a cover (about as committed to singing as he ever gets), this time on Strangetown detailing a love/hate relationship with some place that could be Los Angeles or Lower Broughton. Cosmic tumbleweed sounds blow through the streets where ‘the birds are too scared to fly.’ Definitely Salford then.
Taurig sounds like Raven era Stranglers meets Stephan Bodzin, a whispered vocal barely audible beneath the synth waves. It is fantastic.
Can Can Summer’s minimal duet with MES and Mrs and overlaid vocals ‘you are no dog’ he tells her. ’The town is anti-life, time to change back.’ Urban alienation, de-evolutionist social commentary or just the usual random words and sentences that sound meaningful but could just as well be meaningless. At least it’s multi-layered and tech-y flirtations provide something different but then with Tommy Shooter we’re back on familiar territory. With lyrics like ‘chickens coming home to sit on your shoulder bone/ Painting yellow flowers after blowing away another balloon string/The rubbish piles up in the corridor.’ it could be an ode to a local ‘Life Of Grime’ character or just another Smith grotesque. Who cares? I have fell into my trap of attempting to decypher the words of a poet. And Smith IS above all a poet.
Latch Key Kid begins with a bassline growling and several MES vocals stylings overlapping ‘I like to relax with tobacco and sugar’ the synth repeating the endlessly repeated ‘I’m a latch-key kid’ sloganeering. It becomes MESmerising after a few minutes but then so did the test card.
Is This New answers its own question. No, it’s the same old Fall Sound with Smith reciting one of his cut n’ paste short stories to a sprightly blinka-blink riddim. Instead of attempting to justify himself maybe Mark would be better just releasing a book of lyrics and have done with it. Take Senior Twilight Stock Replacer for example. That almost sounds like a parodic Fall title as spewed out by a Random Fall Album Track Title Generator, much like Imperial Wax Solvent itself. The imaginary job title is chanted by the whole band as if by repeating those four words they take on sinister alternative meanings or hint at hidden depths.
Closing track, Exploding Chimney erupts with stabbing metallic cut-finger chords and Banshees type shapes mutated by Smiffy’s mumbled vocals. As he says at the end with his parting shot ’he’s seen it all.’ Maybe he has and maybe he’s got nothing left to say.
As with last year’s ‘Reformation Post-TLC’ I found myself liking the songs that sounded least like the Fall (Das Boat, Insult Song on Post-TLC, Alton Towers and Tuarig on here) which perhaps tells its own story. Much as I admire Smith’s refusal to be the media’s pet prole intellectual, he often lapses into self-parody. MES the mess; the drunken, tap room philosopher always with a sneering insult or epigram to hand. He’s obviously far more open-minded and open to new ideas than he lets on. He’s gone past the stage of proving himself a long time ago and with all kinds of people, young and of his own generation queuing up to work with him, perhaps Mark needs to break out of his own self-imposed musical and lyrical ghetto before he ends up like Morrissey.
Seelenluft – Birds and plants and rocks and things (Gigolo)
Yes, that IS the lyric from America’s seminal Horse With No Name, which is covered for the first track on this intriguing LP. Yes, that’s one way of saying I can’t decide if its ace or shite. Ah, who’d be a critic? It’s not all free CDs and lobster butties with Brian Sewell y’know. A lot of this LP sounds to my ears not unlike early Cure with a splash of Joy Division and even Depeche Mode given a modern tech sheen so that at various points it’s very Hot Chip (Fantasy, You Can Dance, La Concierge etc). The instrumental tunes work best with the utterly mesmeric ‘The World Through The Window Of My Spacecraft’ being my personal favourite, a deceptively simple bassline at the heart of this inter-galactic tour de force. Speed has a drum n’ bass snap that sounds uncannily like Serge Gainsbourg’s Encore Pour Un Con and One Step sounds both angry and loving at once. At its best, this LP is marvelous but there are too many lazy tunes that don’t really do anything other than fill the quota for a standard LP.
Mrs Jynx – The Standoffish Cat (Planet Mu)
There are far too few female artists in the techno/electronica scene, a sub-culture that is let’s face it, the preserve of obsessive men in their thirties and forties with lank hair and facial growth, for whom wires and plugs matter much more than friendship and sunshine. So, it’s good to see that Mancunian, Hannah Davidson aka Mrs Jynx has taken on the lads at their own game with positive results. The Standoffish Cat is twelve slices of moody, minimalist blipkore that evokes the best of the ambient textures of the Warp/Rephlex/Planet Mu axis.
Lulu Rouge – Bless You (Music For Dreams)
Melankoli is the first track and for one awful moment I thought the ghost of Morcheeba had returned to have another go at their tepid brand of trip hop. Lulu Rouge aren’t quite that bad and there are some bubbling minimalist numbers that rescue this LP from a studied torpor, however, too often Bless You sounds like a soundtrack to a life support system…on smack.
Four Tet – Ringer (Domino)
You either get Kieran Hebden’s electronica alter ego or you don’t. For me there are too many empty spaces inbetween the grooves. Call this minimalism if you like but I reckon anyone with the same kind of gadgetry to hand can cobble together similar montages and label it avant-garde soundscaping (or some other bollocks). That’s not to say that Four Tet doesn’t produce some great music, he does but I can’t help feeling that he’s become one of these artists who, no matter how average their output is, will always be hailed as some kind of genius. Ringer/Ribbons/Swimmer/Wing Body Wing form the four tracks herein and they’re all perfectly listenable, technomuzak wallpaper offerings which don’t really do much and would sound great on a BBC documentary about bees if that’s what you want from modern electronic music.
DJ Yoda – FabricLive 39 (Fabric)
A bit too student friendly for many hip hop and turntablist fans, DJ Yoda is nevertheless a skilled artist who can when required put together some fantastic mixes. There are parts here that really work well such as the Chemical Brothers ‘Salmon Dance’ which seques into The Coral’s ‘In The Morning’ which in turn seques seamlessly into Bell Biv Devoe’s ‘Poison’ which in turn seques into Run DMC’s ‘She’s Tricky.’ Yoda never gets too anal and this is a pure party rocking compilation that students and indeed non-students will love and hardcore hip hop heads will hate with a vengeance.
Café del Lar Jukebox
Dissidents – Thomas Dolby (Parlophone)
Incident At Neshabur - Santana (CBS)
Crimson & Clover – Tommy James & The Shondells (Roulette)
Bamboo Houses – Sylvian and Sakamoto (Virgin)
Supafrico (Dub) – Bunny Mack (RCA)
I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass – Nick Lowe (Ada)
Bayonet Rap – Tom Paxton (Elektra)
Try On My Love For Size – Chairmen Of The Board (Invictus)
Duane & Co – Hardcore (On The One)
Head Room – 10cc (Mercury)
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