Friday, 9 May 2008

The Fall - The Man Who's Head Expanded

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 MacGowan 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. 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 the trap of attempting to decypher the words of a poet. And Smith IS above all a poet. Along with fellow Salfordians, Shaun Ryder and John Cooper Clarke, MES manages to project humour and menace in equal measure; there's definately something dark and deformed lurking in the Irwell, ready to bite anyone foolhardy enough to attempt safe passage across its slimey, sarcastic and scum encrusted waters.

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 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 snarling, 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.

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