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The Fall - Imperial Wax Solvent

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Artist: The Fall

Album: Imperial Wax Solvent

Label: Sanctuary

Review date: May. 16, 2008

On last year's Von Sudenfed project, Mark E. Smith declared, "I am the DJ tonight" and proceeded to mumble through his best dance song since "Hit the North" 20 years before. Imperial Wax Solvent puts MES back in his regular gig: the DJ who doesn't mix records, the DJ who mixes human beings. It's become harder and harder to refer to the act with a collective pronoun – the rate of turnover in the Fall has accelerated this decade (fall.byethost13.com/timeline.html) – yet they remain instantly identifiable.

Solvent is no exception. The fundamental pieces of the Fall sound always show up: variations on the Batman theme; sweet synthesizers; big grungy bass loops. Somehow, it all blends together and magically bestows melody to Smith’s toneless vocals. Depending on the your angle of approach, you might hear a pop record buffered with experimental filler, or an experimental suite that uses pop quotes as a point of departure. What seems like a test of patience on one listen is the centerpiece on a subsequent spin.

Solvent starts with its headiest numbers. “Alton Towers” is a rolling mess of untuned instruments, and "50 Year Old Man" sits on the same droning riff for almost 10 minutes. Both are grotesque, yet engaging. Smith adopts a cartoonish growl for the latter (and many subsequent numbers), and when he describes walking into a hotel room and pissing on the floor, it’s hard to tell if he's describing his ageless ability to be a bastard or incontinence. The track itself springs a leak, breaking suddenly into a banjo jam before fading back into a fuzztone dirge for another few minutes.

It's gets more accessible from there, but not without distancing effects. "I've Been Duped" has a big ol' Sham 69 hook, but Smith hands off the lead vocal to his wife, Elena Poulou, and her English-as-a-second-language delivery shakes the yob out. Another track filters the band through a haze of static, as if Smith is reciting the words near a shortwave radio playing Village Green Preservation Society outtakes. Then there's "Tommy Shooter,” graced with rhyming couplets, a rarity in the world of Fall lyrics:

”Reduce you knees to noodles
Your Doberman pinschers to poodles.”

For all the grunting and studio manipulation (the way the levels shift around, it's like there's a cat loose on the mixing board), this is as playful as the Fall has ever been, with long stretches of taking the piss. The “50 Year Old Man” gets persecuted by Steve Albini. The “Latch Key Kid” gets kicked out by "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." And MES even breaks out of his usual wonderful and frightening POV, and inhabits some other characters. When he snarls, "My boss has the imagination of a gnat," he can't be talking about his own life. No one’s the boss of this guy.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of The Fall

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The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004

Reformation Post TLC

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