The Fall Imperial Wax Solvent(Sanctuary) Buy it from Insound
A book and a new album all at once? Why, Mark E. Smith, how very Madonna of you. Actually, as this, the Fall's 27th studio album, explicitly points out, Salford's most maverick son is in fact a contemporary of Mrs Ritchie, making him not only of an age where the BBC's Grumpy Old Men – surely the programme he's spent his whole life auditioning for – could cheerfully come knocking, but also one of only a handful of individuals to be making eagerly-anticipated new releases in his fifth decade. His thoughts on the matter? "I liiiiiiiike it-uh." Well, quite.
Inevitably, the track in question, 50 Year Old Man has a good deal more to say for itself than just that, though. Vibrant and valedictory, it takes its structural cues from Stereolab at their more experimental (think Simple Headphone Mind or, even more pertinently, Refractions In The Plastic Pulse), swirling into a multi-part eleven-and-a half-minute epic that charges through military-precise post-rock, belligerent minimalism, the welcoming garage of the band's early-90s incarnation, and much in the way of debunking oblique conspiracy and putting the world very much to rights. Even with the Festive Fifty living on via the excellent Dandelion Radio post-Peel, it's still a shoe-in for the top three of this year's Festive Fifty. Mind you, any Fall album can contain one moment touched by genius – even Levitate, recorded at what we could kindly call a period of flux for the group, found room for Masquerade. Can they sustain it over the entire record?
Thankfully, yes they can. Smith's collaboration with Mouse On Mars as Von Sudenfed last year provided hope that, after a number of recent endeavours that, while fine in their own way, didn't necessarily invite repeated listening the way the classics in his canon do, he might bring the inspiration evident in some work where he wasn't so tightly in charge to bear on the day job, and, superbly, that's what's happened. The chiefly instrumental Taurig will appeal to anyone drawn to the techno abrasions of Tromatic Reflexxions, for instance, while Exploding Chimney exposes its malevolent pop-devouring credentials via nods to My Sharona, and then there's the staggering I've Been Duped. Barely containing Smith at all, it hands vocal duties over to his wife Elena, whose captivating phrasing – always a Fall strong suit – counters the rest of her colleagues' Greek chorus duties in a track whose off-kilter punkish archness brings to mind the likes of the Flying Lizards, which is something you certainly can't say every day.
Moreover, there's an unlikely sense of playfulness to this whole album, which is something that's not always the first thing you'd expect from the Fall's work, as well as dozens of features that recall why they've appealed in the first place without strictly relying on harking back to past glories. Can Can Summer and Is This New indulge in all sorts of noise games while adopting a warmly wilful lo-fi ethic, there are lyrical flights of fancy aplenty (we particularly like Smith barking "turn your knees to noodles / your Doberman Pinschers to poodles"), the bilious bewilderment of their earliest work is recaptured spectacularly in Strange Town, and even the tracklisting (Senior Twilight Stock Replacer, Wolf Kidult Man) is vintage stuff. They may have been marking time slightly of late, but let your fears they'd never rise again be dispersed; this is the best Fall album of the century bar none.21 May, 2008 - 22:42 — Iain Moffat