Before you even hit play, you can throw out “Strangetown,” some cover of a band called the Groundhogs that doesn’t even make me want to check out the source material and really doesn’t deserve to be the second longest song on the album; the shorter songs here all groove as competently but have at least something tangible that you’ll fall in love with. This one doesn’t. And while I’m on the negatives, I wish the Steve Albini namedrops on “50 Year Old Man” made any semblance of sense and the way that everyone stops playing on “Can Can Summer” so that Mark E. Smith can deliver the “My boss has the imagination of a gnat” is annoying because that’s one of the worst putdowns I’ve ever heard from a man with a lot of great ones.
The main attraction here seems to be “50 Year Old Man” – their longest song to appear on a studio album – and … well … it’s okay. But if there is anyone here claiming that the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” is a one-play only song because once you’ve heard the reveal there isn’t any reason to listen to it again (bulllllllshit, by the way) but love this one, well then, I’m calling the “You don’t know what you want” police. This 12-minute piece feels like Mark E. Smith thought it’d be fun to suddenly just throw a banjo ditty in the middle of a long song after everyone’s in the mood of the groove, and then wrote the long song around it. And when the long song he wrote wasn’t long enough, he wrote a short one and tacked it to the end, stitched those two parts with another quiet interlude. This should be the most divisive song in their discography, not “Eat Yr’self Fitter.” All that being said: Mark E. Smith does the “Old man yells at cloud” bit really well (as expected), railing about absolutely nothing and everything at once.
All that aside, though I haven’t heard all of the Fall’s late period work, from what I have heard, Imperial Wax Solvent is better than any of it because there seems to be more at stake, maybe because Mark E. Smith took the fact that a handful of the members responsible for 2007’s Reformation Post TLC mid-tour personally and because there’s a lot of variety (for a Fall album). For example, opener “Alton Towers” is practically all David Spurr (who co-writes the song), the one surviving member of the last lineup that isn’t sleeping with Mark E. Smith. Here, he drops one of the best basslines in the Fall’s oeuvre while Smith yells and extra sound effects like ghosts and UFO’s fling themselves at the fluid bassline to try and latch on. Elsewhere, wife Eleni Poulou gets lead vocals on “I’ve Been Duped,” the album’s most melodic cut, while the men of the band help out with backing vocal duties. As for my second point, “Taurig” is the most obvious example, a Kraftwerk imitation, but there’s also “Can Can Summer,” which does the same thing that “50 Year Old Man” does (sudden interludes introducing new grooves), but better, and in a shorter time.