The Fall - Wise Ol' Man

by Steve Reynolds Rating:8 Release Date:2016-02-19

What’s been written about Mark E Smith over the last 40 years is ineradicably grained into the UK’s alternative music scene. Not content with releasing some 30-plus albums and practically changing band members on a weekly basis, there is no denying that the man just won’t take no for an answer. His band, in whichever guise he dresses it up, continues to have had a huge effect on the underground music and his bitter, twisted, comical and abrasive lyrics continue to ruffle feathers even as he approaches the grand old age of 60. Proof that age is merely a number.

Last year The Fall pushed the envelope again with the excellent Sub-Lingual Tablet album, and the continuity of the current line-up has aided the buoyant brevity of the band’s current output. This new EP titled ‘Wise Ol’ Man’, features new songs, remixed and instrumental cuts from ‘Sub-Lingual Tablet’.  There are seven tracks in total, which in EP terms is pretty fucking good value for money.  All completed with the trademark sounds of what makes The Fall so important.

The lead track is the EP’s title.  Perhaps it’s about Smith’s arrogance and narcissistic view of himself, but seeing as he is such a challenging character I am probably a million miles from the truth.  But what takes centre stage here is his wife Elena’s school playground bark and shifty synth as it pulses and breaks effortlessly behind a tide of Pete Greenway’s guitar lines and Keiron Melling’s pummelling drums.

‘All Leave Cancelled’ is downright dirty with Smith delivering with the bitter distain for all that is before him.  Held together by Dave Spurr’s throbbing bass, Smith’s atonal nonsensical vox continues to unsettle as much as it did when he started all this in 1976.  Yes, he sounds less sprightly in his demeanour nowadays but the dour and moribund drawl that now punctuates all of The Fall’s songs has taken the band’s songs into an whole new direction.  One that doesn’t dilute the impact of his cathartic song-writing but merely enhances it even further.

The remix of ‘Dedication Not Medication’ recalls the work that he did with Coldcut with it’s cut up pulsing disco beat and out of kilter bleeps and dots but halfway through it takes a darker path with lo-fi guitar noise and Smith’s lonesome ramblings.

The ‘Wise Ol’ Man’ instrumental is bolshie, pushy and typical old school Fall and ‘Venice With Girls’ barks in a similarly uncouth and malevolent vein.  The musicianship is super tight as the band seamlessly pulls together a gleaming tirade of early post punk.

‘Face Book Troll / No Xmas For John Quay’ is the highlight of the EP.  Smith’s ragged torn and stressed vocal sits on top of a pile of lurching guitar, jittery synth and belligerent rhythm section.  He swings from the angry to the incoherent to the shouty and his freewill just keeps giving and giving in whatever direction he feels like taking.  The finale is a truncated instrumental version of ‘All Leave Cancelled’ and ends the EP in a positive almost sombre fashion.

‘Wise Ol’ Man’ is a brilliant EP.  Just when you think the old man is down on his haunches he bounces back with something new, relevant and important.  Of course he is aided and abetted by his excellent band mates whom without them the songs wouldn’t stack up but this EP has enough craft and guile to continue to put The Fall up there as one of the most important alternative bands this country has ever produced.

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