Imperial Wax Museum

I’ve been listening to the new edition of Imperial Wax Solvent. This is now the 3rd version of this album I’ve had: first of all the one that leaked on to file-sharing networks early in 2008, then the original official release I got a few weeks later.

I’ve never particularly liked this album, though I don’t dislike it. Unlike its predecessor Reformation Post TLC it doesn’t drag on with 2 or 3 complete dud tracks that seem to go on forever, but it isn’t as good as the one after it, 2010’s Your Future Our Clutter, which was the last really great Fall album. I only got this reissue because of the praise on the second disc, which is the “Britannia Row Recordings 21/09/2007” – the version of the album prepared with Grant Showbiz, which Smith then changed to create the final released version.

I’m not generally keen on hearing all the demo versions or alternative takes. I didn’t get the Reformation reissue because it only added rougher cuts of the material, and the live disc I already had (the Last Night Of The Hammersmith Palais show, which I was at). I feel that we should respect an artist’s choice of what the best final version of their work should be, and “originals” are only relevant when there’s some issue of censorship or legal action, or some last-minute change of mind that is known to have been regretted. In the case of acts like The Fall, they are not aiming for the slickest or smoothest production or performance but the one that captures the mood or energy required. I think Hex Enduction Hour is overrated because, despite its lo-fi style, it managed to be overcooked: they’d been playing those songs for too long already, the power was drained out, and better versions are on live recordings or sessions from a year earlier. I have a copy of the original Country On The Click that was re-worked to become The Real New Fall LP and I’ve always thought the latter was better.

Material that ended up on Imperial Wax Solvent was first played at the Hammersmith Palais show, when they did the relentless grind of “Senior Twilight Stock Replacer”. Some more was showcased at the first Carling Academy Show in Islington in July 2007. That revealed the wonderful “I’ve Been Duped”, which was performed pretty much entirely by Elena after Mark walked off stage. I think he was just for a break while he wasn’t needed, although he was known to storm off for no evident reason and never return in those years. At the time I thought it sounded like an attempt at writing a Eurovision entry, and in fact Mark did claim in Renegade that he tried to write a Euro-pop hit every few months. That gig also included a new track called “Ponto”, which has now turned up on the Britannia Row disc and wasn’t on the released album.

It is not clear whether the tracklisting on the Britannia Row disc is the one selected for a possible release by Mark, or just an arrangement made for this edition. It does start with the punchy garage sound of “Wolf Kidult Man”, instead of putting that in second place after the quieter start of “Alton Towers” on the 2008 version. I think the latter ordering was better, since “Alton Towers” is pretty flimsy and doesn’t belong anywhere else, it wouldn’t fit as a gentle closing track either. The quiet-start-then-rocky-2nd-track trick was done on Falls Head Roll in 2005 and worked jolly well then, but it seems to be a feature of the later Fall albums that they stay in much the same groove and don’t allow for shifts of mood and distinct sections. The latter occur a lot across the many older albums, though they aren’t indicated as such since presumably that would give away an influence of prog-rock.

Differences in the Britannia Row versions:

  1. “Wolf Kidult Man” lacks the dialogue excerpt from a Twilight Zone episode at the end, which is a pity as it fitted quite well.
  2. “Taurig” has more vocals on it, I think it’s an improvement as the mainly-instrumental version never did anything for me except doodle away for a few minutes.
  3. “Inferior Product Man” is a track by itself, but in 2008 it was fused on the end of “50 Year Old Man” to make the 10 minute epic that Stewart Lee used as inspiration for a stand-up routine.
  4. The version of “I’ve Been Duped” has even less energy than the one used in 2008, though neither of them capture the magic the song had when it was first played live a year earlier.
  5. There is a track “Smith And Mark” which is pretty much the song that ended up as “Exploding Chimney” but with different lyrics.
  6. “Ponto” was not the original version of “Latch Key Kid”, the latter seems to be a completely new work created after these sessions. The former sounds more like a tracks from one of the albums released a few years later, like something on Ersatz GB (I always thought that album was just a clear-out of out-takes from old sessions hastily stuck together to make a new release).

The new edition also includes a live show from Bexhill-on-Sea in May 2008; I saw the gig at the Astoria in March on that tour, with mostly the same set-list. It’s worth it for the motorik-style performance of “White Lightning” which was also part of the show in Islington previously and was brought back a few more times over the years. The perfect demonstration of the Fall Sound, bringing together basic early rock’n’roll with 70s experimentalism.

The extensive notes in this edition go over the genesis and reception of these tunes, and The Fall’s return to trendiness at the time, with luminaries such as Frank Skinner joining Stewart Lee in hanging around at the gigs. Proofreading could have been given one more go, since it manages to mispell Daryl Easlea’s own name, and also mentions a 90s album called Middle Age Revolt, which poses the tantalising thought that that was an alternative version that we really ought to hear. Now that Mark isn’t around to approve any more releases I don’t see any need to get them, unless someone decides to put out the (allegedly) recorded-but-unreleased album from the early 00s called Cocked. But only if they can give it a better title.

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