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The Fall being messy and imperfect is better than no Fall at all

"Wise Ol' Man EP"

The Fall Wise Ol Man EP
02 March 2016, 14:00 Written by Hayley Scott
The only problem with Mark E Smith’s dogged work ethic is that there’s a tendency for recent releases by The Fall to either prevail or fall disappointingly short. Some of the recent EPs and live albums in particular seem to merely serve the purpose of a momentary ‘bridging point’ to occupy time between projects, but not all of them have been redundant.

2013’s The Remainderer EP, for example, sounded like a fully-fledged Fall effort: it was abrasive but not completely inaccessible, and Smith’s singular portrayal of rockabilly recalled The Fall at their earlier best. Last year’s Live Uurop VIII-XII Places in Sun & Winter, Son, – while a surprisingly coherent document of Smith’s tightest band in quite some time - was somewhat unnecessary in retrospect.

When you’re as prolific as this, it’s impossible to be on form all of the time. Those of us who revere them are all too often guilty of having biased and rose-tinted views of anything the group put out, but The Fall are not exactly known for their consistency of late.

Wise Ol’ Man isn’t entirely pointless, but it’s far from an imperative addition to their output. Consisting of just two new, previously unreleased songs (“Wise Ol’ Man” and “All Leave Cancelled”) the bulk of material comes from 2015’s excellent Sub-Lingual Tablet, alongside remixes and a needless instrumental of the title track. That said, Elena’s vocal interjections on “Wise Ol’ Man” offer a refreshingly lucid alternative to Smith’s incessant, pissed-up drawls, and Greenway’s guitar parts are typically sharp, hypnotic and essential.

Elsewhere, the live version of "No Xmas For John Quay" that features here is barely recognisable, but the lengthy “All Leave Cancelled” contains an abrasiveness that’s unmistakably Fall-like, and the best thing about this record: repetition of course being the main theme, Elena’s keys are as effective as ever, bringing much-needed melody to a hybrid of chaos and discord.

It’s not so much the negation of quality over quantity that’s the problem here: among many other facets, The Fall have always made their name on releasing things in quick succession; these days, if a year goes by without a Fall album, there’s reason to worry. Despite its merits, though, the feeling Wise Ol’ Man gives is one of indifference - nothing here is close to the immediate appeal of Re-Mit's "Jetplane" and The Remainderer's title track, or the unexpected accessibility of Sub-Lingual Tablet's "Snazzy". It would be wrong to compare this with something like the ineffable Slates, given the group’s perennially shifting trajectory, but that EP has an enduring, remarkable consistency that’s all-too-often missed.

As brilliantly warped the more recent albums are, it's quite obvious that their glory days are behind them; but the sporadic glimmers of promise mean that there's always hope for something better next time. If it's a statement of intent, though – signalling The Fall’s reluctance to disappear anytime soon – then these messy, imperfect records are better than nothing at all.

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