The Fall’s current lineup has been its most durable one since Mark E. Smith started the band in the mid-’70s, and that’s really saying something. Just go to Wikipedia and see if you can nail down a halfway steady lineup through the Fall’s career. Smith, his wife/keyboardist Elena Poulou, guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist David Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling have enjoyed a steady string of studio albums, EPs, and live albums for the past ten years or so. The Wise Ol’ Man EP serves as a companion piece to the previous year’s Sub-Lingual Tablet, featuring a handful of new songs along with reworked Tablet tracks.
As is true to recent Fall tradition, Wise Ol’ Man goes down as smoothly as a pint of motor oil. Age may mellow some artists, but Smith seems to be going the opposite direction as the years pass. His lyrics and their meaning are being tucked further and further back into the mix, his vocal delivery relies on growling and stretched vowels more than ever, and the band he has chosen to surround himself with plays with all the serenading power of a two-ton hammer. Newcomers to the Manchester phenomenon won’t be able to tell if Wise Ol’ Man is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders or the sound of a band coming apart. Let it be known that the Fall never makes things easy, for neither themselves nor their fans.
The title track, a new song that kicks off the EP, really injects the “punk” into the group’s post-punk origins with a three-chord pattern that absolutely pounds. Poulou sings the title’s three words while Smith moans, howls, and laughs at the top of his voice, sounding very much like a man who is amused by the fact that he knows something we don’t. “Wise Ol’ Man” turns up again on the EP’s second half, misleadingly labeled as the ‘Instrumental’ version since there are plenty of vocals to be heard on that one. Another new song, “All Leave Cancelled”, also gets two renditions. The first is an eight-minute sludge pummeling with vocals that screech, keyboards that sustain noisily, and a bass part that could never get clean after ten showers. The version of “All Leave Cancelled” that closes out the album is two minutes long, sounds substantially cleaner, and features no vocals. Sub-Lingual Tablet‘s legacy is carried on by “Dedication”, a remix of “Dedication Not Medication”, and “Venice with Girls”. The skewed disc-pop of “Dedication” sounds about as far-out and futuristic now as it probably would have back in the late ’70s, while “Venice with Girls” has a sliver more in common with the late ’80s/early ’90s Britpop movement.
This is all just to get you ready for “Face Book Troll / No Xmas For John Quay”, seemingly a medley of two new songs where Smith uses his one-of-a-kind voice to goad his band into reaching new heights with their noise. Splicing a studio recording with a live one, this track bulldozes full speed ahead for over seven minutes. Smith’s voice cracks over the cacophony, the last beat falls, and the appreciate audience bellows its approval. Thus ends another Fall release, one of many that have come before and, for all we know, just as many to come. Wise Ol’ Man won’t go down as one of the essential puzzle pieces to the story of the Fall, but it at least boasts a killer title cut.