I am not one of those rock critics who love everything The Fall does. Over the years, the somewhat-legendary English punk act has vacillated between captivating and irrelevant. The same is true of antihero frontman Mark E. Smith.
But the band's new album sounds as dynamic and engaging as anything they've done in the last 30-odd years, even if Smith's elegantly wasted vocals make him sound as if he couldn't be more bored.
The opening track, "O.F.Y.C. Showcase," finds The Fall in rare form, blazing a trail for the rest of the album with rockabilly and surf, shot through with abrasive, droning krautrock rhythms.
One of the album's highlights comes early in "Bury Pts. 1 + 3," which is essentially the same song played three times, in three different styles, over the course of almost eight minutes: raw, demo quality; then with slightly more polish and reverb; and finally, an explosive, fully produced slice of punk cacophony. "Mexico Wax Solvent" is a hypnotic blend of chiming guitars, garage-fuzz bass and bleeping keyboards. You can imagine dance-floor denizens nodding their heads to it in syncopated, opiated time.
Much of the credit for the more focused sound must be given to guitarist Peter Greenway, whose riffs find the similarities between Link Wray, Steve Jones and Johnny Marr. Eleni Poulou's keyboard hooks and textures help sharpen the attack.
It seems as if Smith has found the ideal accompaniment for his off-balance, misanthropic and sometimes-indecipherable sour exhortations.