Recorded after a tour that found leader/vocalist/lyricist Mark E. Smith handing out his umpteenth set of pink-slips and changing about half the band, Imperial Wax Solvent is a surprisingly vital and solid release, benefiting from a hungry young band under the guidance of a veteran who is inspired, jaded, and often sounds twice as hungry as the young bucks. After getting the artful, "difficult" number out of the way ("Alton Towers") and riffling through the garage rock-loving song ("Wolf Kidult Man") that's a hallmark of every great Fall album, Smith speaks to his age with the monolithic, 11-plus minute highlight "50 Year Old Man" ("I'm a fifty year old man/What you gonna do about it?") where buzzing, throbbing, and quintessential riffing from the band gives way to rustic banjo plucking right before the free jazz freak-out comes in. Even in a discography filled with legendary maverick tracks, "50 Year Old Man" is a standout, one that contains the great Smith insult "You're a gym teacher/You're a cancer/And I expect/A little shit." This beast is tempered with the following "I've Been Duped" where Eleni Polou -- returning bandmember and Smith's wife -- delivers a punkish and ever so simple hook as the gripping guitar and drum throb returns. "Taurig" brings the early Devo-styled electronics, "Tommy Shooter" is a midtempo, full-bodied winner, while "Latch Key Kid" returns to the first person rebellion against the stereotypes with "Got my muso wit/Can't do up my zip/I'm a latch key kid." Every necessary bit of Imperial Wax Solvent proves Smith is not the mess he's been painted as, and while it would be nice to say it's everything great about his Fall in equal shares, that breakaway single like "Cruiser's Creek" or "Touch Sensitive" is missing, unless the rock-solid hook of "Senior Twilight Stock Replacer" can overcome its the unmanageable title. This is top-shelf Fall, but it's best for those who have already studied one or two of their other masterpieces.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries