The Fall: Re-Mit

Mark E. Smith's production reveals a band determined to explore its denser, edgy, introverted character. The songs burrow down and hunker close. You approach them; they do not reach out to you. As with nearly all of the Fall, this album does what it wants to do, forcing the listener to submit to its terms.

The Fall


Label: Cherry Red
US Release Date: 2013-05-21
UK Release Date: 2013-05-13

Re-Mit sustains the claustrophobic ambiance and subterranean moods of the Fall's recent releases. Produced by Mark E. Smith, it captures the spookier, isolated feel of the latest incarnation of the long-lived group, on its 30th studio record since 1977. With attention to depth, the mix combines murk with menace.

While trumpeted by Smith as far superior to the previous record, Ersatz GB (reviewed by me in 2011), I did not find Re-Mit drastically diverging from Ersatz, Our Future Your Clutter or Imperial Wax Solvent. However, it's tighter, focused (if blurry), and no song ambles or annoys for ten minutes. The line-up, by the shifting standards of Smith and whomever he and his wife--keyboardist Elena Poulou--hire, seems stable for now, with Kieron Melling on drums, Dave Spurr on bass, and Peter Greenway on guitar. It's the first time one version of the Fall has endured for four albums straight.

"No Respects" opens the album with a short, perky instrumental, dominated by hissing synthesizers. "Sir William Wray" nods to pioneering roots-distortion guitarist--and influence on Smith and comrades--Link Wray, blending Smith's trademark warbles with another peppy array of keyboards layered on cymbal splashes and guitar sputters. This typifies Re-Mit and the past half-decade of the band.

"Kinds of Spine" clangs and submerges within gray depths."Noise" fits into the subdued noodling Smith favors lately, declaiming by gargles and strangles a crumpled sensibility. He nestles into a character out of a play by Samuel Beckett: shards of emotion dragged over a sensitive, prickly soul.

"He emerges from the ground...sands/ white robes to the ground/ you don't hear him." So begins "Hitite [sic] Man" as it conjures up a familiar specter from Smith's imagination. Long fascinated by the occult and the marginal, Smith comes closest on this track list here to a narrative, if an unsettling one. "Pre-MDMA Years" closes what's labeled side one with more gurgling about altered states, although the added unpredictability of the musical backing makes this more listenable than similar tracks on recent records that plumb this same terrain of confusion and hesitation in a liminal realm.

Reprising with a vocal version of "No Respects", the second half marches along as Smith "for twelve years in fast" (I think, given the limits of a download file and lack of a lyric sheet) with "eldritch and me" verbally whooshes around the listener. "England a stranglehold [or swinehold?]/ why are you here?" Lyrics such as these drag the audience into Smith's own tilted fun house.

Re-Mit presses you into a corner, or plunges you under the sea. "Victricola Time" features Smith's wordplay, although his initial squawks here make Captain Beefheart or John Lydon resemble crooners by comparison. Part of the fun of a Fall album is trying to decipher what's coming out of Smith. Meanwhile, Poulou's keyboards churn on steadily as Melling's steady percussion backs the vocalist's chatter.

In the past, The Fall has featured fine guitarists. Greenway's contributions get pushed down into the muck, yet "Irish" lets him struggle for a riff above Smith's trilling. He regales us with snippets difficult or nearly impossible to decipher. My guesswork transcribes "out of reach/ the women and...the bad dream/ is out of reach"; "James Murphy is their chief"; "they show their bollocks when they eat/ commercial radio awaits"; and "make the pledge".

A martial beat and shuffled vocal tracks by band mates construct a shaky story about a novelist; airline queues; London flats; Viennese summer; winter in Florida; Italian Sundays; and euros in "Jetplane". Multilingual phrases and Spurr's bass try to propel this shambling tale. It lands leaving the listener wondering what happened. It conveys the jet-lagged blur of travel, certainly. On "Jam Song", Poulou's patterns over in-the-studio background chatter segue into Smith's affected European accent, carrying over from the previous track into what builds into a shambling construction of drums, synthesizers, and whirring sounds. Unsurprisingly, it wanders.Closing with "Lodestones", the Fall rouses itself from the pedals and playthings to stumble towards a bigger presence. Guitar and keys mingle to push along the bass and float the vocals. It's the closest song to the earlier incarnations of the band which explored a more accessible, propulsive structure.

Re-Mit is a dry production, as if at studio monitor levels. The sterile, dessicated spatters heighten the altered states evoked by Smith's declaimed vocal fragments. They erupt over bursts of processed strings arrayed across a constant, if often attenuated, amplified buzz and vacuumed squawk of keyboards. Splattered effects from guitar and bass both mash into the production's compacted delivery. The results come across as thin and wobbly, playing against the thickened studio mood. Smith's production reveals a band determined to explore its denser, edgy, introverted character. The songs burrow down and hunker close. You approach them; they do not reach out to you. As with nearly all of the Fall, this album does what it wants to do, forcing the listener to submit to its terms.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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