Music

Schneider TM: Škoda Mluvit

Barry Lenser

The third full-length from German producer Schneider TM achieves a fevered pitch of bustling electronica, but often sacrifices simple pop objectives along the way.


Schneider TM

Skoda Mluvit

Contributors: Škoda Mluvit
Label: City Slang
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2006-05-01
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On the back flap of Škoda Mluvit’s liner notes, Schneider TM (the curious front/moniker for solo production wizard Dirk Dresselhaus) includes a somewhat facetious section entitled "tools". Under this heading, he lists the bevy of instruments ("artisan slide guitar"), trinkets ("paiste 505 hihat"), and mundane domestic items ("chair", "sailing trousers", etc.) that were unleashed to mold the cacophonous sounds present on his third full-length album. On display here is the proverbial kitchen sink. Škoda Mluvit is cracked electronica, so drunkenly doused in a hyper-color concoction of sonic hiccups, chimes, fuzzy rattles, and synth bombs to the point of unwieldy exhaustion. It is a mildly admirable achievement in stoned, musical profusion, but too regularly this hammering away plays out to the detriment of lucid melodicism. Dresselhaus’ gaze wavers from this very fundamental aim as his imbalanced arrangements foster a haze which stifles the album’s initial advances of pleasing pop.

Indeed, the first third of Škoda Mluvit witnesses a terrific string of highpoints that ups the ante for its prospects as a whole. "More Time", the opener, is the runaway finest entry of all thirteen in question. Oh the promise it harbors, even in its brazen simplicity! This chugger follows the straight course of a stuttering synth train, and shimmers and gleams so delicately with the flickering effects it gathers on the way. It’s a perfectly inhibited and clear-eyed ball of throwback electronica, akin to the streamlined execution on the title track from Trans-Euro Express.

"More Time" is far from a pop explosion, however, which differentiates it from the succeeding melodic delights that round out the worthy material. "Pac Man/Shopping Cart" floats crisply on a blithe wind of electro-strings that is juxtaposed to tickling acoustics. This wise balance, where man (i.e. traditional instrumentation) and machine, so to speak, ride together in coordinated formation, separates the wheat from the chaff throughout Škoda Mluvit. It’s a tuneful dynamic that additionally uplifts the underwater strummer "Peanut" and the overtly earthy "Caplets".

Almost without exception (the possible one being "Cataract"), all of the wholly realized successes end with "Caplets". The remainder devolves from the lush pop schemes of earlier numbers into madcap flourishes of overworked, clumsy, and superfluous beats that lack a binding structure. But it’s not solely a matter of logistical errancy. The cadences that Dresselhaus crafts here are just greatly bereft of aesthetic appeal, due in large measure to the scarcity of counterbalancing organic sonics. A misbegotten psychedelic style and confused pacing hamper the twitchy "Vodou". Both "Klexx" and "S’kcorratiug" are flimsy doses of throwaway filler, the latter resembling a diseased fit of mastication by some futuristic, industrial monster (hardly pleasing fare). “The Slide” reins in the usually mid-to-up tempo speed of Škoda Mluvit and injects a gloomy, withdrawn stride whose introspective aspirations collapse amidst ubiquitous clicks/clacks and an unnecessary patch of overcast reverb. To his credit, Dresselhaus overshoots, as opposed to passively undercooking, in his conception of this work. But it nevertheless yields a collection saddled with scant melodies and, consequently, glaring inconsistency.

A subsection of this broader misstep stems from an aspect of song-craft that, almost by design, did not badly pester Dresselhaus on his previous full-length outings – vocals. Indeed, 1998’s Moist and 2002’s Zoomer, both superior efforts, split time between instrumental pieces and those featuring a vocal track. On Škoda Mluvit, they dominate. Most of their inclusions manage to be of a serviceable quality, but many don’t seem necessary while some downright grate and annoy. Wallowing in that latter category, the title track fizzles with a flat, leaden rap line that recalls Beck, circa Mellow Gold, but absent his teenage coyness. “The Blacksmith” also falters in its irksome oscillation between a verse vocal-pattern of brittle hip-hop and a lounging chorus. Even the standout numbers may not have suffered by entirely eliminating the vocals. Their utility appears that precarious.

Because of his past predilection for pure instrumentals, Dresselhaus still remains below the learning curve as a lyricist. His words occasionally bear smudges of middling irony but they typically range from inane to baffling to ravingly incoherent. "A Ride", annoyingly spastic as a musical creation, abounds in stock, stoner articulations of sundry ideas. The future – "The future has come like an overdose." The afterlife – "We’re all gonna get to where the stars blink good night." These are uninspired duds, plain and simple. Is the interminable closer, "The World’s A Cup", some navel-gazing, anti-capitalist screed ("Cause we are ghost in major business") or is it simply a patchwork of sophomoric meanderings that do not merit further probing? Ultimately, Dresselhaus’ wayward lyricism stays at the level of a distraction, but it may be symptomatic of the unfocused air that shrouds Škoda Mluvit.

It’s unclear whether Dresselhaus would smart a lick over this line of criticism. Vocals- poppycock! Lyrics- for the birds! "I’m a production freak," he might add. "More on the beats, please." His sonic imagination, indubitably, is a fertile terrain. Its outgrowths brim with effects that duck in and out, blend through one another, crescendo, and then disappear altogether, like a wild-eyed strobe. But this machine-driven, postmodern freneticism is no replacement or necessary excluder of classic melodies, harmonies, and a simple unity of sound.

5

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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