The Fall Re-Mit
by Jason Gross
After gallons of lager flowed through his kidneys and enough nicotine smoke to advance global warming by decades, lovable libertine Mark Edward Smith was approaching the last few years of his life and a final battle with cancer with custom aplomb, ranting and yelling as best he could in front of the band he commandeered for decades, with or without your granny on bongos.
After a staggering first three decades. it's hard to make a case for the last 10 years of the Fall's work except to say 'well, it wasn't so bad" or "there's some glimmers of the old Fall there" or "each record still had some good songs." All true and all to be expected but does that mean that anyone but a fan should dig out and listen to the last few albums? Well, maybe they should...
I'm not going to try to convince you that last legs of the Fall stacks up with Hex Enduction or This Nation but just like any great artist has different periods to their career, the final acts of MES are something of a strange, movable feast, plus a mess and an annoyance and something of a wonder, which makes it of a piece with his earlier work. And to be fair, the band was kind of an underground institution by then and taken for granted so that another Fall album by then wasn't felt as freshly as they had been in the earlier decades. And to be really fair, if you do give most of the post-millennium Fall albums another spin, you'll find that most of them are good, solid pieces of work, with one particular exception that we shall we se...
For a comparison, consider the classic rockers who had burnt themselves out after a decade or so into parody, endless repeats and sad trend-hoping shit otherwise- try out Self Portrait, Journey Through the Past or any of Macca's first four albums if you dare. Also, think of the many punks of his generation (which MES never considered himself) who could barely keep their own respect after their first few albums, except for Mekons and Pere Ubu.
Having said that, the third-to-last Fall album has its moments but doesn't even reach the level of 'OK late-era stuff'- it definitely earned its mixed record reviews. When a stable of writers here were asked to pick a post-millennium album to review, this one was the ugly duckling that no one else would touch. Thanks, gang...
As always, MES was happily out of touch on Re-Mit with what was happening in rock/pop world around him at the time- no knocks against Jay-Z or Kanye who had each angered and confused fans with their latest offerings or knocks against comebacks by Justin, Cher and Bowie. MES was more like late-era Brando or Stockhausen in that he was a legend on his last legs, still showing some glimmers of what made him extraordinary in the first place.
On the plus side, his core group (Peter Greenway, Dave Spurr, Keiron Melling, Elena Poulou) had been with him for several albums by this time, which was news 'cause MES changed line-up's as often as he ordered a Guinness, which was a lot. You can hear the band has coalesced more but they're no means slick (not possible with the Fall). With their wonderful under-rated '90's dance phase behind them, the band returned to its roots so that the garage/rockabilly material is the most prime with "No Respects" in both versions and "Sir William Wray" bringing up the front of the record along with the hard-nosed, psycho "Victrola Time" and the jolly march of "Irish" and "Loadstones" (which sounds like Hex Enduction era). Also, the semi-exotic stuff sticks, with the Middle East/psych guitar of "Hittite Man" and the six-minute Krautrock-influenced "Jam Song" which melds Cluster's avant-pop with Can's stridency.
The minus side, which heavily weighs down the album, MES took over the production chores and shows that he's not always up for it, foregoing the services on the stalwart Grant Showbiz, Ross Orton (Add N to X), ex-member Simon Archer (who was also in Pixies) and Tim Baxter, all of whom helped out on the last few Fall records otherwise. Even the memorable tunes here have their own problems. As mentioned, "No Respects" shows up twice, once as an instrumental intro and later with an MES rant, while some of the same lyrics reappear in "Pre-MDMA Years" and "Victrola," suggesting that MES was in a rut, having to repeat himself. Sure, MES had already bookened albums with the same music but before, he did it more artfully and thematically ("Mansion" and "To Nkroachment: Yarbles" on This Nation's Saving Grace) and more movingly (the sad "I Come and Stand At Every Door" and "Jap Kid" on Levitate).
Even the weird, WTF stuff, which was always a Fall trademark, isn't as striking as before: cross-talk keeps happening on "Pre-MDMA Years," "Kinder of Spine," "Jetplane" and "Jam Song" until it's a worn-out gimmick and not as strong as when it was done on The Marshall Suite's "(Jung Nev's) Antidotes," plus the recitation over synth farts and guitar chugs on "Noise" seem kind of old hat and lazy. Compare this to MES' grand bizarre statements like "Bonkers in Phoenix" (Cerebral Caustic), "Light/Fireworks" (The Infotainment Scan), "Paintwork" (This Nation's Saving Grace), "Cowboy George" (Your Future Our Clutter), "Mad.Men-Eng.Dog" (The Marshall Suite) to see how he can own full-blown crazy and make it stick.
By now, even the song-naming is kind of tired- MES always had a flair for this, even with later-day Fall records with "Last Commands of Xyralothep Via M.E.S.," "Octo Realm/Ketamine Sun" and "Anecdotes+Antidotes in B#." Now, titles like "Noise," "Jet Plane" and "Jam Song" sound like the grunts coming out of MES lyric-wise otherwise.
Even more distressing is that there's no cover songs here. For most bands, doing covers is kind of an admission of defeat, that they don't have anything interesting to say themselves. Not for the Fall though. Starting in the '80's, MES showed that he was a real crate digger and showed it in his choice of covers- Lee Scratch Perry, Iggy Pop, the Groundhogs, the Monks, Merle Haggard, Gene Vincent and Henry Cow ain't your standard fare or a playlist that you'd find in one place. He would transform these strange obscure tracks and provided a nice change of pace on Fall albums. With his songwriting falling off, he could have definitely used it here.
Word wise, MES had less to say on the post-millennial Fall albums, with his heated, epic tirades getting trimmed down to fragments and catch phrases by the end. Maybe it's wise then that MES just decided to keep his mouth shut at times here with the instrumental intro and the first half of "Victrola," where he sounds like a screaming old lady later. Verbiage otherwise on Re-Mit includes toasts to the Firesign Theater ("Sir William Wray," "Loadstones") and surprising props to spiders ("Kinder of Spine") and the rest of the band ("Noise") while he takes the piss out of ancient Greece ("Hittite Man"), drugs ("Pre-MDMA Years," "Victrola Time") and LCD Soundsystem ("Irish"), alongside occasional lit and history references thrown in here and there. Only the bizarre narrative travelogue of "Jetplane" recalls the amazing ranter of yore.
Let's pause for a moment though to consider again that after the dozens of revolving door line-up's of the band and the copious amount of narcotics that he consumed, MES is giving a thumbs-up to his (then current) band and a thumbs-down to drugs. Who said that cranky ol' bastards don't mature at all?
Granted that before Re-Mit, there had been turds in their back catalog, especially after the '80's (Middle Class Revolt, Shift-Work, Are You Are Missing Winner), but can you blame MES for having a duff moment near the end, at his 29th album no less? What's remarkable here is that after this dip in the road, he/they were able to rebound impressively for the last two albums, Sublingual Tablet and New Facts Emerge, which also came out at a slower-than-usual pace for obvious reasons. Just the same way that we can't appreciate a good hero without a good villain as a counterbalance, we can more appreciate a good album more from a band when they've bounced back from a crappy record. For that, we should be grateful to Re-Mit.
Also see our Fall tribute
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