The Fall "Re-Mit" (Cherry Red)
The young me, in grainy sepia, spins "Palace Of Swords Reversed" on ye olde Hitachi. I am fascinated. "I used to have a thing about Link Wray", drawls the singer, his words echoing around what sounds like a not entirely sympathetic bar-room. "I used to play him every Saturday" - he sounds about 56, but in fact was only in his early twenties at the time - "God bless Saturday".
Today *is* Saturday. The new me, in vivid HD with surround sound, immerses himself in some mp3s (o technology of a mere decade ago, I am finally your master). The same singer *is* now 56. The same singer sounds... the same.
As far as I can tell, Link Wray is no relation to "Sir William Wray", but that's the song I'm listening to, a pre-album single and the first song proper on the Fall's thirtieth long-playing studio outing. Is it about the first Baronet of Glentworth and MP for Grimsby (1555-1617), or the first Baronet of Ashby and MP for Grimsby (1625-1669) ? Either way, it's a life somewhat subtly reflected in the lyric, which seems to be a series of variations on a theme of "Rrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaarrrrrr" atop a mini-riot of guitars and backing vocals from Sparta F.C. ultras, underlaid incongruously by pretty little keyboard patterns. Smith is a wizened misanthrope, stumbling amongst the pigeons, bothering the passing cars: "Sir William Wray" the song is "Touch Sensitive", parachuted into the next decade, having sunk a few (more) pints. The Fall are on fire, but no-one cares, or perhaps notices in the first place.
After Sir William has left the building it's true that there's then a several-track nosedive, albeit a varied and entertaining one which includes the organ swirl of last year's "Victrola Time", but the last four tracks of "Re-Mit" somehow completely rescue proceedings: "Irish" could be rambling, grumbling C86 of the Ron Johnson school (as opposed to the poppier but equally surprising C86-style influence on earlier tune "No Respects"). "Jetplane" is that greatest of things, Smith as storyteller once more, a battery of grunge-grind guitar, a tale of unlikely business inspiration set in the departure lounge at Milan airport. "Jam Song" starts obliquely even by Fall standards, and takes an absolute age to get going, but suddenly, halfway through, you realise that it has become a monster, "Fall Heads Roll" as touched by the hand of proto-Madchester shufflebeat, grinning with anti-hipster glee. There is no pause before "Loadstones", a final song which on one hand resurrects the lost art of shout-along-a-Fall but on the other hinges on a single lurching chord change, almost mournfully garnished with Elena's keyboard, that comes from nowhere and pulls the track into a different direction altogether.
Everyone has an angle. But it's funny how the more voices there are, the more harmonised the overall narrative can get. The internet provides a multiplicity of commentators, yet just creates a lazy hivemind in which "Your Future Our Clutter" was 'return to form', "Ersatz GB" was 'crushing disappointment', "Re-Mit" is tolerable but not a 'return to form'. It's the reviews, not the LPs, which are pre-ordained.
Your humble writer would suggest an alternative narrative. "YFOC" had a handful of truly ace tracks, but didn't bear repeated listens as a whole: reviewers were too dazzled by it being a rare Fall outing for an in-vogue label, and containing evidence of production values. (They were perhaps also over-relieved that it wasn't "Imperial Wax Solvent" all over again). "Ersatz GB" was primal verging on ragged, but effortlessly pole-vaulted the low expectations we had of it: there's little that's bad there, and "I've Seen Them Come" has been wilfully overlooked as its definitive song / statement, one which harks back to and cements the legacy of their earlier outings, not least in its devotion to Smith's infamous three R's.
And "Re-Mit" ? It achieves its objective, which is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world: to be the latest Fall album. All else is baggage. Every Fall review - including this one - tells you much more about the author than the Fall. But here's the thing. When Smith sang that the North would rise again, he wasn't predicting the Stone Roses, Oasis or the Arctic Monkeys. In a just world, if any of those much-trumpeted idiot joy showlanders had heard him coming, they would have scampered quickly away from the proverbial cocked hat that he'd otherwise be prone to topple them into. No, he was referring to himself, decades hence, still leading a charge against the London press and London industry-fuelled mediocrity, but doing it pretty much alone (while the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs or the Pigeon Detectives acted as double-agents for the South).
But, like we said, nobody is listening properly. And that includes us relatively unquestioning fans, largely men of a certain age who are firmly ensconced in, and enured to a permanent cycle of annual Fall album and annual semi-shambolic gig. Which means that the Fall find themselves still, somehow, the soundtrack to a revolution that isn't actually happening. Yet.