Man, Fly On The Wall is a tough one for me to review. It is a mediocre album that is not THAT bad. I don’t think I can get more wishy-washy. But that is how I genuinely feel about it. So, the best way I can handle this one is to get through the negative and bring it back to the positive. Let’s see how I do.
For the second album in a row AC/DC’s founding members, Angus and Malcolm Young recorded sans producer. And if you listen to Angus in interviews from the mid-80’s, he is big on “not bull shitting the kids”. In other words, being something that you are not.
That meant avoiding a lot of the trendy traps of adding synths or drum pads that other hard rock bands were leaning heavily into around 1985 when Fly was produced. And it would have been very easy for them to do so. Especially since their previous two albums (For Those About To Rock and Flick of the Switch) fell short of the comparative sales of Back In Black.
Instead, the Youngs stayed committed to the traditional four-on-four rock that made them who they are. They wanted AC/DC to stand out among the polished glam/hair metal bands that flooded MTV in 1985. Be the different band that was still delivering a “pure” rock sound. I love it. Sticking to their guns is what other bands admire about AC/DC. But they overcompensated on Fly. It’s great how “raw” the album can sound at times, but it is also mixed poorly.
Take the band’s newest member (and Phil Rudd’s replacement) drummer Simon Wright and how he is mic’d with a large echo. It’s his first recording with AC/DC and he sounds like he is slapping the lids of trash cans in the men’s room. And he is LOUD. Drums overpower all else on Fly.
Meanwhile, bassist Cliff Williams is barely audible. I’m talking Jason Newsted …And Justice for All level. You have to really crank the volume if you want evidence that Cliff showed up to the studio.
Then there are the vocals. Lead singer Brian Johnson is mixed well on some of the tunes, like on Danger where he can be heard well enough. But most of the time he sounds like he does on the title track Fly On The Wall:
Brian sounds like he is singing through a wall instead of on it. This is not only how the album opens but also what AC/DC released as a single! Some say this album is when Brian’s voice took a turn for the worst but I disagree. I think the Youngs just had him pushing the vocals too hard since he sounds fine on Fly‘s follow up Who Made Who. You can also check out some bootlegs from this time that proves otherwise.
The lack of production would be easier to overlook if the songs were stronger. The album’s top two tunes, Sink the Pink and Shake Your Foundations are the proof. All be it, they are both tunes where Brian is mixed a little better on; Malcolm lays down some nice crunchy rhythm chords that Angus floats along the top of with a light bouncy lead. The lyrics are fun and they both feature a sing-a-long chorus. It’s classic AC/DC. Both tunes remain to be mint despite being mixed almost as poorly as the rest.
The rest of the album isn’t crafted nearly as well. The lyrics are an issue for one. That one line in First Blood:
Some like it hot,
And some like it… not so hot,
Oof. Seriously. That pause is there. Like he doesn’t know what to say. They left that in. Then in Send For The Man:
You make a black sheep a ram,
This ain’t no gun in my pocket,
I got the goods in my hand
Black sheep a ram? And what is in your hand? It is just plain silly. Even for AC/DC. I love Brian but he is becoming a parody of himself here. A few choruses are repeated too many times as well. Danger and Stand Up I find are the most guilty of this. Both would have benefited from some shortening up.
But, like I said… it’s not THAT bad. It is easy to individually pick apart the tunes on Fly, but collectively they make for a rockin’ headbang that appeals to my caveman half. Although AC/DC was performing live shows in arenas around the world, they wanted their albums to sound like they were in a club down the street. And for the most part, Fly does accomplish this. Send for the Man might not have the best lyrics, but damn that is a big/heavy/catchy riff. Come Hell Or High Water, Back in Business, Playing with girls… all of these tunes still have their charm even if it is buried under some poor mixing.
Fly did get a remaster in 2003 that did improve the mix a bit, but not enough. The OG vinyl I picked up recently does sound better than my 25-ish-year-old CD, but again… not a huge improvement. What does sound great is the remixed version of Shake Your Foundations on Who Made Who. THIS sound smashing. Early AC/DC producers George Young and Harry Vanda remixed the tune and got great results. They removed some of the drums, and Brian sounds a little raspy but on the right side of the wall.
So while Angus and Malcolm were right to keep away from the drum machines and keytars, perhaps a little assistance behind the mixing board might have helped this album… sink in… a little better. Once Angus hangs up the schoolboy outfit, maybe he will get around to seeing that Fly on the Wall receives the same treatment Shake Your Foundations had. Until then…
As an AC/DC album: 2/5
Compared to everything else: 2.5/5
Be sure to check out Blogger for the Bold, Super Dekes‘ review of Fly On The Wall right here.
Once you’re done with that you’ll want to check out what they are saying about Fly on Keeps Me Alive right here.