CD Review: AC/DC – Black Ice (Columbia)

Though I know Mark would rather we keep the review space open for more indie types of artists, I can’t help but acknowledge what is arguably the year’s most newsworthy release by a veteran band!

First, let’s be honest: if you own one AC/DC album you own them all, at least post-Bon Scott. With the late Scott as the lead singer, the band’s earliest albums were all sleazy, sex-soaked raunch and roll albums with very little tact but a lot of rock and roll spirit. The songs were all fairly basic but sometimes the band would explore different arrangements and rythyms. After Scott’s death, a lot of personality went out of the band and their music became homogenized somewhat. Paradoxically, the band became bigger than ever but I feel that was more a case of people finally discovering AC/DC after years of their slogging it out and the amount of notice the band received when Scott died right on the cusp of the band hitting it big. I believe that had Scott survived, the band would be just as big today if not bigger, because as good as Scott’s replacement Brain Johnson ended up fitting in with the band, Scott had a charisma and an X-Factor that would have been able to take the band to other places they haven’t been able to go (even if they wanted to) with the more workmanlike personality of Johnson. With Scott’s last album being the incredible Highway To Hell and Johnson then stepping in for the equally amazing Back In Black, the band started hitting a weird sort of groove, more due to efforts of the brothers Young than anything else, seeing as who was singing didn’t seem to matter at that point.

Sadly, their groove has turned into a rut, though a oddly dependable one. It would be easy to blame Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, their first big name producer (on board for Back In Black) who pretty much distilled their sound into a commercial rock sheen whereas the earlier albums produced by former Easybeats (and kin of Angus and Malcolm Young) Harry Vanda & George Young were quite original sounding. But the band has managed to sound about the same since Lange left roughly twenty years ago so I lay the blame on the band itself being too comfortable with their sound to explore other avenues. Let’s be honest, though: a lot of bands would kill for a trademark sound identifiable within the first four bars, but AC/DC has been treading their own bathwater for so many years now the ratio of fresh water to piss has to have tipped sadly towards the latter. And this new album exemplifies it. Despite the glorious rush of the familiar AC/DC sound and the first two songs which could wind up as latter-day AC/DC classics, this album is not one of their best. In fact, by the fifth song, you realize the band has long ago run out of ideas. The remaining nine songs all blend together into one thirty minute snooze fest. I respect the band and love their pre-Johnson period and even of lot of their stuff with Johnson, but this album is not worth the money and one would have hoped the band would have put their seven year rest to better use expanding their very limited musical vocabulary. Stay away from this.

If you must buy some AC/DC this year, buy something pre-Highway To Hell. You’ll thank me.

Scott