After an eight-year hiatus, these hard rock legends return to the music scene with a banging album that has just a little less bite than others past.
Back when I was a kid, I used to have two long boxes full of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne albums that I had taped from friends’ older brothers’ record collections. In those days, it was hard not to love the cheeky imagery of the ‘DC. Whether they were singing about who had the biggest balls of them all (that would be ‘Big Balls’ from the near-mythic Dirty Deeds Done Cheap) or dabbling in a little devil imagery (which to a pre-teen Christian Brothers student was as exciting as getting your first feel), Angus Young and the boys had the world of rock ‘n’ roll sewn up.
As we all got older, AC/DC floundered quite a bit in the 90s. For a while the schoolboy uniforms, duck walks, four on the floor rhythms and boogie-woogie guitars seemed a little too simple in an age of Radiohead-esque mini-symphonies. Undeterred, the five-piece kept their heads down and continued to kick out the jams and after a long break from the limelight they’re now releasing Black Ice, their first album in eight years.
It seems absences really do make the heart grow fonder, and these days every music fan seems to be confessing a love for the outfit. So have Acca Dacca capitalised on the renewed interest? Well, kinda. Black Ice lacks the bite of earlier material such as Back In Black and the Bon Scott era, but that’s not to say we don’t have some tasty sonic treats on this Brendan O’Brien produced slab of wax. Kicking off with more of a whimper than a bang, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Train’ is a pedestrian blues rock number that at first made this listener feel like the boys had made the biggest blunder of their careers to date by deciding to give it one more crack of the whip. But they redeem themselves three songs in with the fiery ‘Big Jack’ and the remorseless rocking of ‘War Machine,’ which are as good as anything from their storied 70s and 80s hey-day.
What’s most noticeable about Black Ice is the fact that all of the 15 songs are mid-tempo stompers. As statements of intent go, it’s AC/DC declaring that they’re always going to stick to their guns and will continue to deliver timeless rock ‘n’ roll until they’re six feet under. It’s a noble gesture for sure, but when none of the tracks contain the same venom of ‘Thunderstruck,’ ‘If You Want Blood, You Got It’ or ‘Problem Child,’ it can make you wonder if they mightn’t have been better to include a smattering of full throttle rockers.
But let’s look at the positives. The rock hard rhythm section of tub thumper Phil Rudd, bassist Cliff Williams and guitarist Malcolm Young still packs as much wallop as any Ultimate Fighting Champion, vocalist Brian Johnson’s pipes continue to sound like they were bathed in paint-stripper, and Angus’ riffing still shows sparks of genius (‘Decibel,’ ‘Wheels’). If this is your first AC/DC album, you’ll no doubt fall in love with Black Ice, but Let There Be Rock it ain’t. Thirty plus years down the line and the ‘DC may now need a bit of Viagra to give them the biggest balls of them all; but there’s still more than enough gas in the tank to keep the fans pleased. All in all, it’s a welcome addition to their canon.
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