Thursday, December 18, 2008

Review: AC/DC - Black Ice

by Clarence Yu, also on, here

AC/DC is like comfort music to me. With their latest release, Black Ice, these seemingly unstoppable and stubborn rockers just refuse to quit. Why should they? The music they’ve created over the past 35 years seems timeless, and you can always be sure of satisfaction. And they know it.

Produced by Brendan O’ Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), Black Ice is also a return to the sound reminiscent of the band’s previous studio efforts, Highway To Hell (1979) and Back In Black (1980), with renowned producer Robert “Mutt” Lange (Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain).

Whether this is a conscious effort or not, the results are decidedly for the better. The various producers the band have chosen over their previous releases either gave this signature sound a slightly more commercial feel (the late Bruce Fairbairn with 1990's The Razor’s Edge), or a less radio friendly, harder edged twist (Rick Rubin, with 1995's Ballbreaker). Of course, the challenge with each producer is to try to capture the legendary bands' sound as they envision it, so credit is due to Brendan O’ Brien, who rises above the pack.

Black Ice is also a classic example of an album that doesn’t really need titles to make its point. The sequencing of the songs make the album sound seamless: each track segues into the other without much ado, and this is an album you can listen to over and over without having an epiphany of any kind.

The lead single off the album, "Rock And Roll Train," also demonstrates the band’s great songwriting skill. Take the intro of the Rolling Stones’ "Start Me Up," and add a bit of distortion to it, or take the verses from "Highway to Hell," and mix it in with the chorus from "You Shook Me All Night Long," and you’ve got a new, fresh sounding song.

The album contains all the elements of classic AC/DC themes: war ("War Machine" with its signature chants reminiscent of "TNT"), sex ("She Likes Rock and Roll") and rock (four songs on the album have the word "rock" in the title, so it's quite obvious). Outstanding cuts include the funky "Decibel," "Rocking All The Way" with some low-octave, bluesy singing from vocalist Brian Johnson, and the closest thing they’ve done to a ballad in a while, "Anything Goes," which sounds like a cross between Def Leppard’s "Hysteria" and their own "Touch Too Much" off Highway to Hell.

The band also teaches a thing a two about dynamics. Throughout the album, the only thing that constantly breaks the monotony of the basic 4/4 pounding by drummer Phil Rudd is the tempo, and whatever tempo changes that occur are always augmented by the intricate yet deceivingly simple guitar interplay between the Young brothers Angus and Malcolm. Bassist Cliff Williams knows when to play and more importantly, when not to.

AC/DC has, if anything, proven with Black Ice that there doesn’t need to be much thinking in rock n’ roll. It’s also enough to quiet all the “too old to rock” pundits who started criticizing bands of AC/DC’s stature long since grunge reigned for a time. Labels such as "metal" and "headbanging" have always been applied to describe the band's music, but much harder sounding bands have come since their inception in 1973. Basically, it’s just no fuss and no frills — a welcome respite from today’s contemporary rock. And surely, a message that rock is definitely here to stay for good.

No comments: