by Tim Durling
Produced by Brendan O'Brien
Label: Columbia (what happened to Epic? GLURB)
(honestly, do we all not know?)
Brian Johnson - vocals
Angus Young - lead guitar
Malcolm Young - rhythm guitar
Cliff Williams - bass
Phil Rudd - drums
Eight long years after their last studio album, Stiff Upper Lip, the Thunder From Down Under have managed to put another album together at a pace that would make surprise everyone but perhaps Tom Scholz. It would appear that absence has indeed made the hearts of listeners grow fonder, as this album debuted at #1 in several countries, first #1 album in the States since For Those About To Rock 27 long years ago. That's a huge achievement for such a veteran band. The Rolling Stones would kill for AC/DC's fan base. But is it any good? Is it two or three standout anthems plus filler like so many of their last albums have been? Read on....
1) Rock N Roll Train - The first single from the album follows the predictable pattern...you hear it, think "oh the new AC/DC song." Then you think, "it's ok I guess but it's just another (insert title here)"...then after hearing on the radio several times, several formats I might add, it slinks its way into your cranial passages, and then it becomes yet another classic AC/DC tune. First time in a long time a new rock song has come out that everyone you talk to knows all the words to.
2) Skies on Fire - A slower groove on this one, first song I can think of is the title track from The Razor's Edge, but not as ominous and creepy.
3) Big Jack - An obvious nod to their 1970's sound, not only in the title (could be seen as a montage of "Big Balls" and "The Jack") but the arrangement itself; simple one-note bassline like "Live Wire" and the bare-bones production. Nice catchy chorus, this could conceivably become a crowd pleaser with it's shouted refrain.
4) Anything Goes - Wow, I'm actually surprised here. This one's almost....don't hurt me...poppy! Not wimpy, just undeniably catchy in a way AC/DC songs rarely get. This would be my choice for a second single, it could become a hit like "Moneytalks" did (that song hit #23 on the Pop charts, their most successful mainstream song ever.) Brian Johnson actually kind of delivers a melody here. Good stuff.
5) War Machine - No, unfortunately not a cover of the Kiss song, that would have been incredible. Kind of starts out like "Hail Caesar." At first listen I didn't like how the title was sung in the chorus, but it grew on me.
6) Smash n' Grab - Sounds like the name of a convenience store in the rougher neighborhoods. First song that prompts the "skip" button for me.
7) Spoilin' For a Fight - Don't know how they keep finding song titles that are so obviously made for them, but haven't already used. Good one.
8) Wheels - Should mention the production on this one is really good in a classic AC/DC way. Bare bones but crystal clear, and I might add you can play it as loud as you want. Another catchy chorus. It sounds like Johnson worked really hard on this one.
9) Decibel - If ever there was a definitive title for an AC/DC song, this would be it. Not really heavy, not much of a chorus either. But you know, whatever.
10) Stormy May Day - It's astounding to me how the Young brothers can still find chord patterns that aren't just copies of their older stuff. A bluesy, fingerpicked riff here.
11) She Likes Rock & Roll - First thing here I noticed was Phil Rudd's unusual bass drum pattern. Anytime AC/DC's drummers do anything outside of the good ol' 2 and 4 it sticks out. Overall this song is kind of meh.
12) Money Made - Cliff Williams doesn't get enough credit for his bass lines. Always the right thing at the right time, and can elevate a so-so riff to something better. The ultimate working class band preaching to the converted here.
13) Rock & Roll Dream - Interesting tune here, very subdued and restrained at the onset. Picks up steam a little bit. Hmmmm...I like it although I'm not sure why.
14) Rocking all the Way - Nice title guys. Not bad though.
15) Black Ice - Saving the title song for last, nice busy riff. Almost an Aerosmith funkyness here. Good end to a decent album.
If they'd trimmed this back to 12 or 10 songs, you would have a killer AC/DC release here, but maybe this is it for them so they decided to just record whatever they had written.
In terms of recent releases, it's far better than Stiff Upper Lip.