Let's go ahead and get this out of the way at the top: yes, it all sounds the same. Are you happy? Now that we've dispensed with that nonsense, let's talk about Black Ice, the first new album from AC/DC in 8 years.
It's unspeakably funny to read critics trash an AC/DC record – without a hint of irony – for being more of the same. They've been writing the same review of every AC/DC record for a quarter century and the band is the problem? What the hell? Of course Black Ice sounds like an AC/DC record. It's supposed to! Do you really want them to change? Do you really want them to evolve? Come on! How many of you are out there thinking, “You know, what would be really great is if AC/DC went Mariachi.” If you are, hit yourself or play in traffic.
Black Ice is an album aimed squarely at the band's fans. They've never evolved, but the flipside is they've never pandered- unless you consider their exclusivity deal with Walmart a pander. I don't like the deal, but it clearly hasn't changed the band or their approach. Brian Johnson's voice doesn't have dynamic shriek, having morphed into a smoother rasp. The Young brothers, Malcolm and Angus, are still bludgeoning listeners with their mastery of the riff. Cliff Williams continues to anonymously hold down the low end on bass, and Phil Rudd's defiantly minimalist powerhouse drumming is still an inspiration and a rock and roll institution.
Say what you will about them, but AC/DC does care about the album as an art form. They're one of a handful of high profile acts who refused to give into iTunes and the digital revolution. Their reason? They refuse to allow their albums to be sold as individual tracks, believing in the integrity of the whole. Personally, I love that. If that's your line in the sand, though, you've got make that real when you deliver a new album. It's not a law that 15 songs is too many on a single album, but years of observation have taught me it most often is. Sometimes less is more.