Have you noticed all of the classic rock acts from the seventies and eighties coming out of the woodwork the past couple of weeks?
If 2007 was the year of the big-deal reunion tour with everyone from The Police to Genesis to Van Halen jumping on the big bucks bandwagon, then 2008 is rapidly shaping up as the year of the classic-rock revival.
Don't believe me? Take a look around you. First it was Metallica a few weeks back with Death Magnetic, an album which has been hailed as a return to face-melting, Master of Puppets-era form by just about everybody.
The next big event on the classic-rock-revival calendar will be Guns N' Roses long-delayed Chinese Democracy finally seeing the light of day next month at your nearest Best Buy. Whether or not what could be argued is more of an Axl Rose solo album than an actual GNR record (I dont see Izzy or Slash anywhere here) rekindles any of the magic remains to be seen. Dr. Pepper thinks it's a big enough deal to offer free soda pop to the world though.
AC/DC also put out their first new album in seven years this past week. As was the case with Metallica, the Aussie bad boys' Black Ice has also been widely hailed as a return to form. And as with GNR, it's one of those retail exclusives — this time with WalMart.
It should also be pointed out with regard to these "deals with the devil," that whether you like them or you don't like them — and I'm already on record as saying that I don't — they are nonetheless apparently here to stay. From the Eagles to Journey to GNR and now AC/DC, they are in fact the most noteworthy business model out there for marketing traditional CDs right now. With Black Ice expected to move about 800,000 copies in its first week, don't expect these so-called exclusivity deals to be going away anytime soon.
But let's talk about AC/DC. I've never been that big of a fan to be perfectly honest, but I've never out and out hated them either. Taken for what it is, Black Ice is actually a pretty decent record too.
There’s nothing fancy here, just the same formula of big crunchy riffs, sandpaper raw vocals, a solid backbeat, and the sort of bad-ass attitude that has worked for these guys for going on four decades now. It ain’t rocket science, nor is it in any way intended to be.
The most notable difference on Black Ice however, is that Angus, Malcolm, Brian, and the boys actually sound reinvigorated here. I’m not sure if that’s producer Brendan O’Brien’s doing, or if the nearly decade-long layoff simply just did them some good. But this is the first AC/DC release in a very long time where the band doesn’t sound like they are simply phoning it in. While the riffs don’t really represent anything groundbreaking or new, they stick in your head like AC/DC songs haven’t done since the days of For Those About To Rock We Salute You.
But even though songs like “Big Jack” harken back to the gutbuster sort of rock that made AC/DC one of the world’s biggest rock bands on albums like the gazillion-seller Back In Black, there is actually some previously unchartered territory here. AC/DC will probably kick my ass for saying this – but “Anything Goes,” for example could almost pass for a pop tune with its feel-good sort of “bounciness.” This doesn’t just sound like a single, but one that conceivably could get played in formats beyond album-rock.
Likewise, “Rock N Roll Train” rocks like a sumbitch' in a rock-radio-friendly sort of way, but features the added bonus of – get ready for it – actual harmonies. “War Machine” is another of those catchy as hell little songs that also has a riff that simply won’t quit.
As I said, I've always been kind of ambivalent when it comes to AC/DC though. They've never been anywhere near the top of my favorites list, and their fans have always struck me as the same sort of guys who get their kicks sniffing glue and driving pick-up trucks with gun racks on the roof. It’s no accident that Beavis & Butthead wore Metallica and AC/DC shirts.
Not that there's anything wrong with that of course.
But I've also never found anything particularly offensive about them, or otherwise bought into the nonsense about the initials of their name standing for "Anti Christ Devil Crusade" that was out there for awhile. The two times I saw them live in concert, they also delivered the goods even with the odds stacked against them on each occasion.
The first time I saw AC/DC was in 1978 where they were the opening act on a triple bill with Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent. As cool as this lineup sounds now, at the time it was weird because rock audiences had become so polarized at the time. The "Nuge" was at about the tail end of his run as the king of "Gonzo rock," and Cheap Trick (who I interviewed at the time) were about a year away from becoming huge with Live At Budokan.
Nugent's fans were mainly jocks and potheads. CT had attracted some of the same "new wave" crowd who liked people like Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe because of the power-pop sensibilities of many of their songs.
Most of the crowd had never heard of AC/DC, but figured with a name like that they must be punk-rockers. The crowd was ready to boo them off the stage before they ever played a note. But by the end of the show, with Bon Scott carrying Angus through the crowd on his shoulders, AC/DC won them over. Seattle would in fact become one of the band's strongest markets.
The next time I saw AC/DC was in 1990 on the same night that America went to war with Iraq for the first time. Some friends literally had to drag me away from watching the war unfold on CNN with free tickets. But by the end of the night I was glad they had. The cannon fire during "For Those About To Rock" made me all but forget that Armageddon might soon be upon us in the form of a war in the Mideast.
So I'm not really sure if it's because there hasn’t been a whole lot of this type of old fashioned, ball-busting rock 'n' roll around lately. In that regard, Black Ice would be welcomed as a breath of fresh air regardless. But Black Ice sounds pretty damn good to me. Not only is it a real return to form, the fact is this album kicks so much ass, I can almost forgive them for the WalMart deal.
Well, almost anyway…
There have been some complaints that O’Brien’s production on Black Ice is a bit too clean. Don’t listen to em’. The riffs here are as muscular, big, and ballsy-sounding as ever. There is just more of a clarity about the sound that actually serves to make these songs rock a bit harder. Less mud and more crunch is a pretty good description of what you’ll find on Black Ice.
I'm not sure whether they sounded this good back in the seventies or not. I never bought their albums back then. But they sound good right now.
God bless em’ for it.