REVIEW: AC/DC – Stiff Upper Lip (2000)

Part 1 of a 2-part series on this album.  Part 2 will come when I acquire the version with the bonus live disc!

AC/DC – Stiff Upper Lip (2000 Warner)

One doesn’t so much review an AC/DC album as just tell the listener what the songs are called.  Stiff Upper Lip is a bit of an exception to that rule for me, as it seemed to be a really solid return to an early-1970’s form.  Just listen to the irresistible “Hold Me Back”.  Can’t you imagine Bon singing this one?

STIFF UPPER LIP_0004My first AC/DC album was Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap.  I grew up listening to Bon, and Stiff Upper Lip is the most rock n’ roll sounding AC/DC album since his death.  It seems they dropped some (but certainly not all) of the heavy riffing, leaving room for Malcolm and Angus to weave together some tasty guitar lines into song.  Phil Rudd’s simple metronomic rhythms are perfectly suited to this approach.

When they do get their riff on, it’s on tracks like the relentless “Safe in New York City”.   Yet I keep coming back to the laid back picking style of tunes like “Can’t Stand Still”.  It doesn’t get much simpler nor satisfying.

The album was produced by Harry Vanda and George Young, much like the classic of old.  They captured great performances, clear and uncluttered. Not every song here is a winner, most Johnson-era albums have filler.  Stiff Upper Lip‘s filler ratio is remarkably low.

A European/Australian exclusive “tour edition” contained a bonus CD with an unreleased track (“Cyberspace”) and five live tracks.  Most of this material is also available on the massive Backtracks box set.  But we’ll talk about that bonus disc another time…

4/5 stars

When I need to hear some more recent AC/DC, 9 times out of 10, I reach for Stiff Upper Lip.

18 comments

  1. “One doesn’t so much review an AC/DC album as just tell the listener what the songs are called.” That’s priceless. Hahaha

    I’m no expert on Brian Johnson AC/DC at all but I did think, at the time, that this was one of their better releases for a while. I hardly listen to AC/DC at all anymore so I never go back to this one. Looking at the track listing I can remember about 4 songs!

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        1. Black Ice isn’t bad, it’s a “return to form”, IE the “Brian Johnson sound”, but I think Stiff Upper Lip is a lot more fun.

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        2. Well, me saying I didn’t like it doesn’t carry a lot of weight cause I’m not much of a fan of those guys. I just thought it was dull. But what do I know? AC/DC albums are such a hard sell to me. I like the Bon Scott stuff but, even then, they’re still not a big favourite of mine.

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        3. AC/DC is simple music. Sometimes, I go for a good simple rock album. Sometimes not. To be sure, AC/DC doesn’t get as much play in this house as Iron Maiden.

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        4. It’s just a matter of personal taste there really. My love of simple rock music tends to gravitate towards poppier stuff. The barroom boogie kind of stuff isn’t my cup of tea so much. Any time I’m in the mood I tend to reach for the Bon Scott stuff. But, getting back on topic, I’d say that Stiff Upper Lip is the only one of theirs (after BIB) that has grabbed my attention.

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  2. I felt like Stiff Upper Lip was a slight dip in quality compared to Ballbreaker, but I think I’m in the minority with that assessment. I never really liked “Safe In New York City,” perhaps because I worked in NYC for 20 years (and lived in the outer boroughs for most of my life) and thought it was a little too silly…even for them. Ballbreaker is notable for the return of Phil Rudd, as I’m sure you know, so it felt like a return to their classic four-on-the-floor sound. Stiff Upper Lip continued that, but song-for-song it’s not as strong a collection in my opinion.

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    1. Who knows Rich, I definitely have readers who like Ballbreaker! I prefer AC/DC with Phil Rudd, and that’s not a comment on Chris Slade nor Simon Wright. I just think Phil has “his sound”.

      I’ve never really paid attention to the lyrics of “Safe in New York City”, but I do love the riff and groove of it!

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  3. Finally somebody who hear this album as I do. I agree on every word and also on the rating. A totally underrated album. And the references to the Bon Scott era are spot on.

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  4. I remember being out for a walk in Montreal one summer evening in the year 2000, heading east along St. Catherine. A surpise downpouring of rain (when the weather had previously been beautiful), which was particularly heavy, sent us scrambling for cover under the awning of The Bay to wait it out. And then we heard the hollering. A crowd of people, all running in the rain up the street (some of them in traffic), pumped full of adrenaline as the show had just let out at the rink, and all of them wearing tour t-shirts with that album cover on them. As they ran past, I quickly shouted to one young turk “How was the show?” He was still running when he shouted back “it was fucking AMAZING maaaaaaaaaan wooooooo!!!”

    That is my memory of this album. I’m not even sure I’ve heard more than the title track, when it was on the radio. But that moment in the rain stuck with me.

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