The 80s were bumpy for AC/DC. Back In Black was massive. For Those About to Rock was almost as big. Flick of the Switch was a solid ball of rock, but things were uneven and some songs were filler. Fly on the Wall has its detractors for its muddy sound, and Blow Up Your Video was mostly a snooze. For their 1990 comeback, AC/DC got Canadian mega-producer Bruce Fairbairn involved.* He had a huge run of hit albums most notably by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith. Could he work his magic with AC/DC?
Bruce was one of the biggest names around, but having a hitmaker like him working with AC/DC was bound to affect their sound. Not too much of course; this was AC/DC after all. But Bruce did offer a cleaner sound, and there is no question it worked. To the tune of five million copies! Another change was bringing in ex-The Firm drummer Chris Slade after the departure of Simon Wright, who joined Dio. The bald-headed beat keeper became a fan favourite very quickly. (Slade is once again the drummer of AC/DC today after replacing Phil Rudd.)
Debut single “Thunderstruck” has deservedly become a classic in the pantheon of AC/DC classics. It was immediately obvious that AC/DC toned down the bluesy leanings of Blow Up Your Video in favour of rock and even arguably metal. “Thunderstruck” is heavy metal, especially with that fluttery Angus Young lick that dominates the song.
Chris Slade’s hyper-caffeinated drum stylings really impact “Fire Your Guns”, one of the fastest and most fun AC/DC tracks in recorded history. Any AC/DC song that involves them yelling “fire!” is guaranteed to thrill. Not to be ignored is bassist Cliff Williams who is effortlessly locked in with Slade. And sonically this is the best sounding AC/DC stuff since Back in Black. Singer Brian Johnson said at the time that Bruce Fairbairn encouraged him to scream more like the old days.
Another huge single was the plucky “Moneytalks”, bringing the groove down to a perfect mid-tempo. The main thing is the hook of the chorus. Though all songs were written solely by the Brothers Young, you can hear Bruce Fairbairn’s impact. It’s tight and focused more than AC/DC had been last time out. No doubt Bruce acted as a brutal editor in the studio when necessary, and must have had a role in shaping the songs to their final form. Listen to the layers of vocals on the chorus and tell me that’s not Bruce’s doing.
Some of the best AC/DC tracks in history have been deeper album cuts. The title track is one such song, an ominous almost-epic. “The Razors Edge” refers to a storm front on the horizon, and the song has that kind of foreboding feel. Unfortunately this friggin’ incredible construction of guitars and screams is followed by a novelty track. A seasonal novelty track. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all day the day. I can’t wait til’ Christmas time when I roll you in the hay.” This song should have been axed and saved for a compilation or single, where it actually could have had some impact. Not that it’s not fun; it is! But who wants to listen to jingle bells on track five of an AC/DC album? “Rock Your Heart Out” closed the side with the dubious distinction of being the first obvious filler song.
The third single “Are You Ready” was the opening track for side two. Good tune, nothing particularly special, but good enough for an AC/DC album. “Got You By the Balls” is an amusing title, but not a memorable song. It has a menacing bite, but not enough hooks. There’s a definite “side two slump” as none of these songs are as good as the first batch on side one. “Shot of Love” is OK. Things get back on track with “Let’s Make It” which might have made a great single itself. It has an old-timey rock and roll feel, and a slow groove. That classic rock and roll sound isn’t heard frequently on The Razors Edge. “Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck” isn’t shabby but veers close to that filler territory. Finally The Razors Edge comes to a campy end with the unusual “If You Dare”. Fortunately it’s a great, hooky little closer.
As it turns out, The Razors Edge was a one-off of sorts. It spun off a successful live album, also produced by Bruce Fairbairn, but that was the end of their partnership. A 1993 single called “Big Gun” sported a ballsier sound provided by Rick Rubin who went on to do their next album as well. The Razors Edge is also the only studio album with Chris Slade. Phil Rudd returned, reuniting the classic Back In Black lineup. No one will question that Rudd is the best fitting drummer that AC/DC have ever had, but that doesn’t negate Chris Slade’s contribution. Slade and Rudd do not sound alike, and therefore AC/DC acquires a different flavour with him in the band. His cymbal work is enviable and nobody can play “Thunderstruck” like Chris Slade, period.
*Much to the upset of the Scorpions who had tapped Bruce to do their next album Crazy World. That didn’t happen because of the AC/DC job.