Cliff Williams

REVIEW: AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1990)

AC/DC – The Razors Edge (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

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.

3.5/5 stars

*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.

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REVIEW: AC/DC – Live (Remastered 2 CD collector’s edition)

AC/DC – Live (1992, 2003 Epic remastered collector’s edition)

AC/DC and their label did something very clever for their first live album with Brian Johnson in 1992.  Instead of putting out a full-on and expensive double live album (well over $30 on CD in the 90’s) they allowed fans to choose a more economic option.  A single “highlights” version of AC/DC Live was released simultaneously with 14 of the 23 tracks on one disc.  AC/DC must have been one of the first bands to release a “collector’s edition” of an album with an extra CD at a higher price.

Of course to a real AC/DC fan, the single disc is for rookies.  Sure, its firepower can’t be denied, but anybody with the dollars and a hard-on for AC/DC shelled out for the double.  Their last live release was 1978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It with Bon Scott, a mere single disc.

Here’s the only serious flaw with AC/DC Live (either version).  Like The Razors Edge, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn.  Why would AC/DC need a studio guy like Fairbairn to produce a live album?  Astute fans have picked apart the release and compared it to bootleg recordings from the same shows.  Like most live albums, even AC/DC succumbed to post-concert studio overdubs.  This is not particularly obvious on one listen, but it was always suspected due to the clean and near-perfect sound of AC/DC Live.  Where is the raunch?  Mixed out and overdubbed.   That’s unfortunate.  More bands should just pick the version of a song they like best, suck it up and put it on the album as-is.

Since 1992, AC/DC have released a lot of live material, both current and from the Bon era.  Notable is Live at River Plate (2012), another double, with Phil Rudd on drums.  A valid question would be, “How badly does a fan really need AC/DC Live in 2016?”  With so much to choose from, especially on DVD, AC/DC Live serves today as an historic document.  The Razors Edge album was a huge comeback for a band that never stopped, the tour was massive, and the resultant album is a document of this period.  With period hits like “Moneytalks” and “Heatseeker”, there are a few songs you won’t get live on some other releases.  (These two are even on the single CD version.)  There are also a couple nice long extended Angus jams, if you’re into the solos.  Lastly, AC/DC Live is the only live album with then (and present) drummer Chris Slade.  While no one will deny that Phil Rudd is “the man” when it comes to AC/DC, Chris Slade is well-liked and deserves his place in history.  He’s even on the album cover.

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Of note, the original (non-remastered) printing of AC/DC Live came with a neat bonus:  a little Angus $1 bill, like the ones they used to drop on the crowd during “Moneytalks”.  This memento was not included in the remaster, so when I traded my original copy in for a remaster I said “fuck it” and kept the $1 bill.  It’s too cool to throw away, and I’m sure many of those old Angus bills have been lost or destroyed since.

Ever so lucky, the Japanese fans received a bonus track:  “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be”.  Fear not, everyone else.  This track was included on the live 1992 “Highway to Hell” single, which is fairly common.  Worth tracking down; it’s also on the Backtracks box set.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Who Made Who (1986 soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive)

movie-soundtrack-week

Today’s movie soundtrack comes by no coincidence.  Today’s my birthday!  And I got this album on this day in 1987 from my partner in crime for many years, Bob!

 


AC/DC – Who Made Who (1986 Epic soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive, 2003 remaster)

As a movie director, Stephen King is a great novelist.

30 years ago, Maximum Overdrive was King’s directorial debut.  The movies based on his books had been box office gold so far, but King always complained about the adaptations of his original material.  So why not hand the reins over to him?

King’s goal was to make “the loudest movie ever made”, and part of that was leaving the soundtrack to AC/DC.  King issued the film with instructions that “this film is to be played as loud as possible.”  The funny thing, according to him, was that most theaters did it.

AC/DC did the entire soundtrack, a mixture of old and new material.  It was an unorthodox move and it left AC/DC with what some consider to be their first real “greatest hits” album; this coming from a band who in 2016 has yet to issue an actual greatest hits album!

The robotic pulse of “Who Made Who” commences the affair, a massive hit still a radio staple today.  One of AC/DC’s most recognisable tunes, “Who Made Who” was a bigger smash than the movie that spawned it.  That’s Simon Wright on drums, emulating the perfect beats of Phil Rudd before him, creating a fine facsimile.  The keys to the song though are the simple and catchy guitars of Angus and Malcolm Young.  Having nailed down the art of writing catchy bases for songs, the brothers Young really perfected it here.

They also perfected it on 1980’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”.  Placing the biggest AC/DC hit of all time second in line is almost like nailing the coup de grâce prematurely, but there is plenty more firepower on the album.  It works in the second position, cleaning up anyone left standing and getting them shakin’ on the dance floor.

AC/DC added two brand new instrumentals to this soundtrack (“Johnson was sick that day”, joked Angus).  “D.T.” is the first of them, somewhat unremarkable and echoey on the drums.  But this is designed as background music for movie scenes, so it really shouldn’t be measured by the same yardstick as, say, a Rush instrumental.  The second on side two is the peppier “Chase the Ace”.  Punctuated with some cool Angus licks, “Chase the Ace” is simple and effective like “D.T.”.

There were a few tunes from the recent Fly on the Wall album, all killers.  “Sink the Pink” (oh, Brian!) is recorded so muddy that you can’t hear the words, but it does rock.  Angus’ guitar break is pure fun, and the song gets your ass moving.  That leads into the sole Bon Scott inclusion, “Ride On”, from a quieter moment in the film.  What’s really cool is that even though these songs are from all over the place, Who Made Who sounds like a fairly cohesive trip.

Side two commences ominously with “Hells Bells”, a fine way to distribute classic tunes evenly across the sides.  “Shake Your Foundations” is on its tail, hitting you with another blast of AC/DC right in the face.  One of the better tunes from Fly on the Wall, “Shake Your Foundations” does its advertised job.  Yet, I do believe there was only one way to properly end this album.  That would have to be the cannon-fire of “For Those About to Rock”.

Who Made Who was actually my first Johnson-era AC/DC album, given to me by my buddy Bob on this day in 1987.  If this review is slanted ever so slightly in the “pro” direction, so be it.

4.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: AC/DC – No Bull: The Director’s Cut (1996)


Scan_20150926AC/DC – No Bull: The Director’s Cut (originally 1996, DVD 2008 Sony)

The Plaza de Toro in Madrid is an incredible looking venue.  “Nice place you got here!” understates Brian Johnson.  To film a concert video here seems an easy decision.  A crane and giant wrecking ball dominate the scene.  The ball swings and bowls over the backdrop!  Enter:  Angus Young!

“Back in Black”* is a natural opener:  Everybody knows it, and the groove is impossible to ignore. Johnson’s voice is ragged and weak compared to the old days, although I think Brian sounds better in general today.  A pre-crystal meth Phil Rudd dons spectacles, and hammers out the beat that, truthfully, he invented and does best.  Having Phil back for that period of the band was a coup.  It’s back to the Bon Scott years then, with “Shot Down in Flames”.  Now Brian sounds more in his element, somehow seeming more in control on a Bon song.  As if it took them one song to warm up, everything feels in gear now.  Then, “Thunderstruck” is an interesting take, because Phil didn’t play this song before.  Chris Slade was in the band at that time, and Phil doesn’t even try to imitate his style.  He plays “Thunderstruck” his own way, which is fine.  There’s a live version, with Slade, on AC/DC Live.  With Phil on the kit, “Thunderstruck” is no longer filled with nervous energy, but is more in the pocket.  It’s an interesting evolution.  Contrast this with any live video of the current lineup playing the song with Slade today.

“Girls Got Rhythm” is an easy classic, which warms the crowd up with a newbie:  “Hard as a Rock”*, the single from Ballbreaker.  All but instantly, it sounds like a familiar classic.  This is high quality rock, with Johnson’s voice in full shred.  Colourful lights illuminate the stage, but only Brian and Angus are really mobile.  Cliff Williams and Malcolm Young rock steadily, sticking to their respective sides, and stepping up to the mic for the big chorus.  The crowd goes nuts when Angus himself speaks.  The stage is huge, but Brian Johnson runs across every inch, interacting with the massive crowd as a veteran frontman can.  Then AC/DC knock ’em down (down down) easily on “Shoot to Thrill”.  There is a rock and roll purity to this show:  A bunch of guys in jeans (Angus excepted), playing hard rock and roll, but contrasted with that is the massive stage.  AC/DC can do it because people love the personalities of the band.  Angus doesn’t miss a note, no matter where he’s running off to next.

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Phil smokes a cigarette during the blues number “Boogie Man”. Starting sluggishly, “Boogie Man” nails it as soon as Brian gets screaming.  I’m sure AC/DC can play this kind of thing in their sleep!  Angus has an extended solo during which he gets the crowd riled up and ready with his strip-tease moment.  When he finally drops his drawers, his undies have the Spanish flag on them.  Madrid eats every bit of it up.  AC/DC clustered a bunch of new songs close to each other at this point, and “Hail Caesar”** is next.  It’s time for a heavy prowler, and Caesar brings it on.

When the bell tolls, you know what’s happening. “Hell’s Bells”!  Songs like this, “Dog Eat Dog”** and “The Jack” require no commentary.  The sight of Johnson descending from a giant iron bell is pretty cool.

Last newbie of the night is “Ballbreaker”* itself, a blast of “shut the fuck up and listen t0 this” right in the face.  This time, Brian is swinging from the wrecking ball, singing the whole time, kicking his feet in the air.  AC/DC have crushed it…but there’s still lots more to go.  “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “Dirty Deeds”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”**, “Rosie”*, “T.N.T.”…it’s all a good time, and you know them all.  The only real critique is there is a gap in the setlist, with no songs from 1983-1988 appearing anywhere.

“Let There Be Rock” is, as usual, extended to epic length with Angus’ brilliant solo.  First of all, it’s incredible that Angus still has this much energy after playing and stomping through a show this long.  What’s really amazing is that everybody in the band is fully fueled for this full-speed song.  Malcolm sips from a water bottle — that’s the key, folks.  Hydration.

The cool part here is when Angus departs the stage (band playing on), to re-emerge atop the massive shoulders of a bodyguard and taken to a flying platform in the middle of the crowd!  Many thrills later, Brian says goodnight, but you know he’s teasing.  “Highway to Hell” commences with explosions, flames and Angus’ devil horns.  And then, finally,the cannons”  “For Those About to Rock” is the salute to Madrid , who witnessed an absolutely incredible AC/DC concert.

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The DVD bonus features are cool, as you should expect.  The “Angus Cam” versions of four songs is plenty fun, by focusing solely on Angus in the edit.  It’s quite incredible to just watch the man play, because it seems as if he is entranced, on auto-pilot, but totally in command.  If there wasn’t a guitar around his neck you might think he’s having a seizure!  Then come the moments when he looks the crowd in the eye, and the playing only gets more intense!  Like I said: this is plenty fun.

Then we have two bonus tracks not included in the Madrid set:  “Cover You in Oil” (Sweden) and “Down Payment Blues” (Florida).   “Cover You in Oil” is raw and sweaty.  I don’t think the song is particularly strong, sounding a bit like a Blow Up Your Video outtake.  Still, it’s always nice to get another new song on the DVD, since it’s doubtful a track like this will ever re-enter the setlists.  The stupid music video footage that is editing into the tracks is annoying, however.  Instead of watching Angus take a solo live, I’m watching him doing it in a music video.  Bad editing decision.  I like how Brian introduces “Down Payment Blues”:  “This is from one of the albums…back in the 70’s…”  Shit, he doesn’t know, he wasn’t there!  But he gets the job done anyhow.  And guess what?  Brian Johnson is wearing the same damn blue shirt and hat at every show!  His snarl adds to this version of the song.

What’s with the “Director’s Cut”?  It seems the original 1996 VHS release (which I never saw) was rushed out for the Christmas season to the dissatisfaction of award winning director David Mallet.  He did a new edit, and new stereo and 5.1 mixes for the DVD release.

4/5 stars

*Indicates this version is available in audio form on the 2 CD edition of Stiff Upper Lip.

**Indicates this version is available in audio form on the deluxe Backtracks box set.

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REVIEW: AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video (1988)

AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

By 1988, AC/DC had abandoned the bare-bones live-style music videos they had been doing for the last few years, and went into full-on productions.  That became AC/DC’s trademark style from that point forward: the band playing in front of an eager crowd, and crazy stuff going on around them. Explosions, lights, wrecking balls or what have you — this all became part of the AC/DC music video experience, with Angus stomping around front and center. “Who Made Who” was really the first of the big AC/DC videos of this style. “Heatseeker” continued the tradition, with Angus popping out of a missile!

“Heatseeker” was an explosive first single, but unexpectedly, it was not really representative of Blow Up Your Video as an album.  The highschool halls were filled with mutterings that the new AC/DC was “not as good” as past AC/DC, and that was troubling.  Blow Up Your Video proved to be a transitional album, as many changes were afoot for AC/DC.

Malcolm Young had hit rock bottom, in the depths of a drinking problem that was starting to take its toll on the band on the concert stage.  He was unable to tour.  Angus and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young stepped up, and helped the boys out on tour.  (Nobody would ever imagine that Stevie would have to do it permanently in 2014 when Malcolm withdrew from the band due to dementia.)  Drummer Simon Wright wouldn’t last either.  After the tour, he left to join Dio.  It was also the last album to which Brian Johnson wrote any lyrics.

On the other hand, the chemistry with producers Harry Vanda and George Young (an older brother) had never been better.  They helmed the classic AC/DC albums with Bon Scott, as well as three more recent songs on 1986’s Who Made Who.  It was thought that they would bring that old time rock and roll slant back to AC/DC, so they were retained for Blow Up Your Video.

“Heatseeker”, being so upbeat and catchy with just a hint of a jangle in the guitars, was certainly promising.  Like a one-two punch, the second single “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock N Roll” is next.  The production holds it back, lacking punch (especially on the drums), but it’s a killer AC/DC good time rock and roller.  Weak sonics aside, few AC/DC albums begin with two big winners like this right from the get-go.

Things get funky from there.  “Meanstreak” does have a bit of funk to it, but suffers again from a muddy sound and too much echo on the vocals and drums.  The further one delves into Blow Up Your Video, it seems like the songs aren’t so bad, just the sound.  Same with “Go Zone”.  There’s nothing wrong with the tune, but it seems to drag and fumble in a muddy puddle with the tires spinning.  The side one closer “Kissin’ Dynamite” has a smoky prowling guitar and so sounds more at home.  At least the side is salvaged by this last tune.

Since AC/DC offloaded their two singles right off the bat on side one, the second side is a much more turgid affair.  “Nick of Time” has a blasts of guitars exactly where you want them, but lacks hooks.  “Some Sin For Nuthin'” is better, because it’s back to that menacing dusky prowl that AC/DC do so well.  Finally, AC/DC hit all the buttons with “Ruff Stuff”, a mid-tempo rocker with an actual chorus and verses that you can remember!  “Two’s Up” is of similar quality, another decent album rocker good enough for rock and roll.

Finally, “This Means War” ends the album on a frantic, unfocused note.  It has the energy and fire lacking on earlier songs, but has nothing else.  Simon Wright is perfectly behind the beat, and Angus’ fingers sure are flying…but is that enough?  For AC/DC, it is not.

The album sold a measly million copies in the US  and failed to crack the top ten.  Needing to do better, Bruce Fairbairn was called upon when needed for The Razors Edge.  Since then, Blow Up Your Video has remained under its large, looming shadow, and for good reason.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 deluxe CD/DVD)

AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 Columbia deluxe CD/DVD set)

For the second time, AC/DC have supplied the soundtrack to a movie (see: Who Made Who, the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive). This release basically amounts to a cool “best of” CD. While Who Made Who had some new material, Iron Man 2 is the straight oldies, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. Since AC/DC have never released a proper “best of” CD, this is about as close as you’re likely to get. And it’s just fine.

I’m guessing Jon Favreau had a lot to do with the picking and choosing and sequencing of songs, and he’s obviously an AC/DC fan. I mean, “Evil Walks”? There is even a song (“Cold Hearted Man”) from the Backtracks box set and one from the more recent AC/DC opus, Black Ice. As such, Iron Man 2 is a pretty damn good single disc overview of the whole AC/DC shebang. It flows well, it has an excellent mix of Bon and Brian, and the sound is as good as any of the AC/DC remasters available. Lyrically, it even (very) loosely relates to Iron Man 2 (“Shoot to Thrill”, “War Machine”, “Evil Walks”, “Back In Black”; use your imagination). In short, it rocks. Buy this with Who Made Who, and you will essentially have all the AC/DC that a newbie needs to get kickstarted, with a fair chunk of deep cuts as well.

The deluxe edition packaging is awesome to behold, with (very fragile) shiny cover art, a generous booklet (loads of Iron Man and band photos in here) and a DVD. The DVD is nothing to write home about: the new video of “Shoot To Thrill” and a making-of featurette being the main draw. The live stuff is great, but a fair bit has been previously released on official AC/DC DVDs before (including the aforementioned Backtracks box set). Still, I have no complaints.  It’s just a bonus DVD from a soundtrack representing a Hollywood action movie; it’s not meant to cater specifically to me.  It’s good viewing and you may as well consider it a freebie at this price.

Die hard fans who already own the whole AC/DC back catalogue won’t need this, but I bought it anyway. As a car disc it’s fun due to the inclusion of obscure tracks. But it works. The album flows and rocks, and those obscure tracks deserve a second look-see. I’d forgotten how cool the song “The Razors Edge” is, and it totally fits the Iron Man vibe.

If you need some more AC/DC in your life, some more iron in your blood, go for it. You won’t be let down. Personal highlights for me include:

  • “The Razors Edge”
  • “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”
  • “Cold Hearted Man”
  • “Rock n’ Roll Damnation”

But the whole thing is great, not a weak track in the bunch!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Rock or Bust (2014)

NEW RELEASE


IMG_20141227_171303AC/DC – Rock or Bust (2014 Columbia)

We all know the story, now.  Malcolm Young, felled by dementia, and his brother Angus carrying on without him (and possibly without drummer Phil Rudd).  AC/DC don’t want to dwell on the negative, and neither do I.  Angus assembled 11 new songs from parts that he and Mal had worked on together before he was too sick to continue.  Nephew Stevie Young, who filled in for Uncle Mal in 1988, stepped up again to do so, this time in a permanent capacity.  But you wouldn’t know any of that by hearing Rock or Bust.

Sharp as ever, “Rock or Bust”, the current single boasts one of those menacing AC/DC riffs paired with that slow groove they do so well.  “In rock we trust, it’s rock or bust”.  Nothing has changed!  There is little difference between Rock or Bust and the AC/DC back catalogue since 1980 in general.  New batch of riffs, songs, and melodies.  That’s about it!  “Play Ball” has that familiar “AC/DC single” vibe.  Not too heavy, not too fast, but just right for radio.  Brian Johnson’s voice has changed very little since the 1990’s.  He doesn’t screech like it’s 1981 (duh), but he gets the job done fine.  Johnson reported that he found it hard to continue on without Malcolm but his performance is full of the joi de vivre that you need in an AC/DC song.

IMG_20141227_171334“Rock the Blues Away” has future single written all over it.  This old-timey AC/DC riff is one of those classic rock and roll licks that they used to do with Bon Scott on albums like Dirty Deeds.  True to its title, the song does indeed rock the blues away and I can’t wait to give it a test run in the car.  This is a summer time song, not a December song!  However I should point out that it’s more or less the same song as “Anything Goes” from Black Ice.  A left turn on “Miss Adventure” yields some funky AC/DC grooves not unlike what they were doing in the mid 1980’s.  It’s unfortunately the first dud on the album for me.  “Dogs of War” redeems it, with a “Razor’s Edge” dark vibe.  The only real noticeable difference from past AC/DC albums is a slicker production on the backing vocals.

Do you need some rock & roll thunder?  AC/DC got it.  “Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder” has one of those jangly AC/DC riffs, backing a catchy chorus.  This sounds a bit like material from Stiff Upper Lip, which is a good thing to me.  “Hard Times” also sounds similar to that era.  They’re good enough songs to serve as AC/DC album tracks.  Then there’s “Baptism of Fire”, back to those fast AC/DC beats that you need every once in a while.

ROCK OR BUST_0001A track that I think should be played live is “Rock the House”.  This has classic written all over it.  Taking on a “Whole Lotta Love” groove, it’s hard to resist the urge to bang your head.  Go ahead, try.

“Sweet Candy” is an ode to strippers, of course.  What did you expect?  Look forward to another singalong slow AC/DC groove.  I have a feeling a few strippers are going to add this song to their repertoire next year.  Then, ending the album on a funky note is “Emission Control”.   There are also nods and winks to the Mutt Lange era of AC/DC with the thick backing vocals.  The song throws me for a loop a bit; I’m not sure if I like it or not.

I found Brendan O’Brien’s production to be a bit thuddy and less bright than Black Ice.  It still gets the job done, as does Rock or Bust.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – “Play Ball” (2014)

Thanks to Superdekes for sending this!

AC/DC – “Play Ball” (2014 Columbia)

Holy shit, AC/DC’s back. When we all heard about Malcolm’s health problems, I thought that was it. I really didn’t expect them to carry on with Stevie Young — but here he is, on AC/DC’s great new single “Play Ball”.

Judging by “Play Ball”, not much has changed in AC/DC land.  The flavour is still distinctly AC/DC: upbeat, great mid-tempo groove and solid riff.  And I swear you can hear some different fingers on the strings.  Listen carefully.  Yet regardless of losing arguably the most important member of AC/DC, it sounds like nobody else.  Brian’s still growling, his voice pretty much unchanged since the Ballbreaker album in ’95.   Musically, I’m thinking in territory similar to 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip.  I’ve heard the song six times as of this writing (three on the radio, three on my PC).  It’s nothing that will go down in AC/DC history as one of their greatest singles, but I can’t say anything bad about it either.

4/5 stars

Rock Or Bust tracklisting:

01. Rock Or Bust
02. Play Ball
03. Rock The Blues Away
04. Miss Adventure
05. Dogs Of War
06. Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder
07. Hard Times
08. Baptism By Fire
09. Rock The House
10. Sweet Candy
11. Emission Control

REVIEW: AC/DC – Back In Black (2004 DualDisc edition)

AC/DC – Back In Black (originally 1980, 2004 Epic DualDisc)

How many times have I bought Back in Black?  How many times have you bought it?  I know that I purchased it on CD first in 1990, and then four more times since.  I currently own two copies:  this DualDisc, and the one that came in the Bonfire box set.  I don’t think I have it on vinyl, but I could be wrong.  The DualDisc has a DVD side with some neat stuff including a documentary.

“The Story of Back In Black” begins in 1979, with Highway to Hell,  fame and glory.  New interviews with all five AC/DC members (Angus & Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd and Brian Johnson) provides a little bit of insight.  We all know the story: February 19 1980, the death of Bon Scott, and the brave decision to carry on have become rock legend.  But according to Angus, it was Malcolm who kept the band playing, if only to distract them from the pain of their loss.  The band continued to jam and write without a singer, but producer Mutt Lange knew of one from a band called Geordie.  Brian recalls a hilarious story of being invited to audition for the band.  He went down to London and played “Whole Lotta Rosie” with AC/DC for the first time.  They then went to the Bahamas with Mutt to record.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0005The band tells the stories behind several songs:  “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Back in Black”, and “Shoot to Thrill”, while Angus and Malcolm demonstrate the riffs up close.  Brian reveals “Back in Black” was a challenge, since it was intended as a tribute in song to Bon.  No small feat to get the mood right.  The 30 minute mini-doc ends with Back in Black selling 10 million copies.  I guess they got it right!

You know the songs.  You’ve heard ’em the radio, seen ’em on the video, hummed them in your sleep.  “Hells Bells” is one of those archetypal AC/DC songs.  When one pictures the “ominous AC/DC headbanger” song, “Hells Bells” should certainly come to mind.  Then you can get your stompin’ shoes on for “Shoot to Thrill”.  I do miss Bon Scott’s sly playfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with Brian Johnson’s full-speed-ahead screech either.  “What Do You Do For Money Honey” is as catchy today as it was then, and has the benefit of being one of the songs that doesn’t get played every single day on the radio.  I’m not as burned out on it.  Same with “Givin the Dog a Bone”, but on that song all I can do is wonder what Bon would have done with that groove.

One truly outstanding track is the last song on side one, “Let Me Put My Love Into You”.  Yes, that title is hardly clever.  But the song kicks ass all over the place.  It’s one of those late night prowls that AC/DC do so well, and it perfectly closes the first side.

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The title track opens the second side with a bang.  Then “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a classic that also needs no introduction.  If you don’t know this song then you probably don’t listen to rock music.  I can’t add anything to the discussion there.

“Have A Drink On Me” and “Shake A Leg” are both fine AC/DC songs.  Nothing wrong with ’em, nothing exceptional about them.  Thankfully they saved one of the best songs for last:  “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.  This has been my favourite track since first getting the album 24 years ago.  It’s an anthem, the kind of thing we can all agree on.  Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution, baby.  I’ll drink to that.

I don’t think Back In Black is the best AC/DC album, but it might be the best Brian Johnson album.  It’s certainly the most important AC/DC album historically, and it’s a must for any serious rock fan to own.  Choose your format according to your own wishes, but this DualDisc edition satisfies me fine.

4/5 stars

For those times when you can’t use the internet to tell you what songs are on what albums.

Part 271: The Stamp

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 271:  The Stamp

The year:  1997.

We had just started repairing scratched CDs via a GTA-based third party contractor.  They were able to remove a miniscule layer of plastic from the playing surface, rendering a smooth surface that would not deflect your CD player’s laser.  The result was a playable, sellable CD, with a clouded appearance on the CD itself.  The cloudy look was usually very minor, although it was sometimes enough to turn a customer off of buying the CD.

After repairing the scratched discs, they would be put in brand new CD cases and then on the shelves to sell.  But we also had to mark each disc as “repaired” somehow, so that if any were returned as defective, we would know they had been fixed.  We could then get the fee for fixing the disc credited back to us, or the contractor could try to fix it again and buff it deeper.  Either way, we needed to mark them, somehow.

The best way to fix a surface scratched CD

We agreed that the least problematic way was to stamp the inner (usually blank and hidden) sleeve of the CD, the part underneath the plastic tray.  We stamped it with our store logo.  For most discs at the time, nobody would ever notice the stamp unless they pulled the case apart.  The only problems were with discs that had inner picture sleeves under clear trays.  We were forced to put the stamp directly on the artwork in those cases, a process that killed me every time.  I hated defacing a CD.  It’s not something I would ever do to my own property.

IMG_00001317Around this time, AC/DC just released the luxurious Bonfire box set, a monolith of rock containing many separate additional treats:  A pick, a bottle opener/keychain, a sticker, and a temporary tattoo.  This was high on my priority list, so I put my name in our store’s computer reservation system for the first used copy that showed up.

It was only a few weeks before a used copy did show up.  One of the higher-ups decided to work in my store that day.  A man came to the counter with some CDs to sell, and the Bonfire box set.  It was mint, complete, everything intact.  However the higher-up didn’t consider the set as “mint” as I did; she determined that one of the CDs from the Let There Be Rock set was scratched.  It had a tiny nearly invisible mark on it not even the size of a hair, but not a scratch.  She dutifully stamped the inner tray and put the CD in the pile to be sent out and fixed.

I was disappointed that the tray had been defaced, but there was no way I was letting that disc get sent out and fixed.  It would look worse, with the cloudy finish.  I preferred the un-fixed finish with that tiny hairline mark that I could barely see.  I can see the scratch even less today with my aged eyesight!

I bought the set but that stamp is still there.  I covered it up with a white sticker, and was grateful that the box set didn’t have clear CD trays with artwork underneath.

That stamp still bugs me.  I still see it there, and it still bugs me!  How do you feel about things like this?  Defects in the physical musical product that you love?  I know I can’t be alone.

Postscript:  Years later some damn rat kid stole the stamper.  On my watch!!