Release Date: Oct 20, 2008
Record label: Columbia
Swearing at MotoristsThe original Blizzard from Oz returns with another of Satan’s musical telegramsThe time: 1981. with AC/DC’s brain-numbing, redneck rock. I secretly worshipped Black Flag and pined for the day when I could return to the LBC, reminding myself that a) eventually I could blow this hillbilly popstand and b) it was possible to know nothing whatsoever about music and still make a killer racket guaranteed to piss off adults and thrill your peers.
Perhaps it’s fitting that AC/DC’s 15th studio album will be sold exclusively through one retailer (Wal-Mart) — because this collection consists of little more than a single song. The Aussie outfit’s first album in eight years kicks off with the single ”Rock N Roll Train,” a meaty, medium-paced riff assault with a terrific, growling performance from singer Brian Johnson and a lead-guitar solo courtesy of Angus Young that erupts out of the song like the baby monster pummeling its way through John Hurt’s chest in Alien. And, with the exception of some slower, more atmospheric moments during ”Rock N Roll Dream,” all 15 tracks on Black Ice could be described in almost exactly the same way.
Of all the adjectives that could be applied to AC/DC, "unique" is perhaps the least likely. There must be hundreds of bands exactly like them in bars and pubs around the world, ruining locals' attempts to have a quiet pint, performing songs called things like Spoilin' for a Fight, attempting to leaven their hackneyed blues-rock with a few risqué gags about tits and bums. And yet, in one sense, AC/DC are unique.
It's the eternal AC/DC paradox: at its core, their music is brutal and primitive, but their records are slick, overly cautious, and bloated, stretching out to 15 tracks when they should be no longer than ten. AC/DC haven't lost their knack for great, simple rock & roll and Black Ice is graced by a few terrific tracks. In fact, as it opens with the "Highway to Hell" boogie of "Rock N Roll Train," the stuttering "Skies on Fire" and "Big Jack," it seems that Black Ice might be the great latter-day AC/DC record the group has yet to deliver, but as the next 12 tracks spool out over the next hour, the album slowly slides into a too-comfortable groove, fueled by too-tight rhythms and guitars that sound loud but not beefy.
Review Summary: Though Black Ice panders completely to the band's fans, there is some reputable material to be found. Unfortunately, it's limited to about fifteen minutes.How later-day AC/DC takes so long to release new material will never cease to amaze me. The band is up there with the Nickelbacks and DragonForces of the world in terms of rehashing old material, yet the Aussie rockers have only released a grand total of four studio albums in eighteen (hell, almost nineteen) years.
The mind-?numbingly formulaic songs on Black Ice make it clear that AC/DC's goal here was to appeal to their committed hordes of fans with new material indiscernible from old material rather than attempt anything different. It's a very conservative and cynical strategy designed to shift units, and it might've worked had the brotherly brain trust of Angus and Malcolm Young been able to come up with at least a few exciting guitar riffs or entertaining lines. But they seem to have run dry of both.
What difference can an age make? Back in 1980, then a young Mancunian, I'd swap all kinds of LPs with schoolmates - Joy Division for the Jam, the Fall for the Specials, Dead Kennedys for Vienna by Ultravox. And then someone lent me AC/DC's Back in Black. At first I squirmed - AC/DC surely belonged to the headbangers, fans of Whitesnake, Rainbow or Judas Priest.
Even Rick Rubin, messiah of rock & roll second comings, failed to produce a proper AC/DC phoenix with 1995 nadir Ballbreaker. One Stiff Upper Lip (2000) later, the Aussies continue to chisel out heavy brick and mortar R&B on 14th studio LP Black Ice without the urgent indecency and iron force that defined the Bon Scott era. There are a few cheap thrills on the hourlong Wal-Mart exclusive, such as back-burner boogie "Big Jack" and the voltaic thunder of "Skies on Fire," while the title track and opener "Rock n' Roll Train" hop the rails of Highway to Hell.