In this post-millennial era of global unease people are increasingly displaying a tendency to embrace those things that are tried and trusted. And when it comes to music, what could be more guaranteed to provide basic rock ‘n’ roll thrills than an AC/DC album?
For all the talk of ‘versatility’ and ‘changes’ in the press releases to accompany Black Ice, what you, dear reader, are paying for here is essentially what you expect from any AC/DC album. Brian Johnson will scream out his vocals, Angus Young will bash out his latest set of riffs, and the rhythm section will lay down a relentless beat. These values are set in stone.
True to form, Black Ice roars out of the paddock with a trio of cast iron heavy rock gems. Rock ‘N’ Roll Train, Skies On Fire and Big Jack are classic AC/DC, crashing rock of the highest order that stand next to the best of the band’s back catalogue.
Of course the lyrics are ridiculous, but when did anyone ever care what AC/DC has to say? Not since their earliest albums has their schoolboy juvenilia attracted any interest, but it is an indication of their undying popularity that grown men in their fifties can still get away with this nonsense without anyone but the most ardent feminist blinking an eye.
Unfortunately, like most latter-day AC/DC albums Black Ice settles into a comfortable groove after this opening burst. Nothing wrong with that of course, but for an album that runs for almost an hour in length there is very little to maintain attention levels. The rest of these tracks just seem to exist in a little world of their own, where criticism is futile and the riff is king.
For those with an interest in such things, Brendan O’Brien is present in the producer’s chair here. His mainstream rock values encourage little variety in the standard AC/DC approach, although devoted fans may champion a rare burst of Angus Young slide guitar playing on Stormy May Day and Brian Johnson giving his larynx a rare rest on a couple of tracks to, whisper it quietly, sing.
In fact, the only criticism that could be levelled here is the question of length. People would buy an AC/DC album even if it were only half an hour long as long as it featured enough riffs to satisfy. Just because this album has taken eight years to record there is no need to overegg it. In future, bash one out (see what I did there) and keep it short, simple and dirty.
At the time of this review Black Ice has already debuted at number one in 29 countries, including the coveted top slots in the USA and UK. So who are we to chide AC/DC for not changing a winning formula? It is what they do and what they will continue to do until they drop dead (probably on stage). And in these uncertain times this is what the people want.