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. All this after a fourteen year run in which they've managed to shit out eleven fairly similar records, mind you - EPs and live albums notwithstanding. But, really, who's counting?
For a vindictive, yet accurate representation of Black Ice
, simply look to track twelve, "Money Made" (or alternatively, its chorus. "Money made / oooh yeah"). Cheap jokes aside, the album is exactly what you'd expect from the band. Only this time there is about fifteen to twenty minutes more material than on the average AC/DC album. Given the difficulty to sit actually sit through an entire AC/DC record in the first place, this can be a rather frightful prospect. Opener and first single "Rock N' Roll Train" does little to console such apprehensions. The song sounds like the bastard child of "Highway to Hell" and "You Shook Me All Night Long" with slight shades of "Hell Bells", though without the power and inspiration of its forerunners. With crunchy power chords, a bluesy solo, insipid lyrics (case in point, "One hot southern belle / Son of a devil / A school boy spelling bee / A school girl ain't a fantasy"), an even worse vocal effort, meagre, yet acceptable backing vocals, and even a drum break, "Rock N' Roll Train" is pretty standard faire for an AC/DC single. And while the song is certainly an air guitar-able, headbang-able affair, as well as catchy a song as they could have crafted, you can already pinpoint each of these characteristics in their older, more enthused material, so why look here?
But after the similarly uninspired "Skies on Fire", something remarkable happens; AC/DC actually treats us to some halfway enjoyable material. "Anything Goes" is the undisputable highlight in this regard. A melodic piece, "Anything Goes" is perhaps the most atypical, and easily the most synthetically pleasing track on the record. The song lacks the cumbersome heaviness of the first single, instead introducing Bruce Springsteen-eqsue leads. Even Brian Johnson's rasps feel a tad bit more bearable, though this may have more to do with the upbeat atmosphere of the song than anything else. Following it up, the aggressive "War Machine" sounds like a Screaming For Vengeance
-era Judas Priest song. Again, the song isn't as reliant on power chords (actual heaviness is limited to the choruses, for the most part), yet the song remains one of the most powerful AC/DC has written since "Thunderstruck". Each of these, along with anthemic offerings like "Big Jack" and "Smash N' Grab", are especially impressive in that they manage to light a spark under the band that I didn't even know still existed. They definitely aren't mind blowing, but as far as dated hard rock is concerned, they're fairly entertaining.
Unfortunately, as "Smash N' Grab" closes, the band falls back into the uncreative rut that plagues "Rock N' Roll Train". None of the remaining nine tracks, with the possible exception of the groovy title track, come close to replicating the successes of the four middle tracks. Given the ridiculous volume of material, Black Ice
becomes unbearable to listen to around "Stormy May Day". All of the songs mould and mash together, creating a dull mess of unspectacular rock that should have died no later than eighteen years ago.
As expected, Black Ice
completely panders to the demands of the band's fans. Of course, the Australian band ranges from 53 to 61 years old, and isn't about to radically invent their sound. To hope for anything else would be silly. But the real twist with AC/DC's fifteenth studio album is that some of the material is actually worth listening to. As with anything, there's catch; the 'good' only lasts four songs and about fifteen minutes out of a fifteen song, fifty-five minute record. To be perfectly honest, that's more than I could have ever hoped from the now thirty-five year old band, so props for that I suppose. Unfortunately, the exceeding of low expectations doesn't warrant a purchase, especially when the majority of the album is derivative and dreadful.
But hey, at least it isn't as bad as Fly on the Wall
or For Those About to Rock