Review Summary: Back In Black is a beast from a time before digital downloads, but history begs the question: What about this album was so incredible that it went platinum 22 times over? The answer is found in Angus Young's dirty, driving, drunk-as-hell guitar riffs that
It doesn't get much better than filthy, grungy, distorted, drunk-as-*** rock 'n' roll. It's the brand of music AC/DC practically invented and has proceeded to infect the world with for over 35 years.
In that time, the Aussie foursome has released over 15 albums, weathered a lead singer's death (Bon Scott in 1980), been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seen their iconic logo plastered on everything from t-shirts to leather thongs--all on the strength of guitarist Angus Young's dirty-assed, shorts-and-tie-clad fingerplay.
Back In Black is a beast from a different time. Who knows how it would fare in the digital age (where people are strongly opposed to actually buying music), but history begs the question: What about this album was so incredible that it went platinum 22 times over?
Unlike most of what emerges from their amps, the answer is clear: The Brothers Young know how to play rock guitar.
Unfortunately, I don't own the complete album (sacrilege, I know). Of the songs I have, three are immediately recognizable, even before the singing begins. Personally, I'm the type who enjoys instrumentals first, vocals second. My girlfriend is the opposite: give her any song (literally) and she'll sing along, but once the chorus is over, it's on to something new.
I feel that Angus and Malcolm are the yin to my girlfriend's yang. Sure, current singer Brian Johnson has ruined his vocal chords perfecting his working-class cat scream, but does anyone really know all the words to "Back In Black?" Not hardly, but every 10-year-old who picks up a guitar hopes to someday play the opening riff.
But enough of the same old ***. As incomplete as it is, this is an album, not a single, no matter how classic the title track has become. I want to focus on two lesser-know songs, one that goes beyond AC/DC's more popular hard rock roots and one that is the epitome of them.
One of my new favorite songs is the bluesy ode to the bottom of a brandy glass, "Have a Drink on Me." Like most of what AC/DC produces, the opening guitar line is contagious. Its mix of long, lazy chords and a slurred melody is the sound of drunkenness.
The solo isn't anything particularly extraordinary, but Angus works the string bends and pulls out some moody deviations on the main riff. It almost makes me forget that Johnson is singing "I'm dizzy, drunk and fightin'/On tequila white lightnin'/My glass is getting shorter/On whiskey, ice and water." Sounds like a fun night out to me.
Even though a blues tune sits a bit strangely on an album with songs like "Hell's Bells," its a nice change of pace. If you're new to AC/DC, you might wonder why a '70s pre-metal band is bothering with the blues. But give it some time to mellow out, and just like good whiskey (which I'm sure the band wasn't drinking when they wrote the song) its more satisfying because of it.
The next song is a bit more traditional AC/DC--plenty of shortened power chords, driving bass, simple pre-choruses, a solid solo. But the best part of "What Do You Do for Money Honey," and the reason you will come back, is the chorus.
I love rock because it just makes you want to grow your hair out, put on your best Mick Jagger snarl and scream along with every oversized line. The chorus is exactly that way, full of gang yells punctuated by power chords and cymbal crashes. Never mind that it's just yelling the song title verbatim--it gets the point across to every gold-digging, fame-chasing party girl while also giving them a reason to dance around the jukebox. That's talent.
After listening to the album a few times, a went through and tried to find a weak point. Honestly, there weren't many. Every riff is catchy, every solo is tight and most of the lyrics aren't half bad. I know it seems like I'm picking on Johnson, but really, his appeal isn't as a wordsmith. The band wouldn't be the same, however, without his signature mewl and low-lying berret.
And what about those lyrics to "Back In Black?" Well, there's not much to them, but maybe that's part of Johnson's genius. He makes the word black work triple overtime, but somehow, it just fits.
If the soundtrack of life included even half the tracks from Back In Black, the world would be a much more enjoyable (if not exponentially more raucous) place. Which is something I'm not necessarily opposed to. The band continues to spit out albums today, with the latest, Black Ice LP, selling 800,000 units during its first week in 2008.
Bottom line: what little portion of the record I did have, I loved. I understand the modern AC/DC is a bona fide money-making machine (they recently released a line of signature wines), but I think it's time to buy the rest of the album. Besides, with a band full of 50-somethings, someone has to pay their medical bills. I see it as supporting rock itself.