Review Summary: THIS IS GONNA BE HARD AS A ROCK AND LONG AS MY COCK
For people who know me from the AC/DC fan forum, it should be no surprise that Ballbreaker, for me, is the ultimate of the ultimate, the best f*cking AC/DC album the band has ever done. My opinion is fact. F*ck Back In Black, f*ck Highway To Hell, and f*ck you. If I had to live on an island forever with only three items, give me this album and a CD player and a lifetime supply of batteries and I'll die a happy man.
Ballbreaker represents the band at their rawest since Let There Be Rock, their bluesiest since Powerage (the second best AC/DC album) and their most inspired since Back In Black. I'm telling you, the riffs on this album are KILLER and archetypical AC/DC riffs that either trumps or rivals pretty much anything the band has written before.
Brian Johnson has finally started using restraint in his vocal style, leaving behind most of the Donald Duck style vocals that he became so well known for, but not completely abandoning them. He sounds more comfortable than ever and that makes me feel comfortable as well. I hate his voice on the early albums, I love his voice since Ballbreaker.
It's obvious the band had so many great musical ideas during the album sessions, great riffs, great lyrics, great vocals. There is some reworking from previous songs going on here, but everything works out perfectly and nothing feels like a mere rehash. Everything sounds fresh.
The song structures are top notch and you can hear that the band really put a lot of work into them. The songs are more complex than the usual AC/DC songs, especially compared to The Razors Edge, yet they do not end up being train wrecks (except for one song). I mean really, listen to 'Let's Make It' for example and tell me that's not a train wreck. I think they learned from that.
As with many AC/DC albums since For Those About To Rock, Ballbreaker's main point of criticism is the production. Many people call the sound of the album too dry and dark.
In my opinion, the production is perfect for Ballbreaker. It strengthens the message of the album, which is "F*ck you, we're back, we're rawer, we're bluesier, we're better than ever!"
The sound is very organic and with it being dark, dry and gritty, it sets the perfect atmosphere for a dark mid-90s blues rock album. The album cover and the brilliant Marvel artwork within the booklet augments this notion. I like to compare this album to Eric Clapton's 1994 album, From The Cradle. It gives off the same organic, raw, dark, mid-90s blues vibe that I, apparently, really like! I think Malcolm and Angus were probably very much inspired by that album. It was Eric Clapton's first all-blues album, and I guess the boys wanted to do the same thing - a blues rock album, after the sugary sweet slick poppy rock album that was The Razors Edge. Or not, maybe they just wanted to do it anyways but heck, it's a theory.
Another great thing about Ballbreaker compared to The Razors Edge is that it doesn't suffer from these numerous f*cking annoying leads sprinkled all over the songs. Nope, not here. Every single lead on this album is played tastefully, unlike the buzzing bee diarrhea on the previous record. Thank God for that.
Ok, let's go over it track-by-track:
'Hard As A Rock' is the opener and they probably couldn't have picked a better one. This was the lead single when this album came out. Since they hadn't released a new studio album in five years at that point, 'Hard As A Rock' was picked to announce the return of the band, and it's such a great choice because it's unmistakably AC/DC. The song recalls 'Let's Get It Up' from 1981's For Those About To Rock album. The verse riff is awesome. Phil Rudd's drum sound is back and better than ever. It's just a great f*cking song.
'Cover You In Oil' has another great funky verse riff that sounds like an updated version of 'Meanstreak' (that riff is horrible, this one is awesome). I love tapping my feet along with Phil Rudd's drums. The man's playing and hard hitting drum sound was sorely missed since he left/got kicked out in 1983, after which the band started abusing reverb. Sexy song with a sexy video by the way. It reminds me of a Red Hot Chili Pepper video for their 1995 album One Hot Minute. Maybe they inspired each other? I dunno, but it's all good.
'The Furor' recalls musical ideas from 1985's Fly On The Wall - the blues riff from 'Stand Up' (or Led Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks, your call) and the doomy verses from 'Send For The Man' are re-used and combined in this song's verses to great effect. The chorus sounds like something straight out of an epic science fiction movie (I think I actually heard it somewhere before but I can't remember). The song is very well structured and flows perfectly. The lyrics are finally something else too (not about sex for once, some people mistake it for an offensive song hailing/mocking the Fuhrer) and Brian delivers them with such spit and fury, "HANGIN' ROUND WITH THEM LOW DOWN AND DIIIRTY!" Malcolm's signature G chord sounds f*cking powerful here. Cliff's bass playing under the chords in the final chorus is perfect. Angus' solo is one of the best in his career. This song has it all. Why they never played it live is beyond me. Totally beyond me.
Then we go into slow blues mode with 'Boogie Man'. Phil and Cliff's groove makes you wanna shuffle along with the beat. Another awesome Angus solo here. Just great f*cking slow blues done AC/DC style, great song for male dancers to strip by, like Angus did live. Brian's vocals sounds KILLER here. I've never heard him sing like this before Ballbreaker. His voice sounds reborn and his range is now where it should be.
'The Honey Roll' is probably the closest thing to a filler song here. It doesn't really sound like a song, it's very rough, it's unfinished and feels more like a showcase of riffs or a demo or a jam than anything. Too bad, it had potential, a great f*cking verse riff, but the whole song is just too fragmented. It's not well structured and could've benefited from a higher tempo. Especially the pre-chorus part drags on too much. The jam part after the solo sounds really out of place, what's it doing there? Also the last minute drags on in an unpleasant way. This is one song that I skip when I really don't feel like listening to it. BUT...
Thank God, the boys more than make up for that previous mess with 'Burnin' Alive', a really dark western blues type of song that I can totally hear being used in some old western film. The quiet intro puts you in a state of suspense, a trance that kicks your ass when the real deal begins. The song is in the key of C# minor, which is pretty unusual for AC/DC. It works really well here, because the E major chord that goes with it sounds great, especially in the second chorus (my favorite part of the song) and it gives the song a real western feel. The main riff I believe is inspired by a riff from a Nazareth song, Hair Of The Dog, and it works great here. Another great bluesy solo from Angus, and Brian's vocals right before the solo sound menacing! The lyrics are inspired by Bill Clinton. Read into it, it's very interesting (or not, lol).
'Hail Caesar' is well structured, and HEAVY as f*ck! It has a really long guitar solo going on. The quiet middle part with Brian singing really low is menace at it's finest. The gang chorus sounds like Gary Glitter, AC/DC-fied. Could've been a bit shorter, but otherwise it's awesome.
'Love Bomb' apparently gets a lot of hate. I think it's a great song with a great riff that's pretty much the riff from a Kinks song 'You Really Got Me' on top of a solid 4/4 beat. It's nothing special and probably close to being filler, but not completely crossing the line. I absolutely LOVE Brian's delivery of the lyrics, "LOVE BOMB, LOVE BOMBER!". Overall, it could've used something extra to make it more special but it's a good song and one that I definitely never skip.
'Caught With The Pants Down' is another song that gets a lot of hate. BUT I LOVE IT! Any guitar player will love learning this song. It reminds me of Pantera's 'The Art Of Shredding', Motley Crue's 'Girls Girls Girls' and AC/DC's own 'Whole Lotta Rosie'. It works out great! CWTPD is a sinister evil blues rock song - it's easily their most complex guitar song (I think). Has a real dark 90s feel to it. If you import the song into Audacity and separate the L and R channels from each other, you hear guitar magic, Malcolm's parts perfectly complement Angus' more complex parts. This song reminds you why the Young Brothers make one of the greatest guitar duos in rock music. It's very well written. It's just a really catchy f*cking song. "WHIP YA WITH DAT LICKIN THANG!!!"
'Whiskey On The Rocks' is one of my favorite AC/DC songs, period. It's simple and hard-hitting. Could've been on Back In Black. That KILLER riff which is probably written by none other than Malcolm Young, is probably my favorite riff on this album. I mean come on, it grooves and it swings and it hits and it sounds mean! THESE are the type of Malcolm riffs I love to hear, none of that Badlam In Belgium bullsh*t. There is no way in HELL you aren't grooving along when this song is on! Phil drives this song like a friggin Liebherr Truck. The chorus is AWESOME and so is the solo. A hard rock drinking song that's NOT cheesy for once (Airbourne anyone?). What's not to love?
This friggin masterpiece album closes with the title track, 'Ballbreaker'. Why they don't play this live anymore is beyond me. Beyonder me than beyond can be. The first time I heard this song I was like F*CK YES. F*CK ME. DAT RIFF. DOSE LYRIKS. DOSE VOCALS. DAT SOLO. IT'S A SONG THAT ONLY AC/DC COULD'VE WRITTEN. PLAY THIS SH*T LIVE FOR F*CKS SAKE!!!
You know what. I don't like that one song 'The Honey Roll', but I don't give a flying f*ck. I'm giving this album FIVE STARS!
For those that hate this album now, I hope you will listen to it again with fresh ears and learn to love it. If I'm an evangelist, then Ballbreaker is my bible.