Review Summary: There are too many rock ‘n’ roll song titles nowadays. Please eliminate three. I am not a crackpot.
2008’s Black Ice was never going to be hailed among AC/DC’s echelon, but there was a lot of good will surrounding its release. Coming out eight long years after the lacking Stiff Upper Lip, the album saw the band in the hands of another hot modern rock producer Brendan O’Brien and suggested classic aspirations in its simple but striking iconography. An exclusive distribution deal with Walmart also gave them an extra hit of promotion (KISS sure seemed to notice), making it a rare major rock bestseller in the digital age.
Late stage capitalism aside, the musicianship feels much better acclimated to the more laid back approach with the dynamic feeling almost jammy by AC/DC standards. The guitars aren’t as heavy as usual but the drumming has a more involved presence, a combination that makes for a lighter yet sprier execution than the last couple efforts. The vocals have also undergone changes as Johnson opted for a cleaner approach at O’Brien’s suggestion. This almost crooned style lends to more soulful performances and services the aging demeanor, suggesting a wily grizzle beneath the fading trudge.
The album is also their most varied since 1990’s The Razors Edge as the band seemed to remember that they were capable of writing more than one kind of song. Some old tricks are recalled as “Big Jack” goes for a faster beat while “War Machine” aims for some old school menace. One also can’t deny the simple fun of a track like the opening “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.”
There are even some newer angles to explore as “Anything Goes” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream” play into their newfound melodicism, “Money Made” is oddly memorable with its chain-gang stomp, and “Rocking All The Way” adds a little extra huskiness to its beginning before setting off. “Stormy May Day” might secretly be the most ambitious late-era AC/DC song, the extended slide guitar-dominated introduction, distraught crooning, and melancholic by their standards overcast makes me long for the day that they go into some full-on extended blues jams.
On the flip side, no AC/DC album ever needs to be fifty-five minutes long and having fifteen tracks ensures no escape from filler. Tracks like “Smash ‘n’ Grab” and “Decibel” are in that pocket of favorable indifference, even with the latter ripping the riff from ZZ Top’s “Waiting on the Bus,” and the delivery of “She Likes Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a little too clumsy to sustain its jumbled title. There are too many rock ‘n’ roll song titles nowadays. Please eliminate three. I am not a crackpot.
Like The Razors Edge before it, Black Ice has too many songs to make for a truly cohesive album overall, but ends up being the best album at the band’s late era by default. These standards for quality AC/DC albums are admittedly getting pretty weird, but this effort has a lot to offer in itself between the more refreshing musicianship and varied songwriting. It’s a little rough around the edges but shows the band aging a little more gracefully with some hints of long-yearned for imagination.