- Shot in the Dark
- Through the Mists of Time
- Kick You When You’re Down
- Witch’s Spell
- Demon Fire
- Wild Reputation
- No Man’s Land
- Systems Down
- Money Shot
- Code Red
AC/DC are a band who need absolutely no introduction. With a career spanning nearly five decades, 17 studio albums, a plethora of hit songs and one of the best selling albums of all time (Back In Black), they remain to this day to be one of the biggest bands in the world.
The Aussie rockers were one of the pioneers of hard rock back in the ‘70s and inspired a frankly uncountable number of bands who succeeded them. Having said all that, I was not a fan of Rock or Bust. While there is a popular opinion that ‘all AC/DC sounds the same’ (an opinion that I do sometimes agree with and may share in this review at some point, who knows), I felt like Rock or Bust really lacked any passion or drive from the band. It felt pretty forced, to me. Hopefully this album, a tribute to their original rhythm guitarist and brother of current lead guitarist Angus Young, Malcolm, can bring some of that fire and spirit back to the band. Especially due to it also being the triumphant return of their long-time singer, Brian Johnson, after he spent the last few years off with hearing issues. I hope so because I really do like them and I personally loved Black Ice. Let’s see, shall we?
The album explodes into life right from the get-go with Realize, huge guitar chords and cymbal crashes with Johnson’s signature voice calling out over the top. It soon drops out into a great, pretty standard quick ‘DC riff, full of quick chord changes and a lot of attitude. Some awesome sounding, typical backing vocals come in for the chorus following the same melody as Johnson did at the start of the song. I could almost see Malcolm singing it which was nice, and I have heard that a lot of the songs were written before his unfortunate passing, so it makes sense. There’s a great bit during the second chorus where the guitars follow the same melody that the vocals do, something the band don’t actually do very often. A short, technically good solo from Angus is nestled in after the second chorus before they transition perfectly into the final chorus. A simple, pretty standard but enjoyable affair so far, it does seem to have a little more life to it than the previous album.
Rejection feels a little more open than its predecessor. It’s still huge, chunky guitar chords, sure, but they are given a lot more room to breathe this time. The verse continues with the same riff, reminding me of that from Shook me All Night Long. A great song and my favourite by the band so if it’s anything like that we’re onto a winner! The harmonies in the second half of the verse are awesome, although it sounds like Johnson double tracked the vocals for it so I’m not sure how well it would be done live. The chorus sounds huge and is massively catchy, reminding me that even after all these years at the top of the business, the guys can still pull off what brought them that far in the first place. For a band not typically known for their lyrical prowess, too, the ones for this song are rather uplifting and entertaining, a real punky F you feel to them. Another short solo follows the second chorus, this one less technical and slower, more filled with emotion and feeling. I loved it!. The finally chorus and end of the song. Following the same simple formula so far but doing it in great fashion like only ‘DC can. I think I preferred this over the opener, actually, though it wasn’t quite as good as Shook Me is.
Next up is the lead single from the album, Shot in the Dark. While not the Ozzy cover I was secretly hoping it to be, I loved this song from the moment I first heard it, and it’s in large part why I’m reviewing this album in the first place. It’s classic ‘DC through and through, just as much as the other two songs, but also finally felt just enough of a breath of fresh air to hook me in. That opening bluesy riff is awesome and the way that it sounds like it stays on the slightest of off-beats from the drums added an interesting layer of technicality I didn’t think the band had in them anymore. The rest of it is the standard ‘DC affair, simple verses, huge chorus’ with low backing vocals from the rest of the band and a good (yet too short) solo from Angus. All standard stuff but that opening riff really put it up to a higher level for me, and I’m not really all too sure why!
The riff that opens Through the Mists of Time has a similar feel to it that Shot in the Dark did, although slower and again more like Shook Me. It’s a great little riff that also reminds me a little of Bryan Adams, too. It carries on through the verse, with Johnson’s gruff vocals contrasting pretty nicely over the top of the cleaner chords. The chorus is another slower one, still catchy but a little repetitive and not quite as good as the one from Rejection. I did, however, enjoy Angus‘ solo in this one more than in Rejection, and I enjoyed the song dropping back down to the riff coming out of it, so they’re both kind of equal to me in terms of quality. Yet again it builds back up into a big final chorus to finish. The simple formula is still effective, but I’m starting to hope it is changed up a little further into the album.
As if to immediately prove me wrong Kick You When You’re Down opens by immediately going into the vocals as well as guitar, something I have heard few (if any) ‘DC songs do before. It caught my attention straight away to have this instead of a chord-lead riff and honestly sounded awesome. More of this changing stuff up please, guys! Of course, it isn’t long before it drops down into the standard bluesy riff and simple vocals for the verse, but at least we got something different for a few seconds! The opening lyrics and melody are reprised for the chorus but this time of course with added backing vocals! It sounds awesome though, a more gang vocal, chanty feel to it, something that would go over very well live. The solo again was good but for me it doesn’t feel like Angus has been able/allowed to really cut loose and show off on any of these songs yet. I know he’s getting on a bit and I know how much extra soloing he does live, but I’m kind of missing the extended soloing from the likes of Back in Black. At least we get a little more of an extended one during the final verse this time behind the vocals, but it’s nothing major, though it does add a lot to the outro. Another good song, even if the pace is starting to get to me a little now.
Ironically, I spent five minutes trying to find which ‘DC song the intro riff for Witch’s Spell reminded me of, but it turns out it was Live it Up by Airbourne. If you get the joke, you get ten points. Unfortunately for this review, I think I prefer Live it Up. As I said in my previous paragraph, halfway through the album and the pace was really starting to get to me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting a thrash album or anything like that, but a lot of these so far have been on the slower side of the band’s songs. None of them are inherently bad, all are more than enjoyable, but to have a band that used to have so much energy and have 4/6 songs on the first half of the album be on the slower side of their spectrum, it makes it a little harder to listen to the album in full.
As it turns out I need to go back to listening to this album all the way through before listening again as I write these, not doing it on first impressions. Or just stop saying what the band should do next. Yep, you guessed it, this is a faster song. Demon Fire does, however, sound almost identical to the start of [Whole Lotta Rosie], right down to Johnson doing his best attempt at a low Bon Scott impression. However, if the intro wasn’t followed by such a killer riff from Angus, I might have hated it more. The chorus here is awesome too, starting off low and with lower vocals before exploding into a huge, catchy sing-a-long. Everything about the solo is great, too, from the bends in the riff played below and during it to Angus‘ shredding itself, all of it worked so well. The song even has a big ending coming out of the last chorus, giving Angus a chance to show off his skills on his own as he shreds up and down the neck. Just when I counted the band and this album out, they give me exactly what I wanted, I’m impressed.
Unfortunately, my admiration and wanting doesn’t last long. I hate to lump this many songs together all in one point, but the last five songs really don’t do a whole lot for me. They are all on the slower side again and, I hate that I finally said it at all, but they all sound pretty damn similar. That’s not to say that any of them are bad by any stretch, just that they follow the same pattern and formula over and over as well as all being at fairly similar tempos. Intro riff, slow verse, big chorus with low backing vocals, repeat, short solo, final big chorus and done. There are definitely highlights of some of the songs, Code Red has an awesome riff running through it and I particularly enjoyed the gang vocal-style chorus of Wild Reputation. There just wasn’t enough difference there from each other or the rest of the album for me to spend a paragraph talking about each of them. Please don’t be mad, guys!
Overall, this album was good. If you know AC/DC you know going into this exactly what to expect and from that standpoint it did not disappoint. It was fun, old school, foot stomping rock’n’roll. It definitely felt more passionate than Rock or Bust, there was a sense that the band actually wanted to record the songs and enjoyed playing them, which was a refreshing listen. However, it suffers from the same issue that a lot of ‘DC’ albums face for me and a lot of others in that half of the album sounds similar and essentially like filler. It’s still good music, but feels a little too samey and reserved, making the singles and good songs stand out more. It’s the same issue between albums even too. I’ve gotten to the point with most albums of enjoying a few of the songs, but otherwise I may as well just listen to Highway to Hell.
Interview by musician, blogger & author – Joe Griffiths