Sound — 9
I got Black Ice yesterday on the day of release and safe to say, my iPod hasn't been blurring out anything else since - finally, after a long wait, the greatest rock and roll band on earth is back, and what an album to hit back with!
As stated in other reviews, lead singer Brian Johnson had pointed out previously that Black Ice was going to be a diverse album, trying new things and containing songs which would lean away from the classic AC/DC power-chord, gang chorus romp. Well, whilst there are some not-so typical AC/DC tunes, such as the excellent "Stormy May Day", the majority of the album keeps to the same old tried and tested AC/DC methods - mesmerising power chord riffs, catchy choruses and air guitar-worthy solos. And why the hell not!?
The opener, "Rock 'N Roll Train" is superb. A true show-off of AC/DC's style. The part where the song really shines is it's chorus - it's as memorable as any song off of Highway to Hell or Back in Black. I defy anyone - AC/DC nut or not - to not find themselves constantly humming the chorus for days/weeks after they've heard the song. An instant classic. Next we move onto two real headbangers - "Skies on Fire" and "Big Jack". Again they're in the typical AC/DC style and are great to shout along too.
"Anything Goes" is the first track off Black Ice to show off a new style for AC/DC. Johnson's vocals appear more relaxed, in fact the song as a whole is more relaxed than a typical AC/DC tune. This is one to sing along to the whole way through; I'd be surprised if it didn't become a concert staple. "War Machine" kicks us right back into proper AC/DC mode. I love it. The push-pull riff work between the two guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young is excellent and the backing vocals performed by Malcolm and bassist Cliff Williams are terrific as usual - they sound like a pack of rum-swigging pirates in the background and it suits the song perfectly.
I'm not so sure about the next two tracks - Smash 'N Grab and Spoilin' for a Fight. The only place where "Smash" shines is, again, its gang chorus. The rest just feels like filler. "Spoilin" has an excellent opening riff, very bluesy, but the rest of the song fails to deliver and doesn't really get the blood pumping like an AC/DC song should. The solo stands out however; Angus' use of pinch harmonics and pentatonic scale runs reminds you a lot of Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), like other reviewers have mentioned. For me the next song, "Wheels" also falls into the filler category, not a very memorable tune.
"Decibel" - what a tune! Tasty riff + pirate chorus + rockin' solo = AC/DC! I really like it. "Stormy May Day" is the next song to divert away from AC/DC's typical style; for the first time in the studio Angus Young uses a slide. As such, the song is very bluesy, literally - the lyrics, simple as they are, are quite effective in creating that bluesy mood. Johnson's vocals really shine here too and he really shows how well his gravelly vocals suit bluesier tracks, much like former AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott.
"She Likes Rock and Roll"? Don't get me wrong, a great tune, but it just feels a bit like I've heard it before. Whilst I agree that most AC/DC tunes have that feel about them, this one does especially. The riff is basically a reworked version of "All Screwed Up" from their 2000 effort Stiff Upper Lip. Good tune nonetheless. The next song is a real gem - "Money Made". Great riff work and a damn catchy chorus. One to have up full boot and hack the neighbours off with!
Next we move onto "Rock 'N Roll Dream". I'm not so sure about this track. It's done in a rock ballad-like style, but it's not strictly a ballad (it still has that rockin' edge to it), but still I'm not so sure this suits AC/DC too well. Still, it's good to again see the boys trying something new; maybe it'll grow on me. "Rockin' All The Way", another superb tune! Done in the typical style of course which means the chorus is catchy as hell. It also has a bit of a seedy feel about it, I can imagine it being played in bars and strip clubs very soon!
And finally,we move onto the last track - the somewhat disappointing title track. Johnson's vocals are great here, especially when he goes low in the chorus; this definitely stands out. However, the rest of the song fails to deliver and like "Spoilin' for a Fight" doesn't really get the blood-pumping like a great AC/DC tune should.
Overall, the album keeps to the same methods AC/DC has used since the 70s, and the thing is; it still sounds fantastic! A few tracks divert away from this style, and the majority of them succeed in doing so.
Lyrics — 9
There's really no point in trying to analyse lyrics for an AC/DC tune is there? At the end of the day, it's Acca Dacca! No-one expects mind-blowing lyrics that take a long think about to decipher - take "She Likes Rock 'N Roll". It's about a girl who likes rock and roll (duh!?) - simple as. My point is, the lyics match the music and vice versa. AC/DC is built around a simple rhythm section and power chord-driven riffs which don't suit the kind of lyrics you'd hear in something like "Stairway to Heaven". In the words of Malcolm Young, "People can go out and hear REM if they want deep lyrics; but at the end of the night, they want to go home and get f--ked! That's where AC/DC comes into it." (Source: Wikiquote)
As for singer skills, Brian Johnson is excellent. His voice sounds in much better condition than it did for the last album "Stiff Upper Lip" - he can screech like a man on fire, but can also hit those low notes for a more seedier tone. A big thumbs-up has to go to the backing vocals however, excellent work by Malcolm Young and Cliff Williams. Their gang choruses are what make an AC/DC song an AC/DC song and they even make the filler easy to sing along too.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall, Black Ice isn't a bold political statement, it doesn't throw much else new into the ring of rock music, it doesn't try to be anything it isn't. What it is is an AC/DC record. You see the name on the cover and you know you're gonna get an album that'll really rock, and it does. Once again the thunder from down under has delivered a classic. To finish off, here's a quote from Angus Young to round off the review:
It's just rock and roll. A lot of times we get criticized for it. A lot of music papers come out with: 'When are they going to stop playing these three chords?' If you believe you shouldn't play just three chords it's pretty silly on their part. To us, the simpler a song is, the better, 'cause it's more in line with what the person on the street is. (Source: Atlanta Gazette, May 1979)