At this point, AC/DC and their fans are in a marriage — all AC/DC has to do is put out once every half-decade, and fans are satisfied again. The offering doesn’t even have to be good it just has to exist and the fans, um, eat it up. It is with this logic that we have Black Ice after an eight-year gap.
Let’s be honest: AC/DC peaked (and began their descent) during the “Mutt” Lange years. Before him, they made good not great records. When he came aboard the Aussie battleship, they made Highway to Hell, Back in Black and For Those About to Rock We Salute You.
If producers matter when evaluating the AC/DC catalogue, then it’s logical to assume that Brendan O’Brien is wisely chosen for Black Ice. O’Brien, collaborating with longtime AC/DC engineer Mike Fraser, utilizes his full, bass-heavy sound he perfected in the ’90s that results in a fantastic-sounding album.
That is to say, Lange made AC/DC sound superb, but that was based around the ’80s guitar/drum mix. The bass was there, but it was hidden underneath the rest of the music. O’Brian, however, brings the bass to the front of the mix. Consequently, the guitars aren’t as crisp as compared to Lange’s work, but that small sacrifice is defensible with this outstanding mix.
That said, O’Brien’s expertise doesn’t carry over to the songs themselves. Several of the tracks stumble around as if a geriatric hospital recommended Angus Young and company not rock out too hard lest they break a hip or three.
The first single, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Train,” is among the worst offenders. The song staggers around a lazy riff that sounds like Young required the help of a walker in order to play it. The lyrics are equally lame: The drunken, shout-along anthem includes the grade school-level lyric, “Give it all, give it/ Give it what you got/ Come on give it all a lot.” There’s lazy, there’s throwaway, and then there’s this.
However, not every song is clumsily put together. Mid-album highlight “Stormy May Day” has a boogie-fied, sinister groove that breaks the monotony of the other mid-tempo pap of this collection.
“War Machine” is also notable, as it’s the fastest track on the record. It recalls the Back in Black classic “Givin the Dog a Bone” both because of the driving beat and, sadly, because the riffs of the two songs are eerily similar. AC/DC has received criticism in the past for using so few chords in their “signature sound,” but this is going too far.
Then again, this is AC/DC we’re talking about here, a band that has never, in 35 years, been known to do anything but rock out — simple, efficient and fan-approved.
So why does it seem like an album crafted just for that purpose falls so short of their past glory? Oh yeah. ‘Cause they’ve done this before. Many times before. And that’s the problem; there are no new ideas here, lyrically or musically. The album is nothing more than an excuse for a world tour. As a result, Black Ice forces the listener to ponder a deep, philosophical question: Is it plagiarism if you steal from yourself?
2 out of 5 stars.