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AC/DC “Black Ice” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

With Black Ice, AC/DC returns with a release full of typically straightforward songs about fighting, women and rock ‘n roll; the band’s fourth record since 1990 and its fifth in a row to kick off with the album’s lead single. Not being one to break out of the mold that it’s created for itself the album gives further evidence that AC/DC’s perpetual song is still its key ingredient for success. At fifteen songs and nearly fifty-six minutes the album is the band’s longest studio recording however, raising the question, in AC/DC’s thirty-fifth year of existence is another album of new material that sounds pretty much like every other AC/DC album honestly necessary?

When I first started listening to AC/DC the band was considered one of the preeminent Classic Rock bands; now, roughly a decade and a half later, little has changed. AC/DC is the consummate Classic Rock band – appealing to its fans by producing music that blends nicely with most everything else in the genre’s monotonous ecosystem. There is however something interesting about Classic Rock and its tendency for sounding the same that should be considered. The term, its fans, its radio stations and other proponents of the music are just as much at the heart of the genre’s like-sounding albums as the bands are themselves. And to a large extent this is why Classic Rock bands will, in the effort towards ongoing success, go forward in their careers sounding like nothing but Classic Rock bands.

About two years ago a friend and I dug into eleven of the year’s releases by Classic Rock bands, the conclusion being that the bands who sounded most like themselves tended to release the better albums. On one end of the spectrum was Meat Loaf’s god-awful Bat Out Of Hell III (which sounded little like Meat Loaf but more like a nü-metal rock opera) and on the other was Neil Young’s Living With War (which sounded like Neil Young). After listening to the various albums by Bob Seger, Elton John and Peter Frampton among others, it became fairly apparent that if the music sounded like one would expect it to it would, at the least, be tolerable. And the more the music diverted from the framework of Classic Rock the worse it was. The biggest mistake that a band like Cheap Trick can make is to not sound like Cheap Trick, and the biggest mistake a band like AC/DC can make is to not sound like AC/DC.

The evidence of this becomes fairly obvious after turning to the local radio station and listening to “Paradise City” for the 10,000th time. Fans who strictly enjoy Classic Rock really aren’t looking for anything different. About a month ago my thoughts on Metallica’s Death Magnetic drifted towards a similar subject, “Funny then that one of the main criticisms of Death Magnetic has been that it is self-plagiarizing, a term that could equally apply to a band like Slayer. It hasn’t though, primarily because Slayer has pretty much stuck with the same formula from the get-go; likewise, no one’s criticizing AC/DC for sounding too much like AC/DC with their new release, are they?” And the reason very few fans are criticizing AC/DC and Slayer is because for the most part those bands are still releasing music that rings true to what fans want to to hear. So it’s not that we (I include myself in this, as a fan of Classic Rock) want to hear “Paradise City” played on the radio again – it’s just that the song is something comfortable and a station might risk losing listeners if they played something unproven. Additionally, there’s a good chance that these bands might not want to be experimental. Maybe, just maybe – they’re happy recording the music they are no matter what the listener wants to hear. Those factors combined make it almost a sure thing that successful Classic Rock bands will always sound like successful Classic Rock bands.

Which brings us back to Black Ice. At this point in time it’s a little unnecessary to go too deep into describing AC/DC’s music. If for some reason you haven’t heard AC/DC before – you might have seen the Jack Black movie School of Rock. If so, you’ve heard what AC/DC sound like (sans children) and can probably figure the rest out. Black Ice is being released State-side exclusively through Wal-Mart (HMV in Canada), but such a formality really doesn’t raise too many red flags. Chances are (not to stereotype here…because I, too am an AC/DC fan) that Wal-Mart isn’t nearly as foreign to the band’s fans as online digital distribution is (something that is, again, being only offered through Wal-Mart’s digital store). But releasing an album via an outlet that is fairly broad and accessible doesn’t mean that nearly an hour of recycled music is actually necessary. But however unnecessary it may be, Black Ice is still as enjoyable to listen to as any other AC/DC album – that is to say, fairly.