By Clarence Yu AC/DC is like comfort music to me. With their latest release, Black Ice, these seemingly unstoppable and stubborn rockers just refuse to quit. Why should they? The music they’ve created over the past 35 years seems timeless and you can always be sure of satisfaction. And they know it. Produced by Brendan O’ Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), Black Ice is also a return to the sound reminiscent of the band’s previous studio efforts, Highway To Hell (1979) and Back In Black (1980), with renowned producer Robert “Mutt” Lange (Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain). Whether this is a conscious effort or not, the results are decidedly for the better. The various producers the band have chosen over their previous releases either gave this signature sound a slightly more commercial feel (the late Bruce Fairbairn with 1990's The Razor’s Edge), or a less radio friendly, harder edged twist (Rick Rubin, with 1995's Ballbreaker). Of course, the challenge with each producer is to try to capture the legendary bands' sound as they envision it, so credit is due to Brendan O’ Brien, who rises above the pack. Black Ice is also a classic example of an album that doesn’t really need titles to make its point. The sequencing of the songs makes the album sound seamless: each track segues into the other without much ado, and this is an album you can listen to over and over without having an epiphany of any kind. The lead single off the album, "Rock And Roll Train," also demonstrates the band’s great songwriting skill. Take the intro of the Rolling Stones’ "Start Me Up," and add a bit of distortion to it, or take the verses from "Highway to Hell," and mix it in with the chorus from "You Shook Me All Night Long," and you’ve got a new, fresh sounding song. The album contains all the elements of classic AC/DC themes: war ("War Machine" with its signature chants reminiscent of "TNT"), sex ("She Likes Rock and Roll") and rock (four songs on the album have the word "rock" in the title, so it's quite obvious). Outstanding cuts include the funky "Decibel," "Rocking All The Way" with some low-octave, bluesy singing from vocalist Brian Johnson, and the closest thing they’ve done to a ballad in a while, "Anything Goes," which sounds like a cross between Def Leppard’s "Hysteria" and their own "Touch Too Much" off Highway to Hell. The band also teaches a thing a two about dynamics. Throughout the album, the only thing that constantly breaks the monotony of the basic 4/4 pounding by drummer Phil Rudd is the tempo, and whatever tempo changes that occur are always augmented by the intricate yet deceivingly simple guitar interplay between the Young brothers Angus and Malcolm. Bassist Cliff Williams knows when to play and more importantly, when not to. AC/DC has, if anything, proven with Black Ice that there doesn’t need to be much thinking in rock n’ roll. It’s also enough to quiet all the “too old to rock” pundits who started criticizing bands of AC/DC’s stature long since grunge reigned for a time. Labels such as "metal" and "headbanging" have always been applied to describe the band's music, but much harder sounding bands have come since their inception in 1973. Basically, it’s just no fuss and no frills -- a welcome respite from today’s contemporary rock. And surely, a message that rock is definitely here to stay for good.
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By Clarence Yu AC/DC fans, it’s time to rock again after eight years. Angus Young and company are back with the new album “Black Ice,” released last October in the United States. You can find a sample of one of their songs, titled "Rock 'N Roll Train" here. Their last release, “Stiff Upper Lip” was in 2000, and was met with their usual commercial success. In between then and now, the band was quite inactive with the exception of jamming onstage with the Rolling Stones in 2003, and releasing several box sets. “Rock N’ Roll Train,” the lead single off the album, is typical AC/DC: it lifts the hairs off your arm and immediately hypnotizes you with that 4/4 signature rock groove they’ve perfected since their inception in 1973. “Spoiling For A Fight” sounds a bit like “Moneytalks” off 1990’s Razor’s Edge, but less radio friendly and more ballsy. Indeed the whole album sounds like they’ve abandoned the commercial path they started taking with producer Bruce Fairbarn (rest in peace) in the 1990’s, in favor of the 1970’s-80s sound perfected by producer Robert “Mutt” Lange (also producer of Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, to name a few). “Stormy MayDay” has Angus Young playing slide guitar, and “Rockin’ All The Way” is a mid-tempo 3-chord rocker reminiscent of all of their mid-tempo 3-chord rockers, except that somehow the magic of the band is that it always makes it sounds fresh and new. Lead vocalist Brian Johnson is in fine form throughout the album, and, according to a press release, cites Black Ice as “the best they’ve ever done, even better than Back On Black (1980).” I will probably agree on that momentarily. The band never sounds sluggish and the guitars are ruthless. The Internet is truly wonderful. Hard copy is not yet available in Manila (as of last week), but you can already find them somewhere in the ether. Wolfgang and Razorback, including the plethora of AC/DC fans in Manila have something to rejoice in, and for those who are tired of contemporary pneumatic avant garde hip rock and alt rock, and want a taste of the real thing, download or buy this as soon as you can. I’m calling the stores everyday.