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CD

Aggressive AC/DC keeps the rock riffs raging

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent / October 20, 2008
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The fact that AC/DC has, during a staggering 35-year stretch, sold more than 150 million albums begs the question: Has any rock band in history ever done more with less? That's not meant as a jab, mind you. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The elemental power and brutal beauty of AC/DC has always been its aggressively stubborn simplicity and its ability to mine an apparently endless supply of iconic hard-rock riffs from a two- or three-chord template. Despite several lineup shuffles - the Australian quintet is surely one of the few outfits to become even more successful after losing its first famous lead singer (Bon Scott, who died in 1980; little-remembered original lead singer Dave Evans parted ways with the band shortly after its inception) - the band's core sound has remained virtually unchanged.

On "Black Ice," AC/DC's new album out today, guitarist brothers Angus and Malcolm Young stick to the meat-and-potatoes sound and stunted-schoolboy formula that's kept them in long limousines and Angus in short pants for four decades. (In a curious move, the album is being sold in the United States exclusively at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and from the band's website, www.acdc.com.) Rock 'n' roll - as noun, verb, and adjective - and the naughty things it makes you do (drive faster, party harder) remains the overarching preoccupation here.

There's the thick-as-a-brick opener, "Rock N' Roll Train," which is not to be confused with "She Likes Rock N' Roll" or, for that matter, "Rock N' Roll Dream." For variety, we get other attitude adjusters like "Smash N' Grab," "Spoilin' for a Fight," "Rocking All the Way," and "Decibel" (if the latter sounds like deja vu, blame it on the purloined guitar lick from ZZ Top's "Waitin' for the Bus"). In other words, "Black Ice" is a quintessential, if not exactly essential, AC/DC album.

Industrial-strength singer Brian Johnson, who sounded as if he were going to shred his vocal cords to bloody ribbons back in 1980, still sounds as if he's going to shred them. The ferocity with which he sings "War Machine," coupled with Angus Young's gleefully scattershot guitar solo, leaves open the question whether the band is for or against said apparatus. Or what it is, exactly.

In anybody else's hands, the melody underpinning "Anything Goes" might be considered pretty. In the clutches of Johnson's vocal meat hooks, however, it's just another stomper. But pretty melodies are not what you listen to AC/DC for. To paraphrase one of the band's early manifestos, if you want riffs, they got 'em.

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