I discovered AC/DC for myself sometime in 1992, just as Kurt Cobain and the Seattle grunge scene was changing rock music
forever for about 15 years. I was there on day one for Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip when there was very little fan fare for both.
2008 was a different world when Black Ice arrived:
Part of the change I think was PR. AC/DC signed a new deal with Sony, who made Black Ice a Walmart exclusive for a period of time. So you had some synergy with some major corporations behind it. I also think after after 9/11, George W. Bush, and Katrina, most grew tired of the self loathing that infested rock music in the ’90s an were looking for some good time rock ‘n roll again.
Personally, I wasn’t really a fan the Walmart deal, or the different album covers with the only the colour of the logo changed. Was I supposed to collect all of these? That seemed more like a Kiss thing to do. Anyway, I looked past it as I chose the blue logo because it felt right. I did not get a free poster like I had with Ballbreaker and Stiff Upper Lip, but I had a pleasant exchange with the cashier about how we were both looking forward to listening some new AC/DC instead. That was refreshing. No eye rolls like when I bought Ballbreaker, lol.
Much like PWR/UP late last year, most were ready to have AC/DC back in their lives. You could feel it. The band built some good momentum that I think started them outdoing The Rolling Stones at “SARS-stock” in Toronto in 2003, to becoming discovered (or rediscovered) with Let There Be Rock being included in the mega successful video game Rock Band 2.
Plus, Rock ‘n Roll Train was a really solid single.
I remember when they started playing it on the radio how people picked up on the improvements in Brian Johnson’s voice. I think producer Brendan O’Brien can take credit here for not only put Brian on a strict diet of 1 hour of recording a day, but also found the pocket for his vocals. Try singing along with Brian on Ballbreaker, Stiff Upper Lip, or Hard As a Rock in the same key that he is. It is WAY up there. Any tune from Black Ice is much easier. Even Wheels which might be the hardest one. But it is not just Brian’s voice.
Rock ‘n Roll Train has the most present background vocals on an AC/DC single since Moneytalks. And they are the most melodic since the Highway To Hell album. O’Brien was definitely tapping into the nostalgia by channeling “Mutt” Lange.
He also pushed Angus out of his comfort zone on Stormy May Day by having him play slide. Whaaaa?????
But there is only so much a producer can do. The lion share of the praise goes to Angus and Mal who wrote some solid tunes. For me, there isn’t a dog on the album and a few have become some of my all time favs. Big Jack, Anything Goes, War Machine, Wheels, Rockin’ All the Way… great stuff.
Apparently during their time off, the Young brothers worked on 70 to 80 ideas for songs and the band recorded 15 of them. The first track list for Black Ice contained 11 tracks for one day. They settled on not cutting any of them.
And that is my only SOFT criticism of this album. We probably didn’t need both Decibel AND Black Ice. Or Big Jack AND Wheels. I know, I know. EVERY AC/DC song is the same (Ha ha) but those pairs do really come in the same flavour. And it is long. A rock album that clocks in at over 55 minutes can easily justify some trimming.
And I’m glad they didn’t.
Because Black Ice is bitter sweet affair as it is the final album we got from the “Back In Black” line up. Who would want cut a note from that?