The sneaky devils at Wal-Mart knew that in order to get liberals like me to throw principles to the wind, they’d have to do more than offer heavily discounted Hot Pockets. Not much more, it seems. As if cheap prescriptions, bargain-basement cold cuts, Carter-era TV deals, and more Mexicans per square foot than any random LA-area flea market weren’t enough to lure the easily led to their exploitive shores, they now stood as the only American retailer to offer Black Ice, the latest soul-crushing, indistinguishable lump of regurgitated metal from AC/DC. Not that any of that is a bad thing. In fact, it is all but revolutionary that after eight years away from the recording studio, our ageless rockers saw fit to put out exactly the same record as before. It’s as if not a day had passed since 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip. Or 1980’s Back in Black, for that matter.
Not only do you gets what you pays for, you get even less; though that less is arguably more in that AC/DC fans — and I count myself among them — steadfastly refuse to believe that the musical world has moved on. Change, growth, evolution; these are anathema to the very idea of AC/DC, and if so much as a power ballad made its way onto their latest disc, I’m not sure head throat Brian Johnson would live to see his next concert tour. Sure, AC/DC smacks of unparalleled misogyny, mindless whiskey consumption, and the exploits of Richard Ramirez, but they’re one of the few bands left who do exactly what their fans expect of them. And despite being mere weeks from retirement age, each and every member of the band remembers that above all, we want about an hour’s worth of kick-ass tunes that still have the power to piss off grandma.
Even after three full spins in the car, I still can’t tell you a single coherent line from Black Ice, but I don’t much care. I’ll admit to hearing “rock” and “fire” a few times, so at least I know they’re on familiar ground. If you need lyrics, though, look no further than “Rock N Roll Train,” a song that rhymes “ecstasy” with “fantasy” and doesn’t care who knows it. Typically, boys are “devils” and “rebels,” while girls are “belles” who have little else to do but make it hot for the gents. I haven’t a clue whether or not an actual train is involved, and neither do you. But it’s a nice way to open the record, and it sets a tone of such high-octane silliness that we can’t help but tap along. And that’s what I did without even pausing to think.
Sure, this could be any number of AC/DC tunes on any number of albums, but when did rock have any other obligation save defiance and frivolity? Sure, it’s 2008 and America is burning, but why pretend a midget in a school uniform has any of the answers? I thought “War Machine” might offer a jab or two at topicality, but before I could pay any real attention, I was seduced by the nugget, “Kick your foot through the door; Hit the deck, know the score.” Oh, I get it. No actual war, then, just a general statement of mayhem and self-destruction. Carry on, my brothers. Any world-famous band who could escape the 1980s without a single shot at Reagan was not about to tackle Bush. If anything, these guys would be one of the few bands currently working who just might agree to furnish the official soundtrack to the war of your choosing. Just so long as you pay your $12.99 at the register.
I also dug “Big Jack” and “Smash N Grab,” though for no other reason than the ear-splitting solos and obligatory drum intros. Say what you will, but these guys can still play, and all guns are blazing with the force of men 40 years their junior. Fresh and inspired they are not, but why reinvent the wheel at this stage? While you’re playing to indifferent audiences in half-empty bars, these fucks will be filling stadiums across the globe. Above all, they recognize that rock n’ roll is a fool’s game, and artists need not apply. Hell, I’m not even sure these people are musicians. But they play their hearts out, even at retirement age, and who wouldn’t love that?
I’m also quite fond of “Stormy May Day,” more so after finding out that at one point, Johnson croons, “The sky is darkening…The dogs are barking…A call for help you hope they get you through…A clap of thunder…A split asunder…The people running and the moon doth rise.” Absurd gibberish? Most assuredly. So what about another website who believes that exact same passage to be, “I come for fightin’…I stand beside her…The people runnin’…And the moon don’t rise”? Neither makes a lick of sense, and I’d gather that there are at least a dozen other interpretations available. AC/DC could have solved the problem by including actual lyrics, but they thought awkwardly staged photos of the aging band members would be more enticing. After all, it’s only the sing-along chorus you’ll care about once they come to town.
“She Likes Rock N Roll” and “Rock N Roll Dream” continue the fight for the majesty of rock, though not nearly as well as “Rocking All the Way.” Seriously. And then there’s “Decibel” and the title track, which are wicked little tunes that could stand with the best of the band’s output, but only if you forgot half the catalog while waiting for this release. Time will tell if Black Ice will have its anthem, though recent rock history suggests the unlikelihood of such an outcome. Geezers who continue to celebrate bar fights, shameless ogling, and “taking it to the top,” wherever that might be, are simply out of step with the times. Women have points of view these days, even the right of refusal, and reducing them to their perversity in the sack is so old-fashioned as to be quaint. But if you have an hour that will, if you’re not careful, seem like three, Black Ice is your ticket to a paradise of audacious guitar work and bluesy, fully-cocked rhythms.
In the end, it’s the kind of music they used to play whenever trouble was just around the corner, and every bad guy could be dismissed with a sneer or the flash of a tattered jean jacket. Each generation has its old shoe, and AC/DC will forever hold that spot in the memories of every kid-at-heart who first heard, “Forget the hearse, cause I’ll never die” and believed it right up until the moment his car hit that utility pole. Sure, selling out to the world’s largest corporate whorehouse removes a bit of the rebellious sting, but who among us is pure? Surely not I after a quick sprint to the AC/DC display, and likely never again. Where else can I get so many damned light bulbs for a dollar?