Greetings, Glancers! For anyone who has stumbled upon this post via the power of Googling (or even Binging), I should explain what I’m doing here. Basically, it’s like those reaction videos on Youtube where people (usually rap fans or young’uns or idiots) listen to a rock or metal song for the first time and pretend to be shocked and amazed. I’m doing that, except without the visual, or the faking. And given that I’m a Northern Irish fella, nothing really shocks or amazes me.
A little about me then – I’ve always been into rock music, from as far as I can remember. I was a kid in the 80s, but hit my musical peak in the 90s, living through the death of hair metal, grunge, brit pop, and rock music as a popular form. When I was a kid, ACDC was one of those holy bands that everyone talked about and was supposed to love. Not knowing any better, and only knowing a handful of their songs, I assumed I loved them too. It’s only when I got older and heard more of their stuff that I realised… they’re not very good. Limited musically, screechy vocals the likes of which tend to be heard during a beheading, and silly teenage boy lyrics about boobies. In essence, it’s a hair metal band but without the make-up and stupid clothes. But beyond Back In Black I’ve never listened to one of their albums in full. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’ll love this. Maybe I’ll eat my own words like an anti-politician. I doubt it, but we’ll see. Before we begin, lets have a laugh at the album cover, which sees fake Mick Jagger wearing a hair-band of thorns, and swishing his tail around all la-di-da like. The rest of the boys seem to have forgotten they’re taking part in a photo-shoot which will see them appear in shops in front of millions, and instead seems to be either laughing at something happening in the background, waiting anxiously for the cameraman to ask them to ‘say cheese’, or simply look bewildered because they have never seen a camera before. In any case, the whole thing is a shambles. There are two songs here I know already. Lets see what the others have in store.
‘Highway To Hell‘ opens the album. You know it, I know it. It’s actually one I don’t mind. I sure don’t love it, but you can’t escape you catchy it is.
‘Girls Got Rhythm‘ is the sort of title and song which makes you wonder if the band ever got any. It’s as simple a rock song as you’ll find – couple of chords followed by a riff. It’s straight blues with added crunch and white boy swagger. I admit there is a charm in hearing a Classic Rock song for the first time – I have nostalgia for the whole genre which covers up any cracks. It’s not bad – it has a solid beat and repetitive nature which ensures its place as a party song (I imagine). There’s not a lot to it of course, and none of the melodies or instrumentals are particularly strong.
‘Walk All Over You‘ opens with a touch more imagination. Drums and guitars taking turns and playing – playing the same thing over and over yes – then the main riff drops and the pace picks up. It’s more Blues Classic rock stylings. Again, I can see drunks dancing to it. It falls apart when the chorus and the backing vocals drop. It’s distinctly average – I imagine it was popular because it dropped at the exactly right time in the US when they were crying out for this sort of party music. It has no business being longer than 5 minutes.
‘Touch Too Much‘ is the other song I know. Like any number of AC-DC songs it is a mid-pace stomper – you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Highway To Hell, so similar is the pace, structure, and beat. Naturally the melodies and guitar work are different enough to keep such comparisons at bay. It’s as good as the title track and if you like that there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t enjoy this.
‘Beating Around The Bush‘ is another song title which might have made me snigger when I was 10. To its credit it starts out with a more interesting riff and launches with a furious pace. It somehow almost feels Country. The pace relents briefly for the chorus before getting straight back to the verse. This one is quite fun.
‘Shot Down In Flames‘ starts out in traditional fashion – I’ve a feeling a large part of why I don’t get the band like others do is the the drums. So often there is zero variance with the drumming. It feels very much like a session drummer who has been brought in for a pay cheque to simply lay down the bare minimum – there’s no life or attempt at style or colour. The song itself is fine – it’s not any better or worse than most of the other stuff that I’ve heard them do.
‘Get It Hot‘ is further proof of my drumming statement. It’s like they got the session drummer for 20 minutes to record one song, then they just copied and pasted the same parts over every other song. I’m adding my own fills with my mouth as I listen – it’s really not that difficult to make a song standout by adding an extra couple of beats and blasts here and there. This is more of the same, musically, lyrically. AC-DC are just like Status Quo, except they look more like farmers than Quo do.
‘If You Want Blood‘ is a song I think I’ve hard before, I just can’t place it. The song builds a little differently from the others, but then the verse starts and it’s identical to the previous song, even the riffs. It’s amazing to me how such an unimaginative band became so successful, in a genre which frequently demands innovation – or did around the time this was recorded. It’s lowest common denominator rock.
‘Love Hungry Man‘ opens with big chords but once the cymbals come in I know what’s coming. Wait for it. Wait for it. There it is. Same beat. At least the guitar approach in the verse is slightly different. The chorus is almost the same as Alright Now. Straightforward easy rock with no strings attached. And that’s just not enough for me – where’s the skill? Where’s the feeling? What sets them apart from any wedding band? The farmer look?
‘Night Prowler‘ is the longest song on the album, to close things out. It opens fairly slowly, and I can just about imagine the slow walking pace of some weirdo going to the beat. Also, the drummer actually does something different here! Unfortunately the band just can’t get it right and the slow pace only heightens their deficiencies. They’re just…. not very interesting. There’s a slow and loose solo in there somewhere. It’s a three minute song stretched to 6.30 by halving the pace.
It’s far from a bad album, let me be clear. Most of my criticism for the band is just down to personal taste. At a stretch I could say my personal test touches upon some genuine critical insight – they are a repetitive band, they are formulaic, they’re not the most engaging or technical musicians. But then I listen to and love plenty of other artists I could make the same argument for. So personal taste then – I understand why others enjoy these songs, and given the right time, place, and frame of mind I can enjoy them too. But the majority of the time they feel like overly simple, average rock songs. As mentioned, the classic rock sound has a special place in my heart, so hearing songs from that genre that I haven’t heard before does give me some kind of fuzzies, but that quickly fades as each song progresses through the same beats. Like a lot of bands, I think nostalgia is what keeps them selling, but people are coming around to the realization that many of these acts of the 60s, 70s, 80s, had a handful of decent tracks and the rest were empty re-treads.
Nightman’s Playlist Picks: Highway To Hell. Beating Around The Bush.