AC/DC must be slipping — their smarts are starting to show. Critically dismissed for most of their nine-year career as a band of simpleminded Australian thudmerchants, they long ago made the useful discovery that, when it comes to connecting with the large and loyal hard-rock audience, rock critics don’t mean diddley. The average adolescent male may not know much about critical trends, but he knows bullshit when he hears it, and he knows he prefers the real thing — which is to say, landslide riffs, stuck-pig vocals and screaming guitar solos that sound like they were recorded in the grip of a grand mal seizure. He also appreciates a lyric he can relate to: “I can’t do nothin’ right/…I can’t even start a fight,” for example, a classic plaint embedded in the bone-crushing riff of For Those About to Rock We Salute You‘s “Spellbound.” As should be apparent to everyone by now, there’s a whole new generation of horny, hung-up James Deans out there — feeling isolated, out of it, often beer-addled or swacked silly on some tacky drug and yearning for expression. AC/DC are playing their song.
AC/DC are the real thing, perhaps the purest major practitioners of hot and snotty rock since Led Zeppelin lumbered off the boards. Other groups, from Van Halen to REO Speedwagon, may base their music on similar elements, but they inevitably emerge from the studio sounding cleaned up and rather too eager for AOR airplay. AC/DC, from the start, have always left the rough edges in. The rough edges are the point, much as they were part of the point of, say, Little Richard in the Fifties or the Rolling Stones in the mid-Sixties.
Until recently, this bareknuckles approach has tended to obscure the fact that, beneath all those enormous guitar riffs and gut-wrangling rhythms. AC/DC is an unusually expert songwriting band. This became particularly apparent on last year’s Back in Black, the first LP on which the late Bon Scott, the group’s semilegendary lead singer, was replaced by the more expressive Brian Johnson. On For Those About to Rock We Salute You, AC/DC’s best album, the case for the band’s talents is finally made with undeniable force and clarity. You want anthems? Here, they abound, from the title track’s avalanche attack — complete with booming cannonades, of course — to “Night of the Long Knives,” a rousing singalong reminiscent of the classic mid-Sixties Anglo-pop tradition. All ten tunes are aimed straight at the group’s testosterone-plagued audience, but the music and lyrics transcend mere calculation. True, in “Put the Finger on You,” the helplessly horny protagonist’s sexual member seems to have a life of its own (“I can’t control it, can’t even hold it … I put it right on you”), but “C.O.D.” takes a more wizened look at the consequences of such inchoate lust (“It’s the curse of love”). This marginally broader lyrical outlook may again be attributable to Brian Johnson, who writes the songs with band-leader-guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young. Johnson’s relatively wide ranging tastes are also apparent in the nicely nasty “Inject the Venom,” in which he manages, rather charmingly, to sound like Lou Rawls with a beer gut.
But while Brian Johnson has added a more engaging vocal texture to AC/DC, the backbone of the band is still the enormous bass-and-drums barrage pummeled out by Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd, and the riff-manic brilliance of the redoubtable Young brothers, whose ferocious combination of hollow and solid-body guitar interplay has created a sound that’s unique in the hard-rock field. It may seem difficult to take a droolflecked runt dressed in schoolboy shorts seriously as a guitarist, but if you listen closely to Angus Young’s serpentine solo in “Let’s Get It Up,” you’ll hear his unabashed blues roots shining through. Similarly, John Lee Hooker himself might want to take a good squint at the dark-toned guitar filigree on “Snowballed,” just as Jeff Beck may be surprised to hear how strongly the final leads in “Breaking the Rules” recall his vintage flash-fingered artistry on the Yardbirds’ Over Under Sideways Down. Malcolm Young is equally adroit at mongering meaty riffs, and with Williams and Rudd slamming home the message — basic though it may at first appear to be — what you’ve got here is one unbeatable rock & roll band.
AC/DC make no apologies, and they have prevailed. Their last LP sold 5 million copies, and this one gives every indication of eclipsing it. Be the first in your circle of sophisticates to find out why.