Friday, December 5, 2008

Best of 2008 Album Review: AC/DC -- Black Ice

A quick caveat or two before I delve into the best music of the year:

Of all the artforms we track over at Pop Culture America, music is the most difficult to get a handle on. There's way more than any one person could possibly give a serious listen to. There are so many styles and niches, it's inevitable that not everything will be to any one particular person's taste, thus ensuring that not everything that does get a listen will get a truly fair shake. Plus there's just the nature of music itself: immediate and emotional, it doesn't lend to the kind of story analysis that movies or TV series do.

So for the record, I will just cop to my biases right here at the top: I like good ol' rock & roll and smarty-pants pop. That's "pop" in the 1970s-AM-radio sense of the word. I like catch and drive and an interesting turn of a phrase, both lyrical and musical. I like songs. I like albums of songs. I like music that sounds like it was made by human beings, rather than simply being a function of some snazzy new technological doohickey. I like passion and intensity. Most of all, I like a great hook. This ain't classical and you ain't Mozart; if you ain't writing me a hook, Mr. So-Called-Rock-Band, you ain't doin' your job.

I am not a fan of country, hip hop, or the sludgier edge of metal. That doesn't mean that a song can't rise up out of those genres and smack me in the face with its greatness, but it's not likely. And it's also not likely you'll see any of those here on this list.

For the next few days, I'll be counting down my Top Five Favorite Albums of the Year with in-depth reviews here on this blogsite. On the Tuesday, December 9 edition of Pop Culture America Primetime, I'll unveil the full Top Ten including my choice for the Best Album of 2008.

Okay. Enough track-laying. Time to bring this locomotive around the bend. And I do mean "locomotive."

AC/DC -- Black Ice (p. Brendan O'Brien)

Come! Come! Gather 'round all! Come to me you dreadlocked members of Korn, you Scarecrow-masked players in Slipknot! Come to me those of Linkin Park! You too, Mr. Hahn! Come hither Coheed and bring Cambria with you! Come Disturbed! But not too fast.

Come all! Come all! All you Systems of a Down, tear yourselves away from the latest Pravda and come to me! Yes, even you, James and Axl! Even old warhorses like you can learn a thing or two from what I now layeth upon you.

This shiny silver disc I hold in my hand may look the same as ones you all have made in recent years. But it's not. It is head and shoulders and torso and hips and most of the leg above you all and you need to listen and bow and absorb and learn the lessons contained herein.

For this is the latest from AC/DC and they are to you what nuclear physics is to sitting in a corner and picking your nose.

Just start from the top. "Rock N Roll Train" kicks off the album. Do you hear it, guys? I'm sure you think you do, but really listen for a change. Do you hear how the opening guitar riff kickstarts the throbbing rhythm track? Can you comprehend how the band then propels itself into the full first verse? Does your mind bend just a bit when Brian Johnson's throat-shredding vocal tops the track like a filthy black bow on a Christmas gift wrapped in inappropriately salacious paper?

And then ... Listen to that! Do you know what that is? Axl, do you know what that is? You used to write them. Don't remember, eh? Well, it has been a VERY long time. That's a hook. It makes a song catch in the memory and stay with a listener for longer than its own duration.

Hooks are good.

And good grief but this album is packed to the proverbial gills with them. "Skies on Fire," the second song, fairly bursts with them. A rare slide guitar from overage schoolboy Angus Young renders "Stormy May Day" a blues-soaked, boozy banger. There are fifteen songs here in all, and there's not a one of them that doesn't have a solo, a riff, a chorus, something that you can take away from it and have stuck in your brain for the rest of your natural-born days.

What's that, Serj Tankian? You say AC/DC are just a bunch of old irrelevant bar-banders trafficking in the same weary cliches that they've been peddling since the mid-seventies? Okay, two things about that. Number one: Hetfield, punch him in the face, please. Thank you, James. Your album was good this year, too.

Number second: When you've attained perfection, what new hip trendy "relevant" thing would be an improvement? Would AC/DC be better if they had listened to more Public Enemy or Celine Dion or Limp Bizkit (ugh) over the years? Would they benefit from incorporating the latest in club jams? Or emo whining? Hell, I'm glad they haven't even read a newspaper for at least a decade.

No. AC/DC exist in a Name-That-Tune isolation booth and are all the better for it. It's appropriate that 53-year-old Angus Young still dresses like a Dickensian form school attendee. He's as likely to ever grow up as Peter Pan's less mature cousin.

Ridicule him if you will, but isn't that the great promise of rock & roll? Eternal youth.

AC/DC is rock & roll and they know what rock & roll knows: to develop is to age and to age is to die.

So enjoy the unchanging world of Brian and the Young brothers and whoever else they hired this time around! Enjoy a world where all the women are easy, all the male genitalia swings low, and all the rock songs are catchier than hell.

Long Live AC/DC! Long Live Living Long!

And check out "Rock N Roll Train" live. Love that animation at the top.

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