Turning up at the SonyBMG HQ in London last week to review the new AC/DC album for Uncut, it occurred to me: what on earth am I going to write? I’d heard and blogged already about “Rock’n’Roll Train” and – not for the first time in anticipation of a new AC/DC album – knew what to expect. The challenge would be how to spend 700 words saying little more than, “It sounds the same as all the others, and it’s great.” As it turned out, though, I rather wish now that I’d had that problem.

Turning up at the SonyBMG HQ in London last week to review the new AC/DC album for Uncut, it occurred to me: what on earth am I going to write? I’d heard and blogged already about “Rock’n’Roll Train” and – not for the first time in anticipation of a new AC/DC album – knew what to expect. The challenge would be how to spend 700 words saying little more than, “It sounds the same as all the others, and it’s great.” As it turned out, though, I rather wish now that I’d had that problem.



Not to panic you completely, there are hairy great chunks of “Black Ice” that peremptorily and brilliantly recycle the AC/DC formula one more time. Four songs feature either “Rock’n’Roll” or “Rocking” in the title, for a start, and “She Likes Rock’n’Roll” is an especial marvel: a morse code riff in the blessed vein of “Back In Black”, with a fantastic passage where Brian Johnson leads his bandmates in a sort of huddled chant, a rock haka, a neat way of reminding themselves why they’re here. “She likes rock’n’roll,” they note, “She likes rock’n’roll/ She likes rock’n’roll.” Then, the penny drops: “I like rock’n’roll!”

This is great, clearly, and there are a bunch more songs that’ll sound just fine in the unlikely event they make it into the setlist for the live shows. As “Rock’n’Roll Train” shows, the general air is of AC/DC at their most monolithic. If 2000’s “Stiff Upper Lip” found a band operating at a slightly more frantic, back-to-basics pace than of late, the likes of “War Machine”, “Smash’n’Grab” and the title track are all fiercely grandiose.

The producer this time round is Brendan O’Brien, veteran of numerous Pearl Jam and Springsteen projects, and someone who’s clearly buffed up the patented razor-sharp, ultra-precise AC/DC sound for modern rock radio. This is no bad thing: AC/DC don’t suit sludge, and the needling clarity of the Young brothers’ guitar tones has always been the band’s greatest strength.

But if we’re looking for a villain here, chances are that many AC/DC hardliners – I can probably count myself as one of them – will round on O’Brien. “Black Ice” is clearly an aggressive statement by one of the biggest bands in the world keen to impose themselves on 2008. But uncharacteristically, that desire to reassert dominance seems to have resulted in a few weird compromises.

The hints come in tracks two and three, “Skies On Fire” and “Big Jack”, where the guitar textures sound a bit softer, a bit more modern, a bit perilously like U2 in places. Track four, though, is destined to be a point of extreme stress: “Anything Goes” is unambiguously a pop song, that reminded me of Laura Brannigan’s “Gloria” (and by extension Pulp’s “Disco 2000”) and Slade’s “Run Run Away”.

It’s evidence, as if we needed it, that AC/DC’s genius has been founded in their imperturbable, stubborn resilience to change. And “Rock’n’Roll Dream”, a ballad, more or less, only accentuates the problem.

There is, though, a silver lining of sorts, in that two more departures from the norm – into Led Zeppelin territory, specifically – are actually pretty great: “Stormy May Day”, a fraught melodrama driven by Angus on slide, of all things; and “Money Made”, which has a stomp comparable to “When The Levee Breaks” and which might just be the best thing on “Black Ice”.

Plenty to write about, then, as you’ll see in the next issue of Uncut. But how strange that AC/DC should start trying to evolve at this late date. The tour, of course, will be the same as ever. Won’t it?