Reviewing Black Ice, AC/DC's latest album, one critic summed up its strengths thusly: "Sounds exactly like every other AC/DC release." And its weaknesses? "Sounds exactly like every other AC/DC release." That pithy assessment gets to the heart of this band's remarkably durable 35-year career: Are they geniuses for being so reliably consistent? Or are they just lazy?
Think of the Australian unit as the last rock band. Not the biggest or the greatest — just the last of the true "rock" rock bands. At a time when our musical genres slip-slide into one another — whatever it takes to stay cutting-edge — AC/DC is by and large the same band today as it was when it announced its dedication to unrepentant crudity on mid-'70s records like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. AC/DC's only hint of growth in subsequent years was out of necessity — singer Bon Scott's 1980 death, which prompted the hiring of fellow banshee-wailer Brian Johnson. AC/DC has had a few personnel changes before and since, but only the truly obsessive could detect any noticeable sonic differentiations. The idea is not to try new styles and sounds, but rather to steadfastly maintain the AC/DC brand, one of the most enduring in rock history.
But it's not just a commitment to loud, louder, and loudest that has made AC/DC so irrefutably iconic. The band has an almost monastic purity about the things it won't stoop to do. No ballads, no touchy-feely rehab stories, no breakups, no lame solo albums, no tell-alls, no VH1 reality shows about their family lives, no New Wave-influenced comeback record — even if you find the band's horndog music horribly barbaric, you have to respect its integrity at not becoming another aging self-parody. Plus, its continued refusal to sell their music on iTunes — "We don't make singles, we make albums," explained guitarist Angus Young — has a whiff of cranky traditionalism to it that's almost touchingly noble.
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AC/DC is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, December 10.
Of course, that old-school sensibility also extends to their Neanderthal, "you woman, me man" lyrical approach. When it comes to the fairer sex, it's not that they're creeps, per se — they just don't know no better. But then again, it's presumptuous to assume that women object to AC/DC's base sexual advances. As a new generation of lovebirds says "I do," one song that shows up with surprising frequency at wedding receptions is "You Shook Me All Night Long," AC/DC's big hit off of 1980's classic Back in Black. And who's out there on the dance floor screaming along to every word? The ladies, rather than seeming condescending or hostile, the band's most popular song has been adopted by bridesmaids as an empowering celebration of feminine wiles.
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While other bands "evolve" and "mature," AC/DC remain hopelessly unredeemable, which is why we love them. On Black Ice, as always, they're selling an attitude — harmless nostalgia for rock 'n' roll's big-dumb-male past. Maybe that's why we don't laugh at Young for still wearing those silly short pants in concert after all these years. Deep down, we know it's ridiculous — but we're willing to play along.