AC/DC Black Ice

[Columbia; 2008]

Styles: flaccid cock rock, old people music
Others: bands that are played on classic rock stations

So, after an eight-year hiatus, AC/DC has released another album, and the most noteworthy fact about it is not the music it contains, but the manner in which it’s being released: through Wal-Mart. The band presents this as a gesture of authenticity and dedication to their craft, a way of ensuring that their album is purchased in its entirety. Of course, the enormous financial advantage that stands to be gained through ignoring every independent record store in the country probably didn’t hurt their decision either.

Honestly, though, the Wal-Mart tie-in makes a lot of sense given the actual content of Black Ice. It’s the sound of a corporate rock band repeating all the tricks that earned them that label in the first place. Every sound is trotted out in the most obvious forms; blues riffs, big windmill guitars, chugging verses, and an endless progression of inane lyrics about sex, partying, and rock ‘n’ roll all make appearances. Song structure is relentlessly rote, each track following the same trajectory as the one before it: there will always, always be a solo right before that last chorus, and it will always serve no purpose aside from fulfilling the rock structure’s need for a solo. The closest the band comes to tweaking their sound is introducing a slide guitar on “Stormy May Day,” which then proceeds to play a melodic line that is utterly indistinguishable from every other one on the album. This sameness is so profound that my roommate wandered into my room at one point wondering why I was listening to the same song on repeat.

Black Ice is also hopelessly tame, despite its lyrical insistence on rebellion and debauchery. By this point in pop history, its worn-out songwriting tactics are so predictable that they’re virtually incapable of creating any legitimate surprise or inciting any reaction save mild disinterest. Their devotion to their formula is so slavish and so brazenly evident that even the few moments of effective bravado end up feeling a bit sickly. At other moments, such as with the hilariously limp riff that opens “Big Jack,” the band fails to even muster the established base level of autopilot proficiency.

As a whole, Black Ice is a mess of tired conventions shoved noisily at the listener, as though just getting them all on record was good enough. Obviously I’m not exactly the intended audience for this sort of thing, having pretty much given up on AC/DC after “Hell’s Bells” stopped being exciting back in middle school, and thus perhaps my opinion is less valid. But by making this album a Wal-Mart exclusive, the band is clearly not most concerned with their audience or the concept of music as anything resembling an artistically viable industry -- so there’s not too much guilt in trashing them. They’re practically begging you to. With their relentless attack on progression, both artistically and in terms of the music industry, AC/DC has effectively exiled themselves from any position of positive relevance.

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