Back In Black


Atlantic Records, 1980

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on July 2, 1996]

For the uninitiated—or unimpressed—the key to enjoying AC/DC is to understand that they are in some sense the longest-running novelty act in modern music. With lead guitarist Angus Young jackrabbitting across stages in his British schoolboy uniform (complete with coat, tie and knee-length knickers), the over-the-top licentiousness of the band's lyrics, and the wicked wit of tunes like "Big Balls" and "Problem Child," these guys have always been, in essence, a big, loud, rude and crude rock and roll cartoon. Even taken as pure parody, you might feel a little guilty for enjoying AC/DC... but you still do. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The other thing to understand is that this band is all about hooks—big, fat, blazing, gloriously juicy guitar hooks courtesy of Angus and his brother, rhythm guitarist Malcolm. These guys are one of rock's great hook factories, and the evidence is all over this landmark album, starting with their highest-charting track ever, the immortal "You Shook Me All Night Long." The lyrics consist of a string of gleefully clunky double-entendres that I suspect even the band's hardest-core fans are secretly embarrassed by. But the hook—ye gods, this thing would make Moby Dick tremble with fear!

Back in Black carried an extra measure of portent when issued, given that it was recorded in the wake of long-time lead vocalist Bon Scott's alcohol-induced death in February 1980. Within a few weeks, the band had hired new lead singer Brian Johnson and later that year they issued this album, sprinkled with lyrics (see "Shake a Leg," "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution") suggesting the boys' way of saluting his passing was to rock on as hard as ever, with the title track in particular standing as an obvious anthem of defiance in the face of death.

Other highlights on this dark yet ferociously melodic album included the ominous “Hell’s Bells,” the frenetic “Shoot To Thrill,” and Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s fat production, which builds Angus and Malcolm’s riffs into skyscrapers, and turns drummer Phil Rudd’s every hit on the snare into a 20-pound sledgehammer. Capping off this release in typically calculated-to-shock fashion, the boys even bang out a thunderous salute to alcoholism, "Have A Drink On Me." Under the circumstances, it's an astonishingly tasteless exercise. But the hook? Well, as you’d expect -- it's a killer.

Rating: A-

User Rating: A-



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