Black Ice (2008)
Having injected new life and purpose into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s decades-old sound on a brace of hit albums, producer Brendan O’Brien went on to repeat that feat with Black Ice.
An accomplished guitarist in his own right, O’Brien focused on the nucleus of AC/DC’s attack: Malcolm Young’s metronomic chugging and Angus’s fiery interjections. In particular, he paid attention to coaxing short, bursting hook lines out of Angus: the kind of flourishes he had shown off on Highway To Hell or Back In Black, but which had all but slipped from his repertoire. The album got an instant pay-off from O’Brien’s approach. Rock ’N’ Roll Train, a rousing call to arms, was the best opener to an AC/DC album since Hells Bells.
Brian Johnson – forced to scrape at the upper limits of his range for years – was allowed to come down a notch and a result he sung with the conviction of an old school soul man. Big Jack, jitterbugging, and Anything Goes, swinging, in turn brought to mind two of the venerable Back In Black’s staples, respectively What Do You Do For Money Honey and the joyous You Shook Me All Night Long. Angus’ slide-guitar on Stormy May Day temporarily relocated AC/DC to the Mississippi Delta. Best of all, both Decibel and the title track stirred up a tasty blues-boogie gumbo that recalled nothing so much as 1970s vintage ZZ Top – Angus blowing hot, blue and righteous like Billy Gibbons. Each was underpinned by the eternally stomping teaming of Williams and Phil Rudd. But as always, AC/DC’s pilot was Malcolm Young. Angus used to tell people his elder brother’s guitar was strung with barbed wire. But for all that he was tough and unyielding, there was also a heart and soul to Malcolm’s playing and this went to the very core of the band.
It wasn’t all home runs. At 15 tracks and 55 minutes, Black Ice is too long and too reliant on the mid-tempo verse-chorus rockers that had become AC/DC’s default setting. However, with eight much better than decent tracks it had a higher strike rate than any AC/DC album since For Those About to Rock… in 1981. It proved to be their most successful record since then too. Released on October 20 2008, it rocketed to No. 1 in 29 countries and had shipped six million copies by the end of that year.