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AC/DC: Flick Of The Switch - Album Of The Week Club review

Ditching the studio polish of Mutt Lange, AC/DC went back to basics on Flick Of The Switch and recorded what's often seen as their weakest album. But was it?

AC/DC: Flick Of The Switch cover art
(Image: © Atlantic)
AC/DC: Flick Of The Switch

AC/DC: Flick Of The Switch cover art

(Image credit: Atlantic)

Rising Power
This House Is on Fire
Flick of the Switch
Nervous Shakedown|
Landslide
Guns for Hire
Deep in the Hole
Bedlam in Belgium
Badlands
Brain Shake

1981’s For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) had reached a level of studio sophistication that felt unnecessarily fussy to AC/DC's Malcolm and Angus Young. 

What had worked so well with producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange on the preceding two records – crisp tour de force Highway To Hell (1979) and the sans Bon phenomenon Back in Black (1980) – was applying reasonable rigour to making AC/DC sound extremely loud and incredibly close. 

For Those About To Rock found Lange questing ever further for sonic perfection, which was a time-consuming process. After this Michelin-starred philosophy, the Young brothers wanted to take a greasy spoon approach to their next album. To that end, they chose to produce it themselves.

Flick Of The Switch is the result of this decision. It was recorded at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas. This was where AC/DC had created Back In Black , but though the new raw tapes sounded reminiscent of their greatest commercial triumph, it was mixed by engineer Tony Platt to impart a different feel. “I don’t think that was a good thing to do at all,” Platt later remarked.

The Young brothers had wanted something more immediate, less refined, than their last record. This they got, as critics perceived Flick Of The Switch to be thrown together, lacking the Kubrickian craftsmanship of a Mutt Lange production. But maybe unalloyed audio wasn’t the problem, because a bit of grit never hurt an AC/DC song. Maybe it was because the songs themselves were unremarkable. 

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Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in August 1983

  • Lawyers in Love - Jackson Browne
  • Punch the Clock - Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Born Again – Black Sabbath
  • Ark – The Animals
  • Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche
  • Next Position Please – Cheap Trick
  • Rant N' Rave With The Stray Cats – The Stray Cats
  • Passionworks – Heart
  • Ratt – Ratt
  • Bent Out of Shape – Rainbow
  • The Present – Moody Blues
  • Mummer – XTC
  • All for One - Raven

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What they said...

"Produced by the band, Flick of the Switch isn't quite the monster blowout that 1980's Back in Black was, and the Young's retooling of old riffs for new hits also teeters on self-plagiarism at times. But how can you argue with a Molotov cocktail hour that incudes such crass fun as This House Is on Fire and the whiplash rocker Brain Shake? Sure, if you've heard one AC/DC album, you've heard them all. Flick Of The Switch makes for one hell of a crash course, though." (Rolling Stone (opens in new tab))

"However flawed, this is still a pretty decent little album from AC/DC, especially if we put it in its proper time frame and consider what came immediately before and immediately after this. Sure, it isn"t a patch on Highway to Hell or, arguably, Back In Black, but AC/DC fans should give it a go. It"s a very enjoyable listen." (Sputnik Music (opens in new tab))

"While they more or less succeed in terms of the record's sound, and show more energy than on the preceding For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the songs themselves suffer – AC/DC's music has always been simple, but here it sounds underdeveloped and unmemorable. As perhaps indicated by the record's idiotic original title, the utterly generic I Like to Rock, AC/DC seemed to be running out of ideas at an alarming rate, and their record sales began to reflect that fact." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

John Davidson: It's not bad... But it's not a stand out classic either. A few recycled riffs here and there (Badlands seems to borrow heavily from In My Time Of Dying) but it's rock n roll so not unexpected. No absolute killers but This House Is On Fire and Flick Of The Switch come close. Landslide has that itchy riff giving it some urgency. All in all there are no duff tracks here but the guys are definitely struggling for ideas a little. But in a career as long and as dedicated to straight up bluesy boogie and hard rock as AC/DC have given us there's no surprise or shame in having a couple of albums in the doldrums.

Peter Qvist: I had to give Flick Of The Switch another spin today to remind myself that, despite the best intentions of the critics to slam it, this is actually an enjoyable and good album.

No, it isn't AC/DC's best album by a long shot, but I reckon it is their most underrated one. The lyrics aren't exactly cerebral and the production by the Young Brothers is definitely not great (and it was disastrous on Fly On The Wall), but it is a good hard rocking record.

Rising Power, Badlands, This House Is On Fire and the title track are my favourite songs. And how can you not love an album that has a song titled Bedlam In Belgium on it? It's no Highway To Hell, but this still beats many of their later albums.

Uli Hassinger: It's not Back In Black but it belongs to the better albums of the BJ era. I prefer this album to the predecessor which had way much commercial success. It has a stripped down raw sound and some cool and slowed down riffs. My favourite song of the album, Badlands, is the best proof for that. Apart from that song I also dig Rising Power, Nervous Shakedown and Guns For Hire. The rest of the songs are still solid AC/DC.

Chris Layton: Has some of the best drum production sound on an AC/DC album, just really clear. To be sure, this album isn't an in-your-face album. Lots of songs are laid back energy wise (Nervous Shakedown, Rising Power, House Is On Fire, Badlands) but I like them quite a bit anyway. Easy to sing along to, with raw power behind them. Then there's the title track and Guns For Hire, Landslide and Bedlam In Belgium that cook. Not a fan of Brain Shake or Deep In The Hole, but all in all, a solid effort. Better than Fly On The Wall, Blow Up Your Video, Stiff Upper Lip and Ballbreaker.

Michael McAleer: Criminally underrated classic...title track, Landslide and Bedlam In Belgium are up there with the best songs they ever did...much better album than FTATR

Brett Deighton: I understand why this was a divisive album, but I love it. For the casual fan, like my wife who loves Thunderstruck and a handful of hits, this has little to offer. For those that like their music more on the heavy side, it has plenty to enjoy. A lot of people complain about the production, but again I always thought it was deliberate. I mean from the cover, the videos and the songs themselves, everything was stripped back, rough and ready. I thought there were some great riffs and solos and I had no issues with the lyrics that many have ridiculed. For me This House is On Fire, Flick Of the Switch, Nervous Shakedown and Guns For Hire are great tracks, although I happily play this one front to back. I’ve long since realised I’m in the minority on this one, but it goes to show there are at least some of us who really got this project and connected with what Angus and Malcolm were trying to achieve.

Adam McCann: Massively underrated. One of the best AC/DC albums and its aged miles better than a lot of them. There's so much energy here and very catchy songs

Adam Ranger: I think, with the benefit of hindsight, history was unkind to this album. It's way better than, say, Fly On The Wall. And if FOTS was released a couple of years ago instead of Power Up I think we would all be raving about it. Part of the problem (sales wise) was the phenomenal success of Back In Black.. a whole new audience came to AC/DC with that album..and that enthusiasm was carried forward with For Those About To Rock. FOTS perhaps had none of the instant anthems of the predecessor and the masses moved on. But what you have here is a solid rock album that holds up well in the band's catalogue. Great riffs, some nice simple guitar lead and driving rhythm. It's what the lads do best. Yes the lyrics may be suspect at times, but they were before this album and after...again, it's part of AC/DC, love 'em or hate 'em.

Wade Babeineau: Very much underrated album for AC/DC. Loved the whole thing from top to bottom. Guns For Hire, House Is On Fire, Nervous Shakedown, Landslide just crackle with energy. As has been mentioned, this album followed on the heels of the trilogy of AC/DC albums that saw massive success with Highway To Hell, Back In Black and For Those About To Rock......tough for any group to follow those three. If this had been released further down the line, it would have been heralded as a classic.

Alex Hayes: I'm not sure how wide the consensus on this would be, it could just be me, but Flick Of The Switch is an album that's been salvaged somewhat by its 2003 Sony Remaster. That spruce-up job actually managed to take one of the most notoriously 'dry' sounding recordings, and turn it into, well, hardly a classic, but a perfectly decent mid-period AC/DC album. 

Add a little bit of punch and bottom-end, and tracks like Rising Power, Nervous Shakedown and Guns For Hire suddenly manage to come into their own. There's no getting away from the fact that much of the material here is a little 'cookie-cutter' in nature, but, take away the 'recorded in an aircraft hanger... very badly' ambience, and there are certainly worse ways to spend 37 minutes of your time.

What can I say? It's AC/DC. Maybe not vintage AC/DC, but AC/DC nevertheless. The band could have easily reacted to the then current music scene far more unfavourably. They could have incorporated synths and electronic drums into their sound and foisted some kind of concept album onto the world. Or they could have given themselves a Sunset Strip-style makeover, power ballad and all. Or they could have attempted their own rock/rap crossover. Nah, compared to all of that, I'll take Flick Of The Switch and the rest of AC/DC's mid-to-late 80s output, warts and all.

It's a shame that 1985's Fly On The Wall couldn't benefit from the same treatment. There was just no way to rescue THOSE vocals. Again, I bet there's a pretty decent album buried under there somewhere.

Nick Green: This was a massive disappointment upon release and it hasn't really improved. From the banal lyrics to the uninspired riffs and flat as a pancake production.

Neil Immerz: Played this album to death when I bought it when I was 12-13 years old. From a musical viewpoint, it’s a great album for any guitarist because the riffs are so basic and sound very easy to play. As an “album” it’s kinda boring to me now, very lacklustre and far from the “belter” it should have been.

Elad Winberg: Decent album actually, and I enjoy revisiting it once in a while. The raw production style fits well with Angus and Malcolm's playing, and Brian Johnson sounds good as usual. I really like the songs Bedlam In Belgiun and Guns For Hire, but honestly, most of the songs were really good. Plus, that was their last good album for a while, up until The Razor's Edge back in 1990.

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Final Score: 7.00 (180 votes cast, total score 1260)

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