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AC/DC - Back in Black Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 February 2005


album: Back In Black
format: DualDisc (stereo only)
label: Epic
release year: 2005
original release year: 1980
performance: 9
sound: 6.5
reviewed by: Jerry Del Colliano

ImageIt is a rare feat to successfully replace a frontman in rock and roll. Only a few bands have been able to accomplish it without going down in a ball of flames. Genesis and Van Halen come to mind, although Diamond David Lee Roth fans will cringe at the idea that Van Haggar is somehow related to real Van Halen. Upon the death of its original screamer Bon Scott, AC/DC made one of the all-time comebacks in rock and roll history in 1980 with their album Back in Black. As this was designed to be something of a tribute, new vocalist and frontman Brian Johnson sounds almost indistinguishable from Bon Scott, leaving the band poised to return to their three chord glory.

Musically, Back in Black is topnotch, hard-hitting rock and roll that keeps the
melodies simple and the chords predicable. But make no mistake: the formula works. Songs about chicks, bluesy grooves built on 1, 4, 5 chord progressions and solos in the blues pentatonic mode are the makings of many a great rock record, and Back in Black is no exception.

“Hells Bells,” known to San Diego Padres fans as the theme music for their soon-to-be Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman, starts appropriately with a gigantic-sounding bell. As this is a remastered version, one can hear a better, more resolute ringing of the bell, compared to the 16-bit stereo version on CD. “Hells Bells” is a fitting way to start a tribute record, but it struggles to get moving in terms of pace. It’s a well-built rock song but leaves you itching for the next-track button on the remote when jamming Back in Black. The second cut, “Shoot To Thrill,” is a more upbeat way to get this musical party started and highlights both the band’s ability to rock a song with lots of syncopation, as well as their new singer’s sky-high range. Next, “What Do You Do For Money, Honey” is a wonderfully misogynistic track that struts along courtesy of production by John “Mutt” Lange (long before the influence of his now-wife Shania Twain, who likely doesn’t love this track as much as the Beavis and Butthead crowd, of which I am a proud member).

There might not be a more classic track in the genre of classic rock than the title track of Back in Black. The chord progression is about as easy as they come, the makings of countless guitar lessons over the past 25 years. The riffs that adorn the main riff are stylish and nifty, especially as they are syncopated with what’s Vice President of Content Bryan Dailey says are “drums so easy Jerry can play them” (thanks, Bryan). But the simplicity of the song is part of its charm. “Back in Black” is a rock-solid rocker built on a foundation that is safe and sound in the most tumultuous of musical earthquakes.

The musical and lyrical highlight of Back in Black is yet another classic rock staple, “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Using AC/DC’s proven system of starting songs by adding one instrument after another, this track has a most airy sound, considering the grungy topics of the record. Lyrically, it doesn’t get any better than this track. If only today’s bands could stop whining and crank out songs about smoking hot chicks, records would sell like in the good old days. As Dick Clark is famous for saying, “If it ain’t in the grooves – it ain’t in the grooves.” In this case it is all there and then some.

The DualDisc version of Back in Black features a stereo 20-bit 48 kHz audio track on the DVD side, with a traditional 16-bit 44 kHz version of the album on the CD side. Considering how many millions of copies of Back in Black have been sold on every format from LP to eight-track to CD, this DualDisc seems to exist to get people who want the most from a classic record. Sadly, this disc is only a tiny increment better than the CD I have owned of Back in Black for some years now. There is no question that, on my professionally-calibrated music system, you can hear a difference between the DualDisc and the 16-bit stereo. The problem is, it simply isn’t worth making the investment unless you really love Back in Black. In my case, I do love the record that much and am glad to drop 16 bucks on a recording of this level; however, to get no 5.1 mix nor even a 24-bit stereo track is an insult to the educated music consumer. But, like the idiots who grew up watching Beavis, I will likely march right down to the store to buy the album all over again if they re-release Back in Black with a 5.1 mix.

Added Features
On the DVD side, along with the 20-bit stereo mix, you will find a video entitled “The Story of Back in Black,” interviews with the band and engineer, in-studio performances of many of the songs and more. Hardcore AC/DC fans will certainly find value in these. Audiophiles will remain bitter that this much bandwidth was wasted on extras when a 5.1 mix could have been added.

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