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Thursday, December 10, 2009

AC/DC: High Voltage


AC/DC: HIGH VOLTAGE (1975)

1) Baby Please Don't Go; 2) She's Got Balls; 3) Little Lover; 4) Stick Around; 5) Soul Stripper; 6) You Ain't Got A Hold On Me; 7) Love Song; 8) Show Business.

Australia's national pride did not have much of a growth period: the basic sound, style, and testosterone level of High Voltage has remained steady ever since. But in early 1975, the band had not yet completely slammed the door and turned the key on their intentionally ascetic rock formula, and the album arguably holds more "surprises" for the seasoned AC/DC lover than any other in the catalog.

The only AC/DC album to start off with a cover — and the cover being the album's highlight as well; the only album to feature guitar sparring duets between brothers Angus and Malcolm Young (after that, Malcolm would forever stick to rhythm); the only album to have a love ballad (unless one counts 'Let Me Put My Love Into You' as a ballad, of course); and all that during the period when lead singer Bon Scott would still occasionally perform in a woman's dress rather than his later trademark blue-collar bare-chest outfit. Yes, wonders a-plenty.

History has not held the record in particularly high esteem, though. Not a single of these songs has earned the status of an AC/DC classic — even 'High Voltage' (the song) ended up on the next album, one more victim of the confusing 'title track relocation' principle — and few, if any, sur­vived into the live setlists of 1976, not to mention later times.

In the long run, this may be just, and if the Young brothers prefer to remember High Voltage as merely a first-time semi-successful teeth-cutting effort, I see no reason to argue with them about it. The album most definitely loses steam after the first three songs, being built around simple, but not very captivating riffs that fail to deliver the proper AC/DC crunch: sort of thin and second-rate, particularly 'Stick Around', 'You Ain't Got A Hold On Me' and the totally generic 'Show Business'.

'Soul Stripper', in stark contrast, tries to give us a somewhat more complex picture, with atmosphere-setting instrumental intros, an artsy-sounding hard rock melody, and the above-mentioned guitar duel between Angus and Malcolm as the centerpoint. But they end up sounding more like Thin Lizzy than AC/DC, and we already have one Thin Lizzy. Worst offender is cer­tainly 'Love Song': if there ever was one person less fit for conveying sentimentality, it was the band's lead singer, and if there ever was one guitarist less fit for generating a state of "emotional catharsis", it was the band's lead player. On a pure historical level, though, 'Love Song' is a glo­rious oddity that deserves to be heard at least once.

Still, High Voltage does have three very high points that deserve honourable places on any AC/DC collection. 'Baby Please Don't Go', continuing the tradition of playing this old blues stan­dard in an ass-kicking, speedy rock'n'roll manner (The Amboy Dukes, Budgie, etc.), takes it to a whole new level, showing that the Young brothers' playing technique was perfectly immaculate from day one in the recording studio — the perfect coordination of the playing, the ability to play fast, precise and fiery at the same time, Angus' "proto-hammer-on" style, it's all there. 'She's Got Balls', dedicated by Bon Scott to his wife, no less, is their first "less-is-more"-type classic, with the dumbest, but scariest riff on the entire record. And last, but not least, is 'Little Lover', a Bon show all the way: unremarkable in terms of playing or arrangement, but establishing his sly, sleazy, sexy, disgustingly lovable personality once and for all. Where other cock-rockers sounded merely dumb — animal sex machines, winding up and down when told to — Bon's 'Little lover... I can't get you off my mind...' is pure Mephisto, and it feels nice, warm and cozy sitting so close to the flames, doesn't it?

For these three songs alone, High Voltage would deserve a thumbs up even if all the rest were Carpenters covers. It simply looks that the band did not have much of a strong parcel when faced with the prospect of recording their first album, or perhaps they just wanted to test several directions before choosing the main one.

5 comments:

  1. Took a couple of listens to get into, but it's worth it. It's certainly not in the same league as 'Let there be rock' and 'highway to hell,' but it's a very healthy start.

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  2. I just wasted 13 minutes of my life listening to Soul Stripper twice in a row, but if there is a sparring duet on it then Obama is president of Russia. It's just Malcolm playing two or three notes while Angus is soloing. Otherwise it's not any less or more boring than about everything else AC/DC recorded.
    Bon Scott has a nice voice, Angus is an excellent guitar player and the song is about as interesting as observing grass growing. Same for She's got Balls and Little Lover.

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    1. I'd have to agree with this assertion. I know that Bon Scott fans love to pretend that everything the man touched was gold simply because of his charisma, but this album is one of the more deadbeat sets the band ever put out.

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  3. A year later I can attest that MNb hasn't got much listening skills and the duet is there. And also Malcolm is the main lead player in "Little Lover".

    BTW: "Love Song", as hilarious as it is in restrospect, was the band's debut single! Luckily, the DJ's preferred to play the B-side ("Baby please don't go").

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    1. Oops, not their debut single, but their first single with Bon, I meant.

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