AC/DC: BLOW UP YOUR VIDEO (1988)
After the critical and commercial failure of Fly On The Wall, AC/DC's fortunes perked up somewhat with the release of Who Made Who, the band's soundtrack to Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive (apparently, AC/DC happen to be King's favorite band, which should come as no surprise to King fans because, in reality, AC/DC are everybody's favorite band, it's just that not everybody has properly understood it so far. But someday, even you will see the light). Granted, it merely gave the fans an opportunity to re-buy such old hits as 'You Shook Me All Night Long', along with two punchy, but forgettable instrumentals and the title track — a catchy pop-rocker that nevertheless may have alarmed some purists with its big electronic drum sound.
Two years later, the purists had every cause to rejoice: not only did the band's next album contain no traces whatsoever of any electronic tampering, but the Young brothers were obviously dead set on correcting Fly On The Wall's horrendous mix problems by reteaming with their old producing duo of Vanda & Young. They were also dead set on recapturing the ballsiness of yore: for the first time since 1980, they come up with a proper album title — alluding to healthy destruction and, along the way, poking fun at MTV; a proper album sleeve — Angus bursting through a shattered and splintered video screen; and a proper album introduction, as 'Heatseeker' stomps into your room at breakneck speed.
At this point, stylistics would require the use of a turn of phrase such as «Too bad they manage to strangle all hope by the time the second song comes along...», and, in fact, such was, and still is, the attitude of quite a few critics, who have worked hard at creating the image of Blow Up Your Video as the lowest, or one of the lowest, points in the band's career. But guidelines for measuring the level of awesomeness of an AC/DC album do not generally go beyond gut reaction, and what can I do if my gut reaction reads overtly positive?
Seriously, at least half of these songs are fun. What other AC/DC record starts and ends with a speedy rocker? And not just a speedy rocker, but 'Heatseeker' is their liveliest anthem to the pleasures of headbanging in a long, long time — I will certainly take its Chuck Berry attitude over the fat pomp of 'For Those About To Rock' any time of day — whereas 'This Means War' is just as exciting in terms of showcasing Angus' «tapping» technique as the far better known 'Thunderstruck', just not as anthemic.
There are also nice apocalyptic notes scattered here and there, most overtly so in 'Some Sin For Nuthin', with arguably the most meaningful lyrics Brian Johnson ever wrote: 'Some sin for gold, some sin for shame, some sin for cash, some sin for gain, some sin for wine, some sin for pain, but I ain't gonna be the fool who's gonna have to sin for nothing!' — and the brothers come up with a suitably grim riff and an ominous atmosphere. «Intellectually oriented» fans of the band like to complain, with generally good reason, about how the coming of Johnson ruined AC/DC's flashes of street wit, sarcasm, and self-irony embodied by Bon; but songs like this could have very easily fit onto an album like Powerage, and might make one want to think twice before pronouncing judgement on Johnson's cranium capacity (which would necessarily involve some lame joke about his cap, I suppose).
Other good riffs can also be found. 'Meanstreak' has one, presented in a cool alternation with a memorable bass line (a rarity!). 'Two's Up' has one — a weeping one! 'Kissin' Dynamite' hasn't got one, but the chorus is still fun, and the song, with its slow ominous build-up, has later been employed as the blueprint for about half of the Ballbreaker album. It may take a couple listens to get used to the amicable nature of these hooks — which, perhaps, accounts for the lack of luck, since we generally expect to be satisfied with an AC/DC record at first listen, otherwise, what's the point? — but once you're in the game, you won't want to let it go. As for the filler tracks, there certainly are some (I can never remember a single thing about 'Ruff Stuff' or 'Go Zone', for instance), but this is the obligatory blame of just about any AC/DC album.
The saddest thing is the ongoing deterioration of Johnson's voice. They still put a heavy echo on it, but not nearly as heavy as the last time around, and the ever-increasing rasp begins to get on one's nerves. The thing to do is try not to concentrate on it at all; every time I start thinking about it, I begin to feel a nasty lump in my own throat, and, instead of just digging the music, experience admiration for the humanism of the Young brothers, stuck with a pathetic voiceless shadow of a formerly terrifying singer for the next two decades, yet gallantly refusing to let him go — surely they didn't just let him tag along because of the fans growing accustomed to the cap and the wife beater shirt? There's chivalry involved, right?
All in all, a thumbs up; this is, by all means, a serious improvement on Fly On The Wall, even though it is still riddled with problems of inconsistent songwriting, average mixing, and progressively deteriorating singing. But it does rock.