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Thursday, February 11, 2010

AC/DC: Flick Of The Switch


1) Rising Power; 2) This House Is On Fire; 3) Flick Of The Switch; 4) Nervous Shakedown; 5) Landslide; 6) Guns For Hire; 7) Deep In The Hole; 8) Bedlam In Belgium; 9) Badlands; 10) Brain Shake.

The idea behind Flick Of The Switch was that the band had become much too bloated and over-polished — the blame for which, unsurprisingly, was pinned on Mutt Lange, who had already ful­filled the important task of securing the band a happy old age, anyway. Subsequently, Malcolm and Angus fired the man and decided to produce the record on their own.

The changes are not huge, but important. The brothers do retain the «full» sound of the previous records, making the songs very bass-heavy and the riffs over-distorted, getting a much more metallic sheen than they used to in the Seventies. Accordingly, they stick Brian Johnson way over there in the corner, so that on each single song he has to struggle tremendously in order to out­shout the guitars. This is where you start to notice the differences: Mutt would solve the problem by emphasizing the vocals with a bit of echoing, so that, on their best songs of the early Eighties, Brian would be hovering over the musical waves like a supernatural evil presence. On Flick Of The Switch, he goes back to being the big nasty sweaty bulldog in the corner.

But they do achieve their goal — that way, the album is indeed much rawer and more «imme­diate» than its predecessors. And, as if rejuvenated and re-inspired by this approach, the brothers, this time around, complement it with yet another set of kick-ass riffs. Gone are the sleepy power chords of For Those About To Rock; in their place, we once again have perfect musical phra­sing — the melody that opens 'Rising Power' may not be one of their best, but it is a simplistic, catchy, fun hard rock riff, and there is nothing wrong with it that wasn't equally wrong with a song like 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap', for instance.

Other tunes show a renewed interest in the band's blues roots — 'Badlands' most obviously so, where Angus, armed with a distorted slide guitar, extracts a «sample part» of a 12-bar riff and somehow transform it into a head­banger's paradise (the mid-tempo build), but 'This House Is On Fire' sounds like it might have originally been conceived with the help of a slider as well. And, finally, they reward the fans with at least one breakneck speed anthem — 'Landslide' — with an unusually complex build-up from verse to bridge to chorus and quite a difficult picking pattern in the main melody, which, I think, Angus only topped with 'Thunderstruck' seven years later.

The lyrics are the album's weakest point: admittedly, Johnson never liked writing them all that much, and not only are all the subjects fairly typical, there is not even any effort to make their descriptions stylistically polished; lines like 'I'm a pistol-packing man with a gun in my hand, looking for a woman who will understand' have always left me wondering what exactly the woman is supposed to understand — for instance, why the hell does the man need one gun in his pack and another in his hand at the same time? Big exception: 'Bedlam In Belgium', not only a phonetically delicious song title, but actually a coherent, well-put account of an unhappy accident the band happened to run into on their latest European tour. Not exactly their 'Smoke On The Wa­ter', but pretty smouldering all the same.

Amazingly, there is not a single song on here that does not work in at least some way. The album yielded no hits at all, because nothing is particularly anthemic or immediately striking — this will probably explain the all too commonly encountered negative attitude, since, in AC/DC and gene­ral rock'n'roll lore, Flick Of The Switch is frequently singled out as the start of the decline, the turning point where AC/DC became «generic» and «stale» and «irrelevant». Such is the general critical consensus, at least, and even some non-hardliner fans have stated that this is where they jump ship in indignation.

Rubbish, as far as I am concerned; AC/DC have always been generic, but as long as they were fun, they were never irrelevant, and this is their secondmost funnest album of the Eighties. That ascending guitar line on the title track? FUN. 'Guns for hire, shoot you with desire'? FUN. 12-bar blues turned stoner rock on 'Badlands'? FUN. The way Brian howls 'Yonder she walked...' from inside a tin can at the start of 'House On Fire' and then immediately follows it up with a full-vo­lume 'Yow!' as if he'd crossed a large distance in one second? FUN. The way it takes 'Landslide' a whole minute of confusing ad-libbed blabber before it cuts to the main lyrics? FUN. There's lots of such amusing touches on the record — which, to me, prove that the band were in pretty high spirits indeed when making it, and that is the only thing that counts. Thumbs up all the way. And remember, this is the last time in history when you can hear Brian Johnson's voice in all of its primal glory.


  1. Slightly weaker than 'highway to hell,' 'back in black' and 'for those about to rock.' Every song is great, but some (like 'Guns for Hire') get a little repetitive. 'Deep in the Hole' also kind of sounds like a sequel to 'Back in Black.'

  2. I agree with you on this one. I prefered your older system on, and while I'm not a big fan of the thumbs up/thumbs down system, the reviews themselves are great. Keep up the good work. Can't wait until you get to the real meat (i.e. the Who (fav band of all time), the Beatles, the Stones, etc.)

  3. I've never really understood your confusion at the "pistol packing man with a gun in my hand" line. Call me crazy, but the slang for "packing" when speaking of firearms tends to just mean that one is carrying a weapon, not that it's actually in some sort of pack. So, he carries the weapon and just so happens to have it out at this moment .... or something. And perhaps the woman is supposed to understand why he carries the gun?

  4. "well-put account of an unhappy accident the band happened to run into on their latest European tour."
    Actually not the latest European tour, but the one six years before. Also well-put is quite different from accurate. Here are the policemen involved: