AC/DC: THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1990)
1) Thunderstruck; 2) Fire Your Guns; 3) Moneytalks; 4) The Razor's Edge; 5) Mistress For Christmas; 6) Rock Your Heart Out; 7) Are You Ready; 8) Got You By The Balls; 9) Shot Of Love; 10) Let's Make It; 11) Goodbye & Good Riddance To Bad Luck; 12) If You Dare.
The choice of Bruce Fairbairn, the former producer for Bon Jovi and the corporate incarnation of Aerosmith, was weird, especially right after the reteaming with Vanda and Young — in spirit, no two production styles could be more different. However, what with all the critical lashing and the singer continuing to lose his voice at an alarming rate, the band needed a commercial shot in the arm, and, most probably, they expected Fairbairn to give them the same kind of slick stimulus that they had earlier received from Lange. Amazingly, this is exactly what happened!
The Razor's Edge is AC/DC's «poppiest» record since at least Highway To Hell, and, although some of the veteran fans despised its clean and merry nature, the casual listener need not be afraid. Fairbairn was not stupid enough to try to deprive the band of its trademarks — he simply pushed them into exploring other directions than the exclusively blues-oriented hard rock style, and he is probably responsible for the odd diversity of the album.
Indeed, had it sustained the same level of variety as displayed by the first four tracks, The Razor's Edge might have become one of AC/DC's biggest artistic triumphs. The famous «tapping» (actually, «pseudo-tapping») melody of 'Thunderstruck' might have partially endeared the song to hair metal lovers, but it still retains the tone and the punkish spite of AC/DC, never ever going into any of the corny van Halenish «God of Thunder» modes, despite invoking thunder all the time — and its busy droning instantly commands the listening attention of just about everyone. Who says this band is boring? On 'Thunderstruck', there is about a miriad subtly different ways in which Angus' and Malcolm's guitars connect with and disconnect from each other, and, at the same time, it is one of the greatest driving songs of all time. At least today, when people are no longer cursed with having it blast out of every second car window, as it used to be in 1990.
'Fire Your Guns' returns us to more traditional territory, but in a major way — not only is it one of the band's fastest songs ever, but they seem to have remembered what it is like to plan and record a superbly constructed three-minute rocker with not one second wasted. Riff, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, instrumental bridge, instrumental verse, bridge, chorus, short maniacal build-up to the finale, each in its right place: three minutes of getting your ass kicked by the elite squad of ass-kicking. Johnson sounds like he is busy regurgitating his vomit most of the time, but, in a way, this only adds to the ass-kicking.
Then — one more surprise with 'Moneytalks', another hit single that lands them firmly in the «power pop» camp, what with that anthemic chorus and the song's general party attitude. Who cares? Why complain? The Youngs have provided not one, but two memorable riffs for the occasion — I actually like the brain-pounding verse riff far better than the beer-chugging chorus riff — and what other criteria are there for judging the quality of their songs? Yes, one can understand some of the old fans worrying, but there is no need for us to join their ranks, at least not until we get the true statistics on how many people started going to AC/DC shows hoping to hear 'Come on, come on, listen to the money talk!' and leaving in disgust at the sounds of 'Whole Lotta Rosie' or 'Hells Bells'. And even if some did — so what?
Speaking of 'Hells Bells', the title track clearly strives for a similar apocalyptic vibe, but with a denser, more multi-layered and imposing sound, trying to go a little beyond basic ass-kicking and establish a generally sinister background with its heavy reliance on power chords and «evil» vocal harmonies. Again, while the approach in itself is not all that different from 'Hells Bells', the overall synthesis is fairly new and, I would say, successful. AC/DC were never in great danger of becoming Iron Maiden anyway, but it is fun to see them trying on this kind of image.
It is with the (un)suitably titled 'Mistress For Christmas' that the band starts running out of steam and reverting back to the usual clichés; the remainder of the album is patchy, alternating tight, focused, but not tremendously memorable, rockers ('Shot Of Love', 'If You Dare') with slow-moving lumbering monsters that sound like outtakes from Blow Up Your Video ('Got You By The Balls') and songs that do not have any creative ideas at all ('Goodbye & Good Riddance To Bad Luck', 'Rock Your Heart Out'). They are still crisply produced and all, but this is the breaking point at which Brian's gurgling voice becomes a real nuisance.
Another nuisance is that Brian did not write any of the lyrics. In some of his interviews, he confesses that he never really liked that occupation, and was only too relieved to hear Malcolm and Angus propose that they shoulder this burden themselves. This is strange, because, next to the Young brothers' word-wielding skills, Johnson is at least a Yeats (and Bon Scott no less than a Lord Byron). As late as Blow Up Your Video, Brian was writing at least some texts that dealt — crudely, but listenably — with the traditional blues topics of trouble, sin, and redemption; the Youngs, ninety percent of the time, seem to only be able to come up with the traditional blues topic of the dirty old man. Their idea of a good lyric goes something like this: "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the day; I just can't wait till Christmas time when I can grope you in the hay". Bon must have been rolling in his grave.
The album is thus riddled with problems — yet it is still a miraculous achievement for a band of 40-year old codgers who, long past their prime, were still able to make the world pay attention without significantly compromising their style and their values. For that fact alone, as well as the four opening classics, The Razor's Edge is a surefire thumbs up experience. But even on the whole, and even taken out of its context, and even when you have to sit through all the filler, it still delivers the right punches. Since then, the band has failed to deliver anything that would top it, and, at this point, probably never will.