AC/DC: STIFF UPPER LIP (2000)
1) Stiff Upper Lip; 2) Meltdown; 3) House Of Jazz; 4) Hold Me Back; 5) Safe In New York City; 6) Can't Stand Still; 7) Can't Stop Rock'n'Roll; 8) Satellite Blues; 9) Damned; 10) Come And Get It; 11) All Screwed Up; 12) Give It Up.
Returning to elder brother George for production — and elder brother George helps them restore the balance by steering them back into the amplified pub rock direction of their earliest releases. If The Razor's Edge was heavy metal with a power-pop edge, and Ballbreaker was heavy metal with a blues-rock edge, then Stiff Upper Lip is no longer heavy metal: it is hard barroom rock, and it works pretty well for the band at this juncture.
Turns out the Youngs' riffpark is still running strong. The title track runs on a sly, relatively complex blues riff that seeps inside only slowly, but gradually it becomes a cool, humorous pub rock anthem that is neither too lax nor too overstated. It is also fun to see Angus begin his solo with a series of drunk, disjointed, incoherent licks, only to have a steady, climactic Chuck-o-Berry melody emerge from under them a few bars later and smash the listener into the ground. But it is Brian Johnson who takes the cake, starting the song off with some gruff Tom Waits-like bluesroaring, tricking one into believing that, perhaps, the high notes are gone forever? — then, once the main body of the song kicks in, bringing you back those high notes with a freshness that you have not experienced for over a decade. (Apparently, he had some throat surgery in the interim).
What makes the song so likable? Thematically, it is not all that different from 'Hard As A Rock'; but the former was anthemic and sounded like it took itself too seriously, where 'Stiff Upper Lip' just kicks some modest ass and presents a little self-irony: "I keep a stiff upper lip / And I shoot from the hip", Brian sings, and although we all know that he is quite liable to missing if he really shoots from the hip, there is some relaxed fun in his voice, indicating that he might be firmly aware of that, too. 'Stiff Upper Lip' does not try to prove that they are still tough; it just busies itself with giving you a good time.
The same applies to most of this album. The doom-laden feeling of 'The Furor' and 'Burnin' Alive' is nowhere to be seen. The closest this record ever gets to «ominous» is 'Safe In New York City', and even so, mostly because of the tension-mounting arrangement on the opening riff and the late-coming association with 9/11, even though the song itself was released more than half a year before the catastrophe. It is pretty gritty, but certainly not apocalyptic, just tough in a streetwise way, ridiculing the concept of a «safe metropolis» as such.
Much more biting and, in my opinion, a minor overlooked gem, is the slow pounding groove of 'Damned', where the Young brothers take on the issue of straightjacketing society — apparently, the most picking issue they have with The Man, as they condemn it with arguably one of their best sets of lyrics. Johnson catches on to it fairly quickly, and his "I'll be damned if I drink or smoke, damned if I steal your joke, damned if I go for broke, damned if I do, damned if I don't!" is surprisingly relevant and poignant for the modern age.
But most of the other songs are simply about having a good time. They are ready to rock, they can't stand still, it's getting hot, you can't stop rock'n'roll, she start a-rockin', come and get it — all the regular news. No bad songs, no timeless masterpieces. Catchy choruses. Good clean production with very little metal edge. Johnson totally tolerable throughout. Throw in a couple extra beers and Stiff Upper Lip goes down nice and smooth. If they and I live for another two hundred years, there is no harm in getting a new album like this with every new decade.