AC/DC: BACKTRACKS (1974-2001/2009)
CD I: 1) High Voltage; 2) Stick Around; 3) Love Song; 4) It's A Long Way To The Top; 5) Rocker; 6) Fling Thing; 7) Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap; 8) Ain't No Fun (Waitin' 'Round To Be A Millionnaire); 9) R.I.P. (Rock In Peace); 10) Carry Me Home; 11) Crabsody In Blue; 12) Cold Hearted Man; 13) Who Made Who (12" Extended Mix); 14) Snake Eye; 15) Borrowed Time; 16) Down On The Borderline; 17) Big Gun; 18) Cyberspace; CD II: 1) Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap; 2) Dog Eat Dog; 3) Live Wire; 4) Shot Down In Flames; 5) Back In Black; 6) T.N.T.; 7) Let There Be Rock; 8) Guns For Hire; 9) Sin City; 10) Rock'n'Roll Ain't Noise Pollution; 11) This House Is On Fire; 12) You Shook Me All Night Long; 13) Jailbreak; 14) Shoot To Thrill; 15) Hell Ain't A Bad Place To Be; CD III: 1) High Voltage; 2) Hells Bells; 3) Whole Lotta Rosie; 4) Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap; 5) Highway To Hell; 6) Back In Black; 7) For Those About To Rock; 8) Ballbreaker; 9) Hard As A Rock; 10) Dog Eat Dog; 11) Hail Caesar; 12) Whole Lotta Rosie; 13) You Shook Me All Night Long; 14) Safe In New York City.
Another cooky boxset, released at the peak of the Black Ice hype and featuring the latest and greatest in boxset technology: a box that represents a real small working amplifier (one watt power, so as not to disturb the neighbours). Apart from the packaging delights, however, Backtracks only goes to show, once more, just how uncluttered the vaults are.
The set exists in two versions — three CDs/two DVDs and two CDs/one DVD, respectively — and only the first CD really makes any proper sense, since it carefully collects all, or most, of the B-sides and rarities that used to make the professional collector a human being of a different order from the mere mortal. No more. Now even the laymen have regular, simple access to pleasures they had missed, such as:
— the B-side to the 'Jailbreak' single, surreptitiously called 'Fling Thing' but in reality the same 'Bonnie' that the band sang along with the audience on the Live album, only in the studio, with nearly inaudible vocals but quite well-pronounced guitar;
— the Australian-only release of 'Rock In Peace' (originally on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap) and 'Crabsody In Blue' (originally on Let There Be Rock), a mid-tempo and a slow blues shuffle respectively, both of which further develop Bon Scott's sickly predictable brand of teenage humor ('Crabsody In Blue' is basically 'The Jack Part 2');
— 'Cold Hearted Man', a rocker from Powerage that sounds exactly like most other rockers on Powerage and (possibly, for that same reason) disappeared on the American LP;
— some unremarkable Johnson-era B-sides from the late Eighties. If you hate Blow Up Your Video, don't bother. I don't, but I still don't bother;
— 'Big Gun', a pretty damn good thing written for the soundtrack of Last Action Hero (well, it ain't Scorsese, but still a good excuse for popcorn consumption). That is, until you realize the principal excitement comes from the same type of vocal hook that used to be 'Bedlam In Belgium' (the riff from that one they recycled elsewhere).
Granted, this (plus a couple other unmentionables) is no Ali Baba's treasure cave, but still a good source of iron for completists. As for the two live CDs, the small bunch of Bon Scott-era live material is expendable (no surprises next to the wealth on Bonfire); the nine songs recorded live at Donington in 1991 are a complete waste of space — they are more or less the same as on the Live album from the 1991 tour — unless you are a particular fan of the Donington concert (available on video in its entirety) and are too lazy to rip the audio off your DVD all by yourself; the live stuff from 1996 lets you see that Ballbreaker was not all bad, but also shows that, by that time, the band was not able to amass the same level of fury onstage that it did in the studio; and the extended live version of 'Jailbreak' from 1985 is terrific until the strip section, where you will be subject to approximately five or six minutes of the bass drum going BOOM... BOOM... BOOM... while Angus is slowly trying to figure out whether or not to give in to the crowd's demand for admiring his manhood. Authentic, but imminently skippable.
So, basically, the only real reason to own these extra two CDs is for the eight live tracks from 1981 to 1983, which capture a still young and fearsome band with hard rock's deadliest singer in his absolute prime. Granted, Brian, even at his very best and healthiest, never sang as good on stage as he did in the studio — apparently, lack of concentration and the necessity to lash and thrash about in order to keep up with the world's wildest guitarist, not to mention the necessity of constantly adjusting his cap (why he never came up with the idea of gluing it on is one of rock's deepest mysteries), hindered him from hitting all the right notes. But belt it out he could, and did, and once you get adjusted to all the little mistakes, these live renditions will be a nice change from the overplayed studio counterparts — plus, they include two of the best songs from Flick Of The Switch, and I count this as a personal gift.
Overall, while this is not the symmetric Johnson-era companion to Bonfire that the fans were expecting (under a guessable title like Brianstorm or Brianshake), it is almost the thing — the Bon-era material is underrepresented, and the Brian-era material graciously lets us remember some of the best pages of his legacy. In that sense, it is a companion, and a must-have for fans, if not for general audiences.