Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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AC/DC

  • Back in Black [Atlantic, 1980] B-
  • Dirty Deeds Done Cheap [Atlantic, 1981] C+
  • For Those About to Rock We Salute You [Atlantic, 1981] C
  • Who Made Who [Atlantic, 1986] B
  • Blow Up Your Video [Atlantic, 1988] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Back in Black [Atlantic, 1980]
Replacing Aerosmith as primitives of choice among admirers of heavy machinery, these Aussies are a little too archetypal for my tastes. Angus Young does come up with killer riffs, though not as consistently as a refined person like myself might hope, and fresh recruit Brian Johnson sings like there's a cattle prod at his scrotum, just the thing for fans who can't decide whether their newfound testosterone is agony or ecstasy. AC/DC can't decide either--"Shoot to Thrill," "Given [sic] the Dog a Bone," and "Let Me Put My Love Into You" all concern the unimaginative sexual acts you'd imagine, and "What Do You Do for Money Honey" has a more limited set of answers than the average secretary would prefer. My sister's glad they don't write fantasy and science fiction, and if you're female you're free to share her relief. Brothers are more deeply implicated in these matters. B-

Dirty Deeds Done Cheap [Atlantic, 1981]
A 1976 Australian LP released in the wake of their ascension to the U.S. top ten, this is where those of us who weren't paying attention meet the blokelike croak of the legendary Bon Scott, asphyxiated by his own vomit shortly after Highway to Hell broke them Stateside. Now I understand why they say Brian Johnson has a great voice--he's got about about three times the range and wattage, the bloke as fantasy-fiction demigod. But those who prefer Scott's charm have a point. Like Ian Hunter or Roger Chapman though without their panache, he has fun being a dirty young man--he almost slavers through "Ain't No Fun Waiting Round to Be a Millionaire," and "Big Balls" is fully outrageous in its class hostility. Needless to say, sexual hostility--disguised as fun, of course--is more his speed. C+

For Those About to Rock We Salute You [Atlantic, 1981]
Brian Johnson takes over, defining an anthemic grandiosity more suitable to their precious-metal status than Bon Scott's old-fashioned raunch. Also dumber. "Let's Get It Up" is a limited sentiment in any case. But I'd appreciate some indication that Johnson knows the difference between his dick and the light tower. C

Who Made Who [Atlantic, 1986]
The soundtrack to Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive is no best-of, not with Bon Scott shafted (the tired "Ride On") and two of the three new songs instrumentals. Still, one instrumental is showtime, the title tune is really a tune, "Hell's Bells" will give Christians fits, and sexual metaphors are kept to a minimum. I wish their only great work of art, the drum-hooked fucksong "You Shook Me All Night Long," wasn't buried on side one the way it's buried in Black in Black. But this is their most presentable collection nevertheless. B

Blow Up Your Video [Atlantic, 1988]
The brutal truth is that sexism has never kept a great rock-and-roller down--from Muddy to Lemmy, lots of dynamite music has objectified women in objectionable ways. But rotely is not among those ways. I mean, these guys have never known how to throw a party. Sure their costumery is good for a laugh, but Brian Johnson shrieks too much, which gets positively painful as he grows hoarse with the encroaching years, and they've always been stingy with their famous killer riffs. Their reunion with Vanda & Young no more signals their renewed determination to make good albums than Elton John's reunion with Bernie Taupin. It signals commercial panic, and unlike Elton they're unlikely to reverse their downward sales path over the long haul. I eagerly await their retirement and the dynamite best-of I trust will prove subsequent upon it. C+

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1970s]: No sexual preference implied.

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]