Usually thought to be in no mood for melancholic, moody rockers, AC/DC gets disarmingly streamlined, yet not short of left curves, in their 1978 release Powerage. Unbridled by expectations, Bon Scott and pals amplify their mundane Rock litany by retreating somehow from 1977’s Let There Be Rock’s bombast to little ditties dealing with Devilish effects of urban modernity’s lower reaches – by doing so, predating, albeit in broodier key, 1979’s Highway to Hell. Otherwise remembered by Cliff Williams’ debut replacing Mark Evans, Powerage would be the last ammunition left to Vanda & George’s producer tag team. From live If You Want Blood…onwards AC/DC rest under the wings of bombast impresario Robert “Mutt” Lange.
Metal and Hard Rock AC/DC fans may not remember Powerage. After Scott’s death, they had bigger hits and size-plus stadium apparatus. In retrospect, it usually gets sandwiched between iconic discography items. In retrospect also, we have additional edge to rephrase sentences putting newfound emphasis on Powerage’s restraint and mood as influential moves. Pregnant with dissonant possibilities, 1978’s AC/DC seems less constrained by a genre it defined as well as challenged. Ongoing motions – opening and closing doors, some important ones that would quietly be reopened during their 1983 Flick of the Switch and 1995 Ballbreaker attempts, also reconnecting with earlier Australasian releases then all but underrated.
An apathetic version of Rock N’Roll Damnation main riff would be recycled for Sink the Pink. Here Scott can’t get enough and the Young brothers follow suit – relentless, no rush. Placating the seamless intensity with calculated restraint, Williams and Phil Rudd resort to the lurking side of things. Take a chance while you still got a choice – look no further, no solo, no complex harmonies. Pumping through guts but, rather than trending anything out of the way, AC/DC bookends with KISS-like manic repetition. If only because for practitioners, departing from retro-expectations, Rock N’Roll was not, per se, damnation back in 1978. CHUCK BERRY rolled over Beethoven. Rock’s Blues affiliation included Gospel and Jazz and anything in between. After many Progressive years of respectable gentleman, Rock N’Roll was business as usual. Scott and misfits did much to revile Rock for its social maladjustment – for societies are contingent arrangements filled with ambiguities.
Electric Blues has been dissected and reinvented countless times since MUDDY WATERS plugged on. Off the commonplaces of the genre, Down Payment Blues delves in retrospection. Scott adds layers of recapitulation and persistence – the expectation that Blues, in LEADBELLY’s words, Devil’s little ditty, sells a hell lotta records for white audiences since 1960s. Here, balanced by underlying irony. Scotsmen drenched in Australia talk of idleness, taxmen and underemployment to British audiences at the peak of 1970s’ stagflation. Bouncing back the Blues with electric fuzz overload and brief feedback squalls, AC/DC’s trailblazing twist of irony-drenched contradictions reaches almost epic proportions – meta-Mutt in advance. Malcolm’s uncannily fluid patterns open the gates for Angus’ rodent riffage. Bon vivant gets the upper hand: punch-down vocals plus hyper-surreal lyrics.
I know that it's evil
I know that it's got to be
I know I ain't doing much
Doing nothing means a lot to me
Living on a shoe string
A fifty cent millionaire
Open to charity
Rock 'n' roller welfare
Sitting in my Cadillac
Listening to my radio
Suzy baby get on in
Tell me where she want to go
I'm living in a nightmare
She's looking like a wet dream
I got myself a Cadillac
But I can't afford the gasoline
I've got holes in my shoes
And I'm way overdue
Down payment blues
Get myself a steady job
Can't even feed my cat
On social security
Hiding from the rent man
Oh it makes me want to cry
Sheriff knocking on my door
Ain't it funny how the time flies
Sitting on my sailing boat
Sipping off my champagne
Suzy baby all at sea (Suzy baby you're obscene)
Say she want to come again
Feeling like a paper cup
(Floating, blowing) down a storm drain
Got myself a sailing boat
But I can't afford the gasoline
But I can't afford to gather way
Fading out to The Jack’s vamped-up crawl, AC/DC metamorphoses bailout into unhinged, repressed sex. We know – it’s evil. Somehow, the band shows more than it says why it needed to be so bad – Blues hijacked for the sake of Rock N’Roll ruffianism.
Ripping the fields for Highway to Hell, Gimme a Bullet provides a subdued variation of that remarkable riff. Apart from this notch beneath, still kicking, AC/DC pounds riffs and linear agony to filtering effects – pumping through the spheres a chorus erupts, no filler or fat.
Gimme a bullet to bite on
Something to chew
Gimme a bullet to bite on
And I'll make believe
I'll make believe it's you
Scott, smoked pipes in maelstrom epiphany, twists his best vocal emission in all the brief rapture (“gone tomorrow”) of his tenure in the gang. Therefore he parachutes in another insistent mantra, moving parts blinking to the bone. No cure for the pain in his eyes.
Ooooh...One with the riff. Barricade can’t stop cavalcading guitars. AC/DC drives to oblivion – Angus pummelling, Malcolm hammering on, Williams-Rudd banging down anvil. Riff Raff plays as it reads, Scott wastes no jive in talking. A stunner this side of CHUCK BERRY, steady influence on New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
After hyperkinetic travelogue, relax. Sin City puts champagne on ice for dry girls with diamond dust in their eyes. Unforgivable for feminists, living inside romanticized Rock imagery gets under 1978’s AC/DC’s skin. Angus extended soloing boosts no pride, rather workmanlike appreciation for the vicarious craft of decadence. What else could reproach the quiet middle section where Scott overlaps ladders and snakes, rich and poor man with no hope in hell?
What’s Next to the Moon – surprise – evokes JUDAS PRIEST’s mid-1980s mid-tempo ballads. No textured band to begin with, AC/DC guys love what they need. A quasi-restrained Angus with sheets of flanger befriends New Wave whereas his solo leaves history another clue Blues Arena Rock. Among charted possibilities, trading vocals (Malcolm’s gruff notable) as ROLLING STONES album tracks. AC/DC percolates the arts with no affect lost down the world to bail.
Another compressed output of rhythm and ingenious riffing – Gone Shootin’ – pulls Angus’ trigger a little further with no pretence, imperturbably. Across Scott’s favourite shooting traces of 1950s Blues and Hard Rock by late 1960s pioneers became minuscule, compact, overridden by sputtering riffs. Bastard versions of Exile on Main St., signposts for 1980s’ angularity? There, really no place to qualm – fake ending come across as half-budget aftershock to DIRE STRAITS.
Up to My Neck in You will put Scott in trouble. You know what a fool can do. Providing a double to Rock N’Roll Damnation’s incessant spasm before the album ends seems exhausted fumes on autopilot. Williams’ bass nearly audible comes across as AEROSMITH’s Mama Kin. Who cares when Angus’ sleaze slides through the veins? Up to their necks in whisky, AC/DC bludgeoning stamina eventually renders eventful the wait, Angus-paved leather Scott all nods and winks to Brian Johnson’s shrieking.
After many diatribes against you and them, a slow Blues intro that puts Rock N’Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution to rest. Kicked in the Teeth follows with Whole Lotta Rosie-Let There Be Rock's full throttle and lyrical putdown. Again, Angus has an ear for his secret place, a guitar highway (talking riffs rerun Riff Raff and the intro to JUDAS PRIEST’s Freewheel Burning, common platform for QUEEN’s Tie Your Mother Down and LED ZEPPELIN’s Rock and Roll), the other one for concise blast and split-second theatrics – venture an encapsulation of Powerage in the course of a sole song and then some AC/DC career retrospective. Not bad for a allegedly one-note band. See ya.
File under: booze, sex, Blues, non-conformism
* * * * 1/2 Rock N’ Roll Damnation
* * * * * Down Payment Blues
* * * * 1/2 Gimme a Bullet
* * * * * Riff Raff
* * * * Sin City
* * * 1/2 What’s Next to the Moon
* * * * Gone Shootin’
* * * * Up to My Neck in You
* * * * 1/2 Kicked in the Teeth
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