Pros:bluesy, ballsy, and rockin
Cons:only 9 songs
The Bottom Line: Powerage is AC/DC's best, most focused album, even if it is a tad too short.
When a debate breaks out about what the best AC/DC album is, especially amongst casual fans, there are usually a pair of contenders, and a whole bunch of pretenders. The contenders, of course, are the band's last album with original lead singer Bon Scott, Highway to Hell, and the Scott tribute with second singer Brian Johnson, Back in Black.
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Amongst hardcore followers however, there is another album that is constantly being named AC/DC's best album. That album is Powerage, the pre-cursor to Highway to Hell.
Recently re-issued as part of the second series of AC/DC reissues (a third series comes next month), and remastered from the original mix down two track masters, Powerage is everything it's name suggests: full of power, vitality, and energy. And yes, it is my pick for the best album AC/DC has ever (and probably will ever) record.
Many people joke about AC/DC's signature sound, saying that every song sounds the same, that every album sounds the same, and so on and so forth. While this is true with some of their records, Powerage is a notable exception. It is, more than any other album the band put out, a reflection of what they always aimed to be as a band and of what their influences were.
Most people will point to Sin City as being the main attraction on this record, and from a casual fan standpoint, there's no doubt that is the case. However, there are no less than 3 or 4 other songs that easily can make a case to being named the "best" song on this great (albeit short) record.
It opens with Rock and Roll Damnation, a song that is pure bluesy rock and roll at it's heart, with a great refrain of "take a chance, while you still got the choice!" I love how great this song sounds blaring out of the speakers, it just screams to be played at maximum volume.
What follows is the slow buildup to Down Payment Blues, another song that drives forward with an unspoken intensity that no hard rock or metal band (with the possible exception of Tool) of today can match. I really like the guitar work by the infamous Young brothers, Malcolm (rhythm) and Angus (lead).
In fact, the work by Angus on that track may only be eclipsed by his work on another track on this record, the unbelievably powerful Riff Raff.
The vocals take nearly two minutes to begin, but you won't care, as Angus just wails away while the solid rhythm section of Phil Rudd (drums) and Cliff Williams (debuting with the band here on bass) lays down a heavy and steady backbeat. Not lost is Bon Scott's impassioned vocal performance, which has stood the test of time and remains as one of his finest recorded moments ever (actually, this album stands as quite probably his best set of studio performances ever).
That's followed up by Sin City, and don't be fooled by what I said earlier: this is one bada*s song, but with so many great songs on this record, it's easy to kind of lose interest in the "cool" song from the record. Together, Riff Raff and Sin City are one of the greatest back to back jobs in recorded hard rock history.
Hell, by the time you get to the boogie-like groove of Gone Shootin (featured prominently in the movie Beavis and Butthead Do America), you just may be exhausted from what you've heard before it. I love Gone Shootin, it has such a different vibe from the rest of the record, it's really quite laid back (for AC/DC at least) and it has a truly great blues feel to it.
The band closes out the album with two energetic rockers, Up to My Neck In You and Kicked in the Teeth, which are actually two of the weaker songs on the album, which is to say they are great songs overshadowed by even greater songs.
You guys can have the over-polished Back in Black. And the slightly over-rated Highway to Hell. I'll take Powerage over both of them...
More on AC/DC:
Highway to Hell
Live in Boston, 5/4/01 (concert review)
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