How many years has it been since AC/DC's last album? Five? Ten? Twenty-five? Does it really matter? As long as there are kids getting high in their Camaros on Friday night and strippers twirling their ta-tas for lunchtime buffet feasters, there'll be AC/DC. The perpetually youthful Australians will still be around after the rest of the world collapses under the weight of bailouts and bombs. And they'll still be making three-chord riff-rawk about their two favorite things: sex and rock 'n' roll.
On their first album since 2000's Stiff Upper Lip - which was a stiff recycling of themes and chords that hadn't budged since Reagan was president - AC/DC loses some of the fat, turns up the amps and delivers its best album in a quarter-century. But Black Ice isn't a revolution; it's simply Angus Young and the boys doing what they do best. Producer Brendan O'Brien (who reignited the career of another classic-rock icon, Bruce Springsteen) polishes the edges, pushes up the bottom and makes nearly every one of Young's searing guitar solos ring.
Opener "Rock N' Roll Train" chugs along with familiar crunch, as singer Brian Johnson turns his well-worn rasp into a racing locomotive. "Anything Goes," a meaty slab of hook-filled guitar and leering lyrics, scrapes the band's occasional pop side (sorry, purists - "You Shook Me All Night Long" is a pop song, and a great one at that). And "Skies on Fire, "Big Jack" and "Smash N' Grab" are the type of mindless monster rock that AC/DC can play comatose.
Even though the guys are in their mid-50s, they still like to rock, as they make clear on "Rock N' Roll Train," "She Likes Rock N Roll," "Rock N' Roll Dream" and "Rocking All the Way" - and those are just the songs that let you know about it upfront.
Black Ice (a Wal-Mart exclusive following in the arch-supported footsteps of the Eagles and Journey) is an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll record by an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll band that has no use for iTunes or any other industry advancement of the past 30 years.
But for a band that's had a long career playing bar rock at arena-size levels, AC/DC should know by now that a little goes a long way.
Yet Black Ice goes on way longer than it needs to. About halfway into these 15 tracks, the group's pesky limitations (there are maybe three songs here; everything else is a variation on them) surface, while cuts like "War Machine," "Wheels" and "Stormy May Day" string together rhymes and solos with little if any enthusiasm. But these are mere bumps on a most-welcomed return ride down the highway to hell.