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Like recorded music itself, AC / DCs are designed for repetition. Bassist Cliff Williams once said it sounds “the same in every song”. “Most drummers are afraid to try this,” said Phil Rudd of his no-nonsense drumming, which treats rhythmic variation as a serious challenge to the natural order of things. If the definition of insanity is doing the same action over and over and expecting different results, then the Australian hard rock titans are beacons of sanity. In their world, the less things change, the more they stay the same.
The logic is powerful, as are career sales of over 200 million albums. But even the most repeatable tool is subject to wear. On one level, Switch onthe title is completely generic, the latest AC / DC album with an electrical reference (see also High voltage, Power, Flick of switch). On another level, it brings a new note of stubbornness.
Not long ago, the plug seemed in danger of being pulled on AC / DC. In 2015, Rudd was convicted in New Zealand of drug possession and violent threats. The following year, singer Brian Johnson dropped out of a world tour due to hearing problems. Williams decided to hang up the bass soon after. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, the beating heart of the band, died in 2017. His brother, guitarist Angus Young, was the last man standing.
But somehow the end was avoided. Switch on detects that AC / DC turns on again as if nothing had changed. Johnson’s hearing was restored by experimental medical treatment. Rudd has served his sentence and has repented. Williams has decided to retire. Meanwhile, Malcolm’s nephew Stevie reprises the rhythm guitar role he took on after his uncle left the band in 2014 due to illness.
Angus described the album as a tribute to his brother. True to form, it frames it as a repeat of the role played by a previous AC / DC album: 1980’s Back in the dark, one of the best-selling LPs ever, which commemorated the death of original singer Bon Scott.
The songs, based on old and unreleased songs, are credited to both Youngs. Produced by Brendan O’Brien, the sound quality is punchy. Johnson, 73, howls more manly than ever, the definition of “bally” in a spoken dictionary. The music unfolds in a standard style, a progression of powerful attack chords, response riffs, and shortened bursts of Angus’ guitar action. In the midst of uniformity, qualitative differences are perceptible. “Kick You When You’re Down” has animation absent from other tracks.
As always, belligerence and sexual innuendo are the order of the day. Much of it is comically over-the-top, like the energetically intriguing truck driver and his “tattooed lady” in “Shot in the Dark,” though there are hints of something darker as well. “You better give me what I want or I’ll beat you,” Johnson growls in “Rejection,” a seething revenge fantasy with an ambiguously unspecified recipient.
Back in the dark, let’s remember, featured an outright rape fantasy, “Let Me Put My Love into You.” There is nothing so objectionable here. But the cartoonish masculinism of AC / DC songs – “Like a Leopard Who Can’t Change His Points,” as Johnson sings in “Witch’s Spell” – has become a tired, repetitive routine in the worst sense. Familiarity can generate contentment for AC / DC audiences, happy to have proof that hard-rock stubborns are still working. But that’s the limit of Switch onthe utility.
‘Switch on‘is published by Sony Music