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John Paul Jones
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Stiff Upper Lip (Elektra Entertainment) is the 17th album from the Aussie quintet, and based on the CD's initial sales and airplay, the band's streak of going from gold to multi-platinum is very much alive. Indeed, Angus, Brian and company should have no trouble making creamed Korn out of their "competition" on the hard-
Like the best of AC/DC's 16 releases before it, Stiff Upper Lip is anchored by the piston-pounding rhythm section of guitarist Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd. These guys wouldn't lose their granite-solid 4/4 groove if the recording studio were on fire during an earthquake while atomic bombs were dropping from a sky full of alien invaders. The shock-
Technically squeaking, Stiff Upper Lip is the best-
"George likes to capture the character of the people in the studio and I think we did that," Angus said of his brother's efforts in the control room. "He doesn't care so much what's technically correct, as long as it sounds like AC/DC." And to be sure, right from the opening chords of Stiff Upper Lips title track, the sound is unabashedly AC/DC and is an audio oasis in the desert of rock radio as it's known today. Mercifully, there are no industrial beats, self-pitying lyrics or suburban white boys pretending to be ghetto gang bangers. What you expect is what you get: a dozen down-and-dirty doses of adolescent-approved, testosterone-fueled rock 'n' roll from a band that's been scoring hits since Kid Rock was in diapers and is better cooked than anything Limp Bizkit has yet to dish up.
"This one was a 135,000 cigarette album," according to leathery lunged Brian Johnson. "I can always tell if we're making a good one, when the smokes are going before, during, and after a take." In this era of corporate sponsorship methinks we'll be seeing "Marlboro Presents" beckoning the band's next world tour. I'm sure the group would approve. The less they spend on cigarettes, the more they can put toward other rock 'n' roll necessities such as beer, more beer and, of course, even more beer.
That said, Stiff Upper Lip delivers in fine style all the incendiary ingredients that the band has come to be both loved or loathed for. New migraine makers like "Meltdown," "Can't Stand Still" and "Stiff Upper Lip" stomp, rumble and screech along more purposefully than anything the band's done since For Those About To Rock. Though one problem to be had is with "Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll," whose title and chorus is virtually identical to Twisted Sister's early '80s big-hair Hell raiser "You Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll." C'mon guys, no one's looking for literature here, but at least try and come up with your own clichés.
As reminiscent as Stiff Upper Lip is to AC/DC's early work, it still pukes like a puppy next to the albums which featured Brian Johnson's late predecessor, the infamously intoxicated Bonn Scott on vocals. Bon's years with the band, which many consider to be AC/DC's finest, were devilishly documented in the Bonfire box set released in 1997. Bonfire compiles rare live recordings, demos, an illustrated biography, poster, tattoo and AC/DC bottle-opener key chain, the latter of which this reviewer still carries in tribute to Bon, one of rock history's highest octane spirits. AC/DC were just starting to break in America in February of 1980 with the Highway to Hell album when Scott pulled the old "choking on vomit" trick and died of an alcoholic misadventure. Coincidentally, his death was around the time that other legendary loonies Keith Moon and John Bonham met similarly less than tidy demises. To this day, Bon remains one of the most unsung lyricists of rock 'n' roll. His lyrics to such AC/DC classics as "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," "Big Balls" and "Whole Lotta Rosie" put forth such lecherous good humor and carnal camaraderie that no matter how hard the band tries with new numbers like "All Screwed Up" and "Come and Get It," the true voice of AC/DC will always be Bon's.
Life does have that dirty habit of going on, however, and in April of 1980, Brian Johnson, formerly of obscure UK soccer rockers Geordie, was picked to man the microphone for what was to be AC/DC's biggest success yet, the ten-times platinum Back in Black (1980). Recorded partly in tribute to their fallen friend and front man, and partly to prove that they could continue on their own merits, Back in Black silenced critics and satisfied fans with its bulldozer strength and triumphant intensity. In the liner notes Angus states, "We always thought Bon was with us (during the Back in Black sessions). His spirit was all over it. That's a special album." Special as hell, for who could deny the anthem status of such cranium crushers as "Hell's Bells," "Back in Black" and "You Shook Me All Night Long"? The band recently performed an acoustic version of "You Shook Me All Night Long" in New York City's K-Rock studios. It instantly became the station's no. 1 most requested song. Not bad for a twenty-five-year-old gang of geezers strumming a twenty-year-old song. To be sure, they strummed it real good.
Which brings us back to present day AC/DC and their efforts to promote the Stiff Upper Lip CD. Efforts that have resulted in 1000 fans lining up outside Virgin Megastore in New York City to meet the band. The group has also notched its first ever network-television appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and helped to bring the show its highest ratings of the season. Proving themselves to be greasers with hearts of gold, a charity auction was held this February on eBay in which one fan paid $28,100 to benefit Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Foundation for a private one-hour guitar jam with Angus. Most recently, and perhaps most bizarre of all, in Madrid, Spain, a road in the city's Leganes district was renamed "AC/DC Street" to the cheering of hundreds of Spanish fans at a ceremony which was duly attended by Malcolm and Angus, who was, of course, dressed for the honorable occasion in his finest schoolboy shorts and hat.
So before anyone dares pull the plug on AC/DC, keep in mind that even if Stiff Upper Lip isn't anything new under the scum, and the band members aren't the ballbreakers they once were, to many, my old-school self included, Angus, Brian et al are still as strong, at least one more time, as they ever were. Proving that no matter whose idea it was, you really Can't Stop Rock 'n' Roll after all.