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AC/DC: Stiff Upper Lip



Album: Stiff Upper Lip
Label: Elektra/EastWest

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There's something oddly reassuring about AC/DC. Now 34 years and 17 albums into its career, the band still churns out the kind of juvenile hard rock it was making when its members were, well, juveniles. Just like the Ramones, AC/DC must be admired for its outright refusal to progress. All 17 albums, including the new Stiff Upper Lip, are pretty indistinguishable in terms of style, but relatively diverse in terms of quality. After the one-two punch of 1979's Highway To Hell and 1980's Back In Black—AC/DC's two undeniable masterpieces—the band gradually began to sound like it was just going about its business, a bad habit for a group whose business has always been, in fact, just going about its business. Thankfully, the group pulled out of its tailspin with The Razor's Edge, making a full-fledged comeback with the Rick Rubin-produced Ballbreaker. A key change was the return of monolith drummer Phil Rudd, always the anchor to AC/DC's distinctive rhythmic chug, but it also benefited from guitarist brothers Angus and Malcolm Young's remarkable talent for coming up with different variations on the same riff. Stiff Upper Lip (note the subtle titular pun!) is in many ways a throwback to the band's bluesy '70s work, with singer Brian Johnson's choked scream the sole reminder that this is a different decade, let alone century. Recorded with the eldest of the Young clan, veteran AC/DC producer George Young (High Voltage, Let There Be Rock, Powerage), Stiff Upper Lip takes the group's trademark bare-bones approach and strips it down even further, presenting the band at its rawest. Like an old car warming up, the album slowly builds momentum, fully kicking in halfway through with "Hold Me Back," "Can't Stop Rock 'N' Roll," "Satellite Blues," and "All Screwed Up," songs on par with just about anything the band has done. Maybe that's because they sound exactly the same as everything the band has done, but in this rock-starved age it's pointless to quibble.