Phases and Stages


Reissues, Vols. 2-3 (Epic) Since Epic's initial batch of AC/DC remasters gathered up the Aussie rockers' crown jewels (Highway to Hell, Back in Black, Dirty Deeds ..., etc.), the remaining 10 titles define music's law of diminishing returns. Jacking the voltage on sound, fury, and (digi) packaging, batches two and three favor the Brian Johnson era with six titles to Bon Scott's four. '74 Jailbreak, which came out in the early Eighties, gathers material lost in the import-to-U.S. translations of the band's first two albums, including one of the best covers ever of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go." The group's second domestic release, 1977's Let There Be Rock, mortars wall-to-wall AC/DC classics -- the title track, "Whole Lotta Rosie," "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be" -- yet still whiffs ever so slightly of early career-grind stagnation. Follow-up Powerage is better, the lost nugget of the catalog as Highway to Hell's randy studio precursor. "Riff Raff," gunned by Angus Young's wicked hiccup, was eclipsed by the LP's FM hit "Sin City," while opening sucker punches "Rock & Roll Damnation" and "Down Payment Blues" crack heads. The resulting tour siphoned If You Want Blood You Got It, the last word in AC/DC live documentation along with the Let There Be Rock movie soundtrack from '97's Bonfire box set, which tracks Highway to Hell in Paris just prior to Bon Scott's alcohol "Overdose" in 1980. Impossibly, the band peaked the same year with scream engine Brian Johnson wearing Back in Black, then slid balls-first down the other side of the creative mountain on '81's For Those About to Rock We Salute You. Past the first three tracks, riff-hewn memorables are mostly AWOL. Successors Flick of the Switch ('83) and Fly on the Wall ('85) are the group's last gasp of accountability, the former coughing up a back-to-basics sleeper, while the latter swats out "Shake Your Foundation" and "Sink the Pink." Movie cash-in Who Made Who ('86), Blow Up Your Video ('88), and The Razor's Edge ('90) barely manage a single good track apiece -- "Who Made Who," "Heatseeker," and "Thunderstruck," respectively. Neither '95's Ballbreaker nor 2000's Stiff Upper Lip, too recent for reissue, reverse this trend. The highway to hell is paved with nonintentions.

(Powerage; If You Want Blood ...) ***.5

(Let There Be Rock) ***

(Flick of the Switch; Fly on the Wall) **.5

('74 Jailbreak; For Those About to Rock ...) **

(Who Made Who; Blow Up Your Video; The Razor's Edge) *.5

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