Backtracks (Columbia Records)
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009
The Beatles boxes included ashes of John and George, Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 had R2-D2-type holograms, and 13th Floor Elevators bomb shelter Sign of the 3 Eyed Men came with real eyeballs. None feed back when you lay an electric guitar atop them as does the Marshall amp edition of AC/DC's Backtracks. A 9-volt battery inside the lid of the foot-high cardboard box set powers a sole transistor speaker topside. Haggis pluck (yum) includes an LP-size hardbound picture book, 3-CD/2-DVD motherboard, 12-inch vinyl B-sides mix, Let There Be Rock poster, etc. Now plug in while Angus Young does the same on YouTube with his Gibson SG horn thrower. Power chord at will. (The Chronicle's technician loped "Sweet Jane" for a Thanksgiving mob.) Backtracks' standard version, less one CD, one DVD, and at one-fifth the down payment blues, compares like a blue ribbon in the face of a trophy. Brimming Bon Scott-cackled Aussie LP tracks edited off U.S. discs, amp deluxe contextualizes its first CD with additional Down Under mixes, including "High Voltage," "Rocker," and "Ain't No Fun (Waiting Around to Be a Millionaire)." Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap drain-off such as "R.I.P. (Rock in Peace)" proves the rule rather than a Tutankhamen-type discovery, but then the 1960s pop romanticism of "Love Song" astounds as the only AC/DC Bon Scott ballad other than "Ride On." Let There Be Rock castaway "Crabsody in Blue" crawls with conviction, but the flipside of "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation," growler "Cold Hearted Man," furthers Scott's posthumous box score. Leftovers from his replacement, Brian Johnson, jab-'n'-stab surprisingly lean past a "Who Made Who" remix, notably "Heatseeker" stinger "Snake Eye." One of the Scotsman's better lyrics before Malcolm and Angus Young assumed all songwriting duties, "Borrowed Time" cedes little to "Big Gun," which remains the only pure AC/DC-Rick Rubin collaboration given the castrated results of the two camps' Ballbreaker in 1995. Where the smaller Backtracks offers a single live rarities compilation, the amplified heat fleshes it to two. Bon Scott opens CD two on a purgatory-broiled "Dirty Deeds" alongside two saves off his final tour, while Johnson takes the remaining 25 tracks, live sulfur from the Back in Black trek burning out of control. A 12-minute "Jailbreak" from Dallas, 1985, never looks back. The balance of material avalanches from the band's well-documented 1991 Donington Park festival appearance and Madrid's Plaza de Toros triumph in 1996, the former ringing "Hells Bells" on Angus' viral fire and the latter goring on "Dog Eat Dog." A Family Jewels 3 DVD offers songs worse than their videos ("Hail Caesar"), but the Backtracks deluxe-only full-length flashback on a second DVD, "Live at the Circus Krone," Germany 2003, pledges "What's Next to the Moon," Angus striptease standby "Bad Boy Boogie," and a three-alarm "If You Want Blood (You've Got It)." Oxygen suck: "Rock 'n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution." www.acdcbacktracks.com.