Share BACKTRACKS - AC/DC (Columbia/Legacy)
As far as mainstream music goes, one could certainly do worse than AC/DC. They at least have a few worthy songs and, to their credit, have never turned their back on rock ’n’ roll. But conviction only gets you so far. They also have one of the most boring rhythm sections in rock history and a catalog that - save a few moments in the early days - defines mediocrity.

And yet, maybe even that wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t the insufferable hype to go along with it. Among fellow Aussies alone, “the world’s rawest rock ’n’ roll band” couldn’t even share a stage with Radio Birdman, the Saints, the Hitmen, Buffalo, Rose Tattoo or Coloured Balls - and that’s only off the top of my head. Back In Black, the supposedly genre-defining classic album, consists of mostly weak riffs (including the execrable “You Shook Me All Night Long”) that have about as much bite as clanking novelty false teeth. Their “bad boy” image is also misplaced - or at least doesn’t fit a glorified bar band who couldn’t rock as hard as a real contender like Motorhead if they tried.

Which brings us to this generous - yet utterly unremarkable - 2CD/1 DVD rarities collection. Sure, props for great packaging and the nice gesture for fans, which most bands of this stature don’t do. But one has to wonder how those fans will come away from this one. Other than a couple middling early B-sides and Australia-only album cuts like “Stick Around” and “Cold Hearted Man,” the studio rarities on disc one are barrel scrapings (and would have easily fit on the regular reissues as bonus tracks). Save a 1978 version of “Dog Eat Dog” - the mostly post-Bon live disc essentially shows them to be impotent corporate rock that’s better than other FM radio fodder only by default.

Certainly it’s hard to see how “Highway to Hell” and “TNT” were ever considered edgy - when in reality they’re tepid posturing with no bite to back up the bark. “Public enemy number-one - understand?” Didn’t buy it when Bon sang it, nor do I when Brian Johnson (who did do some great stuff with Geordie) rasps it live in December 1981 on disc two. And talk about a band with nothing to say: A sluggish, interminable 13-minute live version of “Jailbreak” is about as interesting as being in jail.

The DVD is a little better, but once again very predictable. Though it certainly doesn’t help, the problem isn’t that every AC/DC album sounds the same; it’s that they can’t do anything interesting with the rhythm section or even so much as play at varying tempos. Hearing the more recent cuts on the Backtracks DVD, I do marvel at the audacity of a band that refuses to adapt or grow. But not nearly as much as I marvel at how a band with only one good album ("Let There Be Rock"), roughly half of another ("Powerage") and maybe a few tracks scattered across the 30 subsequent years can earn elder statesmen status. Then again, I’ve spent my entire adult life outta touch with the mainstream. - Doug Sheppard


 

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