Stiff Upper Lip


Elektra Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Alfredo Narvaez


In the pantheon of rock, perhaps only the Rolling Stones can lay claim to a longer career today than Australia's AC/DC. However, unlike the majority of aging rockers that are still hanging around, the lads from Down Under have steadfastily refused to alter, water down or adapt their music to fit the musical trends of the time or their own bodies' timeclock. The AC/DC of 1974 and High Voltage is basically the same - one huge change in lead singer notwithstanding - as the AC/DC of 2000 and Stiff Upper Lip. You could state that that does not make for much quality music, but you'd be quickly dismissing twenty years of great rock'n'roll.

So, like their counterparts before, Stiff Upper Lip serves the same thunderous riffs, strong hooks, strong rhythm and screeching vocals that fans have come to accept and expect. You won't find any ballads or rap/rock mixes or thrash-speed metal. When you have a formula that has worked so well for so long, I think it's wise not to alter it too much. AC/DC doesn't alter it at all.

The album kicks off with the great title track. I must confess that I didn't think all that highly of it at first, but it just keeps growing on me. As for what it is about, I have no clue. It could be about performing certain...ah, hmm,...acts or it could be about not missing a certain anatomical piece that is removed shortly after birth. (You know which one!) Lead screamer Brian Johnson is belting his tunes way too high for me to truly make out everything he's saying - but then again, that's the story with AC/DC. (A former professor of mine asked me if I could make out the lyrics without the lyric sheet. Here, I'd have to say, "No.")my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A fact that struck me as I listened to this album is how similar it is to 1983's Flick Of The Switch. By that I mean that there isn't a clear-cut line between radio-ready singles and throwaways. The entire album feels like one work as it segues from song to song. From the driving, bluesy "Meltdown" through the slow "House Of Jazz" - which I expect to become an anthem in Salt Lake City come playoff time - to the rhythm-driven "Safe In New York City," the album shifts few gears as it keeps going on its happy trail.

Another thing that struck me is that, unlike the majority of albums, the album gets better and better as it progresses towards the end. You see, most albums stick the best songs right up front - to help sell people on the albums before they get home and actually sit down and listen to them. Here, Stiff Upper Lip's better songs are, in my estimation, on the second side. Starting with the anthemic "Can't Stop Rock'n'Roll" - which seems to be the next radio single - and "Satellite Blues" - which is so cool it should be the next radio single - the second half of the album truly asserts that this is AC/DC at its best.

Mixing slow, mean blues ("Damned" and "Come And Get It") with cool riffs and fast rhythms ("All Screwed Up"), you actually forgive some of the cliched lyrics. You actually hear guitarist Angus Young on backing vocals in "Come And Get It." It's so funny and yet appropriate. The album ends with the strong and cool "Give It Up," a fitting closer to such a strong album.

I admit that if anyone else played these songs, they'd seem cheesy and bad. This is where their apparent lack of growth and musical adolescence comes into play. You are ready to forgive Angus, his big brother and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, the rhythm duo of Cliff Williams (the only other major line-up change since High Voltage) and Phil Rudd and lead screecher Johnson for their inability to write more serious or socially-conscious material because they've never cared to do that at all. This is not the type of band that would lead a thing like the Tibetan Freedom Concert or NetAid, but you can bet that they would play the French Quarter during Mardi Gras - probably from the balcony of Temptations and right next to the Playboy entourage.

Kudos must also go to their producer, long-time collaborator George Young. (Yep, he's Angus and Malcolm's brother.) Unlike producers like Robert John "Mutt" Lange, Rick Rubin or the late Bruce Fairbairn, George makes AC/DC's music sound raw and dirty. In some ways, he understands that their music sounds best this way - forever calling into mind the seedy bars where the band got its start. That helps increase the mood and feel of the songs and of the album.

Let's be honest. No one buys AC/DC for their deep lyrics or their great ballads. We listen to AC/DC for the same reason that we go to strip bars - because it's loud, rude and tickles our fancy in certain nether regions. And, as long as those feelings remain in us and strip bars remain popular, AC/DC's music shall remain popular. Because, after all, it's for the same reasons. Now, go on and enjoy the latest shot of adolescent hormones from the band that seems to live off them!

Rating: A-

User Rating: B+


© 2000 Alfredo Narvaez and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.