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Flick of the Switch

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★★★★½
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  • Originally released in August of 1983, “Flick of the Switch” is a damn fine AC/DC record, and if you love the band, I really can’t understand not digging it.

    In the liner notes for this 2003 remastered version of “Flick…” (which sounds great, by the way), Malcolm Young explains that the band wanted to get back-to-basics with this record, which they produced themselves, and you can see what he means–the album has a real live-in-the-studio sound to it, with guitars exploding out of the speakers, plus all but two of the tracks are under 4 minutes, and they’ve completely ditched the special effects a la the bell tolls on “Hells Bells” or the cannons on “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”. Also, Brian Johnson’s vocals are at their gloriously piercing best throughout.

    The liner notes also state that the album is “remarkably varied”. Is this a joke or what? One thing that there sure as hell isn’t a lot of on this album is variety. The boys do a nice job of mixing up the tempos–you have your slower paced tunes (“Rising Power”, “Nervous Shakedown”, “Deep In The Hole”), medium-fast tunes (title track, “Guns For Hire”, “Bedlam In Belgium”), and fast tunes (“Landslide”, “Brain Shake”)–but that hardly makes for a “remarkably varied” batch of songs. One thing I won’t argue about though is that the album is indeed very consistent.

    The album starts off with “Rising Power” which is one of those great AC/DC stompers, with a brilliant sequence of kickass riffs. Likewise, “Nervous Shakedown” has another great sequence of riffs and builds spellbinding tension before breaking into the call-and-response chorus. The title track, with its sly guitar licks, is a ton of fun. The boogying “Landslide” is one of the most wildly exciting rock songs ever–it’s a furious, fast-paced thrill ride with an ultra-catchy rapid-fire vocal hook leading into the chorus, and blistering guitar soloing from Angus; if this song doesn’t get your heart racing, I don’t know what the hell will. Also irresistible are “Deep In The Hole”, with its cry-of-desperation chorus; and “Bedlam In Belgium”, with its clever almost-but-not-quite-synchronized rhythm guitar parts and its spiritedly malevolent chorus.

    As solid as the album is, it’s not a bonafide classic. “This House Is On Fire” is a middling rewrite of “Hells Bells”. “Guns For Hire” sounds a bit rushed-through and underwritten, although there’s no denying that it’s got a hell of a main riff. The bluesy “Badlands” lazily recycles the “Bad Boy Boogie” riff, although there is an ear-catching bit in the riff just before the guitar solo. The album closing “Brain Shake” is a really cool tune that seems to borrow some of its riffery straight from the Beatles “Helter Skelter”, but the repetitive “joy to ride” ‘hook’ gets to be a little annoying, as does the heavy repetition of the title.

    You’ve got to be nuts to think that this album marks the beginning of a major artistic decline for AC/DC. If you actually enjoy the watered-down, Foreigner-style arena-rock of songs like “Touch Too Much” and “You Shook Me All Night Long”, then it makes sense that you’d find this album disappointing. But the true AC/DC aren’t about lame cockrock; they’re about ass-kicking hard rock, and “Flick of the Switch” does a very fine job of capturing the true essence of the band–this album is a must for any true AC/DC fan.

    Posted on November 20, 2009