Before going any further, I must say for the record, that this is my favorite Bon Scott-era AC/DC album. And I’ll tell you why right now: it was the first one I got, and therefore, it was my introduction to Bon. From that perspective, no other record could ever have that impact on me. See, I was born into the Brian Johnson-era AC/DC (being born in ‘78), and therefore, as far as I was concerned, Brian Johnson was THE voice of AC/DC. Hearing “You Shook Me All Night Long” on the radio is one of my earliest memories.
For years, I didn’t know that AC/DC had ever had ANOTHER singer, and for me it was difficult to imagine someone other than Brian fronting the band and singing those songs. That changed with the release of “Live” in ‘92, where I finally got my chance to hear some of the Bon-era songs. “Dirty Deeds…” soon became one of my favorites. And so my interest was peaked.
It might seem odd, then, that I’d choose to start my exploring of that era with the one record that yields the least songs to the band’s set list, seldom performed and rarely mentioned, even by devoted fans. But the truth is that it was pure luck: that was the only Bon-era CD that was available at the store that day (believe it or not, “Highway to Hell” wasn’t there…Heretics!!!).
So I picked it up, not knowing what to expect. What I got was a 40 minute roller coaster ride that changed my life…Really! Say what you will about the songs not being as strong as in other releases (more on that later…), the production, blah, blah, blah. But once Bon starts singing…boy, he could really make you feel those lyrics! I had never heard anyone sing with such conviction before in my life, and I never have since. “R n’ R Damnation” opens the album in a slower pace than I’d have expected, but nevertheless, its rollicking groove really gets you going, I tell ya. “Down Payment Blues” is just pure genius: the lyrics are simply hilarious, and yet they pack a huge punch; it is one thing to write and sing about life on the streets and what not (any geezer with a lyric sheet in front of him can do it…), but it is a WHOLE `nother thing to sing convincingly about it, to make you feel that those lyrics come from somebody who’s “been there”. And just when you might start wondering why they called this a blues, comes the ending… it is an awesome track!
Next is “Gimme a Bullet”, which again, sounds so honest, so real, that it gives me goose bumps to this day! Listen to it, and then tell me if you can’t relate…if you can’t…oh well…”Riff Raff” is more the kind of song I was expecting: fast, furious, aggressive and downright nasty; “Sin City” is another one of those “truer than truth” tales from Bon, and you can really hear that he means every word that he sings…the track is powerful too from the musical point of view, with a sophisticated arrangement, different from the expected.
Then comes the crown jewel of the album, the hidden treasure: “What’s next to the Moon”, a story about a relationship gone sour told the way that only Bon could; again, while profoundly sarcastic, the song really rings true `cause we’ve all been there. This is not only my favorite track of the album, but also one of my favorite AC/DC songs altogether, and I’d give anything in this world to hear it live someday, somehow.
Many critics (including the one who reviewed this on All Music Guide) consider the last 3 tracks to be “filler”. I beg to differ: are they as strong as the previous tracks? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that they are “filler”. Filler for me means songs that are not as good as they could be IN and BY themselves, not in comparison to other songs. That is why I don’t think that the slower, groovy, change of pace of “Gone Shooting” falls in that category: I think that it is a great track that is exactly where it should be within the record, changing the pace after a succession of faster songs.
“Up to my neck in you” picks up the pace again, and it has a simple, catchy melody that is a joy to sing along to; and last but certainly not least, closing “Kicked in the Teeth” is a blast, fast and pounding rocker to close the album with a high octane note, perfectly exploiting Bon’s flair for story telling, and a little reminiscent of “Whole Lotta Rosie”.
All in all, this is an awesome record that follows the standard AC/DC formula (up to that point) of mostly great songs + a few lesser known tracks = Great Album. (By the way, my actual rating would be 4 ½ stars, but since I can’t put that…) Sure, it is not regarded in the same light as “Let There Be Rock”, let alone “Highway to Hell”, but I truly believe that “Powerage” is a hidden treasure for any and all rock fans wishing to enjoy good, rocking music. Of course, if you’re an AC/DC diehard, you already know this, but if you’re a newcomer, just let me finish by saying this much: this is the album that got me hooked on Bon Scott’s era. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.