AC/DC's first disc in eight years, the 15-song Black Ice, is also the longest in the Australians' 33-year career. Rip out much of its lazy middle third, and it starts approaching For Those About to Rock levels of goodness. Which means that if you, unlike me, are within reasonable driving distance of a Wal-Mart — where this one is on exclusive lockdown — I recommend you go get it, stat. As it is, I'm already sold on "Rock N Roll Train," Black Ice's opener and first single. It ain't "Back in Black" (and is unfortunately called "Rock N Roll Train"), but I'll be damned if it can't hang with most any Brian Johnson-era tune, with Angus Young laying out a fat and chewy guitar figure and characteristically hyperactive solo over the band's trademark stomp-groove courtesy of Young's rhythm-guitarist brother and unshakable rhythm section Cliff Williams (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums). Rudd manages to both swing and plod simultaneously, while staying forever rock-steady.
His beat hammers throughout Black Ice — sometimes sped up ("Wheels," "Rocking All the Way"), other times slowed down ("Decibel," "Money Made") — bolstering everything from rowdy barroom rock ("Big Jack") to vaguely Aerosmith-ian funk ("She Likes Rock 'n' Roll") to surprisingly spry power-pop ("Anything Goes"). It's even grafted to the main riff from Led Zeppelin's version of "In My Time of Dying" for "Stormy May Day," wherein Angus, slide in hand for the first time on an AC/DC record, makes the added point that the band's discs actually don't all sound the same. Producer Brendan O'Brien, with Rudd Black Ice's co-MVP, not only restores the pristine vintage Marshall-stack sound of the band's classic '70s efforts, but also lifts a key element of its mega-selling Mutt Lange-helmed trilogy: gigantic, gang-vocal-soaked choruses. O'Brien takes things even further than Lange ever dared, pulling unexpectedly musical aah-aah-aaahs out of the boys on "Smash 'n' Grab," and getting them chanting like a squad of high-school cheerleaders on "She Likes Rock 'n' Roll." Quality stuff.