Powerage is a bit of a tricky album for me to review. I do love it and I agree how it is AC/DC’s most under-appreciated album. It contains some of the band’s best work from the Bon Scott era and receives little recognition for it. It has rightfully earned a place in the hearts among those that “know” AC/DC beyond Highway To Hell and Back In Black, but there are a few things that does lessen the overall experience.
“Rock ‘N Roll Damnation” is a catchy tune with a nice punch that I do hum to myself quite often. Its groove is definitely aces but the lyrics are a little weak. They’re about the band shaking off the complaints they get for playing loud Rock and Roll. Well enough for an AC/DC song, but that chorus:
And it’s a rock ‘n’ roll damnation
Ma’s own whippin’ boy
Rock ‘n’ roll damnation
Take a chance while you still got the choice
I feel like they are trying too hard to get a “clean” single off the ground. Despite this, great song.
I’ve never been a fan of “Down Payment Blues”. Bon’s lyrics are strong, but it clocks in at over 6 minutes which is too long for its boring riff.
“Bullet to Bite On” is another catchy tune with weak lyrics.
Gimme a bullet to bite on
And I’ll make believe
I’ll make believe it’s you
Ugh. New bassist Cliff Williams* hammers out a real nice groove though and it is a toe tapper. Not a bad song by any means, but just short of great.
Now, “Riff Raff”.… where do I begin? This song kicks you in the face at the start and will not stop beating on you until it is done. This tune owns four or five of the best rock riffs ever. Truly the album’s masterpiece with some of Bon’s best lyrics:
Now I’m the kinda guy that keeps his big mouth shut
It don’t bother me
Somebody kickin’ me when I’m up
Leave me in misery
Simply amazing. How Bon even figured out how to put a melody over the band at its hot-crazy-ist is beyond me. Angus’ lead licks, the back and forth with the rest of the band… this is 4 on 4 rock but it doesn’t feel like it!
“Sin City” might be the album’s best known tune since it became a constant for the live shows. Driven by a big riff, the song is about a major city (probably Las Vegas) with a healthy night life. The big break down in the middle features Bon singing over Cliff’s solo bass and it also has one of Angus’ most frantic solos ever. A treat to listen too.
The lyrics for “What’s Next To The Moon” begin with Bon tying a woman up to a railroad track and demanding she give him some…. love? Not like Bon to be so angry with a lady. I think the lyrics from a villainous third person point of view because the second verse is about Superman. Worth noting that Angus came up with the riff for this one after breaking a string in studio and was tuning up while putting a new one on. It is the only song on the album to not feature one of Angus’ solos but he does have some wicked fills here and there. Average DC tune.
“Gone Shootin'” got a bit of recognition when it was included on 1998’s Beavis and Butt-head Do America soundtrack but it deserves so much more. This is some of AC/DC’s finest work. Bon sings about a girlfriend that is on one of the drugs you cook with a spoon. This line gets me every time I hear him belt it out:
I stirred my coffee with the same spoon
To her favourite tune
It doesn’t get played live often enough. Groovy version of it here with the band jamming it out in 1996:
“Up to My Neck In You” is a competent AC/DC tune. Nothing wrong with it but also nothing that makes it stand out. It was included in the set list for the Stiff Upper Lip Live DVD from 2001. Gotta throw a rare one in there for the hard-core!
The album is wrapped up with the brilliant “Kicked In The Teeth”. With only two chords…
B… A, A, A
B… A, A, A
…it cooks! Its Muddy Water-ish opening with Bon going back and forth with the rest of the band is a perfect set up for a song about a woman who’s done him wrong. Angus’ lead work is brilliant again with a couple of lightning solos and fills. Third best track on the album and a solid high note to end it on.
Powerage was designed to be THE album to take AC/DC to the next level. It has a polished sound with no high hats being set, guitars being tuned, or talking between songs. All well and fine, but I think they went too far. It is a wildly uneven album (especially the first three tracks) that left too much of AC/DC out of the studio. The sleaze is toned down about six notches too low and all references to hell or the devil are absent.
This album is still a solid release with plenty of must own tunes. How they overcome the album’s overall shortcomings is a testament to how good the good stuff is. Powerage is a fun listen that I adore. I hope I didn’t come off as too hard on it. Get it if you like rock ‘n roll.
As an AC/DC album: 3/5
Compared to everything else: 5/5
*Some sources claim the Young’s older brother George played bass on this album since they had yet to replace the exiting Mark Evans. Mark Evans claims to have played on several of the albums songs too. Whatever the truth is, the linear notes say all of the bass work is Cliff’s. So that is what I am going with.