Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: AC/DC
- Album: Powerage
- Year of Release: 1978
- Country: Australia
- Label: Atco
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 7567-92446-2
Powerage was written during a slightly tumultuous time for AC/DC, and it shows. They had been kicked off a short European tour with Black Sabbath (a line up I would probably sell an important internal organ for just a small chance to go back in time and see), had fired a bass player, and despite a burgeoning underground popularity were not quite attaining the commercial heights they so clearly envisaged themselves ascending to by this point in their career. They were not about to give up – their grounding in the rough bars and clubs of their native Australia had thickened their skin, and instilled a hard-grafting toughness of spirit that saw to that, but in Powerage, the band released an uncharacteristically downbeat album, full of gritty rock ‘n’ roll, but a little lacking in the sparkling effervescence so effortlessly exuded by its predecessor Let There Be Rock.
All of that said, ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Damnation’ is a sensational opener, one of AC/DC’s most enduring songs, and displays all of the band’s best attributes condensed into a quite magnificent 3 minute pop song. An arpeggiated succession of chords ramp up the anticipation, punctuated by crunching rhythm guitars, as the hi-hat counts in a classic AC/DC major key boogie riff, the sound completed by Bon Scott’s inimitable and priapic wail. Befitting the pop-song structure, the build-up resolves in an irresistible chorus that remains one of AC/DC’s best. One suspects that for the band, rock ‘n’ roll damnation is not the choice that Scott’s lyrics refer to, but a calling, a destiny that they are bound to whatever the cost.
This cost is extensively detailed in ‘Down Payment Blues’, a gloomy plod in which Scott bemoans his parlous financial state. Slightly mundane musically, the track is enlivened by his superb vocals, a primal howl depicting living the rock ‘n’ roll life on a shoestring, a ‘fifty cent millionaire’. Powerage contains a number of other tracks that similarly fire in patches, but overall lack the transcendent euphoria that AC/DC are capable of creating at their best. The key-change chorus of ‘Gimme A Bullet’ is hugely effective, the insistent groove of ‘Gone Shootin’ is addictive, and ‘Kicked In The Teeth’ is a solid end to a solid album, even if it is guilty of recalling ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ a little too much. However, other parts of the same songs are frankly mundane and forgettable, an unforgivable sin for a band that at their best play barely a single inconsequential note.
Powerage cannot bury the band’s genius completely though, and title track aside, there are a number of other songs which justify the purchase price alone. ‘Riff Raff’ is a playful and supercharged homage to music itself, evoking Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’ in an energising display of dextrous riffery. The standout, however, is the spectacular ‘What’s Next To The Moon’. Not unlike Motorhead, the brilliance of AC/DC lies in their continued ability to embellish music which is ostensibly repetitive with touches of ingenuity; adding a simple harmony here, a guitar lick or drum fill there, or taking a song in a direction just unexpected enough to surprise. When the mid-paced tom-tom driven stomp of this track gives way to an extraordinary double-time chorus, ‘What’s Next To The Moon’ is elevated from enjoyable to peerless, a trick that AC/DC would learn pull off with increasing regularity as their career developed.
In some ways, Powerage sees AC/DC caught uncomfortably midway between the carefree youthful rock of their earlier albums, and the heavyweight hit-making of their near future. As such, altough it may have flaws, it is also an intriguing record, and the ability of its less-lauded tracks to unexpectedly grow on the listener means that it still holds a treasured place in the band’s discography. Not a misstep so much as another important rung on the ladder that would soon see them reach the top that they had been singing about since High Voltage.