Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: AC/DC
- Album: Flick Of The Switch
- Year of Release: 1983
- Country: Australia
- Label: Epic
- Format: Digipack CD
- Catalogue Number: 510767 2
A fleeting glance at the artwork tells the listener that, just three years after Back In Black, it was back to basics for AC/DC. Following the tortuous Mutt Lange-helmed sessions that eventually produced its predecessor, during which Lange allegedly laboured for days to obtain the perfect snare sound before working his way around the rest of the drum kit, the Young brothers took matters into their own hands and produced Flick Of The Switch, very much the sound of a great live band plugging in and kicking out the jams for the pure joy of harnessing the intoxicating power of rock ‘n’ roll. And it suits them. In fact, if there is an unsung gem sitting in the band’s mid-period catalogue before what I consider to be their late career renaissance, this is surely it. There may be no songs on here that can be viewed as genre classics, or even widely thought of as among the band’s very best, but instead there is a more-than-solid album comprised of insidiously catchy songwriting, and sensational performances.
One of the similarities that Flick Of The Switch does share with For Those About To Rock… however, is the unbalanced sequencing. Perhaps betraying a slight lack of confidence in the overall consistency of the content, the album starts with a raucous run of thrilling songs, hiding the less memorable tracks in a middle section that sags a little like an underbaked cake, before a final flourish which serves its purpose by obliterating the memory of the more mediocre songs that came before it, leaving the listener with a slightly inflated impression of the overall quality. Perhaps this is an inevitable trap; certainly many bands have fallen into it before and after Flick Of The Switch, and I would contend that it stands as both a comment on the importance of first impressions in the art of album production, and also as a reassuring cliche that the listener almost wills a band to conform to in order to demonstrate their understanding of how this thing works. Some bands exist to break convention. Bands like AC/DC create and reinforce them in the first place, in turn allowing the rebels to break out of orthodoxy and advance the form.
After the brooding ‘Rising Power’, ‘This House Is On Fire’ takes things up a notch, with its ringing verse riff and soulful chorus. Not for the first time in the band’s career, the sound betrays a Rolling Stones influence, although as if to show they are not afraid of a little evolution, this time it’s the Stones Beggars Banquet era, as opposed to Exile On Main Street or Sticky Fingers that provides the inspiration. Sadly, the influence didn’t run as far as overlaying some subtle gospel backing vocals or even horns – although AC/DC are often at their best when stripping things back, this is a rare example of a track that is crying out for a few more bells and whistles. After the cunning blues riff of the singalong title track comes the jewel in the crown of the album, ‘Nervous Shakedown’. Powered by a riff so knuckle-draggingly neanderthal and simplistic that it seems impossible that it didn’t exist before Angus Young charmed it out of the ether, ‘Nervous Shakedown’ is outrageously memorable. For a few glorious minutes, the band recapture the Back In Black songwriting magic, and the only disappointment is that only a small fraction of the casual fans that lapped up the likes of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ have probably never had the chance to enjoy it’s dumber, but more enterntaining cousin, buried as it is in an album that is now largely forgotten.
If the first half of Flick Of The Switch presents the case for the defence, the second half admittedly provides a certain amount of ammunition for the prosecution who wrongly deride the album as one of the band’s more mediocre efforts. ‘Landslide’ offers a welcome change of pace but little else, and ‘Bedlam In Belgium’, despite being possibly the lone hard rock song to reference the home of Tintin and excellent beer in its title, is a riotous chorus in search of a song. ‘Deep In The Hole’ is much better, unusually for AC/DC employing a stuttering discordant riff, which opens out into a throbbing, swinging chorus that pins the listener against the ropes before the majestic closer of ‘Brain Shake’ delivers the knockout punch, bringing the album to a close in a welcome throwback to the Bon Scott days, with a breezy economic groove and snappy drums propelling a chorus with a hook large enough to catch a mythical seabeast, precision engineered for live performance.
It’s not totally consistent, but Flick Of The Switch is a hugely enjoyable album that doesn’t enjoy the lofty reputation that its quality merits. In many ways, this is understandable. After a run of steadily improving albums, culminating in the universally adored Back In Black, it is unsurprising that anything released after such a landmark record is judged more harshly in comparison. And without any obvious hit singles, the album lacked popular appeal. For this listener though, the lack of ubiquity of this particular set of songs gives Flick Of The Switch a freshness that ensures that every listen feels like discovering a hidden treasure, once that should never again be buried.