Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: AC/DC
- Album: Blow Up Your Video
- Year of Release: 1988
- Country: Australia
- Label: Epic
- Format: Digipack CD
- Catalogue Number: 510770 2
The title alone dates Blow Up Your Video, which would presumably be called Blow Up Your Streaming Service if it were released in 2020. The slightly disingenuous intention, given the band’s indulgence in the glossy clips that had been made for Fly On The Wall singles, was to remind fans that AC/DC were best experienced in a live setting, and not through the attenuating barrier of the front of a cathode ray tube. While this is undoubtedly true, given their still undimmed reputation as nothing less than a scorching live attraction, this album is not quite the stripped down set of songs that the listener might be expecting, or that is slyly suggested by Angus Young’s short blues lick at the start of ‘Heatseeker’. In fact, over 3 decades later, it sounds very much like the kind of slightly over-produced stadium rock album that was pumped out in huge volumes during the 1980s.
The aforementioned ‘Heatseeker’, while not being immune from the flaws of the album, is a good start, bringing exactly the kind of vitality and vigour that has always come so easily to the band, although unfortunately without the smart, catchy chorus that would elevate to things to the kind of rarefied altitude that they are still capable of reaching, albeit not with the unerring regularity they managed 10 years before. The opener is followed by ‘That’s The Way I Wanna Rock N Roll’, one of the more frustrating tracks on the album, and the most obvious victim of an overly fussy production. At its heart is a playful tribute to 50s rock ‘n’ roll, with a supercharged Chuck Berry riff the main feature. Where the late-70s AC/DC would have relished the tension created by the space in Young’s economic riffing, the late-80s AC/DC fill the space with reverb-heavy drums that fail to generate the kind of gritty groove that they once specialised in. What we end up with is good fun, but some way short of what it could have been.
This is something of a recurring theme across Blow Up Your Video. ‘Some Sin For Nuthin”, for example contains a magisterial groove strong enough to nod the head that doesn’t nod, ‘Kissin’ Dynamite’ (the letter ‘g’ is criminally underused throughout AC/DC song titles) is a welcome return to the more sombre, minor key sounds of For Those About To Rock…, and contains a skyscraping vocal performance from Brian Johnson, wringing out the high notes from his vocals chords with only slightly less effort than it would take to produce blood from a stone; and even yet another lazy chorus on ‘Go Zone’ cannot ruin the sensationally subtle staccato riffing of the verse, coupled with a blazing Angus Young solo. However, as competent as all of these songs are, they represent a clutch of missed opportunities. A more stripped-back and gritty sound, together with a higher degree of song-writing creativity focussed on vocal melodies could have generated something considerably better than the ultimately average output comprising most of the album.
What highlights there are on Blow Up Your Video come from the tracks on which AC/DC take a more circuitous route to the rock ‘n’ roll summit, introducing just enough experimentation to add interest, without straying so far into new territory that their sound is transformed into something unrecognisable. The Living Colour-style funk-rock of ‘Meanstreak’ absolutely could’ve gone either way, but the pile-driving chorus keeps all four wheels on the road when the precipice beckoned, and the unusual (for ‘DC) arpeggiated verse of ‘Ruff Stuff’ combined with the most memorable chorus the band has produced since ‘Sink The Pink’ produces a song that is comfortably the best to be found on the album. The latter in particular is a throwback to the effortless melodicism of the Bon Scott days, and makes this listener pine for the days when AC/DC could produce entire albums of this type of transcendent brilliance, and with an astonishing frequency too.
Sadly though, the more recent theme that Blow Up Your Video instead adopts wholesale from their previous post-Back In Black efforts is their habit of closing out the album with the most tedious compositions of the entire set. Very much like Fly On The Wall three years before, the final two tracks are more of an apology than a triumphant valediction and it’s hard to imagine even the most forgiving fan listening to ‘Two’s Up’ very often, particularly when given the other sparkling options available across a storied back catalogue.
There’s not an awful lot to choose between this and Fly On The Wall, which are very much the lowest point of the band’s career, with something of a recovery commencing on the band’s next effort, The Razors Edge. On both records, it is evident that something of the band’s personality is lost as they try to straddle the deep crevasse between energetic and unapologetic rock ‘n’ roll, and the kind of polished stadium rock made by bands that they likely inspired, but lack the pop nous to emulate. In the final analysis, Blow Up Your Video is marginally better than the album that came before it – the best songs are not quite of the same stature, but it’s slightly more consistent in its mediocrity, and contains nothing as truly dreadful as the worst points of that record. It will forever stand as a rarely listened to curiosity for the AC/DC completist, and realistically, an unecessary acquisition for anyone else.