Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: AC/DC
- Album: The Razors Edge
- Year of Release: 1990
- Country: Australia
- Label: Epic
- Format: Digipack
- Catalogue Number: 510771 2
As we entered the 1990s, AC/DC were already a veteran band, and like many veteran bands they were showing their age. Although they were still a huge live draw, their recorded output had declined in quality; a once lithe young band, hungry for success had become bloated from the spoils of the huge sales they had achieved, and two mediocre albums had brought some critical opprobrium, legitimately posing the question of whether AC/DC had it in them to produce an album that stood comparison with their best work. Against this backdrop, and unusually for a band who generally managed the recording process in-house, ‘DC employed Bruce Fairbairn to oversee the recording sessions for The Razors Edge. Fairbairn had enjoyed substantial recent successes with both Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, and clearly AC/DC were hoping that he would bring to bear his magic touch on their latest release as he had on Slippery When Wet and Permanent Vacation.
Whether it was indeed Fairbairn’s skill in the producer’s chair, or AC/DC’s own innate desire to prove that they still had it, the results were hugely successful, with the album shifting units in the millions, but more importantly demonstrating that while songwriting form may be temporary, class is permanent. Given their chosen producer’s history of working with bands in possession of big hair, and even bigger sonics, one would be forgiven for expecting another over-produced mess in the vein of Blow Up Your Video, but in fact Fairbairn earns every cent of the surely large fee that he would’ve received for his work, crafting a sound as shiny and sharp as the album’s title. Showing a clear understanding of what makes AC/DC sound like AC/DC, the production of The Razors Edge is thankfully clean and uncluttered, accentuating the band’s strengths without adding the sort of booming reverb to the guitars and drums that had plagued the previous album. In addition, the mix gives the vocals the prominence that they deserve, liberating Brian Johnson from the murky depths that he had been floundering in for some time, giving rise to his best performance for a decade.
As Young’s unforgettable single-string descending pull-off figure unfurls at the start of ‘Thunderstruck’, to be joined by chanting vocals, precision-engineered for mass crowd participation in a way that would seem almost cynical on the part of any other band, the once familiar rush of a true AC/DC classic, absent for some time, is rediscovered. Everything about this song is befitting of the title, with huge slabs of guitar working in perfect synchronicity with pounding drums and Johnson’s gravelly roar, and it is utterly glorious to behold. If the album ended with the closing note of ‘Thunderstruck’, it would arguably be a more satisfying work than the band had produced for some time, but pleasingly there is plenty more excitement to be found across the remaining eleven tracks, even if, as the listener has come to expect, there is still a certain amount of chaff left unsorted from the satisfying wheat of the majority of the record.
As per usual, the highlights come thick and fast throughout Side A. The frenetic boogie of ‘Fire Your Guns’ sees the band sounding more adrenalised than they have for an age, and pleasingly the crafty fills and cymbal accents adorning the intro show that the attention to detail that marks the better records earlier in their career has not entirely deserted them. In a blazing opening salvo, the poppy ‘Moneytalks’ is a straightforward rocker with plenty of hooks, and the title track offers a brooding, harder edge, ingeniously replacing the chorus with a thumping riff, a little like Aerosmith’s classic ‘Sweet Emotion’. The imagination and intensity of the first four tracks makes the embarrassing ‘Mistress For Christmas’ all the more of a crushing disappointment when it appears in the middle of the album. Reputedly written about Donald Trump, this limp song is a full house of all of the band’s worst tendencies, and one can tragically imagine the puerile satisfaction on the faces of Young and Johnson at the inception of the dreadful almost-rhyme of a song title that lives emphatically down to expectations.
The remainder of The Razors Edge is solid, if not exactly inspired. Amidst a morass of competent hard rock, ‘Are You Ready’ features a chorus which knocks spots off practically anything found on Blow Up Your Video, ‘Shot Of Love’ is well-written and approaches the elegant transitions between verse, chorus and bridge of their earlier work, and ‘If You Dare’ is their best attempt at composing a satisfying closing track since ‘Brain Shake’ on Flick Of The Switch seven years previously. Outside of ‘Thunderstruck’ though, the highlight and beating heart of the album is ‘Let’s Make It’. As I have observed when reviewing some of AC/DC’s previous albums, in contrast to their reputation as a band that often offers little more than a variation on a hard blues theme, some of their best work paradoxically comes when they take the road less travelled. ‘Let’s Make It’ is a golden nugget of pure, three chord power pop, with an almost 60s feel. Like The Ramones at their most bubblegum on End Of The Century, it’s wildly successful and as the closing chord rings out, this listener is almost incredulous that AC/DC are capable of producing something as wondrous and joyful as this.
If Blow Up Your Video shared the dubious honour with Fly On The Wall of representing the lowest artistic point of the band’s career, The Razors Edge sees AC/DC very much on an upward trajectory once again. It’s not perfect, in fact it’s not even brilliant. Like most of their post Back In Black output, it’s hugely front-loaded, contains some execrable wordsmithery, and is at least two, possibly four tracks longer than it needs to be. However, it sounds pristine, and when the songwriting is good, as it frequently is, the band generate enough of the intangible magic on this record to allow us to forgive the transgressions. The Razors Edge sees AC/DC sounding confident, aware of their status as giants of rock, and the scales of judgement are weighted correspondingly in their favour.