[4 October 2006]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Fine, I admit it … I was this close to dismissing AC/DC: A Classic Album Under Review - Back in Black within seconds of receiving my reviewer’s copy. As soon as I opened the mailing envelope, I noticed the two band photos adorning the DVD packaging. Nothing particularly special about the pictures, just separate group shots of the band: Brian Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams and Simon Wright. Wright? Right … Something was obviously not right with Wright, as he’d replaced drummer Phil Rudd over two years after the seminal AC/DC album was recorded in ‘80. In my mind, such an error falls between unbelievable and unforgivable, and it impugned the credibility of the disc before I’d viewed a single frame of footage. Could a DVD analyzing the first Ramones’ album be marketed with a picture of CJ rather than Dee Dee? How about a filmed analysis of early Van Halen with a photo of the band from the Sammy Hagar years? Of course they couldn’t, not if the film makers wanted their respective projects to be taken seriously. But quality reviewing is grounded in objectivity, so I put my initial biases aside, popped in the DVD and sat back to critique what it had to offer. And you know what? I’m glad I did.
AC/DC: A Classic Album Under Review - Back in Black is an enjoyable, and often times fascinating, re-visitation of one of music’s most important albums. Nearly two hours in length, the film gives the back story of the band’s tumultuous transition period (from Bon Scott to Brian Johnson) and provides substantial insights on how Back in Black was conceived and recorded. Commentary is provided by various guests, including AC/DC historians / music journalists, and engineer Tony Platt (who worked on BIB as well as Highway to Hell). The real treat comes by way of interviews with members of AC/DC tribute band, Dirty DC, who discuss everything from varied singing styles and lyrical content on the album, to descriptions of different guitar chording and interplay between the Youngs.
The album is broken down track by track, and each song is given a generous once over. There’s a good amount of conjecture on certain topics, but those points are tempered with intriguing bits of information, primarily from Platt (his telling of the story behind the recording of “Hells Bells” is especially enlightening and rather amusing). Platt also expounds upon the scope of producer Mutt Lange’s involvement in the album’s development, at which time was a major pairing between band and production whiz. The tidbits of technical information will appeal mostly to serious AC/DC aficionados, though there is sufficient fodder to keep the DVD rolling without getting bogged down in minutiae. There are few extras to indulge in, consisting of additional commentary from Platt, bios of the disc’s contributors and an online quiz billed as “The Hardest AC/DC Back in Black Quiz in the World Ever”. Hardly, but it’s still fun to test one’s knowledge.
Conceptually, AC/DC: A Classic Album Under Review - Back in Black is a no frills package that takes a classic album and dissects it for all to see. And of the countless records which have been pressed over the years, there’s few that merit such treatment as much as Back in Black. More than a quarter century after its release, Back In Black still resonates as the defining moment of the band’s career, in addition to being a historical mile marker. To date, the album continues to rank as one of the top sellers, and has been re-mastered and re-issued, thus exposing a new generation of fans to a recording that was born years before they were. And now, with the DVD, Back in Black is revisited via the music analysis route. Packaging gaffes aside, the disc is worth the time to garner a better understanding of one of rock’s most important and influential offerings.