AC/DC first appeared on my radar when the band released The Razors Edge in 1990. At the time, a friend of mine was a walking encyclopedia on everything AC/DC. I hadn’t yet listened to any AC/DC music, but he quickly convinced me that they were the band! It is a proud parenting moment to acknowledge that this admiration and influence has now been bestowed on my son and he tells all who will listen about the greatest rock and roll band in the world: Acca Dacca.
While it would be close to a decade before I owned a copy of The Razors Edge, I did pick up the second single, Hail Caesar, from their 1995 release Ballbreaker. The Hail Caesar CD single also featured Ballbreaker’s B-side Whiskey On The Rocks and a live performance of Whole Lotta Rosie from their European tour in 1991. Both songs were excellent additions to the single, but Whole Lotta Rosie is one of those songs that has never appealed to me. This version of Whole Lotta Rosie was labelled as a previously unreleased recording, hence not part of the 1992 Live album. Thus, collectors would be advised to grab a copy of the single to secure this recording. Despite my dislike for the song, the spectacle of the song being performed live is a sight to see as Rosie becomes the world’s largest inflatable love doll and the crowd loses their collective mind.
However, it is fair to say that the AC/DC fan base didn’t lose their collective minds when Ballbreaker was released. While nothing could topple the success of Back In Black and The Razors Edge, Ballbreaker had modest sales success and is often viewed in the same category as Flick Of The Switch and Fly On The Wall; valued and essential interim albums, but not their most adored. Subjectively, I have found that I am drawn to the less successful albums in their catalogue. While I adore The Razor’s Edge, I’ve never been blown away by Back In Black. Perhaps now is the perfect moment to acknowledge that AC/DC has a quasi-religious following and I’m sure many of you will stringently disagree with my opinions as you all have your own subjective viewpoints. However, when it comes to AC/DC, I don’t think there is a wrong approach to being a fan. Some fans thoroughly enjoy the Bon Scott era, while others prefer Johnson’s gruff, yet smooth, tone. While Axl Rose hasn’t recorded any new material with the band, it is fair to say that his inclusion was an impressive feat that silenced all but the most stringent Rose haters and AC/DC loyalists.
While I picked up the CD single of Hail Caesar, I went on to purchase the Ballbreaker album on cassette. At the time my Sony Cassette Walkman (WM-FX507) never left my sight and it was essential that I had a portable format. While I could have easily created a mixtape, I much preferred to collect the retail releases of cassette albums as the liner notes were often redesigned and unique when compared to the LP or CD equivalent. Thankfully, the Ballbreaker cassette was not a disappointment as the comic-based graphic design throughout the foldout liner notes was simply gorgeous. This is one aspect that I truly miss in the modern era. While the vinyl revival has brought album artwork back to the forefront of the music listening experience, the unique presentation of the cassette is sorely missed. Yes, some record labels were lazy and decided to place the traditional square artwork on the cassette sleeve, with a coloured background and list of key songs from the album. I recall seeing Michael Jackson’s Thriller done in this format and I simply couldn’t believe that an album of that stature would be so overlooked. I will be forever thankful that AC/DC, and the production team behind Ballbreaker, ensured that the artwork maintained its relevance, regardless of format, as it allowed me to connect with the music in a tactile manner. Now, if we can only get liner notes on all streaming services and digital stores I would be happy. Yes, I am aware that the Mastered For iTunes edition of Ballbreaker contains iTunes LP, but iTunes LP is still restricted to playback on a Mac or PC. It certainly doesn’t build confidence regarding the long-term validity of the iTunes LP format, especially when iTunes Extras (a similar feature for films) is available on all iOS devices and the Apple TV. Imagine for a moment if iTunes LP was included for all albums on Apple Music. Add the monstrous 12.9 inch iPad Pro and you would finally have a viable alternative to a physical music library. Yeah, I can see that happening as quickly as Apple flipping the switch to compete in the Hi-Fi space against TIDAL. Seriously, what value is Jimmy Iovine adding to Apple Music?
On the 2014 vinyl re-issue of Ballbreaker, certain elements of the cassette liner notes are reproduced, but much of the artwork that I would stare at for hours on end, is missing, despite the larger format. Why did I ever sell that cassette? I must have been mentally imbalanced at the time. Regardless, I do enjoy the reissued fan notes that were included with a series of live photographs and graphic illustrations from the original release. Subjectively, I also think the Ballbreaker cover is one of the best in the band’s history. Although, Stiff Upper Lip would likely be my favourite. While the rear cover is bland, it serves a purpose and does not including anything that doesn’t need to be there. Personally, I appreciate the song listing as many albums don’t list the tracking so clearly. Yes, I know it is all about design and artist interpretation, but I also want to know what song I’m listening to. Without it, it is akin to a book or film without a synopsis.
While I have never owned the original vinyl releases of AC/DC’s catalogue, the remastered reissues, mastered at Sterling Sound by George Marino and Ryan Smith are a true gift to AC/DC fans as they sound exactly as one believes they should. While the average dynamic range score is only 10 out of 20, it doesn’t affect the soundstage of this release. The pressing is silent and is one of the better rock and roll re-issues with deep bass lines, clear vocals, and a guitar track so pure that you would swear Angus and Malcolm were in the room with you.
Hard As A Rock is, without a doubt, one of the best tracks to start any rock and roll album on. It sets the tone immediately with AC/DC’s renowned sound signature and innuendo filled lyrics. The rhythmic blues-infused rock and roll sound is addictive and while many naysayers will complain that AC/DC plagiarises their own work, at least you know what you’re going to get. Perhaps that is a key reason why there was so much opposition to Axl Rose joining the line-up as no one likes change.
I love the slowness of Cover You In Oil and I feel it is the precursor to Still Upper Lip; one of their best albums in my opinion.
The Furor has a killer guitar intro that builds into an epic song. However, I feel Brian’s lyrical delivery is strained and his magic is subsequently missing on this song. It could also be the mix, but it just doesn’t sound right to me.
I absolutely adore the groovy feeling that Boogie Man presents.
The Honey Roll offers the perfect mix of rock and roll and blues. Every element, from the rhythm section to the lead guitar and vocals is textbook perfect. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Burnin’ Alive simply doesn’t resonate with me in its current position on the album. While I won’t stop the record prematurely, I do feel that I have momentarily lost my groove and connection with the band. I recall that even when I had the cassette, I was always keen for this song to end so that I could flip the tape and listen to Hail Caesar.
Hail Caesar is the reason I am a fan of AC/DC. It subsequently holds a very special place in my soul. It is also one of their hardest hitting songs on the album and one that could make a stadium audience sing in unison. Angus’s guitar solo is off the charts and Brian’s vocals are also perfect insofar as I can understand the words he’s singing, outside of the chorus. While he doesn’t slur his words, I have found that his vocal clarity can get lost in the music and his natural growl.
Love Bomb reminds me of the 80s hair metal scene. The song is great, but the association is a little disconcerting.
Caught With Your Pants Down is classic AC/DC.
Whiskey On The Rocks is a favourite of mine, most likely due to the excessive number of times it was played on the Hail Caesar single. Isn’t it amazing how songs can grow on you if you listen to them enough? That said, listening to a song too often can make you hate a perfectly good song as well. Think Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On (Love Theme From “Titanic”) and Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. In retrospect, perhaps that is why I have formed a dislike towards Whole Lotta Rosie, yet in a cruel dichotomy I can listen to Thunderstruck nonstop.
Ballbreaker closes the album out with a song that had ‘stadium concert’ written all over it. As all closing tracks should, it encourages me to listen to the album again, or at least stay within the AC/DC catalogue. This is one song that you will want to turn up to 11.
While Rick Rubin can likely be attributed to the raw sound found throughout Ballbreaker, it is fantastic to have an AC/DC album that truly highlights the building blocks of rock and roll music; the blues. While AC/DC explored this sound further, without Rubin, on the Stiff Upper Lip album, it is a style that I subjectively appreciate and one that highlights the musicality and influences of one of the greatest rock and roll bands the world has ever seen.
My only disappointment with Ballbreaker is the song Big Gun (also Rubin produced) wasn’t included on the album. It is one of my all-time favourite AC/DC songs, and while I acknowledge that it was written and recorded for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, it would have made a perfect addition to Ballbreaker. Big Gun is another stadium-inspired song that deserves to be turned up to 11.
While Ballbreaker may not be the first album fans go to when they think of AC/DC, it is an exceptional addition to their catalogue.