Tuesday, 9 August 2016

"Powerage" by AC/DC (2003 Epic/Albert Productions 'ConnecteD Technology' Digipak CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Riff Raff...Having A Laugh..."

Back in the day - I was lucky enough to witness the sheer 'shock and awe' of the Bon Scott line-up of AC/DC on a cold Monday night in Dublin's 'Camden Ballroom'.

The venue was one of those small balconied rectangular halls that holds maybe 400 bodies - so Angus and Bon were able to do their Guitarist on my Shoulder routine as they made their way round the overlooking balcony area to the other end of the hall. Hanging precariously over the edge (now facing the stage) - they stopped moving to allow the spotlight to hit Angus as Bon held him aloft. Angus riffing away – sweat and schoolboy short pants - Bon’s cheeky grin as Angus laid into yet another hair-raising guitar solo on the 'long version' of "Let There Be Rock".

They opened with "Live Wire" - then went into the new "Sin City" and by the time that huge stop/start riff in "Kicked In The Teeth" was threatening the old hall's rafters – the audience was worshipping at their Aussie feet. To this day the memory of it turns me on – like an old rocker turned to mush. They only did about an hour but they were utterly incredible – and like Thin Lizzy and Dire Straits in 1978 – they were toured into the ground – tight like a well-oiled machine that knew what it could do – slaughter all in front of them. I swear but at that moment – AC/DC were the greatest hard-rocking band in the world bar none (an accolade many feel hasn’t changed a jot in 2016).

As someone who has spent over 20 years working in record shops - it's a tale I never tire of re-telling. Which brings me to another high - the 'fans' AC/DC album – the "Empire Strikes Back" of their vast catalogue - 1978's "Powerage". But let's get the sweaty underarms and kicked in the teeth details out of the way first...

UK released May 2003 - "Powerage" by AC/DC on Epic/Albert Productions 510762 2 (Barcode 5099751076223) is a 9-Track CD variant of the 1978 Australian and US LP in a gatefold card digipak with 'ConnecteD Technology' and plays out as follows (39:54 minutes):

1. Rock 'n' Roll Damnation
2. Down Payment Blues
3. Gimme A Bullet
4. Riff Raff
5. Sin City [Side 2]
6. What's Next To The Moon
7. Gone Shootin'
8. Up To My Neck In You
9. Kicked In The Teeth
Tracks 1 to 9 are their fifth studio album (4th in the UK) "Powerage" - released June 1978 in Australia on Albert Productions APLP.030 and Atlantic SD 19180 in the USA.

Some explanation is needed with regard to the track lists for British, Irish and European fans. It was their fourth studio album released in the UK – rush-released May 1978 on Atlantic K 54036. But bizarrely K 54036 turned up in two variants with certain tracks rejiggered. The 10-track version looked like this...

1. Rock 'n' Roll Damnation
2. Gimme A Bullet
3. Down Payment Blues
4. Cold Hearted Man
5. Riff Raff
6. Sin City [Side 2]
7. What's Next To The Moon
8. Gone Shootin'
9. Up To My Neck In You
10. Kicked In The Teeth

While the 9-track variant dropped "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation" and moved "Cold Hearted Man" over to Side 2 and "Gone Shootin'" to Side 1

1. Gimme A Bullet
2. Down Payment Blues
3. Gone Shootin'
4. Riff Raff
5. Sin City [Side 2]
6. Up To My Neck In You
7. What's Next To The Moon
8. Cold Hearted Man
9. Kicked In The Teeth

In other words for British and many European fans the "Powerage" album we grew up with always had "Cold Hearted Man" on it somewhere and some copies came with or without "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation" which was initially a single-only release in the UK on Atlantic K 11142 in May 1978 (with "Sin City" on its B-side). There's also talk of the mixes being different in subtle ways on the UK release on many tracks especially for "Down Payment Blues". The current internationally available CD is based on a remixed Australian and US configuration of the LP and is likely to remain that way. Like "Let There Be Rock" before it - we grew up with "Crabsody In Blue" on Side 2 and not "Problem Child" from "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and a different version of "Go Down" as is presently how the CD reissue plays - and if you're a Blighty Headbanger and you actually want to configure both "Powerage" and "Let There Be Rock" on CD - you'll have to locate the "Backtracks" Box Set of 2009 which contains all three 'anomalies'...

So what do you get here? This Epic CD 9-track reissue has what they call 'ConnecteD Technology' which allows you to access online content via your computer but I'm buggered if I've ever bothered. The card digipak is the same for all of these reissues - very tasty and tactile - picture CD - a 16-page booklet crammed full of colour photos, press adverts, picture sleeves, stage passes and Angus and Bon in various manic live poses (ERNIE WELCH liner notes). The GEORGE MARINO Remaster (done in the USA) is from 'original master tapes' and sounds HUGE - rocking like the beast it is.

The critics called "Powerage" all manner of things on release - 'uneven' amongst them - but that hasn't stopped fans from loving its brilliance and simplicity. The production was also slicker that its 'crank everything' predecessor "Let There Be Rock" - a total beast of an album that still leaves me speechless with admiration to this day. "Powerage" was cooled down by comparison but somehow where they needed to be - sharper and leaner. It's decidedly odd for me to hear "Rock 'n' Roll Damnation" open the album - I have vivid memories of watching Top Of The Pops as AC/DC made leery eyes at the ladies in the audience who must have wished they'd listened to their mother's advice about sensible shoes and nice boys in the choir. It's a fantastic opener whatever you look it - comes in - does the business - exits. "Down Payment Blues" is a great builder - a mean and menacing chugger that grows and grows and those witty lyrics about 'sitting in my Cadillac' and 'doing nothing means a lot to me'. Both "Gimme A Bullet" (to bite on) and "Riff Raff" (having a laugh) end Side 1 on a huge high - the wild guitar introduction of "Riff Raff" later opening the live LP "If You Want Blood...You Got It" to huge audience chants.

I can still feel the power of "Sin City" when they played it live - a truly great 'diamonds and dust' AC/DC rocker. I've always loved to the simplicity of "What's Next To The Moon" - with Bon singing 'it's your love that I want' as that razor-sharp guitar blasts away. At first "Gone Shootin'" seems like a tame little beastie but it soon builds into a winner as the hook gets into you. It ends on an awesome double-whammy - "Up To My Neck In You" and "Kicked In The Teeth" - both of which hark back to the sheer aggressiveness of the "Let There Be Rock" album. "Cold-Hearted Man" is a typical Bon Scott tale of an icy Leroy Kincade - a delightful chappy immortalised in that fantastic guitar part towards the end.

The "Powerage" album isn't as immediate as the sheer pulverise-all-in-its-path power of 1977's "Let There Be Rock" - or the slick but brilliant Mutt Lange produced AC/DC chart rock of 1979's "Highway To Hell" - it's somewhere in-between. And I for one am so down with that...

Best Rock Band on the planet and baby's gone shootin' again...

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