Visions of the new mythology: "Let there be sound . . . there was sound/Let there be light . . . there was light/Let there be drums . . . there was drums/Let there be guitar . . . there was guitar/Let there be rock."
That's the old AC/DC on a 3-year-old release titled "Let There Be Rock." Minor anthems included "Bad Boy Boogie," "Problem Child," "Overdose" and "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be." The Australian band was just breaking in America then. They put out a live album called "If You Want Blood . . . You've Got It." Then lead singer Bon Scott seemed to be following his own stated philosophy and overdosed on alcohol; the band came right back with a new lead singer who sounded exactly like him -- a bad engine in a new frame -- with an album subtly titled "Back in Black." Americans greeted the survivors with open arms. Last year, Americans bought 1976 AC/DC tracks at 1981 price. As the theme song used to say on "Dragnet," "Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum."
Today, and probably for the next few days, AC/DC is the biggest heavy metal act in the world; they hold down top spots on the record charts; they sell out huge arenas on a moment's notice. They play hard, fast and loud (killer watts is a cute but thoroughly accurate description of the sound level). Their new album is titled "For Those About to Rock We Salute You" (Atlantic SD11111) and once again AC/DC has come up with an album title that delineates their style. The uninitiated may feel like Christians entering the arena without earplugs, much less a weapon; the hard-core fans will be at home.
"For Those . . . " will receive few kind words and will get very little air play; it will likely sell 10 million copies worldwide. The people who buy it will be mostly males between the ages of 13 and 20. This audience will respond to the band's electric primal scream as earlier generations did to the Beatles and Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. AC/DC belong to them, not to those who have overcome puberty. Why? Only the Shadow knows.
What is good about AC/DC can be summed up in two words: Angus Young. The diminutive guitar player may be given to wearing schoolboy knickers, but he could write the course in metallic guitar and rock showmanship. He plays with a deliberate belligerence and hair-trigger style that rescues the band's mindless and monotonous boogie. Young also writes sharp, compelling hooks that almost overcome the cliche's of the genre.
Now for the bad news.
Item A: Singer Brian Johnson. Johnson sounds like he gargles with gravel and washes it out with industrial-strength cleaner. He has Van Gogh's ear for melody and pitch. Where did he learn to sing? "I used to scream at me mother a lot," he once said.
Item B: AC/DC may be a terrific live band -- their music begs for that spectacular visual aid -- but their albums are beginning to follow a pathetic formula: songs like "Inject the Venom" and "Breaking the Rules" could serve as parodies of AC/DC as well as they serve the band. The music has become repetitive ad nauseum. What was once exciting heavy metal mayhem is now heavy metal ho-hum. It's as if AC/DC has become bereft of musical ideas. Of course, in heavy metal ideas are what you show the bartender to prove you're 18.
Item C: You can sustain a power chord for quite a while, but you can't sustain a career on power chords forever. How ironic that five years down the line, AC/DC could wind up getting riffed, rock 'n' roll style. Of course, by then they'll have bought New Zealand.