SINCE THE HEYDAY of Little Richard, one of the things that teenagers have liked most about rock & roll is that it can provoke parents to pull out fistfuls of their hair and bellow, “God, what is that?” When your hormones are playing unspeakably cruel tricks on you, making you absolutely desperate to get laid even as your face is filling with gruesome crimson lesions, what can be more satisfying than inflicting equally grievous discomfort on the people who cramp your style the most?
Strangled, hysterical and infinitely malign, Brian Johnson’s bloodcurdling singing surely induces greater parental distress than any other voice in rock & roll. As long as he’s in the band and fifteen-year-old boys suffer hormonal imbalances, AC/DC will never want for an audience. In view of which, The Razors Edge (punctuation courtesy of the band) may be perceived as a lot better than it is.
With its Hitler Youth-rally chorus, ‘Moneytalks’ recalls Slade (Johnson began his career as a clone of Slade’s Noddy Holder) to delightful effect, while the Sabbath-like title track creates an atmosphere of deep foreboding. ‘Are You Ready’, an exaltation of nocturnal hell raising with which our heroes seem to be bucking for a Michelob commercial, is as irresistible as it is formulaic, and behold the inventive syncopation of the guitars in ‘Fire Your Guns’.
Though the album is probably better than it needs to be, it is a great deal less compelling than it might have been. Several songs are built on threadbare Keith Richards-isms. And in spite of the fact that guitarist Angus Young, the straw that stirs AC/DC’s drink, is over thirty now and Johnson is past forty, AC/DC can think of little to sing about but the joys of sex, drugs (tobacco, at least), rock & roll and general loutishness. In fact, with The Razors Edge, AC/DC sets a new record for the longest career without a single new idea.
© John Mendelsohn, Rolling Stone, 15 November 1990