The eleventh album from the Australian group, the one that contains Thunderstruck, was originally released on 24th September 1990 and since then has been music to our ears…
Towards the end of the 80s, AC/DC seemed to have lost their momentum. No big deal from an artistic and commercial point of view (their 1988 album Blow Up Your Video had done far better than their previous offerings Flick of the Switch and Fly on the Wall), but ten years on from the dramatic loss of Bon Scott (on 19th February 1980) something was starting to give in the workings of the legendary Aussie band.
For one thing, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had ended up back in rehab for his drink problems. “I could feel that things were going downhill for me,” he admitted years later in a dramatic interview with a British magazine. “I was losing my enthusiasm for everything, the group, life in general. It was just the drink, dragging me down. I had to pack it in.” Poor old Malcolm would pass away at the end of 2017 due to other health problems altogether (heart trouble and senile dementia), but thirty years ago he still had the strength to fight back.
At the same time that Young was getting on the wagon, singer Brian Johnson was distracted by a messy divorce. Simon Wright, the drummer, had finally quit to join the lineup of Dio which that year would record the passable Lock Up The Wolves and the band even got rid of the production team made up of George Young (elder brother of Angus and Malcolm) and Harry Vanda due to “artistic misunderstandings” even though Blow Up Your Video had been a good record by the standards of 80s rock. It seems that the idea of the sudden heave ho came from Derek Shulman, ex-frontman of Gentle Giant and then successful producer for AC/DC.
At that point, a shaken Angus Young was seriously wondering what to do next.
“First of all, we were sick of just being riff makers,” Angus explained to the press. “This time we would write the songs first and then later, come up with the right riff to complement them”. Not a bad starting point.
AC/DC kept to their word and The Razors Edge – the eleventh album from the band released on 24th September 1990, exactly thirty years ago, give or take a few days – was produced in Vancouver by no less than Bruce Fairbairn, creator of the sound of Bon Jovi (he was the one behind Slippery When Wet and New Jersey) not to mention the man who saved the career of Aerosmith thanks to the seven figure albums Permanent Vacation and Pump.
Fairbairn was someone who gave a lot of thought to the hit single, the popular one that would sell millions of albums, and it so happens that The Razors Edge then as now managed to get the best of both worlds: it’s the most musical album from AC/DC as well as containing some of the most explosive riffs of their entire career.
The epitome of this is the immortal track Thunderstruck, one of the best-loved, most powerful and famous in the Aussie band’s repertoire. It starts off as an iconic riff, a whole minute of nothing but picking, but it gradually grows into one of the best tunes ever, packed with crescendos and twists and turns. Sound engineer Mike Fraser still gets shivers down his spine when he thinks back on it:”It’s magic. It’s got this great sort of build. It’s almost like it’s holding back, holding back, the whole way, but you know it’s going to pay off. The whole song is just this build. It’s awesome.”
Fraser’s right. Thunderstruck (see video below) was an instant hit the world over, got to number two in the American charts in autumn 1990 and would sell five million copies of The Razors Edge in the United States alone, AC/DC’s biggest hit since the heady days of 1980’s Back in Black.
But that wasn’t all: another catchy tune was Moneytalks, which became a pop hit (number 23 in the Billboard mainstream chart). The title track, on the other hand, was a dark song, not so much in the style of AC/DC, but adored by hardcore fans of the group. And then there were two great live numbers Fire your guns and Are you ready as well as other gems for the connoisseurs like Mistress for Christmas (making fun of the Jingle Bells theme), the filthy Got you by the balls, Shot of love and the closing track If you dare. Mission accomplished. Angus Young and the gang would be on tour for over a year. They would go round the world driven by the momentum of The Razors Edge and preserve this moment for posterity thanks to their album AC/DC Live (1992), the definitive album of the Brian Johnson period.
Years later, looking back at the unexpected and fortunate The Razors Edge”, Angus Young retorted to a journalist who had dared criticize the sameness of his band: “You know what? The critics’ view is always, “They just made an album and it’s the same as the last one.” I’ll have fifteen of them, anytime. And so will our fans.” The poor hack had no comeback to that.