Tue, Oct 28, 2008 - Page 6 News List

UK climate must be dire if AC/DC are back

HIGHWAY TO HELL Britain is on the verge of recession. Right on cue, AC/DC, who have featured in top 10 UK charts at every downturn for the last 35 years, return

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, right, and lead vocalist Brian Johnson perform during a concert in Munich, Germany, on June 17, 2003.

PHOTO: AFP

First UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mervyn King, the Bank of England’s governor, admitted that Britain was on the verge of recession. Then food sales were reported to have seen their biggest fall for 20 years. On Sunday came final and irrevocable proof that the country is entering tough economic times, unseen since the 1980s: AC/DC have returned to the top of the album charts for the first time in 28 years.

Even by the standards of a band whose commercial success is a given — the venerable Australian rockers have shifted more than 80 million records since forming 35 years ago (in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis) — the circumstances of their 16th studio album’s British success seem striking.

At one point last week, AC/DC’s Black Ice was outselling its nearest competitor, Kaiser Chiefs’ Off With Their Heads, by two to one, despite the fact that they declined to release it as a digital download, preferring vinyl and CD.

Those keen to draw wider inferences from its success might note that the last time AC/DC made No. 1 in the UK, the country was on the brink of recession. Back in Black, the album that marked their commercial peak and went on to become the second biggest-selling of all time, was released in 1980, just as inflation had reached 20 percent and unemployment inched toward 2 million.

When the economy recovered, AC/DC’s popularity receded, albeit becoming merely immense instead of phenomenal: Their “flop” 1985 album Fly on the Wall still sold more than 1 million copies, a not unimpressive figure, but a fraction of Back in Black’s 30 million sales or the 5 million copies that Black Ice sold in the last seven days.

But right on cue the album that returned the band to its heyday was The Razors Edge, released in 1990 — just as Britain headed toward its last recession.

AC/DC’s appeal in unpredictable times is straightforward. People crave something uncomplicated and dependable in a time of uncertainty, and rock music has never produced a band so uncomplicated and dependable as AC/DC.

For 35 years, they have done exactly the same thing — which in guitarist Angus Young’s case, involves dressing like a naughty schoolboy — unaffected by changes in fashion or band personnel.

Small wonder that people turn to AC/DC in their millions when the world appears on the brink of chaos. Here is escapism into a world untroubled by subprime mortgages, record public finance deficits and the baleful state of the FTSE 100, but escapism of the most comfortingly consistent kind.

Western capitalism might collapse but at least Young can be relied on to perform a song about either rock ’n’ roll or testicles while wearing shorts, blazer and cap.

Alas, what he can’t be relied on to do is support those who delve into the sociological implications of AC/DC’s appeal.

“What we do, you’re not going to look into it with depth, y’know,” he said recently. “Because if you look into it with depth, you’re not going to get it.”

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