The Avocado

Record Reviews with Pen! (week three)

Flick of the Switch, or: Brian Johnson vs. Women

I’m doing this for my own sake, for my own sake in terms of getting AC/DC out of my system. This is Flick of the Switch. AC/DC, riding high off three stellar records, regrouped following the long For Those About to Rock tour with what Wikipedia tells me was a sincere desire to ‘get back to basics’, as if the preceding three Mutt Lange-produced records were too much studio creations, the Young brothers themselves producing solely, recording in the same Bahamas studio the likes in which the band layed down Back in Black.

“Wimmin iz evil!” – Brian ‘Beano’ Johnson

AC/DC have usually been characterized as playing ‘dumb’ music, but the Bon Scott-helmed band wasn’t ever dumb, it was just no-bullshit, and if it was dumb, it was with a wink. This is the first AC/DC record which sounds dumb. Rising Power’s riff is just dumb as hell, caveman rock dumb, hitting rocks against other rocks with only the slimmest notion of purpose, namely to make one thing strike against the other, dumb, and it rules. It’s the kind of music you do physical labour to. The song might be about a construction worker fantasizing about an attractive woman he regularly sees walking by his site, dreaming about the trouble he and the boys will get up to after work while cups deep. I don’t know. Rising Power. The song is about rising power, what power? An erection? Violence? The feeling of virility and strength, all the pent up existential workaday rage labourers inhere of? Does it matter? All that matters is when Brian Johnson announces, ‘Rising power’. Yes, we think.

Followup This House is One Fire is about a hot woman. She’s hot, Brian announces, hitting one-o-three, a veritably feverish temperature. Brian lays down a pun, mentioning she has a ‘hot poisonality’. Yes, this woman is hot, but she’s also a bad girl, she ain’t good for ya, no women in the world of Brian Johnson are. The issue Flick of the Switch relative the preceding three Mutt Lange-produced records is one of polish, of that little extra oomph in performance and production pushing the songs over the top. Does Brian Johnson ever deliver a vocal performance like Snowballed on Flick of the Switch? Are there any melodic solos like those penned by Young on Highway to Hell or Back in Black? The band has the stuff, but they aren’t pushing themselves; without Lange, the lineup’s weaknesses are shone in a much brighter light, one previously dimmed owing impeccable production. Funny to imagine Brian Johnson so horny he’s tossing and turning in bed, though. Also, props for trotting out the word ‘yonder’ in 1983.

Throughout the title track (or ‘Flicka da swish’) Johnson repeatedly attempts – attempts – to liken sleeping with a woman to being fried on the electric chair. The theme of women being evil and bringing nothing but pain is strong throughout this record, no small reason I prefer, of AC/DC’s mid-1980s so-called doldrum records, Fly on the Wall to this one. The album for a moment gets back on track during Nervous Shakedown, a ‘got arrested and screwed over’ song in the vein of For Those About to Rock’s Inject the Venom, and featuring the record’s heaviest riff.

Flick of the Switch features, I think, higher highs, but lower lows than subsequent Fly on the Wall. Guns for Hire, the big single, does indeed pop, it’s got a great riff, and truly horrifying lyrics. Again, Brian, man, what was going on during this record? The gun is a metaphor for your dick, got it, you’re going to shoot women with it without discretion, you’re going to ‘knock them with your brand’? There’s ‘no law’, so you’re just going to keep giving it to these women whether they like it or not? You’re going to ‘get the drop’ on them? Truly awful stuff, and baffling this, given its lyrical content, was chosen as the single. Lows include truly endless and equally disgusting lyrically Badlands, Deep in the Hole’s another half-assed attempt at double entendre, and whatever the hell word soup Landslide is about. Flick of the Switch is a record I half-regret every time I pop it on if only for the lyrics; man, every song is about how women are evil, how sleeping with a woman will destroy you, how Brian wants to threaten or lay his hands indiscriminately on women. It’s exhausting and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, by which I mean by ears. Occasionally Brian proffers a line like, ‘She’s a woman worth givin’/a sweet sweet kissin’, and it’s impossible not to laugh, but these weirdly tender moments are few and far between rampant and violent misogyny. Bon Scott sung about getting shot down in flames, about body positivity, about women who who were far too much for him, about doing anything his sexual partner wanted him to do, about women he wanted, not women he was going to absolutely get, no ifs, ands, or buts. The man was a human. Brian Johnson chooses to embody this sex-crazed delinquent superhero cartoon character, and it’s tiring.

Hey, Killer, 2015, Local H

“In a way, it (Hey, Killer) IS a debut record. Our third debut record. Not so much that it’s a different band. But it’s another chance to prove yourself, I guess. But we’ve never been the kind of band that achieved a level of success that afforded us the luxury of resting on our laurels. We’ve always had to prove our worth in some way. You can look at that as a pain in the ass –or you can treat it like an opportunity.” – Scott Lucas,

2015’s Hey, Killer kicks off in cinematic cowboy widescreen, guitars fuzzing, the aural representation of Local H themselves shaking, once again, the dust off lamentation about a torn-down movie theatre husked out in rhythm to fuzz jam-thick, Lucas’ voice somewhere down the line having become the perfectly grizzled horn of resignation and existential frustration spilling into blazing City of Knives and Freshly Fucked, the former offering bleak and opaque commentary on what might be Chicago, the latter an acidic, ironic, dreadfully catchy, driving ode to infatuation and lust, Lucas’ bite here particularly resentful, his subject matter anything but opaque. Fresh in love/and crushing hard again/new currency to spend/and nothing else matters. Capturing perfectly in rhythmic pound with fuzzed-out, gnashing powerchords the absolute energy advent in a new crush, a new love, how, in words and riffs cynical-thick, the world is suddenly so, so much brighter, so much better. We’re born again! And we want to fuck until the end of time! When we see our beloved the rest of the world drains of all colour, the world doesn’t matter, nothing else comes close to the vivid beaming inherent in her approach. Pen! recalls, in 2019, seeing his ex walk toward him across the Mainz Volkspark, how he felt like falling to his knees, an utter surrender before this clarion-visage of utter beauty, like everything in the world ever, every transgression and moral abomination were justified for this one moment. Thank you, Scott Lucas!

Gig-Bag Road strings our cynical, our fatigued but not down for any kind of count throughline a little further, irresistible riff, the record’s best, anchoring reflections on a working musician’s creeping middle age, themes revisited later in Age Group Champion.

“This record was really easy to write, whether or not that was because of lack of a concept, I don’t know. But it was easy and it came quickly and we really like it. And that kind of was strange. We booked studio time to make the record, and I didn’t really have any songs, and I thought I was in trouble, and we started working on it and I was like, “oh, I have songs.” And we started recording and the songs were really good. It was this thing that I was able to pull from all these scraps and ideas that had been sitting around that I had been stockpiling the year before we started recording, and lyrical ideas, and when we put them all together, I didn’t really I have time to overthink it, and I surprised myself. And there are themes, it’s not a rigid concept record, but there are themes and ideas and things about religion and the blues and death, and those three things are kind of all over the record. Every song mentions one of those things at least once.” – Scott Lucas,

I Am a Salt Mine closes up shop offering another story about a subject ragged, lonely, bitter, down and out and carrying on. These are tales of survival, of regret, of dust and anger and memories bathed in cigarette smoke and sticky, bitterly-consumed beer, beer we know is bad for us, beer’s bad for us, but fuck it. Just one, one for the road. Let yourself revel in this self-poisoning a little. Give yourself bitter relief. Ashes, emptiness, tenacity, cynicism, midwest. When Lucas focuses his energy, like on catchy Mansplainer, or the dark, fatalistic The Misanthrope, taking aim respectively at those very mansplainers and religion, he kills it every time; the man has intelligence and acid to spare, and knows and writes rock music like his knuckles. Songs less easily-deduced lyrically succeed, to Lucas’ credit, communicating what respective feeling is proffered despite opaque subject-matter (Leon and the Game of Skin, folks?). There isn’t a weak song on the record. Why aren’t you listening to Hey, Killer right now?

Moving Through Security, or: Your Introduction to Evil Cowards

That band (Evil Cowards) is much more synth-pop in nature, in Electric Six we feature the electronic guitar.” – Dick Valentine,

For those not in the know, Evil Cowards is a side project of Electric Six’s Tyler Spencer (aka Dick Valentine) and Fall on Your Sword’s Will Bates. How this collaboration boiled up I’m not sure, but I love it. 2009’s initial offering, Covered In Gas, featuring the immortal Sex Wars, Classon Ave. Robots somehow-sold chorus of, ‘Ugh… shit”, and cool as hell, put-off/disaffectedly lovelorn Please Don’t Make Me Feel You Again, among others, was a taste. Moving Through Security is top-tier Valentine word-spitting.

Dirty Consuela walks us lustily through the mind of a middle-aged man gone sex-tourism shopping somewhere south of the border. Yes, the subject matter is gross, but this is clearly a character, and Valentine’s capacity to blow everything up into a surrealistic, colourful, quasi-noir fiction, to enhance and cartoonify the circumstances, to make of any situation what is definably, in terms of perfecting = enhancing, art, sells us no matter what we think.

Fixing Machines’ Evil Cowards nonsense hype track, featuring Valentine issuing the immortal question, “Listen! Did you hear that? It sounds like the sound of meat sizzling”, a question yanked up from Valentine’s high-piled nonsequitur hoard, leads us into System Overload, the meaning of which I can’t nail down if it isn’t about wanting to experience an orgasm, but it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, meaning doesn’t matter, meaning doesn’t matter, relegate your human need for meaning to the rubbish bin; what matters is vibe, and that dualistic vibe, the way the track shifts between a cruising dark, angry synth verse and the exploding firework chorus, That Vibe.

The title track’s metaphor for the initial explorations in a relationship, gaining someone’s trust, is moving through airport security. “Can you see what’s in my bag/through the context and the haziness of your laws.” The laws referred to here are emotions, are past experiences deeply engraved, scars; can the other see you’re genuine, you’re loving? We all have to jump through these hoops, and we’re so willing, as Dick notes, he “never wants this interrogation to end”, and, subsequently, a lyric as psychologically rich as he’s ever, a slice of cake lyric, penned, “it’s just insecurity/because I secretly want to be her”, communicated here meaning all cis men idolize women, women are, of course, beautiful (this is sentiment which, I addend, could be applied to any beloved, anyone desired regardless gender), they’re the only ones who get to be beautiful, they’re so beautiful and we’re jealous of them, we want to be them, but we can’t be them; speaking personally, and, of course, in ignorance, of course I’ve thought many times, man, I’d love to be a woman, I’d love to be beautiful. Who doesn’t want to be beautiful? Dick, of course (of course), manages to work the word ‘aplomb’ into the song, and, putting a second cherry on top of a song featuring a saxophone solo, drops the line, ‘one hand inside me/coming out the other end/two hands inside me/and I’m making a new friend’, before our terminal chorus.

I don’t know what Optical Day is about. I know Gravy Train uses eating as a metaphor for nothing less than sexual intercourse. I love Valentine’s Dormitory Girls qualification that the girls are ‘only 18’ and that the singer of the song is ‘also 18’. Dirty Consuela contains a saxophone solo. I’m asking you this in earnest: do you like fun? Do you? Do you like synth melodies? Do you like it when the vocalist pronounces ‘yes’ like ‘yis’? I implore you, listen to Moving Through Security.