Iron Man 2

AC/DC

I was talking with a friend the other day about the state of contemporary rock music. At one point, the conversation turned to the mega-successful Canadian band Nickelback. Neither one of us had a favorable opinion of them. He reeled off a laundry list of reasons why he could not abide the sound, style and basically everything else about the group. By contrast, I was able to sum up my disinterest with one single word: PREDICTABLE.

He agreed with me and said he would put it close to the top of his list, directly beneath “boring” and just above “lame”. “They’re predictable, all right,” he said. “Predictably BAD! If there’s one thing you can count on with Nickelback, it’s the undeniable SAME-NESS of each and every song in their repertoire. Their fans must not mind, though, and they’ve sure got a lot of them.”

Rock music has never really been about sitting still, in one place for the duration of a career. Or has it? I mean, it’s impossible to imagine the Beatles putting a pop ditties like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Abbey Road. The Rolling Stones took their cue from the Fab Four and evolved from a standard blues cover band into something arguably as influential as the music they adulated during their early years. Brian Wilson, the master tunesmith and driving force of the Beach Boys, would never have remained content trotting out songs like “Surfin’ USA” or “Barbara Ann.” Instead he drew inspiration from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and produced the legendary Pet Sounds. Would the Beach Boys be revered as much as they are now if not for that album? I highly doubt it. Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Bob Dylan…real heavy hitters here…each and every one not content to regurgitate the “same old same old”. Some fared well by that decision. Others not so much. But they make a strong case for the proposition that great music should always be in a constant state of flux, and that artists must be willing and able to follow their muse in whatever direction she may lead.

Sounds great. Seems logical. But then, how do you explain bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and a host of others who achieved greatness while confining themselves to a specific template and rarely, if ever, deviating from it? Perhaps not “predictable” in the same way Nickelback are, but predictable nonetheless. The strongest argument for the positive side of predictability is the libidinous Australian band AC/DC. If there’s one thing you can say about them, whether you like them or not, it’s that they are as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. You know EXACTLY what you’re going to get when you buy one of their CDs, download their songs or score a ticket to one of their concerts. We’re talking five capable musicians exploring the infinite possibilities of three, maybe four, ham-fisted power chords. You can expect the eardrum popping dirty crunch of a Gibson SG, its strings bent almost to the point of breaking in search of the right note. Testosterone-soaked lyrics stuffed with enough sexual double entendres to keep the kiddos guessing until they’ve reached the age of accountability. Punch-drunk vocals that make you wonder if the singer has recently broken into a case of high point Budweiser and still has one or two left to share with you.

These things will never change. Predictable. The very definition of it. Engraved in stone, for everyone, fan and non-fan alike, to see: THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT! THIS IS WHAT YOU GET! Of all the truly great classic rock bands I can think of, AC/DC surely proves that you can make a decent living cranking out a myriad of variations on a very small theme. They do it well. Even if they didn‘t, it wouldn‘t matter because the thematic meat of their material, with its amped-up macho sexuality, is timeless and ensures its longevity.

The Iron Man 2 soundtrack is the most recent example of how AC/DC buck the whole “musical evolution” system and come out the other end with flying colors. There’s nothing new WHATSOEVER about this collection of 15 classic tunes. Every one of them has been previously released, the eldest of the lot being 35 years old (“T.N.T.”). That’s a long time to be mining the same ore. Yet they keep on keeping on, every few years releasing a new album of the same songs bearing different titles and slightly revamped lyrics. It’s a formula. But it’s a formula that works, as the selection of rockers on this disc proves.

Many people may be upset with the marketing concept behind this disc. For one thing, only two of the songs appear in the actual movie. “Shoot to Thrill” kicks things off and “Highway to Hell” ushers moviegoers out of the theater during the end credits. So, for all intents and purposes, this is NOT a legitimate “soundtrack” album. It’s just a bunch of AC/DC songs thrown together by two or three executive producers for Marvel Entertainment hoping to cash in on the proven popularity of the group. In cahoots with AC/DC’s management, of course, who surely jumped at the opportunity to tie in with such a successful franchise as “Iron Man” and Marvel in general. Easy money.

Not a popular concept, it would seem, amongst many of the group’s more faithful followers. Obviously they would have preferred at least one or two new tunes to justify purchasing an album loaded with songs they already have in their collection. It’s a legitimate gripe. Still, as an introduction to the band’s one-of-a-kind power boogie, it works surprisingly well. It’s hard to imagine that there is an entire generation of potential fans who aren’t even old enough to pack up their morals and get on the highway to hell yet. Once that happens, there’s no turning back and that spells L-E-G-A-C-Y for the Aussies. Uninterrupted cash flow as well. Their music is invulnerable to the cruel work of time. It’s ageless and will remain so until the human race evolves into a sterile, asexual species. Until then we can look forward to saluting countless problem children who are about to rock. (I know…ugh! That was my inner Rob Sheffield trying to take over)

To the uninitiated, the Iron Man 2 soundtrack is a teaser. A taste of what lies in store, waiting to be discovered. Practically every song on this disc is rock solid. Only “War Machine” (from 2008’s disappointing Black Ice) and “Guns For Hire” (from 1983’s even more disappointing Flick Of The Switch) fail to rise to the standards of the other 13 tracks. The vocals are split fairly evenly between the weasel-snarl of Bon Scott and Brian Johnson’s cajone bursting, larynx shredding screech. It’s a good opportunity to decide whose style you prefer. One, both or neither — you’ll hear ample examples of the best from each singer. Iron Man 2 could easily be mistaken for “An AC/DC Primer” or “AC/DC 102”.

“AC/DC 101” would be the 1986 compilation Who Made Who, which, coincidentally, was ALSO a soundtrack album. This one was for the less-than-successful film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story Maximum Overdrive. The movie may not have been all that impressive, but at least the AC/DC songs from the soundtrack were all actually IN THE FILM. And they were a top-shelf lot, to boot. “Hell’s Bells,” “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) and “You Shook Me All Night Long” are entrenched in the pantheon of classic rock, so it’s no surprise that “Who Made Who” is an extremely strong offering. Pull “Back In Black” and “Thunderstruck” from Iron Man 2, mix it with that album and WAA-LAH! There’s your Greatest Hits album, albeit a lopsided affair that would suffer from the exclusion of so many Bon Scott tunes. Even so, such a combination would go down in history as one of the most potent collections ever released.

At least Bon Scott is represented admirably on Iron Man 2. A hits disc from the days he was still amongst the living is surely going to feature “T.N.T.,” “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place to Be,” “Let There Be Rock” and “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” — all of which are skillfully programmed here between the more familiar post-80s rockers.

It does no good to bitch and moan about how this soundtrack comes off as an incomplete Greatest Hits of the band itself. It’s pointless to rattle on about how their label doesn’t seem willing to mix and match songs from both AC/DC soundtrack recordings to produce one awesome compilation. You could complain, whine, grouch, grumble and murmur until you’re sick and tired, insisting that such an undertaking would not be very difficult. But in this age of iTunes and customizable play lists, it seems a waste of time. After all, anyone with a little taste in music and 15 bucks for the downloads can make one for themselves. Probably a lot better than the suits at the record label could.

I suppose now would be a good time to tell you that I have NOT seen Iron Man 2 and that I have no plans to watch it anytime soon, if at all. I didn’t viddy the first Iron Man and I’m 95 % sure I won’t stand in line to experience Iron Man 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 either. I’m sure it’s quite good. After all, its box-office receipts rival the GNP of several third world countries COMBINED. They don’t need one more ten-dollar bill from out of my pocket. Besides, the last time I went to an IMAX theater, to see Avatar, I walked out with a ringing in my ears that kept me from enjoying the quieter passages of Mozart’s “Requiem” for days. I’d bet good money that there are even more explosions and miscellaneous thunderous discharges in Iron Man 2. I’m an aging musician…I need to preserve what hearing I have left, eh? I’m gonna pass, thank you very much.

Besides, I could never envision Iron Man as a hero. In my world, he will always be pissed off for having been sent to the Great Magnetic Field to save the future of mankind and the ungrateful betrayal of people who don‘t even know if he has thoughts in his head. The Iron Man I know is not looking to make any friends. On the contrary, he seeks vengeance from the grave and is driven by the solitary impulse to kill the people he once saved. Weapon of choice? Heavy boots of lead. Can you believe that? This is one terrifying S.O.B., so it shouldn’t be difficult to understand why I’m hesitant to make a hero out of him.

I’m not a huge fan of action movies in the first place. You’ve seen one fireball, you’ve seen ‘em all. Combustion, guns, destruction, guns, chaos, guns, vigilante justice, guns, payback, guns, death, guns, speed, guns, guns, guns, guns…hell, I have enough of that in my own day-to-day life. I don’t want to pay money to sit in a theater and watch it all over again, with the stench of stale popcorn wafting in the air and clueless commentary from the noisy bozos in the seats directly behind mine.

Maybe that’s why I find the Iron Man 2 soundtrack somewhat unsettling. That stuff ain’t got nothing’ to do with the music of AC/DC. Not as far as I can see. AC/DC’s music is about hormones out of control. Libidos run amok. It’s about the kind of sex you should never call “making love”. It’s about being so full of yourself that you could explode at any moment, spattering huge chunks of ego all over the walls. It’s about telling the world what a badass you are. It’s the very macho essence of rock and roll, vital for its existence, rolled up into one stinky little ball and thrown at the mirror. When Brian Johnson says he’s gonna “shoot to thrill,” he may well mean it, but he sure ain’t talkin’ about using a firearm. When Bon Scott says “watch me explode,” you can bet he’s not using dynamite to get the job done.

Ahhh, but enough of my rambling. I’m in the mood for a little Australian boot stomping, so I guess I’m gonna go hunt for that copy of Iron Man 2 that was sent me to review…I seem to have misplaced it right after I brought it home from the post office and haven’t seen it since. Don’t tell anyone, OK? Please?

Perhaps predictability isn’t such a bad thing after all…unless, of course, you’re Nickelback.

(Note: I’m sorry if I offended any Nickelback fans out there who may be reading this. I only use them as an example in a purely hypothetical way. I would have used Three Doors Down instead, but my wife likes them…)

~ Jimmy Casey

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