In 2020, I made the absurd decision to spend a ridiculous amount of money refurbishing the stock cassette tape player in my 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, rather than invest the same sum installing a more modern audio system. I wanted to preserve my analog memories of enjoying music in my old school truck—no playlists, no song skipping, just listening to albums via an imperfect medium all the way through like I did out of necessity in my teenage years. These tape deck reviews reflect that specific listening experience as I revisit albums on their original terms.
In 1990, things were looking a little bleak for AC/DC. Although 1988’s ‘Blow Up Your Video’ would eventually be certified platinum, handily besting the combined efforts of the mediocre ‘Flick of the Switch and ‘Fly On The Wall,’ like its predecessors it failed to make a dent in the pop culture consciousness, which was swinging further and further away from the Australian band’s brand of hard rock. None of its songs were particularly memorable, and on top of it all Malcolm Young, AC/DC’s rock-solid rythmn guitarist, checked himself into rehab to deal with his alcoholism shortly after the record was finished.
Two years later, AC/DC were a group with something to prove. Specifically, in the face of the dual-prong hair metal and new jack swing attack that was dominating record sales at the time, the band was in tough to deliver the same kind of full-throttle rock and roll performance that had defined its efforts a decade or so previous. ‘Back In Black’ was still an unstoppable catalog sales monster, but the energy that had birthed it into the world had receded well into the rearview.
Or so it seemed. Amazingly, with ‘The Razors Edge,’ AC/DC managed to not just recapture the power of ‘Back In Black’ but also introduce the group to an entirely new generation of fans. 30 years after the fact, it still sounds absolutely amazing at full blast with the windows down while ripping down the highway.
‘The Razors Edge’ kicks off with ‘Thunderstruck,’ perhaps the best opening track in all of rock history. My own personal history with this song runs deep: not only was it played over and over again as pump-up music at every single childhood hockey tournament I ever attended, but it was also the first really ‘difficult’ track I figured out on my own while learning how to play the guitar as a teenager. I distinctly remember sitting in my parent’s basement and practicing the opening 39 bars over and over and over again until I could wring out them out one-handed from the neck of my Korean-built Strat copy.
It’s safe to say that the impact of ‘Thunderstruck’ is still undiminished decades later. The song continues to ring out at sports arenas around the world, and it’s easy to understand why. Belting from the door speakers in my Jeep, the track can barely contain its high-strung energy, never letting up from the high voltage intro to the cannonating chorus, to the echoed ‘You’ve been / you’ve been / Thunderstruck’ that leads back to the band’s background chanting.
One thing that stands out to me when listening to ‘The Razors Edge’ on cassette is just how relentless side A truly is. Following ‘Thunderstruck’ is the outstanding ‘Fire Your Guns,’ a song that could have easily found a home on either ‘Back In Black’ or ‘For Those About To Rock’ by way of its intensity and bar rock bravado. Next up is ‘Moneytalks,’ the most commercially successful track on the album, and AC/DC’s best-ever chart performance after settling at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s an interesting dynamic swing in terms of sequencing, dropping the tempo but amping things up with a monster sing-along chorus that no doubt helped the song’s accessibility and radio reach.
From the good-times vibe of ‘Moneytalks’ the album shifts gears once again, dropping down a level to what repeated re-listens while driving have shaped into my favorite song on the record. ‘The Razors Edge’ serves up a menacing, doom-bringing warning of a title track, complete with a finger-picked solo that erupts triumphantly against the steady pounding of drummer Chris Slade.
Slade, who had joined the band exclusively for this album, had spent much of the past decade holding down the fort for over-the-top rock acts like Jimmy Page’s ‘The Firm’ and various members of Pink Floyd, and you can hear that inflection clearly in this particular song. Slade dipped the scene when original AC/DC drummer Paul Rudd came back for ‘Ballbreaker’ in 1995.
If there’s an exception to side A’s fantastic energy, it’s ‘Mistress For Christmas,’ a slow banger of a joke song from a band that loves to litter its albums with single-entendre titles and juvenile lyrics. I don’t hold it against them—what’s more immature than rock ‘n roll?—but this song (which Angus Young claims was inexplicably written about Donald Trump, likely this snippet of tabloid fodder in particular) really breaks up the record’s flow. Fortunately, things pick up with the final song on the side, ‘Rock Your Heart Out,’ which is another incredible driving song that draws from the same freewheeling energy of early ’80s AC/DC.
Less successful from my modern perspective is the back stretch of ‘The Razors Edge.’ There’s no denying that ‘Are You Ready’ is another great opener, a slowed-down anthem that pitches up the similar title track’s key from minor to major and incorporates the audience-baiting chorus of ‘Moneytalks,’ punctuated by excellent rhythm guitar counterpoint from Malcolm Young.
After that, however, it’s straight filler. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, as songs like ‘Shot Of Love,’ and the album closer, ‘If You Dare,’ are fine replacement-level AC/DC songs that are perfectly acceptable for casual rocking out while sitting in traffic. ‘Got You By The Balls,’ ‘Let’s Make It,’ and ‘Goodbye and Good Riddance to Bad Luck,’ however, are a bit of a drudge that had my finger stabbing fast forward after the initial listen.
Half A Masterpiece
‘The Razors Edge’ did big business for AC/DC, selling 5 million copies in America alone and returning the band to the status of a major headliner on the touring circuit. It also has the added bonus of sounding fantastic on fairly basic audio equipment: the mid-range tones of the dual-Young guitar attack, combined with the no-nonsense drums of Slade and of course Brian Johnson’s ear-piercing screech all sit comfortably alongside each other, with punchy mids covering the bass roll-off inherent in my Jeep’s stereo setup. AC/DC are undoubtedly well-suited for the occasional wow and flutter of analog tape.
I absolutely love listening to this album on the road, particularly side A, which I can rewind over and over again and not get tired of. As someone who was not even 10 years old when this record came out, my original exposure to the record was exclusively the radio hits, and I regret not having explored more of AC/DC’s catalog past ‘Back in Black’ once I started seeking out harder rock as a teenager in the ’90s. The depth provided by ‘The Razors Edge’ remained hidden from me for far too many years.