Review Summary: AC/DC are still on cruise control, but at least this time they bothered to turn on the GPS.
In the arts world, some performers seem immortal. Years pass, age catches up to them, their lives change, their co-workers pass away, the end seems all but spelled out for them...and then they star in another production, or announce another tour, or put out another album.
The music scene – and the rock
scene in particular – is especially prone to this. Many a band or artist who should know better insists on doggedly carrying on about their business, bringing out new material and putting on the obligatory shows in front of a devoted yet dwindling fanbase, as if to show time could never catch up to them. In a period of their lives when most of their peers are enjoying a quiet retirement somewhere, these men and women are still travelling miles upon miles, night after night, in the name of the thing they love – the thing they have always
Examples of this trend are too plentiful to count, but one name in particular looms large whenever a musical discussion turns to this topic: AC/DC. One of the ur-examples of this phenomenon –alongside the likes of Black Sabbath, Yes, or The Who – the Australian five-piece has been plying their trade, to a larger or smaller extent, for the best part of five decades
, during which they have had to deal with the death of a charismatic frontman, not one but two
slumps in popularity, a decade-long creative drought, arrests, substance problems, money issues, individual members' struggles with tinnitus and dementia, and Axl Rose. And yet, through it all, through thick and thin, they survived; not only that, they stayed true to themselves, adhering to the exact same sound – the inimitable, unmistakable AC/DC
sound – no matter what the market or the fans demanded of them. Even the notoriously difficult Axl Rose could not change the band's fundamental identity – rather, he
was forced to adapt to AC/DC, as opposed to the other way round.
Still, the band was beginning to feel a little tired. Rock Or Bust
was the sound of five old men spinning their wheels for the sake of it, more concerned with (admittedly important) personal issues than the quality of their new material, aware it would scarcely matter to the fans anyway. And then, to make matters worse, Malcolm died.
would be the death knell for the band. With the main creative force gone – after a long battle with dementia – another of their core members all but legally deaf – in bad enough condition that he was unable to tour, thus indirectly subjecting the unwitting public to Axl-DC – and creativity at a low ebb, surely it was time for the band to do the right thing and call it a day. When AC/DC subsequently dropped from view, with hardly any information surfacing about them, everyone assumed that yes, that would be that – a slightly undignified end to a legendary rock band, but sometimes needs must...
...cut to three years later, and AC/DC have a new album out. Some acts truly do
refuse to go down quietly.
The new release is not just
another AC/DC album, either. Angus Young and company could have just taken the easy route and put out another lukewarm excuse for a tour like they had done the previous two times; to say they did no such thing is an understatement. AC/DC's new album is not only good - it is their best album in two decades, and falls just short of being their best this century.
Aptly titled Power Up
, this new set of songs does, indeed, find the band sounding revitalized, and as sprightly and up for it as they have been for at least twenty years. Guitars crunch, drums pound, the bass buzzes, and over top of it all, Brian Johnson caterwauls like it was still 1981. The entire band is in top form, and to see musicians with an average age somewhere in the late 60s (not to mention comfortably well off enough to not need to put in the effort) trying this hard
really does say something about their love for the art. For that, if nothing else, AC/DC deserve praise.
Also praiseworthy is the way this album manages to avoid (most of) the pratfalls that tripped its two predecessors. Where Black Ice
was overlong and meandering, Power Up
is tight and concise; where Rock Or Bust
was mechanical and rote, this album bursts with effort. No, AC/DC are not reinventing the wheel, nor will this album go down in the annals of the band's history, or even yield any perennial classics younger generations will talk about years from now; in fact, it is little more than another iteration of the 'same old thing'
the group have been doing for the past forty years. At least this time, however, it is well done, making this a much worthier entry into the band's discography than anything they have offered up since the turn of the millennium. In other words, AC/DC are still on cruise control, but at least this time they bothered to turn on the GPS.
That is not to say, however, that Power Up
is perfect; far from it, in fact. Focused and to-the-point as it is, the album still contains as many forgettable filler songs as it does minor classics; in other words, for every Shot In The Dark
or Code Red
there is a Wild Reputation
or Demon Fire
. Not only that, but the band's well-documented self-plagiarism is in full stride here, with nearly every
song on the album directly referencing a previous cut from the group. Unsurprisingly, the main sources appear to be the group's two best-selling albums, with opener Realize
stealing the riff from Shot Down In Flames
, and Systems Down
doing likewise for Girls Got Rhythm
(both from 1979's Highway To Hell
) while No Man's Land
inverts the legendary riff from Hell's Bells
and Code Red
evokes the riff to Back In Black
. The group has, however, dug deep into their vaults for some of these ideas, and citations to their early 90s material or even the later Stiff Upper Lip
period are also immediately apparent among even the best of these twelve tracks.
Still, this is AC/DC, the original masters of making a career out of re-writing the same three songs – and in that regard, this particular set of re-writings is perfectly pleasing, and solid enough in a middle-of-the-road sort of way. As stated, it is unlikely to change anybody's life, or be their entry point into a lifelong fandom; for that matter, it is unlikely to even yield one enduring hit to add to the band's future tracklists, with the possible exception of the advance single. What it does
do, however, is deliver a fairly strong set of songs, which show AC/DC at their most comfortable, aware of their age and willing to acknowledge it (several of the lyrics here could be construed as being about needing performance enhancers) while still refusing to go quietly into that good night. Long-standing fans will undoubtedly get a kick out of fun, throwaway rock songs like Kick You When You're Down
and Witch's Spell
or a classic AC/DC blues-rock stomper like Code Red
, none of which has a prayer of ever enduring past the last show of the current tour, but all of which are exceedingly competent at being what they are meant to be – not to mention, head and shoulders above anything on this album's dismal predecessor. Occasionally problematic lyrics aside (Rejection
''s lyrics have an uncomfortably stalkerish, rape-y vibe, especially coming from a seventy-three-year-old) it is a perfectly serviceable, perfectly enjoyable slab of classic hard rock, and a significant improvement on the group's last two albums – which anyone will agree is more than could be asked for from a handful of senior citizens.
Shot In The Dark
Kick You When You're Down