AC/DC
Power Up


3.0
good

Review

by Pedro B. USER (332 Reviews)
November 16th, 2020 | 101 replies


Release Date: 11/13/2020 | Tracklist

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 loved.

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.

Surely that 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.

Recommended Tracks
Shot In The Dark
Kick You When You're Down
Witch's Spell
Code Red



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user ratings (130)
3.1
good


Comments:Add a Comment 
ReturnToRock
November 16th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Was all set to 3.5 this, but I can't in good conscience rate it above Powerage - or Ballbreaker, for that matter. So a 3 it is - and actually, a 3 seems about right for what is presented here.

Darius The Imposter
November 16th 2020


22738 Comments


"...and Axl Rose."

Lmfao have a pos

Album is without a doubt horrendously trash tier though

Drifter
November 16th 2020


17006 Comments


Dope review bro. Pos

SitarHero
Contributing Reviewer
November 16th 2020


12500 Comments


Great review man!

ReturnToRock
November 16th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

In case you are curious, here is the full list of citations and ripped off riffs:



Realize = Shot Down In Flames

Shot In The Datk = Who Made Who

Kick You When You're Down = Badlands

Witch's Spell = Who Made Who (again!)

Demon Fire = Riff Raff

Wild Reputation = Stiff Upper Lip

No Mans Land = Hells Bells (inverted)

Systems Down = Girls Got Rhythm

Code Red = Back In Black / Got You By The Balls



I'm sure Rejection rips off something as well, I just havent pinpointed what exactly 😂

rockandmetaljunkie
November 16th 2020


9466 Comments


Hilarious summary although I can't really support its validity since i haven't heard a single note off of this record yet.

Bless you, old-timer!

Titan
November 16th 2020


21697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This review is longer than the album!



I'll take it Pedro, thanks for reviewing it.

rockarollacola
November 17th 2020


522 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yeah, I definitely fuck with this album hard. Power Up delivered the shot high octane intensity rock n roll I was longing for in 2020. I had a huge smile on my face from start to finish, so I'd say it served its purpose exceedingly well.

manosg
Staff Reviewer
November 17th 2020


12088 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great read Pedro, pos.

rockandmetaljunkie
November 17th 2020


9466 Comments


I just realized that this guy wrote the highway to hell review, more than 15 years prior.

ReturnToRock
November 17th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@Titan yeah, I got a little carried away with talking about how bands seem to keep going forever, until I was halfway through a review and had barely mentioned the album yet xD

A few loose thoughts I couldn't fit into the review:

- Brian Johnson still cannot sing worth a damn, but of course that was common knowledge already.

- Kick You When You're Down and Witch's Spell are in the exact same position as Smash and Grab and Spoiling For A Fight on Black Ice - two fairly strong songs in context, placed back to back, neither of which stands a chance of ever making it into an AC/DC Best Of tracklist.

- The production on this album is strange. It sounds awful, muffled and over-compressed, on anything other than a good stereo, but sounds great if you play it in one.

- There is only one truly weak song on this album. Every AC/DC record has one, and in this case, it is 'Money Shot', a song so nondescript and forgettable one would not be blamed for *actually forgetting* it was there, and the only one that sounds as though it might have been directly copied-and-pasted over from 'Rock Or Bust'.

- 'Shot In The Dark' and 'Money Shot' are clearly about being randy while old.

- 'If you reject me, I'll take what I want' is NOT a good lyric to be using in the year 2020.

- Cliff's bass playing has not sounded this confident in a VERY long time.

- Out of all AC/DC albums, this one is closest to Ballbreaker, both stylistically and quality-wise. It is somewhat of a mix between that and Stiff Upper Lip, with sprinklings of Razors' Edge and Fly On The Wall thrown in as well.

- 'Wild Reputation' is a sub-three minute draft of an idea for a song that somehow made it onto the finished album.

- Not part of my thoughts for the review, but I realized this is actually the first time I've reviewed AC/DC (properly) since I stopped trying to be 'music Nostalgia Critic' and became an actually decent reviewer. Who would have thought it.

(Sure, there was 'Black Ice', but that was still a really biased, fanboyish review - as evidenced by the fact that I gave it a 3.5 at the time, when it's not even as good as this one.)

Anyway, thanks for all the positive feedback, guys!

Titan
November 17th 2020


21697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Smash and Grab and Spoiling For A Fight on Black Ice - two fairly strong songs in context [2]



i love that record

solrage
November 17th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review, though it's strange to see so many people ripping Rock or Bust. I actually went back and listened to that the other day back-to-back with Power Up and, tbh, I preferred RoB. I actually think that's probably their most varied and potent album post-Razor's Edge. Miss Adventure has a killer main riff, Dogs of War is one of their darkest, heaviest songs, Baptism By Fire is of their best up-beat boogie songs in years, Hard Times grooves like a mofo... Really, I think that entire album is super solid up until the last three tracks. Power Up is solid (for the most part) too, but after three listens I don't think I like anything here as well as the best 2-3 tracks on RoB. TBH, Power Up most reminds me of Flick of the Switch (with a bit of Fly on the Wall) but is much better produced than either. I think RoB reminded me most of Powerage, which is probably my third favorite album by them and probably why I like it so much.

ReturnToRock
November 17th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@solrage I am usually a fairly forgiving fanboy. I'll even defend Fly, Blow Up Your Video and Black Ice if the mood strikes me. Rock Or Bust I've listened to all the way through maybe twice - and I had to force myself to get through the second listen, and I only did it because it was AC/DC. It is the only album by the band I will never revisit or strive to acquire in any form - at least not until it appears in front of me at a massively cut-down price. It made me feel secondhand embarrassed - which for one of my favourite bands, is NOT a good thing. So yeah, screw that album. I'd rather pretend it doesn't exist, and this is the superior follow up to the middling Black Ice.

Pho3nix
November 17th 2020


1010 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I have to mention I really like the album cover - this might become my AOTY, just because.

Titan
November 18th 2020


21697 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think Black Ice is better than this.....that was a really good record in my opinion. Maybe it was 3 songs or so too long, but that is my only knock. First 6 songs on it are great along with Stormy May Day and the title track. Not a bad song on it.



Strong...

rockandmetaljunkie
November 18th 2020


9466 Comments


Black ice was way too long for its own good

ReturnToRock
November 18th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

My 7 out of 7 approval rating turned into a 6 out of 8 overnight

solrage
November 18th 2020


265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@ReturnToRock: Obviously there's nothing I can say to change your mind about RoB besides requesting you give it another chance, which you don't seem inclined to do. The only AC/DC album I really don't like is Fly on the Wall because of its awful production. Most everything else is at least a 3/5 IMO. I wouldn't worry about the approval rating. This is a well-written review. Only criticism I could give is that it's perhaps a tad too long and maybe you take a bit too long to get to talking about the actual music. Maybe it could use a bit of a trim but it's far from egregious or anything. Sometimes those negs disappear after a while too, maybe because they're from temp trolls or something.

ReturnToRock
November 18th 2020


4083 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

@solrage I am aware of those flaws and agree with them. Also I was not worried about the negs, it just seemed strange to lose a pos and gain 2 negs overnight. Though after 15 years on this website, it's not a new phenomenon for me at all.



I might re-listen to RoB at some point. Who knows, I may come round to it the way I did for Ballbreaker, which is no longer my 'worst ever AC/DC album'.



I like (half of) Fly enough - certainly more than Blow Up Your Video, which I would say is the (second) weakest AC/DC album, after Bust.



Ballbreaker > Black Ice > Fly > Video > Bust would be my bottom 5 ranking.



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