Review Summary: If Powerage isn’t your favorite AC/DC album, there’s a good chance you just haven’t heard it yet
When it comes to AC/DC, Powerage is the album that separates the men from the boys. Unless your local classic rock station was generous enough to add “Sin City” to their rotation, you aren’t likely to hear these songs on the radio or in any action movie soundtrack. It’s not underground music by any means, but even the biggest cynics burned out on the overplayed hits can still admit that this one is pretty good. If Powerage isn’t your favorite AC/DC album, there’s a chance you just haven’t heard it yet.
At the very least, this is the most varied set of songs that the band has ever released. “Riff Raff” and ”What’s Next to the Moon” provide a broad spectrum of dynamics, the former channeling the furious speeds of Let There Be Rock with greater precision while the latter’s pulled back groove and chanted vocals are borderline esoteric by AC/DC standards. “Gimme a Bullet” and “Gone Shootin’” also stand out for their bouncy lightweight romps, the latter is among their best deep cuts and directly inspired the Beavis and Butt-head theme tune.
This album also sees Bon Scott at the height of his lyrical prowess. There aren’t too many of his bawdy innuendos running amuck but he fills out his streetwise everyman perspective with more imaginative details and a deeper emotional core, resulting in what can be described as gutter poetry. “Down Payment Blues” is a mix of quotable quips and a laundry list of a man living way beyond his means while “What’s Next to the Moon” is peppered with off-the-wall references. I can also appreciate the fractured relationships that hide beneath the peppy facades of “Gimme a Bullet” and ”Gone Shootin’.”
Even the album’s more ‘normal’ songs feel spruced up in different ways. The opening “Rock ‘n’ Roll Damnation” was allegedly a label-inspired move for a single but ends up coming through with its singalong chorus and extra percussion. “Sin City” is downright bombastic with its climactic structure, building hooks, and bass-driven breakdown. Speaking of which, the new thumper Cliff Williams puts a tight spin on the band’s ’keep it simple, stupid’ approach to the low end and the production feels cleaner without losing their underlying grit.
‘Artistic’ is probably a silly word to use in the context of ***in’ AC/DC, but Powerage is a genuinely creative effort. It culminates the evolution seen on their underdog years before the next couple albums whisked them off to the big leagues. It’s still not the most complex stuff, but the eclectic songs and tight playing feels like a masterclass in how to put in a little extra pathos while still having fun. For all the oversaturation that AC/DC has come to be associated with over the years, I could never get tired of this one.