Review Summary: While Rock or Bust sees AC/DC soldiering on like they always do, the self-preservation ultimately feels like AC/DC by the numbers.
If I may offer my opinion to a group of multi-millionaires who’ve made more in a year than I will in a lifetime, AC/DC should’ve disbanded when Malcolm Young’s health issues forced him to retire. Granted the band has experienced enough member turnover to make their own Ship of Theseus, but the key to their longevity was always the Young brothers’ chemistry with Malcolm transparently sitting as the brains of the operation. Thankfully they chose to keep it in the family by bringing in Stevie Young to take his uncle’s place, having previously filled in for him on the tour for Blow Up Your Video.
And with the songs on this album based around riffs that the Youngs had kicked around prior to the elder’s departure, it makes sense for it to essentially pick up where 2008’s Black Ice left off. The dynamic is more or less the same with the guitars having a similarly light feel, the drums sounding tight, and the vocals exercising their soulful air. A combination of this laid-back musicianship and snappier song structures reinforces an almost playful vibe throughout, keeping things from feeling too somber in their leader’s absence.
But while the previous album had varied potential across a near-hour, Rock or Bust seems to have the opposite problem. The thirty-five minutes runtime makes it the shortest AC/DC album ever released, but this compactness ends up seeming rushed in execution. The tracks are still inherently nice to have on but seem undeveloped without the space to really stretch or offer some real rockin’ out. I suppose the opening title track is a solid statement and “Play Ball” is a nice enough romp, even if it feels like it was written for some kind of ESPN special.
While Rock or Bust sees AC/DC soldiering on like they always do, the self-preservation ultimately feels like AC/DC by the numbers. A short runtime seems perfect for their no-nonsense rock but without catchy songwriting or energized musicianship to match, it feels more like they just wanted to get it over with in spots. I can imagine the album’s looser vibe appealing to diehards, but Black Ice does just about everything here better. For all the talk of AC/DC making the same album every time, this was the first time I found myself agreeing.