Review Summary: Power Up’s return to business as usual was no doubt reassuring for most AC/DC fans after such instability, but it’s impossible to ignore how tired things feel at this point
The six years between 2014’s Rock or Bust and 2020’s Power Up might be the most bat*** insane in AC/DC’s half-century history. Most notably, Brian Johnson had to step away in 2016 due to concerns of hearing loss with Axl Rose of all people touring in his place. In addition, Cliff Williams announced his intentions to retire upon the group’s conclusion and Phil Rudd was replaced by a returning Chris Slade after threatening to kill a guy landed him in legal trouble. But by 2020, the three prodigal sons returned to their proper positions with this album coming out as if nothing had happened.
Had all this happened thirty or forty years ago, we probably would’ve gotten a couple albums out of it and debates would surge over the merits of this hypothetical “Axl era.” Instead, it took all place “offscreen” unless you saw those dates and the whole status quo just got reset at the end like a real-life Simpsons episode. I still can’t tell which of these outcomes I would have preferred.
But rather than fixate on what this album is not, Power Up (not to be confused with Powerage) lives up to its title to a certain extent. The guitars are a little more bottom-heavy than the last couple outings, the rhythms put a little more weight to their hustles, and the vocals have gone to a shrill wheeze with an almost wizened demeanor. Unfortunately, these elements can be to their detriment as the drums come off as cluttered in the mix and things can feel crowded at times with a greater emphasis on backing vocals and Johnson’s voice wearing out. It’s nice to see everybody back at it, but it comes with some serious fatigue.
While the overall runtime feels like a happy medium between the last two albums with twelve songs at forty-one minutes, it’s still an exercise of sorting out the okay songs from the slightly-less-okay songs without any new staples in sight. “Shot in the Dark” is a serviceable enough lead single, “Demon Fire” is a darker number, and “Wild Reputation” and “No Man’s Land” put in some bright grooves. Titles like “Through the Mists of Time” and “Witch’s Spell” suggest a little more imagination at play, but musically amount to the same ol.
Power Up’s return to business as usual was no doubt reassuring for most AC/DC fans after such instability, but it’s impossible to ignore how tired things feel at this point. Its execution is better than Rock or Bust, boasting a more substantial length and fuller production, but it comes with a similar rushed spirit. It feels like the band is overcompensating for their haggardness and the familiarity feels more like a relative in hospice than a visit from an old friend.
It wouldn’t surprise me if AC/DC has at least one more album left in them, but I’m also hoping this is it. Whether it’d be a surprise bluesed-out bang of a finale or the last in a growing line of gradual slips, their legacy is unwavering.