LOUDER REVIEWS:‘POWER UP’- AC/DC
Who would have thought that monsters of rock n’ roll, AC/DC would be bringing out another album! Rumours of their retirement have encircled their last three records. Journalists around the world have prepared sombre editorials for the day that the band who motivated so many to don a guitar and spend hours trying to emulate those electrifying tones, call their career quits. Following the release of ‘Rock or Bust’ in 2014, the band seemed to collapse. Brian Johnson was struck down by hearing difficulties and the remaining tour dates saw him replaced by Axl Rose. Bassist, Phil Rudd was arrested on charges of trying to procure a murder which have since been withdrawn. Finally, in a sobering moment, in 2017 Malcolm Young lost his battle with dementia. No one could have blamed them had they decided to just bow out. They’d already given more than enough. Though, they did signal that they wouldn’t be defeated, and that signal came in the oddest of places. At Reading Festival 2017, headliners Muse threw the surprise stunt of inviting Johnson on to the stage for a rendition of 'Back in Black'! Although I wasn’t there in person I still remember the beam on my face at that moment as from home, I watched the words ‘I’m back!’ being screamed out across an ecstatic crowd.
If I can get personal just for a moment, this band mean so much to me, stimulating with their strong riffs and becoming my first ‘special interest’ within rock! And, as matters turn out, legendary acts age as well as a finely crafted riff or songwriting tactic. Famously, when one of many writers accused these musicians of having written 10 albums which all sound exactly the same, Angus responded with the amazingly acerbic “He’s a liar! We’ve made 11 albums that all sound exactly the same!” For fans, knowing what to expect and getting just that, is part of the magic! Also, while ‘Power Up’ might be just another AC/DC album to outsiders, to me its sheer vigour and dynamism make this their greatest work in three decades!
“The moment you realize, those moments just pass you by, gonna take you to paradise” croons our enthusiastic frontman on ‘Realize’ following two stark hits to a guitar which signal that this may be a triumphant return indeed! Despite Malcom being replaced by his nephew, his hallmarks are all over this album. The riffs are memorable and leave a striking impression and the guitar tones are reminiscent of his signature style! ‘Shot In the Dark’ stands out as a commanding single, where the riotous call and response vocals – another staple of their unrivalled sound – further that sense of authority and bombast! Equally energising is ‘Demon Fire’ which opens on a slow burning, twisted note before charging into a rager of an anthem, reminiscent of their absolutely ferocious early ‘80s period when they continued as an act, even when faced with the catastrophic challenge of replacing Bon Scott - one of the greatest frontmen in musical memory. On a different note, ‘Wild Reputation’ acts as that charming tribute to the blues which these players have scattered throughout their career, since the very beginning.
Perhaps the quintessential factor defining the strength of AC/DC is, believe it or not, the writing. True, they have an irreversible appeal based on one sound, which is utterly theirs. However, plenty of acts have a formula and still bear a knack for skilful songcrafting, and wow do the songs shine! Look to ‘Through the Mists of Time’ which opens on an optimistic note, gradually climbing to the exuberant chorus where the guitairs, rhythm and backing vocals coalesce into a dramatic hook. ‘Theatrical’ feels like an odd word to describe a style which is essentially power chords and sturdy beats but appreciating the melodrama as well as the rousing cycles of tension and pay-off provides a clue to why so many have such fondness for this band! The same could be said for the danceable qualities of ‘Witch’s Spell’, the stomping ‘No Man’s Land’, or the impassioned closer ‘Code Red’. The anthems are huge and not a single moment proves tedious. Generic? Maybe. Boring? You’ve got to be kidding!
As the power goes down, you’re left with two impressions: the overwhelming urge to immediately listen again, and an assurance that even though AC/DC could very easily retire on the strength of this album, they probably won’t. Call that crazy or committed, their music seethes with a raging passion that has helped define hard rock since the ‘70s! No one expects them to change them sound in experimental, and daring ways, yet they do command a blueprint which provides the perfect combination between familiarity and excitement!
'Power Up' is out now via Columbia and Sony Records - stream the record here:
Check out the official video for ‘Shot in the Dark’ below: