It’s jolly good that RockmusicRaider‘s scope is wider than the old gods allow. To cover metal, rock, and folk in one giant sweep indeed gives us leeway larger than the swagger of Mick Jagger. So, in this sense, we can easily take on pieces that were not forged in the steely metal mills that other reviewers oblige themselves to operate in.
Instead, we can freely go to those places where rock’n’roll is still dirty, blazing hot, and the lyrics are steamy. Of a time-tested brand that never really changes. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh yes, we are talking about AC/DC and – boy – it does my soul good to rap about them again. Their newest record Power Up really was not something I expected to bitch about in this unholy year of 2020.
Not ever, actually, as I was convinced that Malcolm Young‘s demise and Brian Johnson‘s severe hearing issues really nailed that coffin shut for good. Even if the ghost of Axl Rose1) continued to haunt that empty stage AC/DC might have played on if ever they would return – one day. But more Axl in full cahoots with AC/DC? Better not, what a terrible thought right there. Even if he did a decent live performance when he saved the band’s bacon on tour some years back.
Only after Brian Johnson dropped the ball a while ago about trying new stuff, it dawned on us that they may be up to something. Of course, once videos started to appear left, right, and center, things were clear. We were going to get an all-new AC/DC album.
And what a comeback Power Up – or ‘PWR/UP’ – really is. First of all, Phil Rudd officially returned to the band in 2018. The bad boy of the gang is back with a vengeance, now with his legal and personal troubles firmly out of the way2). And you know what? This unctuous groove of his drum work immediately hits you over the head once the record starts. Not that Chris Slade‘s performance was bad, but with Rudd things are visceral. And that’s the law.
The prospect of a new AC/DC album also got Cliff Williams to return from the land of the dead. And that’s a good thing. Because with the newly repaired Brian Johnson back at action stations3), things look spiffy enough for a snazzy record to hit our starved eardrums.
And truly so, Power Up is the thing. But you should never think that this band will change one iota from their chosen path. Or that they’re of an age where others slowly look towards pruning the bushes in their private garden. Instead, AC/DC positively thrive on their bare bone type of rock’n’roll that some call Hard Rock and others had the gall to call Heavy Metal.
Yet, once Johnson grates away with the first song Realize, it becomes clear that – for now – they set themselves firmly in rock, and nowhere else. They came a long way, back to the future from Back in Black. It is also true that their last 2014 piece Rock or Bust never quite convinced us. In a way, it sounded like some sad finale to a great career. A portent of sorts of even sadder things to come not much later. Even if they ramped up blockbuster sales on a pretty weak album. And good for them.
Yet, AC/DC, ever the standup guys, pulled themselves together, got a shine on their guitars, and started to Power Up again. The outcome is a mixture of those vibes of the ’70s upwards with a goodly portion of The Razor’s Edge era of the early ’90s.
And whilst they rock away as always, this record feels retrospective in a way with numerous references to former glory. Demon Fire – for instance – kinda geekily harkens back to Whole Lotta Rosie, without quite going there. Whereas Wild Reputation gets you a whiff of Ballbreaker‘s Hard as a Rock.
Those are not copies, they are subtle references to a glorious past. And what might sound like easy fare that any dime-a-dozen musician would be able to copy, that’s not the case. You’ll find a multilayered riffing scheme with some of the best solos I ever heard from this band. All of that goodness rolls towards you in a – for AC/DC – kinda astonishing mid-tempo grind. One that is sometimes more blues than is good for its overheated amp settings.
And in many ways Power Up sounds so Malcolm Young, you would think he’s lurking in the props somewhere. And that’s testament to Angus Young‘s sharply honed writing chops. Which again turns this album into a tribute for the departed like Back in Black was so many eons ago.
And there’s truly not much to take exception with. An impeccable production, all instruments always present, and a vocalist who knows his trade. One could say that there’s no change or innovation anywhere with AC/DC. Only this trademark boot-stomping rock’n’roll that continues to rumble on into the distant yonder. But complaining about that would be like accusing the rain of being wet. You ain’t gonna change it, baby! Nor should you.
Nostalgia or not, this record delivers exactly what our souls longed for. It is – without a doubt – the best album of this band this side of Black Ice. Power up truly showcases AC/DC‘s rich trademark sound. If anything, the record exudes a powerfully settled feel, of a band secure in its ways. And one that has nothing to prove to the world anymore.
Brian Johnson still screeches like a freight train on a runaway slope with broken brakes. And Angus Young‘s guitar work gets you to relish that old fire that still burns in the midst of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Truly, this is AC/DC in top form. And may they rock on for many years to come still.
Now, power up your mighty turntable, set the loudspeakers to full blast, and let ‘er rip! And remember, if the walls don’t shake, you ain’t doin’ it right.
Ed’s note: The record successfully made it onto the 2020 Top 10 Records. Congrats!