After months of rumours fuelled by glimpsed sightings and blurry photographs taken outside recording studios, the worst kept secret in rock was finally confirmed at the end of September this year. With a sudden flurry of activity on their website, the announcement was clear. AC/DC was back.
As the rumours grew, so did the speculation over the prospective line-up. Would bassist Cliff Williams come out of self-imposed retirement to rejoin guitarist Angus Young and his nephew, Stevie? Would drummer Phil Rudd, after his recent brush with the law, reclaim his rightful place behind the kit, and would frontman Brian Johnson overcome his health issues to return with his trademark flat cap? To the relief of the majority of fans, the stories about Axl Rose proved to be unfounded, and the answer to all of the above questions was a single, resounding yes.
With so many issues surrounding the band over the last few years, it’s with no small amount of relief to be able to report that the band’s seventeenth studio album, Power Up (Columbia/Sony) has not only been well worth the six-year wait, but hides a few genuine surprises up its sleeve too.
‘Realize’ is a straightforward but perfectly effective opener, but things click into gear properly with ‘Rejection’, the song finding Johnson at his most tuneful while adding subtle splashes of ZZ Top and early Def Leppard. New single and future live favourite ‘Shot in the Dark’ gets you singing along so fast that you’d think your first listen was your hundredth, while the ’70s vibe of ‘Through The Mists of Time’ sounds unlike anything the band has done for years, despite possessing the usual modern DC trademarks.
‘Kick You When You’re Down’ is another track that deviates from the standard AC/DC sound. Not so far as to cause any murmurings of discontent, but still just enough to feel dynamic and alive. ‘Witch’s Spell’ leans on ‘Burnin’ Alive’ from 1995’s Ballbreaker (Epic), and if ‘Demon’s Fire’ doesn’t make you want to turn up the car stereo and break all the speed limits then nothing will.
With no more real surprises, the band sticks to keeping things reliably and head-noddingly simple for the rest of the record. ‘Wild Reputation’ features some nice backing vocals, ‘No Man’s Land’ is heavy on the sleazy blues, ‘Systems Down’ and ‘Money Shot’ will keep the air guitarists busy, and the main riff to closer ‘Code Red’ sounds like the dirtier brother of ‘Beating Around the Bush’.
Any worries about the band’s age and health are dispelled right from the off. Brian is on top form, screeching at full capacity, hitting every note, and even speaking with a leering, gravelly voice on a couple of tracks. Stevie’s rhythm playing is first-rate, as is Cliff’s pulsing bass and Phil’s metronomic timekeeping. But as always, it’s 65-year-old schoolboy, Angus, who steals the show with some of his finest solos for years, effortlessly recapturing the glory days of Let There Be Rock and Back in Black (Atlantic). Some of the songs might not be as fast as they used to be, but the intent is most definitely still there.
Brendan O’Brien‘s strong but minimalist production works wonders for the band, sounding both modern and old school when required, and owing the occasional debt to Robert “Mutt” Lange along the way. One thing is for sure here. A lot of work has clearly gone into making this record. Anyone thinking it might have been one last easy money grab from a bunch of aging antipodeans would be sorely mistaken. A mix of old and modern, familiar but different, Power Up is an AC/DC album unlike many others and a more than fitting tribute to the late, great Malcolm Young. Maybe you can teach an old dingo new tricks.
Pre-order now: https://acdc.lnk.to/PWRUP-POID
9 / 10