Release Date: Nov 13, 2020
Record label: Columbia
If it ain't broke… 16 albums into a career - more if you start talking Australian-only releases - where they all sound mostly the same is a remarkable achievement. Yet Power Up, the latest effort from ageing rockers AC/DC, is considerably better than many of its predecessors, with consistency being the key. How that can be possible is anyone's guess, considering most songs were, just like on 2014's Rock Or Bust, dug up from old ideas.
AC/DC, for most intents and purposes, fell apart after the release of Rock or Bust in 2014, so it's a relief to hear Power Up and discover that AC/DC still sound like AC/DC: thick, powerhouse chords and rhythms battle and groove with Brian Johnson, who shrieks for pleasure, not attention. That sense of relief never dissipates as Power Up offers song after song that firmly hit their target, adding up to an album that delivers reliable thrills. Considering how AC/DC have rarely strayed from the blueprints they scribbled back in the days of Bon Scott, this may not seem to be a newsworthy event, but considering how the group got mired in a spell of bad fortune in the mid-2010s, this amounts to a minor miracle.
There's a host of different arguments as to where the true heart of AC/DC lies. Perhaps it's Phil Rudd's drumming, that steady, unfussy pace leaving space for others to explore. Maybe it's Cliff Williams bass player, that rock hard centre of the song. Or perhaps it's Brian Johnson's wild scream, tying lassos around Angus Young's quicksilver guitar playing.
In 2017, it looked like AC/DC, a band synonymous with resilience, was far too fractured and vulnerable to carry on. Within a two year span, drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for procuring a murder (and later pleaded guilty to threatening to kill and drug possession), vocalist Brian Johnson was forced to stop touring due to hearing issues, rhythm guitarist and founding member Malcolm Young passed away due to dementia and bassist Cliff Williams quit the band, leaving only Angus Young behind to pick up the pieces; the lead guitarist decided to use the same tragedy that split the band apart to help rebuild it, pulling together parts of songs written with his brother to get the whole gang back together and craft new music around it..
If you're AC/DC, you can't end your career by titling your last album Rock or Bust. But back in 2014, the future was uncertain for the Australian legacy act after guitarist/co-founder Malcolm Young left the group when he was diagnosed with dementia in 2014. With rhythm guitarist Steve Young taking over the reins, the nephew of Malcolm and lead guitarist Angus Young, POWER UP is more like a family enterprise trying to keep the lights on with their primal, dependable rock n' roll.
The sound of perseverance. Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Certainly not AC/DC, as in their 15th release they finally modified the recipe that made them one of the most successful rock bands, by adding some extra layers of keyboards and even female vocals! Yes, that's right, gone is the tried and tested formula that carried them since the mid-'70s. With their new studio album, a whole new world of possibilities and dynamics has exploded right before our eyes. If you haven't heard Power Up yet, just imagine how much better Rock or Bust could have been with a few neoclassical Jens Johansson-style keyboard solos sprinkled here and there or a ballad vocal duet a la Luther Vandross and Mariah Carey.