With the world being in a very dark place at the moment as the pandemic alters people’s lives in enormous ways, we do need an escape if ever so briefly. With all the lockdowns and restrictions it’s difficult to get that but one thing that can’t be curtailed is our love of music.
Okay, there are no gigs to go to but we can still pop on the headphones or crank up the stereo and listen to our favourite artist, bands and records. Throw in your favourite band releasing a new album and at least it’s a start.
This happens to be no ordinary band though. Unless you’ve been living on Mars or in a bubble (pardon the pun) we are talking one of, if not the, biggest band on the planet with global record sales of 200 million and the second biggest selling album of all time.
On November 13th, which in typical AC/DC style happened to be a Friday, they dropped their 17th studio album on us called Power Up and showed us they are back in business again.
This Rock N Roll train has been thundering down the line for the last 47 years. It looked to be on very hard times and ready for the scrapyard at the end of September in 2016 and came close to derailing in 1980 and 2017 but it’s never actually stopped. This train can’t stand still and who would want it to?!
The first big question – is Power Up any good? Going by the public’s buying appetite it’s a yes – it has just hit number 1 in over 8 countries, and stands at present to be the fastest-selling album of 2020. So, the demand for AC/DC is still there. It won’t challenge the likes of Back in Black, Highway to Hell or even Let There be Rock but it could just be the strongest album since Flick of The Switch. AC/DC aren’t going to write albums as they did in the ‘70s and early ‘80s – they set the bar so high I don’t think they have those albums in them anymore. That’s not to say they do bad albums as most bands would give their right arm and leg to have some of them in their back catalogue. In terms of songs, they do knock out a few fillers now and again. Still very good songs but compared to what has been before, a fair number are album fillers.
So, what can we expect from Power Up? Nothing new really – it’s the same formula. Loud, head shaking, foot-stomping, full of testosterone, innuendos, guitar-based bluesy hard rock’n’roll with a certain swing, swagger and groove.
Produced once again by the legendary Brendan O’Brien and clocking in around 40 minutes, the production is crisp and the only concern for me is the sound of Phil’s hi-hat and cymbals. They’re a bit too swooshy and sit too high in the mix, like you’ve blown your budget on the best drum kit available but only have money left to buy second-hand low-quality cymbals.
Musically it’s absolutely loaded with melodies, hooks, big backing-vocals and choruses – not quite on the par of say Highway to Hell, but still big. Angus as per usual is splattering quality riffs and leads around the studio. Brian is sounding incredible considering he’s now a barely believable 73. He still has that wispy gravel growl, as though he’s just swallowed a full pack of razor blades with broken glass and washed it all down with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Stevie does Mal proud and along with Cliff and Phil keeping the rhythm section as tight as ever. On a side note here you do have to feel sorry for Chris Slade. Twice called up by the band and twice replaced by Mr Rudd. Technically a more gifted drummer but Phil just has that AC/DC groove and no-nonsense style that gives the band that swing. With Phil being regarded as the first real DC drummer I guess when clean and healthy he will always get the nod.
Realize is the opening track and what a belter to start with! 17 seconds in you damn well know who it is. Getting ready for the gym, run or workout then get this track ready – it will pump you up. With its big catchy chorus, it’s my favourite cut from the album. Realize was the second single release which is a little bit of a surprise as plenty more suitable contenders to get the music to the wider masses appear on the rest of the record. This is a song Malcolm had that both the Youngs worked on for a long time.
The pace slows down for Rejection – like Rock Or Bust this just plods along. I could mention Angus’ playing but it’s the same on every track, does he ever not sound incredible?
Shot In The Dark was the lead single. Like RnR Train and Play Ball before it, catchy and a true sing-along song. Defintely a song for the non AC/DC fans to appreciate and the radio stations that might not otherwise have them on their current play selection.
Through the Mists of Time is up next – and I will probably get shot for this but this is the side of AC/DC I don’t particularly like. Too pop for me, and I don’t much like the guitar tones – they remind me of Anything Goes, Big Jack, Rock the Blues Away.
Kick You When You’re Down & Witch’s Spell are two solid tracks, catchy, great choruses that just stick in your head, but Demon Fire really is the gem of the album. Johnson sounds menacing on this track as the tempo goes to 10 – when they tour expect this to be on the setlist.
The tempo lets up a touch with Wild Reputation – another steady song and another catchy chorus that you’ll be singing to in your head. The quality doesn’t let up with No Man’s Land and Systems Down – typical AC/DC doing what they do best and like most tracks on the album just excellent choruses that compliments the songs.
Oooo er misses no guesses what they are on about with Money Shot – what’s the antidote yells Mr Johnson. I think we know!
The album closes with Code Red with its chugging riff and once again Brian sounding damn good as do the rest of the band.
The band make it clear that Power Up is a tribute to Malcolm as it was his wish for AC/DC to carry on and keep making music – with Angus keen to get some of the unreleased music they had worked on out there.
Perhaps the last thought must go to Angus. Not many people have picked up on this, but how brave is he is to release this record without having his brother by his side. It may have been a risk, but one I feel that was well worth taking – so thank you, AC/DC, and Angus Young We Salute YOU!