It’s certainly been a tough time for AC/DC. First the band announced they would be continuing without their dementia-stricken founding member Malcolm Young, before it was revealed that drummer Phil Rudd had been arrested for attempting to hire a murderer. Even though Young is being replaced by his nephew Stevie, we’re not so sure what’s going to happen with Phil Rudd when the Australian hard rock legends celebrate their 40th anniversary next year. Later this week, the quintet will release their hotly anticipated 15th studio album, Rock or Bust. Read on to find out if AC/DC have managed to pull it off yet again.
The record opens convincingly with the title track, encompassing classic AC/DC power chords and a pulsating bassline, both underpinning Brian Johnson’s instantly recognizable voice. It’s obviously not revolutionary (nothing AC/DC do is ahead of the curve), instead showing us that AC/DC are still rocking and doing what they do best. “We’re here to shout and scream” boasts Johnson triumphantly as he makes the bold claim of, “in what we trust, it’s rock or bust”. Comeback single Play Ball follows with more of the same, but with some added power in the chorus which gives off that classic AC/DC stadium rock feel. The guitars are consistently sharp, with a killer solo courtesy of Angus Young preceding a triumphant ending to the track. If anything, Play Ball is exactly what AC/DC should sound like regardless of what they do. Rock the Blues Away treads on old-school blues rock territory with a blues scale chord progression and steady pace helping the song move along nicely. The lyrics are exactly what we’re to expect from Johnson, with these lyrics in particular being lifted right out of the 1980s rock scene. Rock the Blues Away could’ve been a classic track from the 1980s if it weren’t for its overproduction. In fact, every song on the album falls victim to this, with the majority of the album sounding too “clean” for its own liking. It’s almost as if there are invisible reigns pulling AC/DC in and restricting their rocking. “Rock the blues away, drink the night away” screeches Johnson, before Miss Adventure introduces some groove in a perfectly danceable track. A catchy “na na na” refrain makes way for a sped up gospel-esque ending which sees a collection of layered voices intertwine with the refrain in an epic outro.
Dogs of War follows, with Angus Young taking the lead in another classic throwback track which harks back to the old days. It starts slowly as Young murmurs the title, before it swaggers along at a mid-tempo pace. It doesn’t pick up much throughout, rather opting to be a slow burning desert rocker. Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder’s opening riff and handclap beats sees AC/DC move back into blues rock territory as Johnson’s enthusiastic howls and sleazy vocals make way for a big chorus. The riff is slightly reminiscent of classic track Back in Black, yet Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder just misses the mark. Hard Times, on the other hand, starts off as a brooding slow-burner which travels nicely as a catchy chorus wrings itself around your ears. As with all the songs that have gone before it, Hard Times is simply just AC/DC by numbers, which is what makes it so good. AC/DC have always been good at what they do, having never felt the need to change their formula whatsoever. Baptism by Fire goes on to further demonstrate this with a jumpy riff adding similar grooves to those seen in Miss Adventure, before Rock the House literally rocks the house. “Mistress, mistress, all night long” catcalls Johnson before the song trudges along nicely with some crunching guitars and a big chant of “Rock this house” preceding a bluesy riff. Angus Young later on shows us he’s still got it as he pulls another trademark solo out of the bag, something which he’s never been afraid to do. Sweet Candy takes the listener on a dirty road trip with a dark and grooving bassline morphing into a rocker as dark as a New York City alleyway on a Saturday night, yet with just as much energy as an arena of 10,000 people. Rock or Bust’s penultimate track may be yet another example of AC/DC regurgitating the same formula, but it really doesn’t matter that much at all. It’s what we’re used to, and album closer Emission Control swaggers along with some more blues rock to show us that AC/DC have still got it. “It is my mission to seek you out” wails Johnson as he points the finger in an epic album closer which sees the whole band come together to end the record on a triumphant note. As the urgency slightly picks up, Johnson tells us that emission control is good for the soul, which is very much open to interpretation as to what they mean by emission control. As it’s AC/DC, there’s a high chance that it’s a metaphor for something else and not the environmental topic we think it could be. Regardless of lyrical content, though, the album does end on a high note as Angus plays another trademark solo as AC/DC ride the night train straight into the dark, leaving us wanting more. After all, it is good for the soul.
11 songs later, and AC/DC’s latest studio album has proven to be a success. Ok, we know that it’s nothing special, but what else do you expect from AC/DC? We’d all be complaining to high hell if they (god forbid) pulled out a keyboard or collaborated with Avicii, so why should we complain if they’re sticking to what they do best? 2014 has been a good year, with Brian Johnson putting it quite nicely on the title track. “In what we trust, it’s rock or bust”…