Columbia Records Group
The message, seemingly everywhere, about AC/DC’s brand new record is that it’s a (sticks-to-the-knitting) gem. In fact, more than that, it is their best in 20-30 years. Maybe even nearing in on 40.
That it should be any sort of surprise is to forget that this is a band that long ago made a virtue out of surviving. I mean, first off, how this ugly, gnomic pack of bogans even got to the starting block was the initial clue that there was much in the way of grit. Most famously they grieved one singer and welcomed in another by releasing not only their finest record but the template for classic metal-hinting hard rock. Back In Black is some sort of gold standard. Even people that aren’t at all Acca Dacca fans like it or know it or at the very least don’t hate its title track, Hells Bells and You Shook Me All Night Long.
More recently, I saw them in 2015. When the band was falling to pieces. Malcolm was already side-lined for his deteriorating health, Brian Johnson’s voice was struggling and was about to be temporarily replaced by Axl Rose, Phil Rudd had been fired – again! – and even outside all of that on the night I saw them the weather was shite and the amps packed up and somehow, through it all, the show was better than when I saw them (allegedly way past their prime) in 2010. Angus did the heavy lifting that night. As he had before of course. Angus just went into show mode. That uniform gives him special powers. I don’t think he even needed an amp for his guitar, just plugged it into his own veins.
So, anyway, to Power Up. A set of songs that arrives just as many of us were sure the band might – finally – be over. Malcolm is dead. Older brother (and producer) George is gone too. Bass player Cliff Williams left, then came back. Ditto Phil Rudd. He’s back in the saddle, having sorted some of his demons. And Brian’s voice has returned too!
At the helm now, and as ever, is Angus Young. Demented school boy blues-rocking his way through solos that arrive like shots from a gun.
And the songs. What glorious no-brainer rock’n’rollers. It’s all the same tune. As it has been for 45 years. Whatever was fresh and interesting about AC/DC on its first couple of records gave way to formula in the best possible way (at least for a while) and I guess what really makes Power Up worth it is the knowledge that these are back-cat leftovers; songs written by Angus and Malcolm, many of them apparently from the Black Ice sessions (that 2008 album was, previously, their best outing since 1990’s Razor’s Edge). Some of them go back further I’m sure.
In that sense it sits similarly with what is now the final Van Halen album, a band returning to the scene of where the peak of its powers were formed, realistic that they’re in their own shadow but making the most out of quality leftovers.
But Power Up still has no right to be this good. And I believe that Phil Rudd in the engine room is a massive reason for its energy – I mean alongside Young just shaking the strings of his guitar all night long…
These songs are dumb fun – none of them graze past four minutes, it’s metal as pop-rock and of course it’s not even really metal at all, but there’s a stoicism to this and to the band that is one of heavy metal’s very best qualities. Oh, and there’s even some (er, trademark) questionable sexual politics (“If you reject me/I’ll take what I want”). Hey, I ain’t condoning it but Rejection and also Witch’s Spell don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Though what AC/DC lyric ever really did? Beyond the poetry and humour of Big Balls of course.
Four to the floor with the best snare sound in rock, blues-drenched guitar solos that have nothing maudlin or sorrowful about them and just a pack of fist-pumping anthems, lined up and waiting for a stadium that now might never answer their call.
That’s all it is and all it ever was and I fucking love it – and the band – for that.
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