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AC/DC - Rock Or Bust (Album Review)

Monday, 01 December 2014 Written by Simon Ramsay

Anyone expecting AC/DC to respond to the retirement of founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young – who is receiving treatment for dementia – with a bleak, introspective and tortured hangover of a record clearly doesn't know AC/DC. Ever the proud general, Malcolm demanded the band continue and by making a record that affirms the uplifting power of rock ‘n' roll, they've paid tribute to him in the best way possible.

It is, of course, not the first time the band have faced adversity. After Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning in 1980, they regrouped and - with the addition of singer Brian Johnson - unleashed arguably the greatest rock album of all time, 'Back In Black'.

On 'Rock Or Bust' – their 15th studio album - they once again find comfort in the arms of their beloved rock ‘n' roll, playing with a carefree zest that belies both the difficult circumstances surrounding its creation and problems with recently arrested drummer Phil Rudd.  

As on 2008’s 'Black Ice', they recorded in Vancouver with producer Brendan O' Brien, but where that effort was too long and filler-heavy, with few songs you'd kill to hear live, these infectious cuts boast a lean 35 minute running time in total and are so strong you'd be happy if they played the lot.

The title track and Play Ball epitomise that, with the former's heel-stamping rhythmic whack and gang chant chorus soundtracking the band's lyrical raison d'etre and the latter's hell-baked blues chords and prowling bass coming replete with flame throwing licks.

Throughout, nuggets from the band's past are sprinkled liberally with a mischievous grin. Miss Adventure's happy hooligan holler recalls Thunderstruck, while the open highway boogie of Rock The Blues Away packs a You Shook Me All Night Long melodic sparkle.

They tap into their influences too, with Hard Times' greasy strut echoing Aerosmith's Last Child, the opening of Sweet Candy aping Hendrix's Foxy Lady and the spiralling riffage on Rock The House tipping its cap to Led Zeppelin's Black Dog.

Performance wise, Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams provide a propulsive drive that will cause achilles tendons to rupture due to non-stop foot tapping, while Stevie Young replaces his uncle and adds the same gutsy backbone to proceedings.

The spotlight still belongs to the diminutive guitar hero and the Geordie mouthpiece though, with Angus bashing out choppy chords like a frenzied wood cutter, detonating duck-walk riffs and unleashing screaming solos fuelled by petrol from Satan's basement refinery. Johnson is in commanding form, his late ‘80s Daffy Duck delivery thankfully a thing of the past.

Its only flaw is, strangely, its greatest strength. Each song follows a set structure, with Young’s solos always lasting for a concise number of bars, and at no point do they shift gears and cut loose with new riffs or tempos to add extra dynamism. Without Malcolm, they seem content to play it safe. On the flip side, this streamlined approach means the songs are wonderfully tight and to the point, which makes for a very consistent listen.

If this proves to be the band’s recorded swan song, then their bullshit-free attitude means there's no soppy goodbyes or self aggrandising back slapping here. Regardless of outside events, they've always focused on their work with a relentless tunnel vision, and by doing so on 'Rock Or Bust' have crafted a love letter to the enduring music that's provided so much pleasure, solace and escapism for them and their fans.

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