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AC/DC - Power Up (Album Review)

Tuesday, 17 November 2020 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Josh Cheuse

In an increasingly unpredictable world, where ‘The New Normal’ is anything but, there’s a hell of a lot to be said for a little metronomic dependability. So welcome back legendary rock ‘n’ rollers AC/DC. Featuring a line-up that’s as close to classic as possible, and treating experimentation and trend-chasing with disdain, ‘PWR/UP’ is a reassuringly lean, punchy affair that, for anyone looking to find comfort in the familiar, perhaps ranks as the most heartening listen of 2020.

After a series of events that threatened their very existence, AC/DC probably needed to make this album as much as we needed to hear it. From drummer Phil Rudd’s legal issues to frontman Brian Johnson dropping out of 2016’s Rock or Bust tour due to hearing issues, with Axl Rose stepping in to complete the dates, and bassist Cliff Williams announcing his retirement once those shows had concluded, some seemingly irreparable cracks had appeared in the band’s once indestructible armour.

Those fractures only widened the following year when both founding member and rhythm guitar machine Malcolm Young, who left the band in ‘14 after being diagnosed with dementia, and his brother George, the band’s early producer and constant advisor, passed away in quick succession.

With guitarist Angus Young left as the only remaining member, AC/DC were practically finished. Or so we thought.

Thankfully, Johnson, Rudd and Williams resolved their respective issues and, alongside Angus and his nephew Stevie, who replaced Malcolm on that last tour, returned to craft an unexpected record that, unsurprisingly from four fifths of the line-up that made the mammoth ‘Back In Black’, sounds like a pumped-up, tight-as-hell street gang purging their traumas without a hint of rustiness in sight.   

From Shot In The Dark and Rejection to Wild Reputation and Money Shot, boogie-drenched blues-riffs are smashed out with bullshit-bashin’ swagger alongside hooligans-shouting-at-the-sky hooks, hip-swinging rhythms and fiery, crisp staccato solos lobbed out by Angus like glee-inducing sonic hand grenades.  

‘PWR/UP’ isn’t quite a match for 2014’s ‘Rock or Bust’, the band’s best effort since the early ‘80s, though. A number of those hooks, particularly on Realize, aren’t as potent and memorable as they should be and fail to make good on some fine approach play. Likewise Mists of Time, where a surprisingly sentimental lyric is let down by a rather anaemic refrain.  

Without that kind of vintage chorus there aren’t any timeless anthemic hits here in the vein of Highway To Hell, Shoot To Thrill or Thunderstruck. But perhaps where this record trumps its predecessor is with a few twists that add a little newness to their old blues-rock on steroids attack.  

Demon Fire’s heat-seeking riff, judicious key change and Johnson’s glint-eyed delivery could underscore a death-defying ‘70s car chase, Code Red’s slithering-serpentine motif, and the singer’s swaggering patter, offer bags of old-school cool and Kick You When You’re Down’s spiky, southern-fried ZZ Top lick unleashes a boisterous call and response that demands to be performed in stadiums pronto.

All of these songs, as ever they were, are still credited to Malcolm and Angus, born of ideas the two had stockpiled over the years. As such, AC/DC’s authentic stamp is all over a record that, although solid with some inspired moments rather than a flat out classic, is an enduring testament to the primal power and escapist necessity of fat-free rock ‘n’ roll in all its worry-crushing glory.

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