Friday, November 13, 2020

AC/DC - Power Up

The first thing I noticed as I listened to Power Up, AC/DC's first album in over five years, is how prominent the bass is. Not that Cliff Williams, who was coaxed out of a well-deserved retirement in Florida, has changed his playing style. His lines still have a spartan, essential quality to them. They are the perfect foil to Phil Rudd's playing. Nothing is ornate, and nothing is wasted. The quintessential rock and roll backbone. The bass is just louder than you're used to hearing in AC/DC.

The overall sound is more compressed, it seems. It might also be due to the format: I've been listening to it on my preferred streaming service, and there is a subliminal digital quality to everything. You can't necessarily hear it, but you can feel it. And this new album sounds a bit more dense than usual, despite the stereo separation.

But sonic considerations aside, it's an AC/DC record. In 2020, this is as good a news as you're likely to get. It's not Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, it's not even Razor's Edge. But it's AC/DC. Pure, unadulterated. Sure, their lyrics seem less ribald this time around. Has the #MeToo movement neutered our boys, or has age eroded at there legendary libido?

It doesn't really matter. What matters is that, again, this is AC/DC doing what they do. If it ain't broke, why fix it? There's a recipe. It's like a James Bond movie. You know what you're getting. So what's this vintage worth? It's quite good, thankfully. Again, nothing that will rival Back in Black or Highway to Hell. But better than Flick of the Switch or even Fly on the Wall.

The jubilation you get from hearing a new AC/DC record is the reward. The songs aren't any more memorable than the ones on the previous five records. There are a handful of great ones, and then a whole bunch of okay ones. That's part of the formula, I guess. The good news is that at just over 40 minutes, there are no real stinkers.

Lead single Shot in the Dark is a prototypical driving rocker, somewhat generic but infectious nonetheless and would no doubt be the opener if the band was able to promote this album with one of its famous mammoth tours. Through the Mists of Time might be the best song overall, the title sounding nothing like AC/DC but more like something Deep Purple might come up with and its upbeat sixties singalong chorus harkening back to the Bon Scott days.

Other standouts include the nasty boogie Kick You When You're Down, the playful, serpentine riff of Demon Fire and the short but tasty solo on Money Shot. Too much of the record is spent on mid tempo anthems, and a couple fast and furious rockers might have helped make this LP a more memorable affair.

Much has been made of the fact that the riffs in here are from the Young brothers vault and have been worked on by Angus and Malcolm before the latter passed away three years ago. This is very much quintessential AC/DC. And this feels like a last hurrah for the band. With some members in their seventies, and the pandemic situation rendering any tour plans virtually impossible for the foreseeable future, this is as great an album as any to see them fade into the black.

Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully the band can carry on in this format for another ten years now that Brian Johnson has magically regained his hearing. Phil Rudd now appears to have put his issues behind him. Cliff Williams seems to want to rock again. Stevie Young is a more than competent replacement for his departed uncle and Angus might age, but he doesn't get old.

There aren't a lot of things to rejoice about. More AC/DC music is definitely a welcome event in an era marked by terror, humanitarian and economic crises and general misery. So power up that record player, play the album loud and start headbanging. For over half an hour, it will all go away, I promise. That's the power of music. That's AC/DC.

Welcome back, boys. 

Genre: AC/DC
Release Date: November 13th, 2020
Label: Columbia
Rating: 7/10

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