After a rather turbulent period which among others, saw the founding member Malcolm Young pass away, Guns N’ Roses singer W. Axl Rose take away on vocals for several shows due to singer Brian Johnson’s hearing loss issues, drummer Phil Rudd doing time and so much more, the Australian legends are back with a new album, their first since 2014’s Rock or Bust. It’s also their second album to feature Malcolm Young’s nephew Stevie Young on guitar.
Like previous couple of albums, the new album is produced by Brendan O’Brien, who much like any producer who worked with the band doesn’t mess with the formula of simplistic razor-sharp rock ‘n’ roll sound. What he does do is balances the sound out to perfection which does make the band’s sound bit more polished. O’Brien’s focus on nuances and sense for rhythmic detail make this album sound fresh and dynamic despite never messing around with the trademark formula of the band. This is still the sound of big bulldozer, bit more polished and nuanced, perhaps, yet not as grand as Bruce Fairbairn’s production on The Razors Edge.
Musically also, this is of course just like any AC/DC album, simple and undeniably AC/DC. And just like with any of their previous album, you shouldn’t expect much new. They stick to their guns and do that which they have done so well decades in and decades out.
Many of riff ideas on Power Up date back from over a decade ago when Malcolm Young was still writing music and it shows. Guitar work is eminent, even without him in the band, and what mostly impresses are the push-pull within the rhythm guitars and those nuances that not only make the simplistic guitar riffs more interesting, but also give the music dynamics.
Taking into consideration everything that the band has been though since the release of their previous album and state of the world anno 2020, you’d be tempted to expect the noticeable dose of introspective and reflection, but then again you wouldn’t know your AC/DC, I suppose. While they do touch upon the softer and darker side on couple of occasions, like on the impeccably delivered “Through the Mists of Time”, Power Up is business as usual from the boys. It’s unapologetically rocking with tacky twists and there is no pandemic or #metoo anywhere in sight. Aussies focus on hammering away with balls out and tongue in the cheek.
The album has a good flow and while the formula is the same there is also place for diversity, well diversity as it is defined in the AC/DC world. “Shot in the Dark” is dusty bluesy rocker, “Kick You When You’re Down” is anthemic dirty with potential for a future live favourite and the above mentioned Through the Mists of Time” casts some depth to the album. One or two grand tracks in vein of “Hells Bells” or “The Razors Edge” would do the album’s diversity well, but then again there is focus and simplicity that gives the album eminent flow. Overall the album doesn’t really have any big flaws, but it doesn’t offer moments that seem deemed to become cornerstones of band’s legacy.
AC/DC delivered perhaps their finest album in three decades and they did that by yet again staying true to themselves, paying homage to their legacy and in that, a true homage to late Malcolm Young. 2020 was a year of contrasts and new reality in wake of COVID-19, which has affected just about all of aspects of our lives. How AC/DC of AC(DC to brush it all away and release an album that doesn’t seem to be in any way affected by the pandemic and as such it might just be exactly what doctor ordered as this year wraps up.