8 out 10
Written by Kenneth Gallant
The first new AC DC song, since Rock or Bust was released in early October. The single “Shot in the Dark” came out on the heels of the horrible news of Eddie Van Halen’s untimely passing. I think most rock fans needed something to ease the pain of losing Eddie and to get past the shock of it. But this new song did the trick for me, assuaging my sorrows and hitting a sweet spot in the process. The boys then announced they were back in business and the classic line-up of Angus Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd (along with nephew Stevie Young) made it official with album number seventeen.
Cliff Williams came out of retirement and Brian Johnson seemed fit as a fiddle and was able to overcome his loss of hearing issues; even Phil Rudd was getting past his criminal charges. The time away from the spotlight energized both musicians, and the thought of picking up to continue the AC DC legacy was far too appealing not to be involved again. Maybe the troublesome times during the Rock or Bust tour are far behind them and with Axl Rose vacating the guest vocal spot, the time for Brian, Cliff and Phil to step back in made the most sense.
Power Up (due out on November 13th) is chalk full of meaty riffs and accompanied by that all so familiar rock swagger we have come to know and love about the band. I totally understand the sentiment by some bemoaning that well-worn template bores the heck out of you, but not with me. We need this type of album right now, and the titans of rock deliver on all cylinders with a steady batch of rock tunes to perk up my ears.
I’m still digesting the album on a whole, but upon first listen the steady as you go approach applies here. The opening track “Realize” is short, but packs a good fist-sized punch to the gut. Brian’s vocals are sharp as ever and he’s definitely on point straight out of the gate. The harmonizing back-up vocals help to fuel that 80’s vibe and I’m pleased first song in. The second track “Rejection” fits in nicely like a well-worn glove and there’s no mistaking that beautifully sounding Angus-riff. We’re two songs in and that swagger is in full-swing! Then when we get “A Shot in the Dark” and they let it rip like nobody’s business; I really dig this song!
The album does dip a bit with the melancholic “Through the Mists of Time”, but picks up with “Kick You When You Are Down”. I love the riff in the middle section and its vintage Angus Young. I started getting the ‘feels’ on “Witch’s Spell”; especially when there’s a nice sing-along chorus to get that ardent AC DC fan singing it for many days after; plus, Brian kicks into high gear on the vocals. “Demon’s Fire” is a real toe-tapper and arguably the stand-out track on this release.
The remaining numbers like “Wild Reputation”, “No Man’s Land”, “Systems Down” and “Money Shot” don’t advance the formula in anyway, but plays it by the books and sticks to the classic sound. We do end the album off with the edgy “Code Red” and thanks to Brian’s extra vocal snarling and Young’s prolific riffing, the song brings it all into focus and perfectly encapsulates the swaggering rock anthems we come to expect from AC DC. Again, the band stick to their guns and that’s admirable in my books.
I know there are a lot of detractors out there who will say this is boring as hell, but it’s a comforting sound that I still love and appreciate. AC DC will never reinvent the wheel at this late stage, but they provide a musical template that makes me happy as a pig in shit. What is even more remarkable is how at their age they can remain as vital sounding as ever and you need to consider this: Brian is 73, Angus is 65, Cliff is 70, Phil is 66 and Stevie is 63. What more can I say about a group of musicians who still give it their best to deliver an album that can still rock.
God bless you all boys!