AC/DC’s 17th album ‘Power Up’ is a surprising album in many ways. First off that it even exists at all, considering the circumstances around the previous album, 2014’s ‘Rock or Bust’. Before work started on that album, AC/DC announced that rhythm guitarist and band leader Malcolm Young would take a leave of absence due to health reasons. It was later revealed that he suffered from dementia, and could no longer remember how to play. He was replaced on rhythm guitar by his nephew Stevie Young.
Before the Rock or Bust Tour started, drummer Phil Rudd was forced to leave the band due to legal issues. Supposedly for drug charges, and for threatening his own assistant. He was replaced by Chris Slade, who’ve played with AC/DC before and did an honorable job. But he’s no Phil Rudd. During that tour, singer Brian Johnson was ordered by doctors to stop touring due to hearing issues, would he continue he’d risk going deaf. The remainder of the tour was finished with Axl Rose as a guest vocalist. When the tour finished in 2016, bassist Cliff Williams announced that he was retiring from the band. The final blow came when Malcolm Young died in 2017, a huge loss for the band and for rock music.
Alone stood Angus Young as the last man standing from the classic post-Bon Scott line-up that started in 1980 with ‘Back In Black’, the best-selling rock album of all time. Many thought AC/DC were finished. Many fans were also bereaved by having watched the band unravel during the Rock or Bust Tour. But in 2018 when photos leaked online of all of the surviving members from ‘Back In Black’ having a cigarette break outside Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, rumors started to spread about a new album, and that the band maybe wasn’t over after all.
Two years of silence followed, until a photo of a huge red AC/DC neon sign leaked online in February 2020. In September 2020, photos of the band performing in front of this neon sign were uploaded to the bands official website, only to be quickly removed. The fans were sent into a frenzy. A few days later, new album ‘Power Up’ and its lead single ‘Shot In The Dark’ were revealed. The rumors were all true. Brian, Cliff and Phil were back, and the great AC/DC would ride once more. Now that the album is out, fans are in shock again. Not only is it a new AC/DC album, it’s arguably the best album they’ve done since 1990’s ‘The Razor’s Edge’. According to some, the best since 1981’s ‘For Those About To Rock’.
What is it about ‘Power Up’ that makes it so good? One of the main points about the album is that it serves as a tribute to the late Malcolm Young. All of the songs are based on ideas Angus and Malcolm worked on throughout the years, but never got around to. In a new interview with 60 Minutes, a tearful Angus explains that Malcolm said “We’ll get them later”, only for the moment to pass them by due to Malcolm’s deteriorating health. Angus saw it as his mission to complete the songs, and reunited the old gang to play together again. The strength of the songs, together with a clear sense of purpose from everyone involved, makes ‘Power Up’ stand tall as one of AC/DC’s best albums.
The band is also in exceptional form. Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams skillfully shows why they’re one of the best, or perhaps the best, rhythm section in rock. Their impeccable feel for groove and tasteful restraint drives the songs and gives them foundation. The brilliant Brian Johnson, “a well-traveled ol’ bugger” as Phil Rudd recently called him, gives it his all (as he always does) with his iconic voice. Angus and Stevie have also refined their interaction, to be as close as possible to the pinnacle of guitar interplay reached by Angus and Malcolm.
As for the songs, they sound very fresh yet very classic AC/DC. Opening track ‘Realize’ is an exciting kick-off with a slightly different style of rhythm, and melodic backing vocals reminiscent of their big hit ‘Thunderstruck’. Lead single ‘Shot In The Dark’ opens with a trademark AC/DC combination; Eddie Taylor-style blues licks on top of open power chords, followed by a huge chorus. ‘Through The Mists of Time’ is a rumination about the passage of time, set to a melodic major scale riff which gives the song a comforting quality and is about as introspective as AC/DC gets. Lyrically, the album is particularly coherent compared to most other lyrics written by the Young Brothers. Many songs seem to have in mind to strengthen the listener, like the stomping ‘Kick You When You’re Down’ and hard-rocking ‘Rejection’, which are about facing and not accepting adversity. Songs like ‘Demon Fire’ and ‘Wild Reputation’ are typical AC/DC songs about being a bad-ass, set to riffs that could easily fit in on any of their classic albums.
To conclude, ‘Power Up’ is a must hear for any fan of rock music. For any person who says that “rock is dead” in 2020, AC/DC sticks their new album right down their throats and prove yet again why they’re one of the greatest bands to ever walk the Earth.
- Artist: AC/DC
- Title: Power Up
- Label: Columbia
- Date of release: 13/11/20
- Rate: 9/10
- Stand out track: Realize, Shot In The Dark, Through The Mists Of Time, Kick You When You’re Down