ALBUM REVIEW: AC/DC – Power Up (Columbia)
So here it is, the 17th studio album that fans of AC/DC thought might never happen, due to death, retirement, ill health and other complications.
It’s the legendary rockers’ first new music since 2014, and the first without founding member Malcolm Young, but should they have bothered? In short, yes, because while they’re hardly going to be reinventing the wheel at this stage in their 47-year career, any world with AC/DC in it is surely better than one without.
It’s an album which, despite their advancing years, sees the line up of Angus Young (lead guitar), Brian Johnson (vocals), Cliff Williams (bass guitar), Phil Rudd (drums) and Stevie Young (rhythm guitar) firing on all cylinders.
Three of them had quit, for various reasons, while founder member Malcolm Young, who for many defined the sound of AC/DC, sadly died in 2017, three years after being diagnosed with dementia. He’s here in spirit, of course, and credited as a writer on all 12 tracks.
His nephew Stevie, who debuted on previous album Rock Or Bust, proves an able replacement, Williams has been lured out of retirement and Rudd is back in the fold after his, ahem, legal difficulties. And Angus, the only original member left, is unmistakeably present.
The biggest fillip, however, is the involvement of vocalist Brian Johnson, who had to be replaced by Axl Rose on the band’s last tour in 2016 due to worsening hearing loss (who would have thought, after 35 years of standing in front of that racket, that he’d go deaf?).
Brendan O’Brien, who also worked on 2008’s Black Ice and follow-up Rock Or Bust, is back in the producer’s chair, and has succeeded in helping them make a record worthy of their legacy.
Realize is an up tempo opener which ticks all the boxes: the distinctive blues-rock chug, power chords to die for, a locked-in and rock solid rhythm section and Johnson’s trademark gravelly vocals. There’s no mistaking an AC/DC song is there?
Rejection is slower-paced with even bigger riffs, and dominated by Johnson’s voice, which has maybe lost a little of its power over the years, but holds up well.
Shot In The Dark was a perfect choice as lead single. A typical AC/DC stomper, it reminds me of Highway To Hell, with riffs aplenty, a solid beat, and a catchy singalong chorus, while Witch’s Spell is already a favourite after a few listens.
The album as a whole is maybe a little slower-paced than usual, particularly in its second half, but Demon Fire is another faster slice of unreconstructed rock ‘n’ roll, with a great descending guitar line.
Fans of old will probably love Power Up, with many already calling it their best record in 20 years. What remains to be seen is whether we ever get to hear these songs live. Stevie Young, the youngest member of the line-up, is 63; Johnson, the eldest, 10 years his senior.
It’s not like they need the money, and who knows when, in the post-Covid world, they’ll be able to take a tour of suitable magnitude on the road again.
But does that really matter? OK, it’s not Back In Black, or Highway To Hell, but Power Up does feature four long-term members of the greatest hard rock band the world has ever seen, and this is a worthy addition to their legacy. 7/10.