Album: AC/DC - Power Up: Veteran Aussie rockers rise, phoenix-like, to banish the 2020 blues
by Russ Coffey for The Arts Desk
After all we've been through this year, thank God some things never seem to change. Like the music of metal monoliths, AC/DC. Forty-seven years after the boys started jamming together in a Melbourne suburb, they're still at it, pumping out their iconic amped-up, head-banging blues. Power Up, their 17th studio LP, is loud, ludicrous and, above all, uplifting.
It's also a miracle it was made at all. After 2014's Rock or Bust, odds were the band would never play together again: The problems started when drummer Phil Rudd got busted for drugs and attempted homicide. A year or so later singer Brian Johnson had to leave because of a split eardrum. And then bassist, Cliff Williams decided to retire.
Most tragic of all, was the death of musical lynchpin Malcolm Young who had been suffering for years with dementia. But Mal's spirit lives on in the songs that on the new album, which are based on a trove of unfinished ideas he and brother Angus had worked on. As on Rock or Bust, nephew Stevie Young fills in on rhythm guitar.
The rest of the gang are now all back together. It may be a stretch to compare Power Up to the band's triumphant comeback of 1980, but there's no denying the defiant energy on display. Brian Johnson, (73, complete with a bionic ear) still yowls like a bear wearing very tight jeans, while Angus Young (65) seems to have made a pact with the devil that while he continues to wear his schoolboy outfit, his fretboard wizardry will stay intact.
The album starts a little hesitantly. The first couple of songs merge into each other, and Johnson struggles on some of the high screams. But after that, the boys come out punching. Three pieces, in particular, stand out. "Through the Mists of Time" sees the gang almost getting wistful, "Witch's Spell" is a nod to "Shoot to Thrill", and "Code Red's" rollicking chorus is destined to be a live favourite.
The song also throws in a solo straight from "Back in Black". This adds to the comforting familiarity of the LP. In a recent interview, Brian Johnson said he hoped that fans would enjoy the songs' simple musical honesty, that it would take them away 'from politicians and viruses'. It does precisely that. For those trying to forget that 2020 ever happened, Power Up is a humdinger.