Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
From the opening power chords, you know that the World’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band are back and very much in business.
Whilst everything else seems to be in utter turmoil around the globe, AC/DC prove yet again to be something that can be relied on every single time and here they’ve not just met expectations but blown them out of the water entirely.
One play through of the twelve tracks that make up this new release reveal an album that is probably one of their best and most cohesive in many years.
Whilst it may not take any huge chances, what it does do is bring all the fire and grit we know and love but also adds some really nice little touches as it unfolds.
Rightly, with the welcome return of Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams back into he fold, there’s a real sense that the old gang is here and they seem to be having an absolute ball making music together again after a few, slightly shaky, years.
Some said that this really is an AC/DC album that we actually didn’t know would ever happen, certainly not in this form, but that would be to discount the force of nature that is Angus Young, the guitarist pushing onwards the band that he formed with older brother Malcolm in 1973.
Just as ‘Back In Black’ was a tribute to their fallen comrade Bon Scott exactly forty years ago, ‘Power Up’ stands as a memorial to the late Malcom, the rhythm guitarist’s presence being very tangible and whilst he doesn’t appear on the album, he is credited as a co-writer for every song.
It’s said that the older sibling used to shred a plectrum per song when the band played live, his commitment to playing the songs as hard as he could showing in this feat of devastation and nephew Stevie Young apparently shares his uncle’s destructive force, certainly has the chops and holds his own in the band.
AC/DC have always been a tight knit unit and it’s the combination of these talents, the four longstanding and the relative newcomer, that create the musical magic. Having first played together on the last ‘DC album, 2014’s ‘Rock or Bust’, this cements their bond in fine style, the engine running smoothly and firing on all cylinders.
Exploding with opener ‘Realize’, we’re immediately thrown into the passenger seat of the most primal and exciting rock ‘n’ roll machine on the planet, Angus holding his Gibson tight to his body before he spasms into that famous duck walk as Brian Johnson let’s rip with his unmistakably gloriously rough edged vocals.
Alongside this aural assault, Rudd, Williams and Young prove once again that there is no finer rhythm section in rock, their sense of groove and swing as propulsive and tight as ever.
Next up, ‘Rejection’, is a huge statement, an unmistakable declaration that the boys have returned and Heaven help anyone who stands in their way.
Considering the health problems he had a few, very short, years ago, it’s amazing that Johnson is able to sing at all, let alone with such force but this is an utter tour de force.
Rudd, having had his own struggles, also shows what an astounding drummer he is, never flash but always bang on the money and playing with more style than a great number of his peers put together.
First single from the album, ‘Shot In The Dark’, is a classic case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, everything perfectly in place from the gang vocals of the chorus to the short but effective solo from Angus. Strikingly, ‘Through The Mists Of Time’ is comparatively wistful both musically and lyrically for the band and whilst it carries a lot of their usual stylings, there’s also a very real air of welcome nostalgia that marks this release out as something extra special and is a real highlight of ‘Power Up’.
The grooving ‘Kick You When You’re Down’ mixes modern blues with a Stones-like swagger and ‘Witches Spell’ is good, old school hard rock with a dirty and threatening edge that brings to mind early era tracks like ‘Night Prowler’ in it’s mood, if not tempo.
Demon Fire’ sounds like the wild, young cousin of ZZ Top hopped up on energy drinks, Angus peeling off the blues riffs and Johnson having a great time with the deliciously lascivious vocals and lyrics.
The groove is bone deep on ‘Wild Reputation’ and there’s a touch of slinky Southern Rock Blues in the bottleneck slide of ‘No Man’s Land’ as it makes it way across the parched landscape.
The final killer run of ‘Systems Down’, ‘Money Shot’ and ‘Code Red’ provides an unstoppable closing hat trick, full of fire and verve, the band knowing they’ve struck gold again but not letting the foot of the gas until that last note wrings out, sealing the deal once and for all.
Producer Brendan O’Brien and engineer Mike Fraser have translated this crackling energy in a way that doesn’t tinker in any way with the formula, stepping back and letting the band get on with things their way but making this monster roar with their own particular set of skills.
This year has proven to be one where some of the rock legends have released their best work in a long time and ‘Power Up’ follows in the footsteps of stunning releases from Deep Purple and Blue Oyster Cult that show just why the bands have been leading the way for so long, the young pretenders left in their dust.
Possibly their finest album since ‘Back In Black’ and ‘For Those About To Rock’, AC/DC have come back with a towering monument to the power of rock ‘n’ roll. Malcolm would be proud.
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