Angus Young – Lead Guitar
Brian Johnson – Lead Vocals
Cliff Williams – Bass Guitar
Phil Rudd – Drums
Stevie Young – Rhythm Guitar
03. Shot in the Dark
04. Through the Mists of Time
05. Kick You When You’re Down
06. Witch’s Spell
07. Demon Fire
08. Wild Reputation
09. No Man’s Land
10. Systems Down
11. Money Shot
12. Code Red
There are certain things in life that are inarguable. Fire burns, happiness feels good, and AC/DC rock. The Aussie rockers may have only had one sound over their storied lengthy career, but that sound has always been delivered with such conviction and a no-fucks-given attitude that it’s hard to resist, courtesy of the relentless staying power of lead guitarist and commander-in-chief Angus Young armed with his trusty Gibson SG and schoolboy outfit.
The song may remain the same, but the story of the band had taken a turn for the worse in recent years. Drummer Phil Rudd was arrested on charges of attempting to procure a murder; forcing him to be sidelined from the Rock or Bust tour in 2014, then halfway through that tour Brian Johnson suffered ear damage that threatened to make him permanently deaf and Angus had to bring in a last-minute substitute in the form of Guns N’ Roses main-man Axl Rose to help finish the tour. Bassist Cliff Williams then retired from the band after the tour, commenting that the band wasn’t the same without Brian, Phil, or Malcolm Young.
It’s been six long years since the last AC/DC album, Rock or Bust, and it’s long been suspected that this would be the last studio album we would see from the band. Much to everyone’s surprise, AC/DC unleash their seventeenth album Power Up (also stylised as PWR/UP) unto the world in 2020, and it’s one of the band’s strongest releases in years, and certainly one of the best releases in rock this year. Dedicated to Malcolm Young, Power Up features songs that he and his brother Angus had worked on together during the Black Ice sessions in 2007 and 2008.
Boasting a familiar line-up of Angus Young and Stevie Young on lead and rhythm guitars respectively, Brian Johnson back on vocals, and the powerful rhythm section of Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd returning to the fold, Power Up is an unapologetic, balls-to-the-wall, toe-tapping, and downright fun record. In a year of such confusion due to the ongoing global pandemic, it’s reassuring that AC/DC are still doing what they do best; pumping out good old-fashioned no-bullshit rock n’ roll.
When the lead single “Shot in the Dark” was released, I felt genuine happiness and comfort for the first time in months. That warm feeling of nostalgia washed over me as the mid-tempo “Stiff Upper Lip” type lick burst out of my speakers, Angus’ frenetic solo erupted just past the halfway mark, and Brian Johnson’s inimitable shriek joined the mix. ‘I need a pick-me-up / a rollin’ thunder truck’ he sings, and I think we all need a pick-me-up right now. Luckily, “Shot in the Dark” and Power Up in its entirety are exactly that. You’ll feel better when listening to this record.
AC/DC don’t play around, as they waste no time opening the album with the groove-oriented rocker “Realize,” and Brian sounds better than he has done since the Flick of the Switch era. It’s an impressive return to form, considering he thought he may never record with the band again. Angus and Stevie trade riffs before the former let loose with some blazing licks, and the Stones-y swagger of “Rejection” oozes confidence as Brian takes on his critics. ‘Look out, I’m coming in / kick me when I’m down / Stand up without a sound.’ He’s out for blood.
“Through the Mists of Time” is the sound of AC/DC paying a wistful tribute to their fallen brother Malcolm the only way they know how – by rocking. ‘See dark shadows on the walls / See the pictures, some hang, some fall.’ It’s touching, but Malcolm wouldn’t have wanted them to mope around, and Angus launches into another excellent guitar solo. “Kick You When You’re Down” features a tasty blues main lick alongside an infectious chorus hook and yet another effortless solo, and sounds destined to be a live favourite.
Two of my favourite songs on the record are “Witch’s Spell” and “Demon Fire;” the former being a mid-tempo grinding rock song with tales of enchantments and lust, and “Demon Fire” kicks into gear with a main guitar part that reminds me of “Caught With Your Pants Down” from 1995’s Ballbreaker. It’s fantastic stuff that scratches every itch that I had waiting for a new AC/DC record, and it satisfies and delights in equal measure. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear and tapping your feet at least once while listening, maybe rock music just isn’t for you.
The western-inspired lyrics and bouncing rhythm of “Wild Reputation” are addictive, with Angus providing some souped-up blues riffs as Brian croons ‘And I’m comin’ down Main Street / Get out of my way / I ain’t stoppin’ for nobody’… Sounds like the boy’s mission statement for nearly 50 years. “No Man’s Land” showcases a mean streak that hasn’t really been heard from AC/DC since 1990’s The Razor’s Edge, as it’s cutthroat guitar during the refrain highlights a band ready for a fight.
Power Up has an incredible closing salvo of songs in the form of “Systems Down” with it’s stop-start riffing and razor-sharp lead break, the not-so-subtle single-entendre lasciviousness of “Money Shot” delivered with a wink and a smile, and “Code Red” has a creeping main guitar riff and a memorable hook that you’ll be humming for a week or three.
Angus Young once joked “I’m sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we’ve put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same.” You know exactly what you’re going to get with an AC/DC album, they’ve never been swayed by current fads or pressured into broadening their repertoire, and album seventeen Power Up proves that the guys have still got it. Not only that, but they sound revitalised after a tumultuous few years thanks to Angus Young keeping that fire alive and burning strong.
From beginning to end, Power Up is a marked improvement over Rock or Bust and on par with the excellent Black Ice and Flick of the Switch for me. Power Up plays out like a greatest hits of different elements of the Brian Johnson era, and it works. They rock, and they rock the way only AC/DC can. Let there be rock once more.