Rock bands courting controversy is by no means a new concept. However, a rock band whose career has spanned the best part of forty years and whose members share a collective age of some hundreds, who are still engaging in what the media presumably feels is a dream come true has to be applauded. Lets say the issue at hand is a legal one, and the focus is on a member of the band whose position rhymes with shmummer. Kudos, right? Hell-raising after such a long time? That deserves a tip of the hat. Alas, what also deserves such an accolade is the unfortunate news of the departure of one of AC/DC’s founding members and creative force Malcolm Young. It’s been a hell of a ride, Malcolm, and one that has culminated in a career leading us to their latest album.
First thing’s first though, AC/DC are a band whose sound is as recognisable as the McDonalds golden arches, or perhaps more appropriately Angus’ schoolboy outfit. Their riffage, vocals and strutting, cocksure attitude have served them tremendously well over the years, and as a result, there is undoubtedly a consensus from the band on Rock or Bust certifying that this needn’t change. In other words, the only fresh element to this LP is that it was made recently. That’s not a bad thing though, we’re pre-programmed to expect a certain level of sameness from AC/DC and the question then becomes do they still have what it takes to create their signature sound? Yes, they do it seems. Rock or Bust harks back to nearly everything AC/DC have ever done. It’s high voltage rock premise is no better exemplified than opening track ‘Rock or Bust’, a palpable, raucous piece of debauchery that immediately solidifies Brian Johnson as the unbending voice of shouty, bluesy salutations to rock. Then again, so does ‘Rock the Blues Away’ or ‘Miss Adventure’ or ‘Dogs of War’ and so on. Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s not groundbreaking, as has been the case throughout AC/DC’s tenure as rock’n’roll’s most southernly force. It’s certainly well produced, ‘Baptism by Fire’ can attest to that; Angus Young’s guitar playing has never sounded so clean, but that’s really a dichotomy of opinion. There are surely those who would retreat at the thought, and those whose intrigue would lead them to listen with glee, picturing the Gibson SG in all its fiery glory, and glorious it is too, with ‘Rock the House’ and ‘Emission Control’ bearing the trademark treble/lead tone we know so well. The latter in fact, as muddled as it is in it’s lyrical modus operandi, still manages to blend a rock/funk rhythm with a clean, crunchy leading solo. It’s nothing new, but it’s still pretty great.
That’s the hallmark of this album to be fair. The fact that every song is a reiteration of, well, every song AC/DC have ever written, except maybe pre Brian Johnson, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The admiration lies in the fact that AC/DC are still capable of producing infectious, down and dirty rock music to a formula that has seen them succeed again and again. Well played AC/DC, well played.