There are a few bands that found the secret recipe from the get-to. They locked into their strengths and foundational DNA that bound them at the start of it all and were set on their path to reigning rock and roll glory. The Stones, Black Sabbath, Guided By Voices, Motorhead, The Ramones, and of course AC/DC.
With AC/DC they not only remained consistent throughout their nearly 50-year career, they did it while losing their lead singer at the height of their power. Not only did they lose the amazing Bon Scott, but they found an equally powerful belter in Brian Johnson to take his place and help them continue their trajectory of rock and roll domination. AC/DC is a rock and roll institution, and one that’s not about to stop now.
A couple years ago it seemed that might be the case, though. Lead singer Brian Johnson was sidelined with hearing problems, so the band recruited Axl Rose for some touring. They turned out to be great shows, but it just wasn’t the same. Then band leader Malcolm Young left the band due to health issues. He would die not long after that. Longtime drummer Phil Rudd ran into trouble with the law, and bassist Cliff Williams left for personal reasons. It seemed the Aussie rock and roll pioneers truly had found a dead end on the highway to hell.
Well folks, it’s 2020 so nothing is as it seems. AC/DC have returned with a nearly intact original line up, with Angus’ nephew Stevie Young filling in for the late Malcolm. Johnson, Young, Young, Williams, and Rudd have given us the gift of rock and roll joy with Power Up. Power Up sticks to the secret recipe. There are no short cuts or detours. 12 songs of buzzing amps and in-the-pocket rhythms and pub belting vocals that remind you why this band has survived for nearly 50 years; because they’re just that good.
You don’t need a track by track for Power Up. There are no ballads or NWOBHM bangers. No rolling barroom piano lines or a sax solo. This album is the sound of Gibson and Marshall engaged, locked in a battle for your soul with bluesy, sweaty rock and roll tracks. That’s it. The band sounds as good as ever, maybe as good as they have since The Razor’s Edge. There’s a real raw quality to these songs that was lacking in the cleaner Stiff Upper Lip and Black Ice. Angus sounds as good as ever, his solos buzzing with the vigor of a true rock and roll veteran. And despite Johnson’s hearing issues, he sounds like a real blues belter on this record. And of course the rhythm section of Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd cannot be denied. One of the true great rock and roll rhythm n bass duos. Of course, Stevie Young does the late Malcolm proud here.
There’s not a dud on here. “Realize” rolls in like a thunderclap, erasing any doubt in the naysayers minds that AC/DC are back. “Shot In The Dark” has the swagger of young men ripping it up on a Saturday night. It’s as if Back In Black just came out last year by the sound of this one. A big surprise here is the upbeat “Through The Mists Of Time”. For AC/DC this great track sounds almost modern, but not out of place for the band. There’s a minor key change in the chorus that knocks you off balance a bit, in a very good way.
There’s not a bad song on here. “Kick You When You’re Down”, “Demon Fire”, “Systems Down”, and “Code Red” are classic AC/DC done up all raw and loud and bratty just the way you love ’em. This is the kind of late career album a classic rock and roll band can only hope for.
What are you waiting for? Power Up is the kick in the teeth your 2020 needs to end on.
7.9 out of 10