Unprecedented. Unpredictable. Unexpected. These are amongst 2020s most overused words. But they are equally applicable to the new AC/DC record. Well, there is nothing unprecedented about it, but it is certainly unexpected, as most thought it was unlikely we would see new material following the death of co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017. Plus, no-one could have predicted the record would see the return of vocalist Brian Johnson, drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Clifford Williams. With Rudd being booted out after his drug arrest in 2014, Johnson previously leaving because of loss of hearing in 2016 and Williams retiring in the same year. However, here they all are present and correct and ready to rock as always.
Now, the set of circumstances around the recording may have be unpredictable and unexpected but these are not words you would apply to the record itself. No, this is very much classic AC/DC. Possibly no band in history has stuck so rigidly to their template (even Motorhead and Slayer changed up their sound more over the course of their careers) but then again as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Advice the band clearly took very much to heart decades ago.
The positive flipside of this rigidity is that the group are remarkably consistent. Sure they have put out a couple of duffers over the years (ahem, Fly on the Wall) but, mostly, the band can knock out a decent set of ball-busting hard rock songs in their sleep. Don’t get it wrong though, this LP is not the sound of a band coasting. Far from it. The band sound as fired up as ever and overall this might represent their strongest collection since The Razor’s Edge. Singles Shot in the Dark and Realize proving to be particular highlights and firmly laying to rest any concerns people may have had about Johnson’s vocal abilities. Even at 73 he can still belt it out with the best of them.
Much like with the music, lyrically nothing much has changed here either. The lyrics (all of which are credited to Angus & Malcolm Young as Angus went into the AC/DC vault of unrecorded songs out of tribute for his brother) as always mainly focus on sex and rock’n’roll. Also, don’t expect any of of them to have caught up with the times as they are as un-PC and unreconstructed as ever. Because of their overblown and cartoonish nature though, it is hard to take any real offence to anything here, even if the chorus of Rejection (“If you reject me, I’ll take what I want. Disrespect me, and you get burned. Now, I don’t want your money, agreed. You better give me just what I need”) does read like an alt-right manifesto.
Finally, it is difficult to resist talking in rock clichés when writing about this album and AC/DC in general. So I won’t. Best thing to do is to crank Power Up up to 11, throw your horns in the air and rock out. For which the band will salute you.