There’s a host of different arguments as to where the true heart of AC/DC lies. Perhaps it’s Phil Rudd’s drumming, that steady, unfussy pace leaving space for others to explore. Maybe it’s Cliff Williams bass player, that rock hard centre of the song. Or perhaps it’s Brian Johnson’s wild scream, tying lassos around Angus Young’s quicksilver guitar playing.
For many fans, though, the real core of AC/DC lay with founder member Malcolm Young. An older brother to Angus, his clipped, incisive rhythm guitar interlocked with the drums and bass, while providing a rhythmic edge that other groups couldn’t match. If – as so many observe – AC/DC are the hardest boogie band of all time, then it was Malcolm Young who kept his hand on the concrete mixer.
‘Power Up’ is the band’s first album since the guitarist’s passing in 2017, but it uses some ideas Malcolm left behind, and feels very much in the spirit of his seismic work. Hell, even the title feels like a nod to 1978’s ‘Powerage’, part of a return-to-roots chapter in the band’s life that began with 2008’s ‘Black Ice’.
‘Realize’ is an ecstatic opening gambit, the hell-for-leather guitar lines tumbling out of the stereo, the needle placed emphatically in the red. It’s not exactly a reinvention, but the sound of AC/DC doubling down on their core elements remains one of rock’s purest elixirs, while Brian Johnson’s mighty wail retains its scorchered quality.
‘Rejection’ is a quick-fire follow up, while ‘Shot In The Dark’ – guns and explosions have always forged huge aspects of the AC/DC battle cry – is a gutsy piledriver of a song, with those chunky riffs allowing the band to form one colossal rhythm section.
Indeed, at times ‘Power Up’ is a tour de force of what makes the Australian hard rock icons so special. ‘Demon Fire’ is a belch of rebellion, while ‘Wild Reputation’ is practically begging to be heard at one of their iconic outdoor shows, with tens of thousands of fans massing to cut loose.
It’s not a perfect album, though. The vocals effects on ‘Kick You When You’re Down’ are more than a little grating, while ‘No Man’s Land’ feels stodgy, at times even like a chore.
That being said, there is quite simply no other group on the planet who can match AC/DC at their best. ‘Power Up’ revels in a universe populated by devils and demons, with evil tugging at your sleeve, inviting you into a nearby roadhouse bar for one last game of winner-keeps-all poker and some whiskey on the rocks. A force of nature, ‘Power Up’ finds AC/DC growing old disgracefully – we’re sure that, wherever he is, Malcolm Young is proud of what he helped create.
Words: Robin Murray
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