AC/DC, Power Up, review: a rip-roaring comeback from the ageing warriors of rock
Although most fans surely never expected to hear from them again, Australia’s most gnarly heavy rockers have plugged their amps back in and whacked the dials up to 11.
AC/DC’s 17th album, Power Up, starts as it means to go on, with a double power chord whammy that could make The Who weak at their knees, while 73-old Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson howls in the screeching register of the world’s angriest bartender trying to make himself heard during chucking out time at a monsters of rock festival.
It is a bold gambit for someone who quit their last tour due to a burst eardrum. Johnson’s apparent willingness to risk what’s left of his hearing reflects the spirit of defiance at the heart of this whole ridiculous comeback.
Since AC/DC’s last album, Rock or Bust, in 2014, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young succumbed to dementia, drummer Phil Rudd was sacked when he became embroiled in legal problems involving drugs and violence, bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement, and Johnson quit touring due to deafness.
By the end of 2016, lead guitarist Angus Young was the only key member still standing. His older brother’s death in 2017 looked like a final, fatal blow. Yet here we are. With grand nephew Stevie Young (63) added to the line up, Angus worked up 12 new songs from bits and pieces Malcolm left behind, then gathered the wild bunch for one heroic last stand.
From that fearsome opening salvo to the last fading guitar note 41 minutes of riotous noisemaking later, these old warriors seem determined to show that age has not altered them in any way. Power Up is as exultantly fierce, furious and – let’s be honest – belligerently dumb as anything in their catalogue. It is no-nonsense, headbanging, fist-waving, foot-stomping, raw-throated, hard-screaming, riff-ripping, pedal-to-the-metal maximum rock and roll all the way.
If you are likely to be offended by songs in which the female roles are limited to painted ladies (Through the Mists of Time), tattooed ladies (Shot In the Dark), shady ladies (Kick You When You’re Down) or vengeful supernatural harridans (Witch’s Spell), then it’s probably best not to delve into the oeuvre of a band led by a 65-year-old guitarist who still dresses as a schoolboy. Should you wish to remonstrate with the septuagenarian sexists, songs such as Demon Fire, Wild Reputation and Rejection (“You better give me what I want or I’ll beat on you”) strongly imply they don’t give two hoots.
No one comes to AC/DC for words of wisdom, they come for the visceral sound made when two overloaded guitars play just off each other to create juddering, stop-start riffs, whilst drums and bass slam behind. Johnson’s job is to do his human power drill impression, and if they can work in a catchy slogan celebrating the joys of copulation, fighting and drinking, all the better to annoy critics.
Like Kiss and The Ramones, AC/DC are a cartoon concept rock band, who came up with a formula so effective they never saw any reason to change it. 45 years and 200 million record sales later they are not going to start now. If this really is their last stand, at least they go down all guns blazing.
Power Up is out on Friday