AC/DC are back in the headlines, and happily, it’s no longer something akin to “AC/DC DRUMMER CHARGED FOR DRUG POSESSION AND MAKING DEATH THREATS”, but instead on the age-defying talents of lead vocalist, Brian Johnson, bassist, Cliff Williams, guitarist, Angus Young, and aforementioned bad-boy, Phil Rudd. Due to Malcolm Young’s ill health, his nephew Stevie Young – who has stepped in for his uncle before – played rhythm guitar for their new album, Rock Or Bust.
Their fifteenth internationally released album (sixteenth, if you’re Australian), Rock Or Bust isn’t just mildly reminiscent of past works like Back In Black or Razor’s Edge; with solid rhythms, trademark-gruff vocals, and guilty-pleasure choruses, Rock Or Bust holds its ground when it comes to the expected.
Keeping to their good old-fashioned unsubtlety, Rock The Blues Away (“Drink the night away / Until the light of day”) tips its hook-filled hat and pleasantly-predictable rhymes to past cherished songs, paired thick riffs, and Johnson’s unwavering vocals. Miss Adventure follows suit tightly, with Johnson stretching his possessed-but-in-a-good-way vocals in a near-taunt. Of course, Young’s guitar pulls up behind each drum beat with steady, satisfying chords.
Talking of steady and satisfying, the album is littered with more school-boy innuendos than your throbbing hearts could yearn for; in opener and eponymous track, Rock Or Bust – aside from anthem-like chants of “In rock we trust / It’s rock or bust” – Johnson sings about rocking you to your knees and how you “Know what we’re talkin’ about,” which I’m sure you don’t, because you’re well-behaved and highly studious.
Staying true to their hint-hint undertones, Play Ball bursts on as second track - as formulaic as rock’n’roll can get, but still feeding the perpetual fist-pumps of fans. On another, practically identical hand, the slick-guitar, blues-coloured Emission Control (it’s “Good for the soul”), while instrumentally sound, butchers the boundary between a faux-nostalgic “Don’t ya just love AC/DC?” and “Has three decades of Johnson changed nothing?”.
As many music magazines have pointed out (and now this one – way to conform), the word ‘rock’ features in four out of eleven tracks (much like 2008 album, Black Ice) with names like Rock And Roll Thunder and - funnily enough - Rock Or Bust, further proving that AC/DC have remained ever-loyal to their reliable style, even into their greying years.
Of course, reliable to some is repetitive to others - to quote a dearly beloved of mine, “I bet the drummer gets pissed off with having to play the same beat all the time”. Really, I feel you’ll only enjoy this if it’s being played in the background at Cavern during an unusually long lull in conversation, or if you already own multiple AC/DC T-shirts and enough posters to cover your shame about not preferring Bon Scott’s Highway To Hell over Johnson’s. However, would-be fans, don’t be discouraged – it’s still very talented musicians playing good, meaty rock (and it’s only half an hour long, so you might as well).
Clearly not letting the riddle of Rudd effect their impressively turbo-charged momentum, AC/DC are ready to start next year’s tour – and if the video for Play Ball is anything of a foreshadowing, you can bet Angus’ school trousers will making a velvety appearance.