By Mike O’Cull
Legendary rockers AC/DC have come roaring back after a period of tragedy and uncertainty with the band’s 17th studio album Power Up. Released November 13th, 2020 via Leidseplein Presse, Power Up is easily the group’s best effort in 30 years or more. The tracks are loud, fast, dirty, and urgent, just as they’ve always been, and the riffs and grooves can stand tall next to anything from the band’s Golden Age in the 70s and 80s. The new record is dedicated to AC/DC’s founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who passed in 2017, and it’s packed with both his rock and roll spirit and his songwriting. All 12 of the new songs on Power Up were co-written by Malcolm and Angus Young and were drawn from their immense stash of unused ideas built up over the decades.
The last few years have been tough for AC/DC and the group’s future was very much in doubt more than once. In 2016, lead singer Brian Johnson had to stop performing mid-tour due to severe hearing loss that threatened to sideline him permanently. Malcolm Young suffered from dementia, left the band, and succumbed to the disease in 2017. The bedrock AC/DC rhythm section of bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd also left the fold and many thought that this was the end of the line for the seemingly-eternal group. As luck would have it, however, Johnson discovered new cutting-edge hearing aids that have enabled him to once again sing with the band at stage volume, Williams and Rudd came back onboard, and Malcolm’s rhythm guitar spot was filled by his nephew Stevie Young. All of these happy events restored the band to full power and reinforced the family vibe that launched them back in 1973.
From the first moments of the opening cut “Realize,” it’s obvious that AC/DC hasn’t changed or softened their musical approach one bit and that they can crank out their crunching brand of blues-based hard rock as well as ever. Brian Johnson sounds better than he has in a long time and lead guitar icon Angus Young remains a flamethrower. The song features the kind of simple, knuckle-busting groove that made this lot a household name and they rock it so hard you’ll think it was recorded right after Back In Black.
“Shot In The Dark” is Power Up’s lead single and does a fine job of throwing off all the time gone by in favor of rock’s fist-in-the-air sense of freedom. Johnson’s sneering, sandpaper vocals bounce off Angus’ guitar work while Williams and Rudd drive the track’s blistering beat. The song is exactly the cathartic release so many of us need in this pandemic year and it will do much to boost the mood of rock fans everywhere. “Demon Fire” sports one of AC/DC’s coolest riffs of all time and Johnson again rages on the microphone. The band’s style is still minimal, perfect, and direct and the fact that it still works so well is proof positive of the truth of rock music. There’s no doubting that these lads are all true believers in this band and they push forward on these sessions like they still have something to prove.
“Systems Down,” “Money Shot,” and “Code Red” are all worth listening deep into the album to catch but you weren’t planning on skipping any songs here, anyway, right? Only a fool would opt out of anything on Power Up. AC/DC is back in an absolutely major way with this one. The band is in top form and ready to brawl, just as they’ve been since the beginning. If you’re reading this, you already know it and love it. Get your hands on Power Up and bring home some more of it.