This must be the second time in AC/DC’s history that a release is overshadowed by potential career threatening situations. The first time was most notoriously in 1979, when after original singer Bon Scott’s death the Young brothers thought about calling it a day, but the band soon after recruited ex-Geordie, iron-lunged, blow-torched singer Brian Johnson, and as we all know by now, bounced back from an awful tragedy to release what was possibly their most successful album to this day, namely their 1980 classic "Back to Black". Fast-forward to 2014, and after years of apparent stability in AC/DC’s camp, first came news that Malcolm Young was not returning due to a debilitating dementia diagnosis and as if this wasn’t enough, drummer Phil Rudd then proceeded to get himself charged and facing prison on accounts of heavy drug possession (not to mention the "threat to kill" moment he’s suspected of pulling as well!!). However, even with all of these unfortunate events, Angus Young & Co.have managed to return to the spotlight once again with a new record, showing that AC/DCalways manage to overcome such hard situations and stay on top with all guns blazing.
The 16th album “Rock or Bust” definitely isn’t your typical AC/DC record. Well, at least when having in account the situations that surrounded its recording. For the first time in the band’s history, Malcolm Young didn’t play or write a single note of music, having been replaced by his one-time touring substitute back in ’88, three years younger nephew, 59 year old Stevie Young. This was of course a natural choice, given the fact that he’s played with the Young Brothers since the ‘60s, understands the band’s sound, and is also a member of their close family that runs band affairs in a fashion all too similar to the tightness of a typical family business.
And oh yes.... about Stevie’s playing, if anyone had any doubts that he could effectively replace Malcolm, the hyper-catchy opener “Rock or Bust” brings them all to the ground, as Stevie starts the song with an infectious simple four-chord riff, bearing almost the same rhythm style and a practically identical guitar sound to the one his uncle used over the years on all of the band’s iconic records. “Rock or Bust” shows that the band still means business. He may be approaching 70, but Brian Johnson’s vocals haven’t lost a bit of their trademark raspiness. He sounds like he could sing this kind of material for another decade or so. Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams still make one hell of a tightly locked rhythm section and Angus keeps delivering his trademark electrifying solos.
This last phrase could be pretty much used to describe every single song on the record, however, the boys still kept a few interesting tricks up their sleeve. “Play Ball” is for me another classic AC/DC staple with lots of tasteful bluesy guitar doodles and is destined to be a sports show soundtrack. “Rock the Blues Away” has a slick groove that takes you back to ’79 and makes you think of how it would sound with Bon Scott singing. Other tracks that stand out are the mid-tempo cut “Dogs of War”, the “Flick of the Switch” reminiscent “Baptism by Fire”, the ridiculously catchy “Rock the House”, which has one of the record’s one-million-dollar riffs and is possibly the closest AC/DC have come to the slippery fluidity of Led Zeppelin. Yes, there are the usual dodgy odes to womanhood ("Miss Adventure","Sweet Candy") and the swag-filled finisher “Emission Control” could be the loudest Viagra jingle ever !!!!.
“Rock or Bust” is a short album. It’s under 35 minutes long and nearly 21 minutes shorter than the previous album, 2008's “Black Ice”, but if anything, this shortage of time actually keeps the record interesting and easy to listen, instead of making the listener swim through seas of filler. Of course, some tracks aren’t exactly the most memorable they’ve ever wrote, and at times, even though Stevie picked up the rhythm guitar masterfully, you can feel that Malcolm’s writing style probably gave more punch and strength to AC/DC’s material and some of the album’s more forgettable moments could have benefited from his touch…So he is missed for sure....
Still, “Rock or Bust” is effective, hard-edged, dirty and infectious hard rock, filled with great bluesy riffs, lots of party references and the usual naughty boy, double entendre sexual references. “Well, what’s new then?” you might be asking…The answer is: nothing. And actually, in their case, that’s great. They’ve managed not to grow whatsoever for 40 years and the time to demand a more progressive rock masterpiece from them is long gone. We’ve grown to love them for what they are. AC/DC may have no interest in ever improving on their core sound, but that also means they'll never run the risk of ruining it, which is fine by me !!.
So, continuing the WTS summary mode, “Rock or Bust” is good old AC/DC, it’s what we want from them and once again it showed us(well me anyway !!) that they’re still the best at what they do. No, it's no "Back in Black," or "Highway to Hell" but if this is their last record, which is a possibility, it’s a pretty solid way to go off, and for all of those wrinkly rockers like me who are always about to rock, they have once again saluted us with one of their best!
1. Rock or Bust
2. Play Ball
3. Rock The Blues Away
4. Miss Adventure
5. Dogs of War
6. Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder
7. Hard Times
8. Baptism By Fire
9. Rock the House
10. Sweet Candy
11. Emission Control
Wrinkly the Silver