WHEN AC/DC singer Bon Scott tragically died in 1980, did anyone think the band would still be head banging 40 years later?
Tragedy reared its head again in 2017 when band co-founder Malcolm Young, Angus’s brother, died from dementia.
It followed in the wake of long-time bassist Cliff Williams retiring and singer Brian Johnson leaving because he was about to go deaf.
Many thought that would be the end for AC/DC, but Angus is a resilient wee bugger and assembled a classic line-up to record the band’s new album Power Up, which is being hailed as their best in years.
“This record is pretty much a dedication to Malcolm, my brother,” Angus said.
“It’s a tribute for him like Back in Black was a tribute to Bon Scott.”
Angus is on form in Power Up with tasty riffs and short, searing solos that conjure up his 70s heyday.
The opening single Shot in the Dark has a catchy, football-chant chorus and the guitar work is reminiscent of Keith Richards, weaving in and out of the beat.
Those expecting a late-career experimental album with synthesisers, drum machines and songs about gender equality and global warming will be disappointed, but there’s just enough musical variation to keep you interested for the album’s 41-minute duration.
No song is longer than four minutes – a musical blast of energy that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The return of original AC/DC drummer Phill Rudd is key to the album’s success.
He makes the music swing, which is central to great rock drummers like Charlie Watts and John Bonham, whose first love was jazz and soul music.
Rudd is backed by bassist Williams, who came out of retirement to play on the album, and Angus’s nephew Stevie, who does a sterling job as Malcolm’s replacement on rhythm guitar (he doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel). After a three year break to avoid going deaf, and now equipped with some cutting-edge hearing aids, Johnson’s voice is its best in years.
He still sounds like he’s gargling razor blades and has smoked an entire Benson & Hedges factory, but the power and range is back, even if I still can’t make out 90 per cent of the lyrics. I filled in the blanks with juvenile tales about women, bourbon and axle grease.
Kick You When You’re Down was the only disappointment; it’s a bit too obvious and lacked the cheeky nuances that seperate AC/DC from other hard rock clones. The quality dips a bit on side two and I would have liked a hammy epic in the vein of For Those About To Rock to round things off, but you can’t have everything.
Power Up, AC/DC’s seventeenth studio album, surpassed my expectations and is being hailed by many critics as their best in years.
In Australia it debuted at number one on the ARIA Charts and made AC/DC the first band to have an Australian number one album in each of the past five decades.
Somehow they are still relevant and vital – maybe because they play simple, honest rock ’n’ roll in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and illusory.
Malcolm would have been proud – and so would Bon.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK