Have you ever played "Thunderstruck?" Ridden down the "Highway to Hell?" Or maybe just felt the unmistakable need to rock out? The rock and roll legends of AC/DC—or at least what’s left of them—have stopped at nothing to make that happen. Apparently, they named both their 1981 hit song and album “For those about to rock, we salute you” for a reason. Brian Johnson was sincere when he yelled “Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t gonna die!” to conclude the groundbreaking 1980 LP Back In Black. And lead guitarist Angus Young wasn’t playing around when he’d basically explode with derangement onstage with the energy of a lightning bolt. No, these guys are obsessed.
That’s why in early 1980, after the death of their iconic singer Bon Scott—with whom they first achieved enormous fame—they moved on to reach even greater heights with Johnson, who officially joined just two months later. It’s also why, just over a week ago, they’ve released their 17th studio album, Power Up, after drummer Phil Rudd was found guilty of threatening murder and possession of meth and marijuana in 2015, Johnson faced extreme hearing loss in 2016, bassist Cliff Williams subsequently claimed that he’ll leave, and worst of all, the death of Angus’s brother and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017. Evidently nothing short of the apocalypse can stop AC/DC from riding the Rock N Roll Train.
With the return of all these long–time members, and especially after Johnson had been curiously replaced by former Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose in the band’s most recent tour, it’s no wonder Power Up is selling so well. In fact, that’s an understatement. Power Up is the fastest selling rock album of 2020 and is charting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the Rolling Stone Top 200, and many other major charts across the globe.
If you’re at all into AC/DC’s loud, adrenaline–pumping style, you’ll think the album is pretty awesome. While AC/DC never made super experimental or melodically diverse songs, they’ve continually revealed perhaps better than any other that hard rock music doesn’t need sophistication. Power Up is no different.
It kicks off with the previously released single “Realize”, which has a really generic A–G–D type progression but is revived by frequent guitar fills and some nice backing vocals that resemble those of “Thunderstruck."
Also appearing early on the record is their other recently released single “Shot in the Dark." Like "Realize," it's definitely meant for stadiums, the natural habitat of AC/DC. While rather similar to “Realize” and several other songs on the album, it showcases AC/DC’s excellent ability to utilize a second guitarist via complimentary riffs. This has always come naturally for them since Angus and Malcolm were always the main songwriters, and Malcolm still helped write much of the material that ended up on Power Up.
If you’re just looking to rock out, or maybe listen to something motivating during a workout, it’s evident enough from these songs that Power Up will get the job done. For many old-school fans though, the record may understandably sound too cut and dry. AC/DC’s typical A–G–D basis for riffing, as exemplified in the classics “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Highway to Hell," dominates almost every song on the album. Frankly, ever since the album Back in Black, it has slowly drowned out their more harmonically interesting riffs just as their instrumental dynamics and overall quality of songwriting deteriorated as well.
But that’s okay, such is the nature of almost any great band or artist. Indeed Power Up is on par, if not better than their most recent albums Rock or Bust (2014) and Black Ice (2008), which were both great, ridiculously successful, and well regarded, especially compared to many of the band’s prior releases.
Additionally, all of that’s not to say there weren’t some real gems on Power Up. Check out the bluesy guitar work on “Demon Fire” or “No Man’s Land”. The main riff of "Demon Fire" takes you back to 1979 AC/DC, sounding like the old classic "Beating Around the Bush." And the euphoric intro of "No Man's Land" leads into a Foghat–esque groove that makes you feel like you're deep in a car chase down Route 66 driving a Cadillac and wearing Ray-Bans.
In truth, it’s hard to complain about such a solid album considering the exceptional energy and persistence of each member. Angus managed to lay down ripping solos on every song at the age of 65. And Johnson, who’s 73, was able to deliver enough wailing vocal tracks to nearly span the entire duration of the album. Shockingly, he's never lost his distinctively powerful and raspy voice, and fans have literally joked for decades now about how the guy can still talk, let alone sing. Who would’ve guessed that it was his hearing that’d do him in, and that it’d take a “medical miracle” to fix, and ultimately save the band.