Article of the Month

Album Review: AC/DC – Power Up

Tolu Sangowawa

40 years on after releasing the biggest selling rock album of all time (Back in Black), it’s fair to say AC/DC are back. In truth, it’s like they never went away. With their new record Power Up, the Australian rock band have simply just reminded us what their most appealing and distinct quality is: their refusal to evolve.

The path of the AC/DC members since their record-breaking 1980 release Back in Black has been anything but straightforward. Lead vocalist Brian Johnson officially left the group in 2016, citing hearing issues. After a few changes throughout the group, with Guns N Roses singer Axl Rose even stepping in temporarily, the group announced the return of Johnson as well as drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams.

Through all the disruptions and personal issues that naturally occur in the space of four decades, the five-piece managed to keep their crown as rock’s most stubborn band through the release of a further 9 studio albums. It’s fair to judge Power Up as a welcome extension of their legacy: giving the fans what they want, over and over again.

If you thought this was an album you could play quietly in your earphones, opening track ‘Realize’ lets you know how mistaken you were. It’s exactly what you expect to hear when starting an AC/DC album and, most importantly, it’s exactly what you want to hear. Through the vigorous strumming by lead guitarist Angus Young, and the all too familiar croakiness in Johnson’s vocals, there’s so much energy being emitted straight away. It’s a pleasant sort of reassurance (not that we needed it) that there will be no surprises in Power Up, and that the band will remain unapologetically themselves.

This is definitely a high point in the record, with its memorable and uplifting lyrics giving the listener a strong reminder of vintage AC/DC

Despite being their first release in six years, there wasn’t any excessive marketing of Power Up. I guess that’s not really AC/DC’s style. They’ve never cared to be fashionable or trendy, or even marketable. It’s all about being identifiable, particularly in their sound. For this reason, lead single ‘Shot in the Dark’ almost came as a surprise for fans of the band, released only a month before the album. This is definitely a high point in the record, with its memorable and uplifting lyrics giving the listener a strong reminder of vintage AC/DC. You’d be forgiven for mistaking this song as being off Back in Black, with its juicy combination of hooks and riffs.

Another high point is the catchy hook-filled song ‘Kick You When You’re Down’. A wonderfully repetitive riff crafted by Angus Young accompanies simple yet such meaningful lyrics. This is a song that very few bands other than AC/DC could pull off. The raw emotion that comes through frontman Johnson’s voice sparks this genuine frustration amongst listeners. The miserable lyrics, (‘As you’re slipping down the wall, and you’re headed for a fall, why do they kick you when you’re down?’) delivered through a raspy yet delightful vocal gravel, manage to paint this gruesome picture. It’s almost like the soundtrack to a personal rebellion. Context and interpretation is up to the listener, but AC/DC have provided the soundtrack.

The thrill of fresh AC/DC slowly fades away, and the album drags on a little

It’s no secret that more or less every song released by the Australian band intends to do the same thing. If you don’t like one AC/DC song, you probably won’t like anything from their 17 studio albums. Despite this being common knowledge, my overall thoughts on the album were a little underwhelming because of it. The thrill of fresh AC/DC slowly fades away, and the album drags on a little. Their distinct sound slowly descends from excitingly identifiable to predictable and inevitable, and interest can fizzle out during songs such as  ‘Wild Reputation’.

On the whole, Power Up does its job; it’s a great return for a legendary band who continue to extend their discography and encourage new generations to pick up a guitar and make rock music. A slight concern for the band and its huge fanbase may be that there will be few opportunities to tour at the moment, with live music suffering from the ongoing pandemic. For now though, fans will be satisfied with a solid piece of work from a band who just keep delivering over and over again.

Tolu Sangowawa

Featured image courtesy of @LiveJpegConcert5 via Flickr. Image licence found here. No changes were made to this image.

In article images courtesy of @acdc via Instagram. No changes were made to these images.

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