Review of the Latest AC/DC Album: Rock Or Bust

★★★☆☆

It’s not the first time that significant line-up changes have occurred in the band’s history, but that never stopped the biggest hard-rock band of all time from continuing to make platinum records.
Right after the release of Highway To Hell in 1979, singer at that time Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning. However replaced by Brian Johnson, current singer of AC/DC, they released Back In Black in 1980, a tribute to Scott that sold millions of copies worldwide, making it one of the most sold albums of all time.

We can already expect that Rock Or Bust will be a tribute to Malcolm Young, founding member and guitarist of the band who currently suffers from dementia, which forced him to leave his bandmates.

2014 has been a sad year for the music industry, with no platinum certification, but should we expect this album to revivify the sales of this dying field? Rest assured, we can rely on replacement rhythm guitarist Stevie Young, nephew of Angus and Malcolm, to keep the Young legacy steady as they go.

“Play Ball” clearly confirms that the band still has its chemistry. A rock single worthy of their name, driven by the fresher-than-ever vocals of Johnson, reminding us of their 80’s records, Angus Young’s characteristic fingerpicking playing and Rudd’s steady-as-a-rock drum beats.

Few would argue that AC/DC have put in very little effort to change their songwriting style. Nevertheless, one may consider this as one of their biggest strengths as many fans still admire their ability to sound the same since 1973, more than four decades after their formation. A characteristic sound that no other band has managed to come close to, even though the guitar riffs may be some of the simplest ever played in rock history. It is precisely this chemistry present in the Young fraternity that truly produces the sounds of stadium rock across the planet.

The sweaty arena’s screaming fans can be heard from miles away in “Miss Adventure” just as in “Thunderstruck” from The Razor’s Edge. “Rock The Blues Away” comprises of chords reminiscent to their Blow Up Your Video era of the late 80s.

It is fairly common to misbelieve that AC/DC members are Australian, due to their notoriety in Australia, but their music stems from Scottish roots, just as the Young brothers’ origins. In fact, their first ever single, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” prominently uses bagpipes played by Scott with a strong blues groove. It is sad to say that Rock Or Bust neither pays tribute to Scotland nor the blues.

It is the lack of originality in musical structures and songwriting topics in this latest release that blinds AC/DC’s 40 years of legacy, lowering them to their relatively recent Australian musical siblings, Airbourne. Unfortunately, Rock Or Bust seems to fall on the commercial side of modern rock music with a short 35-minute long album of radio-edited, loudly-mixed tracks.

The second single “Rock or Bust” that leaked on the web earlier than expected, opens the album with a modern mix, closer to the feel of Black Ice, their previous release from 2008. “Dogs of War” is just a “War Machine” twin in need of mixing effects to compete against its older Black Ice brother.

Incontestably, Angus Young still has the guitar chops for his burning solos, but this release invokes too much rock and not enough blues. The power riffs become overwhelming at last, while Angus merely doubles Stevie in useless layers. Lacking bluesy licks which add nuances and depth to the songs, it’s as if Angus had to fill the spot for both Malcolm and Stevie due to a lack of confidence in the latter fulfilling his duties.

Nonetheless, if Rock Or Bust ends up being their last effort, I salute them for their perseverance. For those about to rock, we salute you.

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