There are certain things that are guaranteed in life; the sun will always rise in the east, Arsenal will always finish 4th in the Barclays Premier League, and AC/DC will continue to make good music. Their latest album, Rock or Bust, released via Albert Music and Columbia Records at the end of 2014, is no exception.
Making music since 1973, AC/DC have seen countless bands and many trends come and go. Whereas bands feel the need to reinvent themselves to stay relevant, AC/DC seem to exist in their own little sphere outside time where they keep churning music that they like to play. They still have the same sound that they had on their first record High Voltage and still use the same power-chords to wow us. However this is their first album without rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who was diagnosed with dementia and has been replaced by his and Angus Young’s nephew Stevie Young.
While some people fear that Malcolm Young’s absence may rob the band of their signature rhythm, I think Stevie Young more than makes up for it. While he does not diverge too much from the AC/DC sound that everybody has come to recognize, he brings his own groovy, bluesy playing style to the table. The riffs throughout the album are great and fit seamlessly into the band’s sound.
This is the shortest studio album released by the band at just under 35 minutes. There are plenty of crowd-pleasing sing along songs in the album including the title track “Rock or Bust” and the extremely catchy lead single “Play Ball.” Be warned, the latter has a main riff that will get stuck in your head for days. Instead of trying to force a solo into the song, Angus Young wisely decides to just play the main melody over the song.
The drums are stock AC/DC with simple 4/4 beats and very rarely does Phil Rudd wander from that script. Bassist Cliff Williams does an excellent job of maintaining a tight rhythm section along with Rudd and also manages to shine on the track ”Dogs of War,” which is slightly different from the rest of the songs on the album. 2 other songs that I really liked were “Rock the House” and “Emission Control.” “Got Some Rock and Roll Thunder” has hooks for days and scientists have yet to discover anything as addictive as its main riff. The song also features some excellent lead playing by Angus Young.
Vocalist Brian Johnson covers some familiar ground with his lyrics. Rock N’ Roll seems to be the theme of the album, as evidenced by the not-so-subtle use of the word “rock” in as many as 4 song titles. Time and again he manages to come up with a different way to tell us to rock. For example in “Rock or Bust” he sings, “Hey yeah / Are you ready / We be a good time band / We play across the land / Shootin’ out tonight / Gonna keep you up alright / You hear the guitar sound / Playin’ nice and loud / Rock you to your knees / Gonna make your destiny / In rock we trust, it’s rock or bust.” It is evident that Brian Johnson is not going to sing about his feelings or world politics. His lyrics and voice are a distinct part of AC/DC and suit the band very well.
How do you review an album like Rock or Bust? You know what to expect from the band by now. They will make music that they like without a care for what everybody else does. You could also say that they have stuck to the same sound since the past 40 years without ever trying to evolve. But you would be missing the point- that AC/DC don’t care. They practice what they preach when they say “Rock or Bust.” Age hasn’t slowed them and I can still envisage them rocking on till they’re in their eighties. Rock or Bust is a breezy hard rock album full of bluesy riffs and solos that sees the band further cement their legacy and serves as an impressive addition to the band’s extensive discography.