Album Review: AC/DC – Power Up29th November 2020
Blasphemous as this statement will be, I always preferred Van Halen to AC/DC when it came to heavy American rock. That’s not a jab at Brian Johnson and company, just a matter of personal preference that comes from years of suffering through car insurance adverts that have Highway to Hell plastered in the final mix. Still, we shouldn’t have expected a new album from AC/DC, the passing of their rhythm guitarist, Malcolm Young, would have ended most band collaborations. Not this team, though, and they hardly miss a beat through their latest album, Power Up. The same consistencies they held forty-years ago float to the surface, mixing in harmonious solidity.
Nowhere close to being a track of memorable anthems and instant hits, Power Up focuses on cultivating an easy-going bit of rock. Twelve songs all mixed and performed to the best of the band’s abilities, at times it feels like they’re on autopilot. The humdrum nature of hard rock and rhythmic energy is second-nature to them at this point, so it’s a shame that they don’t try to innovate with new sounds or styles. Still, there’s no need to re-invent the wheel when it’s still making shed loads of money. For the men making AC/DC what it is today, I’m impressed that they sound as co-ordinated as they did through the 80s, especially when they’re a permanent member down. Consistency is key, and it’s what makes Power Up a relatively good album.
There are, of course, the highs and lows. Every album has them, and AC/DC come to life best on Through the Mists of Time, a song that gets them closer and closer to their glory days with satisfying guitar licks and lyrics that feel reflective in a way only Brian Johnson can deliver. Immediately followed by the weakest track on the album, Kick You When You’re Down, and we’re offered a harsh difference that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of their latest offering. AC/DC perform best when their lyrics are mixed under layers of guitar solos, heavy bass, and surprisingly sedated, but effective drum beats. When the lyrics are right at the forefront of the album, there’s much to be desired, and it all starts to sound like generic rock that died out two decades ago.
Power Up doesn’t have all it takes to switch on an audience, but it’s a formidable effort in the face of tragedy, and one that I do respect. Their writing hasn’t improved or negated since the glory days of Back in Black, and that’s either a sign of stagnation or consistency, AC/DC’s latest album shows sparks of both. This’ll no doubt appeal to seasoned veterans of the band’s music, and it may draw some new fans into the mix, too, with an agreeable set of songs that may frustrate those of us expecting a little more. Perhaps that’s greedy, to expect so much from a band who, at their best, have provided more than enough classics to fall back on.