Released 2nd December
2014 hasn’t been the best of years for AC/DC. When news broke of the deteriorating health of founding-guitarist Malcolm Young, and the arrest of long-serving drummer Phil Rudd for attempting to procure murder (surprisingly, not by threatening to 4/4 beat someone to death), a shadow of doubt was cast over the future of the band. So began the frightening realisation amongst AC/DC fans, myself included, that 2008’s Black Ice may have been the last album they ever made.
But, what doesn’t kill them only makes them stronger, or certainly more focused, as is the case here. Rock Or Bust, the band’s 15th internationally released studio album, is a very sophisticated, foot-stomping (but rather short) 35 minutes of no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all meat-and-potatoes stuff for AC/DC, really. You have Brian Johnson’s high-voltage shriek, his best vocal performance since For Those About To Rock, a full catalogue of air-guitar riffs and sing-along choruses jam-packed with references to sex, violence and rock ‘n’ roll, Phil Rudd’s tight, clean grooves, and of course we can’t forget Cliff Williams’s typically unobtrusive bass lines.
‘Play Ball’, the lead single, is a risqué anthem with the unmistakeable groove and ferocity that wouldn’t sound out of place on any Johnson-era album. It’s the best track on there, however ‘Rock The Blues Away’ could stake a claim to be the band’s biggest commercial hit for years, it’s a bona fide, radio friendly chart-topper. Add ‘Rock Or Bust’ to the mix and you have the best opening three tracks to an AC/DC album since Back In Black. There are a few duds on the album, such as the lumbering ‘Dogs Of War’ and the flat-sounding ‘Emission Control’, but you have some absolute gems in-between, like the pulsating ‘Baptism By Fire’ and ‘Sweet Candy’, a throwback to their early 1970s pub rock sound.
AC/DC have never deviated away from a formula that has made them one of the most popular and widely-respected rock ‘n’ roll bands of their generation. Rock Or Bust is no different, despite the unfortunate events that have really put their resilience to the test over the last few months. It’s worth listening to, as it’s the best album they’ve made in over 30 years, and although they may have more white hair between them than Gandalf’s beard, the thunder from down under continue to out-rock other bands a third of their age.
For those about to listen, I salute you.