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Sunday, January 18, 2015

AC/DC: Rock Or Bust


1) Rock Or Bust; 2) Play Ball; 3) Rock The Blues Away; 4) Miss Adventure; 5) Dogs Of War; 6) Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder; 7) Hard Times; 8) Baptism By Fire; 9) Rock The House; 10) Sweet Candy; 11) Emission Control.

The album cover looks suspiciously reminiscent of Back In Black, and this may be no coinci­dence: just like its more than thirty-year old predecessor, Rock Or Bust comes with the loss of a crucial member — not nearly as lethal, but equally gruesome, since brother Malcolm, suffering from severe dementia, was unable to continue working with the band, and had to be replaced. His riffs and «anchoring presence» had been every bit as vital to the AC/DC sound as the surface flashiness of brother Angus, so, in theory, this could have been a crippling loss. In keeping with the family spirit, though, they now enlist nephew Stevie Young to fill in his shoes — and, sur­prisingly (or not too surprisingly: a Young is a Young, after all), we end up not feeling a lot of difference at all: Stevie keeps the famous tone and the equally famous metronomic precision of Malcolm right there in the family.

That said, Rock Or Bust ain't no Back In Black. If we are talking on the nuanced level, where not every AC/DC album actually sounds the same, remember that Back In Black was tremen­dously energized by the desire to show the world that «we're back, we're kicking more ass than ever before, we own this motherfuckin' universe, and we laugh Death, Hell, and good taste right in the face». In comparison, Rock Or Bust only tells us that «we're still here, and we're holding our positions steady enough». Where Black Ice still had at least one or two novel ideas to it, Rock Or Bust, in its entirety, consists of re-assembled and slightly re-tweaked / re-constructed songs from the past two decades. In fact, you could probably make a case that it is almost com­pletely derivable from Black Ice itself — most notably, ʽRock The Blues Awayʼ is a near-total clone of the «poppy» ʽAnything Goesʼ from that record.

The album is also worryingly short — for most reviewers, 34 minutes seemed like a blessing and one of its major high points (because AC/DC should be taken in small dosages?), but to me, this feels so unusual that I cannot get rid of the subconscious feeling: Rock Or Bust exists only to assert that they «still exist», and serves no other purpose. They might just as well have put out a single with two songs on it, like the Rolling Stones have occasionally done in the past decade, to keep the infospace and the public warmed up a bit. At this point, numbers have no significance — two, twelve, twenty, two hundred, whatever.

In terms of sound, Rock Or Bust leaves no questions: this is still AC/DC alright. Angus has not lost anything in terms of energy, precision, or madness, the rhythm section ticks and tocks away with the usual gruff determination, Brian Johnson's voice is still at the same «late-period top level» as it has been ever since Stiff Upper Lip, and nephew Stevie shows that the Young gene­tic pool is one of the most stable things in the universe. (If there are any more Youngs in the family, and if Brian has a promising relative as well, we could probably keep the band well up into the 2050s and beyond). Thematic subjects also remain the same: sex (#1), rock'n'roll (#2), and what's-the-world-coming-to (#3), not necessarily, but very preferably in that order. Select bits of lyrical wisdom, one per each thematic direction, include "Let's play ball / Shoot down the walls", "In rock we trust / It's rock or bust", and "We'll be the dogs of war / Send me with dogs of war" (I think they were not able to find a proper rhyme for this last one).

In all honesty, the band commands respect and even provides some intrigue — now that we know that they can, at least formally, get it on when they are all past sixty and suffered such a heavy blow, there is again no telling when they are going to finally fail. With Rock Or Bust, Angus Young remains the only «founding father» of the band, so I guess that there is no replacing him, at least, but until he joins his brother in the shadows, I guess we can all say that AC/DC's future still looks secure. Not in terms of composing, though — with all these tunes being derivatives of derivatives of derivatives in the n-th degree, I don't even want to waste any time focusing on their riffs or choruses; for historical/chronological reasons, the title track may deserve a corner spot on some future anthology, but that's about it. Nice to hear the old guys can still get it up, though. "Emission control / It's good for the soul" and all that. Who knows how it goes in real life, of course, but whatever is coming from those speakers still has the good old orgasmic effects for their female (and not only female) fans.


  1. This review brings me the same feelings when I read the review from Black Sabbath's "13". Perhaps the old bands just want to do more of the same?

  2. Hard Rock/Metal has entered it's Acker Bilk stage.

  3. I've been waiting with bated breath for your take on this album, George. While I expected the usual note of dissent against the rewritten riffs, I'm actually surprised that you were as dissatisfied with the album as you were. Knowing your affinity for "Anything Goes" I was especially interested in your take on how "Rock the Blues Away" is about as carbon a copy as AC/DC has ever put out.

    As for the length, I don't think it's that AC/DC needs to be "taken in small dosages" as the previous album was too long. Even you yourself claimed that no AC/DC album should be longer than 10 tracks in your review of Black Ice, and it seemed to me that many other critics felt the same way. Plus, Flick of the Switch is only three minutes longer at 37, and you're quite fond of that record as I recall. I'm not sure whether the end result is from the critical comments on the previous album or that Malcolm was absent, but nonetheless I find Rock or Bust to be one of AC/DC's most listenable latter day records. In fact, it's my favorite album of their's since The Razor's Edge in 1990. I find Ballbreaker to be plain dull, Stiff Upper Lip to be decent, and as is the common critique, that Black Ice starts out good but then wears out its welcome.

    When it comes right down to it, that lack of new ideas for this record might be from Malcolm's absence. According to many that are familiar with the band, he was very much the brains behind the operation while Angus was the face. Not to be overly cute with the puns, but taken at face value this album is a pretty decent rocker and one that's a brisk rush of moderate adrenaline. Personally, I'm interested to see where the band goes after this. If Malcolm truly was the brains, it wouldn't surprise me if this was their last studio album. Angus might not know where to go as the sole power-that-be. If they DO end up making another record, maybe Brian will start writing lyrics again since Angus' lyrics partner is now retired?

    1. Malcolm may have been chief song and riff writer, but let's not forget Angus' contribution to the latter department: key riffs to Whole Lotta Rosie, Highway to Hell, and Thundstruck; all essential live staples.

      But inspiration seems to have dried up. Same can be said, of course, of any band of similar vintage. Brian seems tapped out as a songwriter. Wouldn't expect much help from him in producing new material. I would be surprised if there is another album. But then, I was surprised that the Stones went on tour again (though arguably, Keith's playing has deteriorated to the point that it's only worth going along to see how bad he's got.)