AC/DC: ROCK OR BUST (2014)
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.