Michael Bergin talks about AC/DC’s 16th release and the methods behind the scenes.
Loud, proud, and built for a (socially distanced) crowd, AC/DC’s 16th international release, Power Up, defies almost insurmountable odds to deliver a familiar package that rock fanatics can savour. Balls-to-the-wall action, rip-roaring, explosive guitars, and the iconic shrill of Brian Johnson’s well-worn, well-torn vocal cords. If there was any other band in the world who did nothing but serve up a familiar recipe for the past 45 years, they would be long since forgotten. However, when that recipe includes two measures of loud, a tablespoon of explosions, and a hearty dolloping of fast, it’s not hard to see why we keep asking for yet another helping. In Power Up, the old formula proves its remarkable timelessness once more, despite the loss of the man who once served as head chef.
In the wake of their most recent tour, AC/DC seemed all but broken. The band’s co-founder and rhythm guitarist, Malcolm Young, had retired in 2014, having been diagnosed with dementia, and passed away in 2017. In the same way that radioactive material secured Marie Curie’s legacy, but also ended her life, the rock music that the band had promulgated for so long had begun to break them down physically. Symptoms included, but were not limited to: a deafened lead vocalist, a retired bassist, and a drummer under house arrest. Not to mention the late rhythm guitarist.
Left alone, still in his iconic schoolboy uniform, lead guitarist Angus Young faced an uphill battle like never before. However, incredibly, the band was strung back together. All members were convinced to return (with technological marvels to thank for Lead singer Johnson’s restored hearing), and Malcolm and Angus’ nephew Stevie was brought in to play rhythm guitar.
The results are everything you could expect from AC/DC at the peak of their powers, a noteworthy achievement for a band that has been all but hung, drawn, and quartered in recent years. The standout songs include ‘Shot in the Dark’, the lead single, which rolls by in a relaxed and feel-good manner perfectly at odds with the otherwise miserable temperament of the year. After that, memorable tracks include the more militant “Realize”, which contains an anthemic chorus built to be sung by large crowds, and “Demon Fire”, which draws us in with Johnson’s gripping lower range, before giving way to a classy guitar riff. All told, the tracks here are notably consistent in quality, with the same raucous feel to each tune.
And therein lies the usual criticism of the band. The songs are fun, but “they all sound the same.” I can’t argue that there isn’t a formula to a typical AC/DC song, but I will argue that it’s a damn good formula. Power Up is about as apologetic, soft and thoughtful as a car bomb, and hits you over the head with monster chords until you agree with it. In short, vintage AC/DC. What else do you want?