Power Up


Columbia, 2020


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes an album is released to get exciting new music out into the world. Sometimes it’s intended to make an artistic statement. And sometimes it’s simply to wave the flag: “Hey! You! We’re still here!”

Power Up certainly feels like the latter, an album that’s notable simply for existing, given all the reasons it shouldn’t. AC/DC—a group I once described as “a big, loud, rude and crude rock and roll cartoon”—had rolled through the 20-teens like a jalopy losing one part after another in a Looney Tunes short. First rhythm guitarist Malcom Young’s health issues forced his departure and replacement by his nephew Stevie Young; then drummer Phil Rudd was charged with attempted murder-for-hire; then lead vocalist Brian Johnson suffered hearing loss severe enough to rule out live performance and stepped away in the middle of the band’s 2016 world tour; and finally bassist Cliff Williams announced plans to depart after the tour’s end.

After all this—and Malcolm’s death in 2017—it seemed for a time like the world might get find out whether Mal’s younger brother, schoolboy-uniformed lead guitarist Angus Young, now in his mid 60s, would dare to continue the band without a single other longtime member. But no. First Rudd resolved his legal troubles. Then Johnson was given a fresh lease on his performing life by new hearing technology. And finally, with the latter two back in the fold, Williams reversed course. With the return of Brendan O’Brien—producer of the group’s previous two latter-day discs my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Black Ice (2008) and Rock Or Bust (2014)—the old gang was truly back together again.

With all that said, if you were expecting something fresh and new from Power Up, I don’t really know what you were thinking. This is a band whose entire persona has been constructed around the idea that the music should not change, that what they have always done—at times spectacularly well—requires no embellishment or evolution. Their shtick has been remarkably consistent for nearly 50 years: no-frills, bombastic, three-chord rock and roll occupying a stylized headbangers’ universe in which the only bad words are subtlety and ballads.

It’s in fact hard to argue that this review is any more necessary than this album, because there is so little new to say about a band that has been plowing the same field relentlessly for so long. And yet, there’s no denying the charge that fires up the old amygdala when the group launches into energetic riff-rockers like the opening trio of “Realize,” “Rejection,” and “Shot In The Dark.” There is nothing remotely innovative about these tunes, but I defy you to remain still in their presence.

Unfortunately, while the music carries a charge, the lyrics here are so generic and cliché-ridden that you’re hard-pressed to remember a single one five minutes later, other than the angrily misogynistic “Rejection.” And in fact, these 12 songs—co-credited to Angus and Malcolm, the latter of whose library of unused riffs the former has admitted he continues to pillage—feel more like a throwback to the half-dozen forgettable albums the group issued between 1981 and 2000 than anything before or since; it’s strictly paint-by-numbers AC/DC.

The highlights beyond the opening trio don’t take long to cover. “Through The Mists Of Time” is dim as a cloudy midnight but achieves a nice melodic lift; the rumbly “Kick You When You’re Down” features a fat backbeat and fatter gang vocals; and the complicated main riff of “Demon Fire” is entertaining enough to make you momentarily overlook its Twilight Zone Mad Lib lyric.

Back in the day, AC/DC was a band with musical flair and a sneaky-smart sense of humor to counterbalance their bludgeoning heaviness and natural showmanship. This album, by contrast, feels like all hammer and flash, and precious little craft. I’ve read other reviews that emphasize the fun in these grooves, but I’m not hearing it. The group’s late, great former frontman Bon Scott would have taken a song title like “Money Shot” and turned it into a hilarious string of self-deprecating double entendres; here it’s just another faceless rocker.

As an exercise in raising the flag, Power Up certainly gets the job done. Beyond that, though, it slips into the black hole of mostly forgettable post-1980 AC/DC releases. Enjoy the singles. Enjoy the fact that this band of senior citizens can still rock with vigor and authority. Just don’t come in expecting more than the practical purpose this album feels intended to fill.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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