All Access Rating: A-
|AC/DC - Rock or Bust 2014|
Dementia, among other degenerative health problems, forced Malcolm Young, one of the greatest rhythm guitarists in rock history, to sit this one out. A terrible tragedy, Young's departure robs the veteran Aussie hard-rock institution of its most propulsive element. Always locked in, Young spit out tough, infectious riffs like a machine and tenaciously tightened the screws on the band's hard grooves.
And yet, while his contributions were absolutely crucial in honing the band's sound for all that time, AC/DC doesn't skip a beat on Rock or Bust, the band's latest workman-like effort of driving, rollicking rock 'n' roll fun – nowhere near as dangerous or debauched as anything from the Bon Scott era, but still full of benign mischief. Stevie Young, Malcolm's nephew, fills his rather large shoes admirably, doing a more-than-passable imitation in matching his rich, gleaming, serrated tone and relentless groove.
All of this is not to say that Rock or Bust is some monumental achievement. The days of Powerage and Back in Black are long gone. For a band that prides itself on lean, taut songs played with ruthless efficiency and no-nonsense economy, the mid-section of Rock or Bust is rather flabby – the generic riffs and dragging pace of "Dogs of War" and "Got Some Rock & Thunder" indicating that perhaps AC/DC has let itself go to seed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That old nastiness and lascivious charm emerges in "Sweet Candy," all hairy, slow-burning machismo and piercing Angus Young guitar leads, and a triple play of an infectious "Play Ball," the celebratory "Rock The Blues Away" and the stomping, ballsy title track offer bullet-proof hooks, gripping melodies and life-affirming power. Rock or Bust is compact, bold, potent and irresistibly lovable, a sermon from the mount on forgetting petty problems, having a good time and living on one's own terms delivered by a preacher in Brian Johnson who still sings a razor line every time.
And then there's good old Angus, ripping through biting, stabbing solos that always draw blood, as a blue-collar rhythm section plies its trade, drummer Phil Rudd swinging his drum sticks like two sledgehammers and always managing to keep perfect time. Rock or Bust is chock full of party anthems for guys going through mid-life crises who can't afford Porsches, as the fist-pumping "Rock the House" thunders and the cyclonic "Miss Adventure" gathers strength. Producer Brendan O'Brien pumps new life into the tried-and-true sound of a band that knows the end is coming – perhaps even sooner than they imagined, given Rudd's legal troubles and increasingly weird behavior. For those about to rock, AC/DC salutes you again, although maybe it's time we all salute them back. http://www.columbiarecords.com/
– Peter Lindblad