Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 13 Nov 2020
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We can't just listen to a new AC/DC album and know how good it is. We have to invite it into our lives and spend time with it to determine if we want it to move in and stay or shift on down the block a way in favour of one its many excellent predecessors. That's partly because their sound is so recognisably theirs and partly because they do what they do so well that even their low bar is still easily listenable. Everything's good, so it comes down to just how good. How are these songs going to fit into a live set and to posterity?
And, on my first listen, this sounded really good. I didn't hear any songs that wowed me from moment one the way that Back in Black, Thunderstruck or pretty much any late Bon Scott song the first time I heard them, but quite a few songs thought about approaching that, clearly elevating this album over the last few. And I'm not just talking about the initial single, Shot in the Dark, which is supposed to be immediate, but Through the Mists of Time and Witch's Spell and others. After a few listens, the big one is Through the Mists of Time. It feels timeless and would have played well even on the biggest of AC/DC's albums.
What's most obvious is that there's a real energy here, as if the band are just aching to make the best tribute to the late Malcolm Young, who's posthumously credited as co-writing every one of the dozen songs on offer with brother Angus, as they can. Brian Johnson swaggers and snarls with more vigour than I remember him having in years, Angus has all the urgency I remember from the early days and I still swear blind that AC/DC has the tightest rhythm section in all of rock 'n' roll.
How tight is Demon Fire, for instance? That one is so thoroughly alive that it feels like it tried to leap out of my speakers to dance and strut on my desk. I found myself grinning at just how on the button this band remains. I have to note here, without attempting to be ageist, that the youngest member of the band, Stevie Young, who's Malcolm's nephew and replacement, is 63 years young, but they seem to have the energy of most twenty year olds. It's obvious that Power Up is a pivotal release to them and, looking at the recent histories of each member of the band, it's easy to see why.
The downside is that the second half, as listenable as it is, feels weaker than the first, though it does grow with each time through. Demon Fire is a great way to start side two but Wild Reputation seems like it's so simple and straightforward that it must be filler. After a few repeats, it starts to become an archetypal AC/DC song, one that many bands would give their second guitarists to have written. That feeling continues until Code Red wraps things up, decent songs that feel worse than they are because they're so quintessentially AC/DC and we've heard so many others like them.
That's made all the more obvious by letting the album repeat on a loop. If Code Red is a step up on a four song set, then Realize, starting the album over, is a step up from Code Red and the album is at its peak a few songs later, with a five song streak from Shot in the Dark back to Demon Fire. Even with the second half getting better, the first half remains better still.
In summary, there's absolutely nothing new here but you fully expected that when you saw the AC/DC logo ahead of this review. However, it's clearly a good album, with the band feeling really good again and infusing that into a new set of songs. The first half is easily up there past anything that they've released since The Razor's Edge thirty years ago. When things open up after COVID, this band will be slaying it live. They're as urgent as they've been in forty years.
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