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AC/DC’s new record ‘POWER UP’ is exactly what they’ve done before

By Brandon Carson AC/DC is a rock and roll powerhouse band from Australia. They’ve seen more success than almost any band in the industry: Countless world tours and songs, as well as numerous records being set. 2020 not only saw the release of POWER UP, but also the 40th anniversary of the acclaimed 1980s album Back in Black, which has sold over 25,000,000 copies. AC/DC is notorious for never changing their sound. Ever since 1977s Let There Be Rock, the group has crafted a specific sound and formula that can only be known as AC/DC. They know their sound and how to make powerhouse, stadium-filling rock music. With this formula, the band became a hit-making machine. Of course, there are the oddities and the absolute classics (Powerage, Back in Black, Highway to Hell), but the problem comes when their records can become an over-produced slog of monotonous riffs and melodies that sound the same, one right after the other. And so far, the late 80s, 90s, and 2000s have been exactly that.  POWER UP, while also their 17th studio album, is a tribute to deceased founding member Malcolm Young, who died in 2017. The songs were all unreleased, but Young’s brother, guitarist and founding member Angus Young, polished them up for this release. Their prime lineup returns as well, featuring Brian Johnson, Phil Rudd, and Cliff Williams. But even though it seemed as if the stars aligned for a fun, rocking AC/DC record, POWER UP is another swing and a miss with a dull second half, tedious riffs, and overall weak and forgettable songs. However, it still contains a few hidden gems.

A Mixed Bag

AC/DC has never been a band about innovation or change. They have been about all rock and roll from the beginning of their career to now. No one should expect their sound to change. A powerful combination of catchy hooks, memorable riffs, and face-melting solos are the key features to every great AC/DC song.  POWER UP does not go without these. However, the vast majority of the record fills the space while bangers like “Realize,” “Through the Mists of Time,” and “Demon Fire” carry the entire album. “Realize” is the perfect opener. It showcases what you’re going to hear for the rest of the record. It features a ginormous, catchy hook, and a classic AC/DC riff. But what was interesting to hear is how great Johnson sounds: The man is 73 and can still provide his raspy blues growl to perfection after all he’s been through. “Rejection” and the first single, “Shot in the Dark,” keep the intensity and provide even more captivating hooks, but “Through the Mists of Time” is where the band shines. Phil Rudd starts the song with an offbeat drum rhythm that instantly draws you in, while Johnson grooves with Young and Williams. It’s almost a power ballad that draws a connection with Malcolm Young through the lyrics, "see dark shadows on the walls/see the pictures/some hang, some fall.” The track is a perfect change of pace on the album, and a welcome surprise in the AC/DC catalog.  Just when you think POWER UP may be a great modern AC/DC album, in comes the filler. “Kick You When You’re Down” and “Witch’s Spell,” while not bad songs, stop the flow of the album dead in its tracks. Boring riffs and decent hooks take forever to get through, and instantly remind me of the tedious songs from 1995s Ballbreaker and 2014s Rock or Bust. Unfortunately, “Demon Fire” is the only memorable song from the second half of the record. The riff is one of their best in years along with a fantastic hook. The song is classic AC/DC. “Wild Reputation” has nothing going for it, “No Man’s Land” is slow and tedious, and “Systems Down” unites these three for a trilogy of similar-sounding, boring rock tracks.

Same old, same old

AC/DC’s 70s output is easily their best span of records. They made exciting and rebellious rock music that never grew old. The Young brothers crafted countless unforgettable songs even going into the 80s with Back in Black and Flick of the Switch. But none of the same creativity is here. POWER UP is not an AC/DC record that can stand with the greats. It’s good to see that the band can still get together at their age and make an average album, but that’s all it is; however, it shouldn’t be discredited completely. There are tracks on here that could be played in the same vein as “Highway to Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” POWER UP sounds like it could have been released 30 years ago, and no one would have guessed it. AC/DC does their job the way they want to, and has done so for almost 50 years.

Top tracks:

Through the Mists of Time Realize Demon Fire

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Sources: NME