RATINGS: A = must own B = buy it C= average D = yawn F = puke

AC/DC – Rock or Bust
Columbia Records

Rating: B

“And most important of all, thanks to Mal, who made it all possible.”
- AC/DC (from the liner notes of their new album Rock or Bust)

AC/DC is back with what seems like their 250th studio album that sounds much the same as all the rest of their studio albums—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Yes, the Aussie rockers have managed to remain the same despite a world, and band, that has been through many changes and much turmoil. 

Band founder, leader, main songwriter and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young has been forced into retirement due to dementia and other physical ailments.  Drummer Phil Rudd has been investigated for various dirty deeds including a murder for hire plot, meth possession and doing crazy stuff to numerous hookers on his boat in New Zealand.  Still, despite these tragedies and failures in character, AC/DC has returned with another strong album.  

Let’s get down to brass tacks…this is not as good as anything that Bon Scott appeared on.  It is not in same category as the Brian Johnson era albums Back in Black, For Those About to Rock…We Salute You or The Razors Edge.  Rock or Bust is, however, a fine album that will prove to be a sneaky one among the fan base, as there are a lot of tunes that grow on one with each repeated listen.  Case in point is “Rock the Blues Away.”  The first time this one spins it is a good enough tune, but it seems unlikely to become something special.  Each time the CD plays through, this tune gets better as the subtle nuances of the song come to life. 

Wow, describing an AC/DC song with the words ‘subtle nuances’ is a sign the world is ending, as this band is about as subtle as a two-by-four to the head!  Suffice it to say some songs hit you in the head like “Rock or Bust” and “Play Ball” and others just grow on you.  “Dogs of War” does both with a good ol’ “TNT”-like vocal chant of the title, in addition to a funky little rock groove throughout the song.  “Emission Control” and “Sweet Candy” are fine songs as well, as one never seems to tire of this band’s simple approach to songwriting.  

Imagining an AC/DC album without Malcolm Young just a few short months ago seemed impossible. That said, it should be noted that all of the tunes on Rock or Bust were co-written by Angus and Malcolm Young, so we will have to wait and see if the brothers’ nephew Steve Young will be as creative in the future.   At least with Steve in the band the AC/DC DNA remains intact.

Phil Rudd may be a mess in his personal life, yet on this sucker he is still tight as a tick with his partner-in-rhythm bassist Cliff Williams.  Vocalist Brian Johnson sounds good as these tunes stay in his wheelhouse, avoiding any stretching out of his well-worn vocal chords… a smart move indeed.  Angus Young is like clockwork, soloing away and slamming out barre chords throughout.  Some things are just meant to stay the same, and Angus is should never change.  I don’t care if Angus is 100 years old, if he is on a stage then he will be in a school boy outfit!

Rock or Bust will probably debut at # 1 on the album charts, but that’s more because AC/DC members have become rock icons than it is for the quality of their music.   The album will then fall quickly down the charts and be relegated to the middle of the pack in the band’s catalog.  And that is how it should be. 

Rock or Bust is a good album, not great one.  It is a fun ride, but it won’t get the shelf life; an album like this needs to breathe and grow in popularity.  It’s a sign of the times.  Too bad really, as it is another reminder of how screwed up the music business is.  That said, if it keeps the band in the public eye, feeds the fan base with some quality tunes and makes ‘em smile, then it has done its job.  After all, AC/DC is a hard rock band whose members are pushing 70 years of age.  The fact they still have a desire, passion and the ability to rock-out is a testament to their abilities...and muscle memory.  Having an album of solid tunes is simply the icing on the cake! 

AC/DC…we salute you!

Track listing:

1.         Rock or Bust    
2.         Play Ball          
3.         Rock the Blues Away    
4.         Miss Adventure            
5.         Dogs of War    
6.         Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder 
7.         Hard Times     
8.         Baptism by Fire            
9.         Rock the House            
10.        Sweet Candy   
11.        Emission Control           

AC/DC is…  

Brian Johnson – vocals
Angus Young – lead guitar, backing vocals on Dogs of War and Sweet Candy
Stevie Young – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Cliff Williams – bass guitar, backing vocals
Phil Rudd – drums, percussion, and hanging on to the soap

By Jeb Wright