AC/DC - Rock or Bust (Columbia)

A big surprise, and no mistake...
Release Date: 
27 Nov 2014 - 11:30pm

Released amidst the twin adversities of founding member Malcolm Young’s dementia diagnosis and drummer Phil Rudd’s extraordinary run in with the law and subsequent travails in the courts, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Rock or Bust, AC/DC’s  sixteenth studio release, might be one of the lesser chapters in the band’s fabulously storied existence. 

But if you thought that, you were spectacularly, irrevocably WRONG. For Rock or Bust is, to these ears at least, certainly the band’s best output since 1990’s The Razors Edge; Indeed even that statement may be seen in the fullness of time to be rather conservative, as certain tracks here are as good as anything the band has recorded since the very earliest days of vocalist Brian Johnson’s thirty-odd year tenure with the band.

Rock or Bust is a lean, sparse affair; The band has wisely reined in all thoughts of excess and bombast to present a hard-hitting, at times irresistible set of songs which, whilst offering nothing new to the world, do at least vindicate the band’s decision to enter the studio again six years after last outing Black Ice. Opening duo Rock or Bust and Play Ball are fine, fine slabs of primetime early eighties ‘DC, the first reminiscent of the Back in Black album, the second a nice piece of the sort of pop rock the band churned out on For Those About to Rock…, whilst the slow strut of Hard Times is another hark back to those glory days, featuring some nice soloing from Angus Young and a great chorus brought to life by a seemingly rejuvenated Brian Johnson.

Johnson’s work throughout is an unexpected joy, the increasingly strangulated vocal style of recent albums replaced by a commanding, effortlessly massive performance we’ve not heard from the man since the middle of the eighties; It’s not often you can say Brian Johnson is an album’s MVP, but his performance here, lifting mundane riff workouts like Baptism by Fire into a category altogether more substantial is a real joy to lisen to, and this increased injection of energy seems to have nudged Angus into more direct expressions of fire and brimstone than we’ve become accustomed to hearing from the band. Have a listen to the superbly Zeppelinesque verses of Rock the House for further proof.

Great stuff then, even if in certain places the wheel seems to have turned full circle and the band finds themselves sounding like nothing so much as a long lost Krokus album from 1984; I wan’t expecting much from Rock or Bust and it’s an absolute joy to be able to report that the band, against all the odds, really have delivered the goods here.