We all know the story, now. Malcolm Young, felled by dementia, and his brother Angus carrying on without him (and possibly without drummer Phil Rudd). AC/DC don’t want to dwell on the negative, and neither do I. Angus assembled 11 new songs from parts that he and Mal had worked on together before he was too sick to continue. Nephew Stevie Young, who filled in for Uncle Mal in 1988, stepped up again to do so, this time in a permanent capacity. But you wouldn’t know any of that by hearing Rock or Bust.
Sharp as ever, “Rock or Bust”, the current single boasts one of those menacing AC/DC riffs paired with that slow groove they do so well. “In rock we trust, it’s rock or bust”. Nothing has changed! There is little difference between Rock or Bust and the AC/DC back catalogue since 1980 in general. New batch of riffs, songs, and melodies. That’s about it! “Play Ball” has that familiar “AC/DC single” vibe. Not too heavy, not too fast, but just right for radio. Brian Johnson’s voice has changed very little since the 1990’s. He doesn’t screech like it’s 1981 (duh), but he gets the job done fine. Johnson reported that he found it hard to continue on without Malcolm but his performance is full of the joi de vivre that you need in an AC/DC song.
“Rock the Blues Away” has future single written all over it. This old-timey AC/DC riff is one of those classic rock and roll licks that they used to do with Bon Scott on albums like Dirty Deeds. True to its title, the song does indeed rock the blues away and I can’t wait to give it a test run in the car. This is a summer time song, not a December song! However I should point out that it’s more or less the same song as “Anything Goes” from Black Ice. A left turn on “Miss Adventure” yields some funky AC/DC grooves not unlike what they were doing in the mid 1980’s. It’s unfortunately the first dud on the album for me. “Dogs of War” redeems it, with a “Razor’s Edge” dark vibe. The only real noticeable difference from past AC/DC albums is a slicker production on the backing vocals.
Do you need some rock & roll thunder? AC/DC got it. “Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder” has one of those jangly AC/DC riffs, backing a catchy chorus. This sounds a bit like material from Stiff Upper Lip, which is a good thing to me. “Hard Times” also sounds similar to that era. They’re good enough songs to serve as AC/DC album tracks. Then there’s “Baptism of Fire”, back to those fast AC/DC beats that you need every once in a while.
A track that I think should be played live is “Rock the House”. This has classic written all over it. Taking on a “Whole Lotta Love” groove, it’s hard to resist the urge to bang your head. Go ahead, try.
“Sweet Candy” is an ode to strippers, of course. What did you expect? Look forward to another singalong slow AC/DC groove. I have a feeling a few strippers are going to add this song to their repertoire next year. Then, ending the album on a funky note is “Emission Control”. There are also nods and winks to the Mutt Lange era of AC/DC with the thick backing vocals. The song throws me for a loop a bit; I’m not sure if I like it or not.
I found Brendan O’Brien’s production to be a bit thuddy and less bright than Black Ice. It still gets the job done, as does Rock or Bust.