AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Sony “Light Box”)
- No, Malcolm Young doesn’t play on it.
- No, Axl Rose is also not on the album.
- Yes, it is as good as you’ve heard.
41 minutes is all it takes to rock the world. We needed AC/DC in 2020, and we got it. This isn’t the first time AC/DC have put guitars on magnetic tape without Malcolm. That era began with 2014’s Rock Or Bust, but this album is better. The riffs are Malcolm’s, and nephew Stevie Young performs them admirably as he always has. As for Brian Johnson, he sounds as if time stopped back in 1995.
“Realize” is catchier than the average AC/DC, with a few guitar overdubs to sweeten it up. “Rejection” is similarly fun, despite its title. Good tunes. Not immortal classics in the making, just good album cuts as AC/DC have done for decades. Even the first single “Shot in the Dark” doesn’t sound like the kind of AC/DC tune that radio will be pounding out in 10 years, even though they sure are playing the crap out of it today. Good songs all, but comparison to the back catalogue is a doomed endeavour.
The one tune that does sound like a future staple is “Through the Mists of Time”, a title that seems more like Zep than Acca Dacca. Focused on melody and spare guitar picking, it’s a bit softer than what most people expect. The “Ahh-ah” backing vocals sell it. This is probably the song you’ll remember years from now.
Moving on down the tracklist, we have a few songs with potential to grow. “Kick You When You’re Down” has some cool pickin’ rhythm. Also cool is “Witch’s Spell”, another title that doesn’t seem like AC/DC at first. It’s among the most memorable tunes thanks to a stuttery guitars and a fun chorus. The mood changes on “Demon Fire”, an excellent song similar in style to “Safe in New York City” from 20 years ago. It’s got that fast 4/4 beat, coupled with a low Brian Johnson growl (at first).
After “Demon Fire”, we’re in for a series of workmanlike AC/DC tracks without a lot of distinction. There’s “Bad Reputation” (mid-tempo), “No Man’s Land” (slow and menacing), “Systems Down” (mid-tempo), “Money Shot” (mid-tempo with bite), and “Code Red” (slinky). Power Up, like any AC/DC album since about Flick of the Switch, gets the job done. The only true classic is “Through the Mists of Time”, but there is plenty of strong material headlined by “Demon Fire”, “Shot in the Dark”, “Realize”, “Witch’s Spell” and “Money Shot”. It’s still early of course, and in three months you might have some clear favourites. This album has room to grow.
Now, the $60 “Light Box” is…disappointing. It’s a box, made of cardboard, with a sound chip that plays exactly 17 seconds of “Shot in the Dark” through a little speaker in the top, while flashing. (I call it a “Seizure Box”!) It stays lit for a few more seconds, and then stops. You can push the button as many times as you like, because it comes with a handy-dandy USB charging cable. (I bet you needed another one of those!) So that’s all it does. Inside is the standard CD digipack wedged between two sturdy foam slats. On the left hand side with the button and charging port, a cardboard strip is attached to prevent the button from being pushed in the stores. Removing this piece, which you need to do to recharge the box, is difficult and I tore mine. I glued it back, but you can still see it. $60 box, ripped just like that. Bummer.
AC/DC sound like AC/DC the most when Phil Rudd is in the band. With Phil, Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams all back for one more round, authenticity is not an issue. This is an album that deserves multiple listens. You’ll have your own favourites too.