Stevie Young

REVIEW: AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Light Box edition)

AC/DC – Power Up (2020 Sony “Light Box”)

FAQ:

  1. No, Malcolm Young doesn’t play on it.
  2. No, Axl Rose is also not on the album.
  3. 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.

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video (1988)

AC/DC – Blow Up Your Video (1988, 2003 Epic remaster)

By 1988, AC/DC had abandoned the bare-bones live-style music videos they had been doing for the last few years, and went into full-on productions.  That became AC/DC’s trademark style from that point forward: the band playing in front of an eager crowd, and crazy stuff going on around them. Explosions, lights, wrecking balls or what have you — this all became part of the AC/DC music video experience, with Angus stomping around front and center. “Who Made Who” was really the first of the big AC/DC videos of this style. “Heatseeker” continued the tradition, with Angus popping out of a missile!

“Heatseeker” was an explosive first single, but unexpectedly, it was not really representative of Blow Up Your Video as an album.  The highschool halls were filled with mutterings that the new AC/DC was “not as good” as past AC/DC, and that was troubling.  Blow Up Your Video proved to be a transitional album, as many changes were afoot for AC/DC.

Malcolm Young had hit rock bottom, in the depths of a drinking problem that was starting to take its toll on the band on the concert stage.  He was unable to tour.  Angus and Malcolm’s nephew Stevie Young stepped up, and helped the boys out on tour.  (Nobody would ever imagine that Stevie would have to do it permanently in 2014 when Malcolm withdrew from the band due to dementia.)  Drummer Simon Wright wouldn’t last either.  After the tour, he left to join Dio.  It was also the last album to which Brian Johnson wrote any lyrics.

On the other hand, the chemistry with producers Harry Vanda and George Young (an older brother) had never been better.  They helmed the classic AC/DC albums with Bon Scott, as well as three more recent songs on 1986’s Who Made Who.  It was thought that they would bring that old time rock and roll slant back to AC/DC, so they were retained for Blow Up Your Video.

“Heatseeker”, being so upbeat and catchy with just a hint of a jangle in the guitars, was certainly promising.  Like a one-two punch, the second single “That’s the Way I Wanna Rock N Roll” is next.  The production holds it back, lacking punch (especially on the drums), but it’s a killer AC/DC good time rock and roller.  Weak sonics aside, few AC/DC albums begin with two big winners like this right from the get-go.

Things get funky from there.  “Meanstreak” does have a bit of funk to it, but suffers again from a muddy sound and too much echo on the vocals and drums.  The further one delves into Blow Up Your Video, it seems like the songs aren’t so bad, just the sound.  Same with “Go Zone”.  There’s nothing wrong with the tune, but it seems to drag and fumble in a muddy puddle with the tires spinning.  The side one closer “Kissin’ Dynamite” has a smoky prowling guitar and so sounds more at home.  At least the side is salvaged by this last tune.

Since AC/DC offloaded their two singles right off the bat on side one, the second side is a much more turgid affair.  “Nick of Time” has a blasts of guitars exactly where you want them, but lacks hooks.  “Some Sin For Nuthin'” is better, because it’s back to that menacing dusky prowl that AC/DC do so well.  Finally, AC/DC hit all the buttons with “Ruff Stuff”, a mid-tempo rocker with an actual chorus and verses that you can remember!  “Two’s Up” is of similar quality, another decent album rocker good enough for rock and roll.

Finally, “This Means War” ends the album on a frantic, unfocused note.  It has the energy and fire lacking on earlier songs, but has nothing else.  Simon Wright is perfectly behind the beat, and Angus’ fingers sure are flying…but is that enough?  For AC/DC, it is not.

The album sold a measly million copies in the US  and failed to crack the top ten.  Needing to do better, Bruce Fairbairn was called upon when needed for The Razors Edge.  Since then, Blow Up Your Video has remained under its large, looming shadow, and for good reason.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Rock or Bust (2014)

NEW RELEASE


IMG_20141227_171303AC/DC – Rock or Bust (2014 Columbia)

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.

IMG_20141227_171334“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.

ROCK OR BUST_0001A 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.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – “Play Ball” (2014)

Thanks to Superdekes for sending this!

AC/DC – “Play Ball” (2014 Columbia)

Holy shit, AC/DC’s back. When we all heard about Malcolm’s health problems, I thought that was it. I really didn’t expect them to carry on with Stevie Young — but here he is, on AC/DC’s great new single “Play Ball”.

Judging by “Play Ball”, not much has changed in AC/DC land.  The flavour is still distinctly AC/DC: upbeat, great mid-tempo groove and solid riff.  And I swear you can hear some different fingers on the strings.  Listen carefully.  Yet regardless of losing arguably the most important member of AC/DC, it sounds like nobody else.  Brian’s still growling, his voice pretty much unchanged since the Ballbreaker album in ’95.   Musically, I’m thinking in territory similar to 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip.  I’ve heard the song six times as of this writing (three on the radio, three on my PC).  It’s nothing that will go down in AC/DC history as one of their greatest singles, but I can’t say anything bad about it either.

4/5 stars

Rock Or Bust tracklisting:

01. Rock Or Bust
02. Play Ball
03. Rock The Blues Away
04. Miss Adventure
05. Dogs Of War
06. Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder
07. Hard Times
08. Baptism By Fire
09. Rock The House
10. Sweet Candy
11. Emission Control

NEWS: AC/DC’s Malcolm Young IS suffering from dementia

BREAKING NEWS
Exclusive World Premiere Of AC/DC "Live At River Plate" Presented By DeLeon Tequila

I didn’t want to post ANYTHING about this subject until confirmed by the band.  Now AC/DC have confirmed that Malcolm Young (61) is suffering from dementia.  Dementia is a horrible illness, without a cure, and all we can really do is pray (if you so choose) and support the Young family.

AC/DC is continuing on with Uncle Mal and Ang’s nephew Stevie Young, who previously filled in for Mal on the 1988 Blow Up Your Video tour.  The new album, Rock or Bust, is out December 1.