With today’s factory manufactured pop taking over the charts, it’s hard to forget what actual music sounds like. Musicianship, composition and epic songwriting have all taken a back seat in this digital age of song creation and production. AC/DC prove that when it comes to making good tunes, a driven tube amplifier will always be king over the lesser quad-core processors. Rock or Bust is the band’s fifteenth studio album and although it hasn’t re-written the rules of rock music, it is a neat little collection of songs that show that this type of music, like Stonehenge, is still popular and still standing strong. It’s still AC/DC so expect thumping drums, simple bass lines, solid chorus and larger-than-life guitar solo. Streamed on iTunes for a week before its release in December, I decided to give the 35 minute album a quick once over.
Lead Vocalist Brian Johnson controls the flow whilst school-uniform clad Angus Young and newly appointed Stevie Young – who replaces Angus’ brother Malcom – riff on duelling guitars. Cliff Williams and Paul Rudd add the low end bass lines and stark drum beats to the tracks. Add it all together you get something akin to a bellowing V8 muscle car that will rip your face between the traffic lights but also cruise for miles on end.
‘Rock or Bust’ opens the album with said bass lines and drum beats enclosing some scorching Angus Young riffs. Johnson still strongly demonstrates he’s sounding as pumped and gruff as ever as the bass chugs over this track opener. ‘Play Ball’, ‘Sweet Candy’ and ‘Hard Times’ are slower, more lulling but just as pounding bluesy rock ’n’ roll stompers. ‘Play Ball,’ despite being just over two minutes long proves that a bit of good ol’ fashioned blues rocks has still got some groove. ‘Miss Adventure’ keeps to the tried and tested formula with a riff heavy opening but plants the throttle in this quicker but shorter assault and Angus Young’s intricate solo adds flair to the pace in the middle 8 in ‘Dogs of War’
‘Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder’ is a more classic rock influenced placed in the centre of the album that seems to mix the core of 1950’s rock and roll with 70’s-esque pinch harmonics. Dual octave guitar riffs opens the quicker all out rock attack that is ‘Baptism by Fire.’
Rock the House – the shortest track on the album – enters a war of attrition with the call and response between vocals and guitars, Johnson’s shrill highs matching the expression in the Young’s riffs. ‘Rock the Blues Away’ is swaying, slower more vocally melodic verses top and tail the anthemic choruses that keeps the album cruising whilst ‘Emission Control’ neatly finishes the album as melodic guitars and matching spiralling bass reach to the harmonies of a strong chorus. Again Angus’ guitar borders on organised-chaos as the track ends with the screams of a wounded Gibson SG.
As the solos howl, the kick drum thumps and the raw harmonies roar; AC/DC are always going to be heavy contenders when it comes the world’s best rock bands and even though Back in Black was release over thirty years ago, you can’t help but feel the spirit of ‘Back in Black’ is still in there. I know, I’ve heard it all before ‘AC/DC songs can sound similar’ and you aren’t wrong on that front, but this collection of songs isn’t just AC/DC showing us they can still make music for the sake of it, it proves to us that hard rock’s heart is still beating a four-to-the-floor drumbeat; breathing riff-heavy guitars and screaming at the top of its voice. If isn’t broken, why does it need fixing? It just works. Personally, I feel previous album Black Ice is a rounder, more complete collection, however in a world full of clinical auto-tune, stale compression and mathematical sequencers, Rock or Bust is a brash reminder that rock music can still hold its own. As long as there are fans to support the cause, rock will never die; it refuses to. AC/DC will keep that heart beating for the rest of eternity, if we let them, and I do not see that as a bad thing. That volume dial on the tube amplifier is not being turn down anytime soon.
Words by Jimmi