Forty years ago, Australian rock band AC/DC released “Back in Black,” an album that has sold over 50 million copies to date and gave us hits such as “Shoot to Thrill” and “Hells Bells.” In the two decades following “Back in Black,” AC/DC has released 10 albums with varying degrees of success. Their newest album, “Power Up,” sees the band trying to stay relevant in a new decade, and while there are moments of progression and innovation, AC/DC provides more of the same on this LP.
The opening track, “Realize,” starts off with the band’s signature gritty guitar work and heavy drumming. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but they keep listeners bobbing their heads to Angus Young’s solid guitar work. Hearing lead singer Brian Johnson on this track and album is weird given that in 2016, Johnson had to step back from touring due to hearing problems. Regardless, Johnson’s vocals are still on point with the aggressive tone AC/DC is known for.
Johnson’s vocals don’t mesh well when he is trying to sing poetic lines. The best example of this is on the song “Through The Mists of Time” when Johnson is singing the lines, “Hear the whisper of the whirlwind / Monster shadows, a light gone dim / Dark horses roam in my sleep / Mystic voices conjure up our dreams.” These pretty lines would fit perfectly with a softer vocalist like Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. With Johnson, his screechy kinetic voice doesn’t mix well with the fragile lyrics. I like how the band experimented with its style of writing, but the lyrics must match the singer and for Johnson, he needs lines that fit his range.
This is why the song “Kick You When You’re Down” is the best song on the album. Along with great drumming from Phil Rudd and great bass guitar playing from Cliff Williams, Johnson’s vocal capabilities are fully realized. He especially nails singing the second verse, which features the lines, “Shady lady / You think that money grows on trees / Rotten apples by the barrel ain’t a delicacy.” Johnson’s piercing passion is on full display in the song and I wish this energy was kept throughout the album.
Unfortunately, this song comes a couple of tracks after the worst song on “Power Up”: “Rejection.” Besides sounding exactly the same as “Realize,” this song has lyrics that sound abusive. The lines “You better give me what I want / Or I’ll beat on you” and “If you reject me, I’ll take what I want / Disrespect me, and you get burned,” do not bode well for anyone looking into listening to AC/DC. I’m sure the band did not have any harmful intentions while writing “Rejection,” but in an era where domestic violence and abuse is being called out and exposed, AC/DC needs to do a better job at reading the cultural room while crafting lyrics.
Country singer Bonnie Raitt once said “AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ is the greatest meshing of vocal, guitar, and content I’ve ever heard” and “That’s what I aspire to.” The song that Raitt is mentioning is the 1979 song “Highway to Hell,” which in my opinion is the greatest song released by AC/DC. I bring this quote up because, unlike the tune that inspired a music legend, “Power Up” and the majority of the songs on it inspires very little in the way of creativity.
The chords and drum patterns feel like they are stuck in the glory days of AC/DC and with the exception of tracks like “Kick You When You’re Down” or “Witch’s Spell,” this is a dull record. AC/DC’s penmanship isn’t much better, since a lot of the lyrics on the album fit into the stereotype that AC/DC writes simple lines that fit with elementary chords.
“Power Up” is by no means a bad album and longtime AC/DC fans should be able to find some enjoyment out of this record since it has elements that are core to the band’s style. However, if you are like me and are looking for a rock record that is stylistic and memorable, albums like “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” from Australian rocker Courtney Barnett are a great listen.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @acdc on Twitter.