AC/DC’s newest record sounds like it could have come from almost any point in the band’s long history. Unfortunately, this is less due to a sense of timelessness and more a case of seriously arrested development.
The album is just utterly devoid of surprise. If you fed AC/DC’s entire discography into a bot, and told it to make an algorithm for the most statistically average AC/DC album possible, it couldn’t conceivably do better than POWER UP. This is because POWER UP is basically a rehash of AC/DC’s earlier effort Black Ice (2008), itself a do-over of Stiff Upper Lip (2000), which is a copy of The Razors Edge (1990), a reimagining of Back in Black (1980), which was a retooling of Highway to Hell (1979), which was essentially just riffing on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976).
These guys have made the same album year after year, decade after decade, with the same jagged, angular riffs grooving over that faithful kick-snare-kick-snare drumbeat, treating the continuing progress of musical history with truly magnificent indifference. It’s the only thing that makes sense from a man who’s spent his entire career dressed as a schoolboy. Nirvana was just something that happened to other people.
Of course, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. AC/DC have built their legacy on these 3-chord bolts of hard-rock machismo, and if you expected change now, then more fool you. Age has not dented the band’s exuberance, and a few songs – ‘Demon Fire’, ‘Rejection’, ‘Through The Mists Of Time’ – will get you moving just because they’re too damn triumphant not too. But the fact is that most of the album is pretty middling and kind of forgettable. It’s not exactly bad. It’s just incredibly samey.
And herein lies the real problem. AC/DC’s image is one of loud, boisterous rebellion, and maybe in the early stages of their career this worked. But music that shocked in 1980 is the status-quo today, and even the band’s most devoted fans must be starting to wonder quite what it is that AC/DC actually have left to bring to the table. Instrumentally, thematically and lyrically, these songs are just the same as they always have been. “Speeding up the road, tearing up the highway code/ Ain’t gonna slow me down”, croons Brian Johnson on the record’s outro, ‘Code Red’. Now, where have we heard that before?