December 1, 2020
“I need a pick me up; a rollin’ thunder truck,” bellows Brian Johnson, in the opening lines to “Shot in the Dark,” the lead single of AC/DC’s latest, 16th (17th, if you count their Aussie-only debut) studio album, Power Up.
After months of COVID-19 lockdowns and indefinite uncertainty, we all needed a pick me up. The Aussie-Scottish troupe’s latest studio effort couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Brimming with the lively, overdriven guitar riffs and howling vocals that have come to define AC/DC’s barebones, unadulterated rock and roll sound, Power Up sounds exactly the way you’d want it to.
But for AC/DC, it wasn’t all smooth sailing to the studio. Looking back to 2016, the end of their Rock or Bust world tour, the band was on the brink of collapse, drowning in disarray: rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, who’d already been replaced by his nephew, Stevie, was in the final stages of his terminal battle with dementia. Vocalist Brian Johnson, plagued with severe hearing loss, was replaced with Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose for the latter half of the tour. Meanwhile, hampered by a bevy of legal issues, Phil Rudd had to be replaced by Chris Slade. And finally, towards the end of the tour, the band’s bassist, Cliff Williams, who turns 71 this month, announced his retirement.
For a band in this state to churn out an album of exclusively original material has all the workings of an unmitigated disaster. But AC/DC seem to have a knack for coming as close as possible to breaking up and immediately following up with some of their best work in years. In a Rolling Stone interview, Angus Young said, “It’s been a long, long road… but it’s good that everyone came on board and we get to pump out a bit of new rock & roll for the world. At this time, with the pandemic, hopefully it gives people a few hours of toe-tapping enjoyment.”
It was 65-year-old Angus Young, the heart and soul of AC/DC, garbed in a schoolboy uniform, who, by some miracle of rock and roll, managed to keep his composure and salvage everything. By the time sessions for Power Up began, Johnson had regained his hearing and Rudd had settled his legal qualms. And Cliff Williams, on the question of retirement, likely had a change of heart best explained by Paul McCartney in a recent interview, where, on the question of retirement retorted, “retire from what?”
Sketching up the beginnings of what would become Power Up, Angus Young culled the band’s vaults and combed through outtakes from recent years, exhuming unreleased and unfinished songs he’d written with Malcolm during the Black Ice sessions. It was with this framework in hand that AC/DC returned to the studio in late 2018 to record Power Up.
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