There is an unexpected sense of drama around the new AC/DC song 'Play Ball.' You find yourself, certainly for the first time since the turn of the '80s, listening for what might be different -- instead of welcoming what has always been the same.

After all, AC/DC have remained (even, we know now, with the scary switch from Bon Scott to Brian Johnson back then) the model of consistency. Through it all, the single entendre, rifftastic AC/DC song has had a history of reliability that would make death and taxes blush. Only, Malcolm Young fell ill. Maybe never in the history of rock has a rhythm guitarist potentially meant so much. The future of that reliability seemed to be most assuredly in doubt.

Then 'Play Ball,' the lead track from AC/DC's forthcoming 'Rock or Bust' arrives -- the first song in AC/DC's lengthy and staggeringly consistent recorded history not to feature Malcolm coming down with a bloody-knuckled fury on those metal strings. And it's as if nothing as changed, as if no time has passed, as if there isn't another Young -- Malcolm's nephew Stevie -- in his place.

Everything else falls quickly into place. Johnson, who was himself intimating only a few years ago that his time out front might be drawing to a close, whines with that familiar, pained gusto -- while Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams set a gas pedal-mashing groove that must have shook entire city blocks when they recorded it in Vancouver.

And all of that is (as always) ultimately in service to Angus Young, whose eruptive lead once again powers AC/DC over the fence. If those kinetic outbursts -- always so fitting, considering his school-boy outfit -- sound more darkly emotional on 'Play Ball,' well, then that's certainly fitting. But it might be the only thing that doesn't sound the same for this ageless wonder of a band.

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