After a six-year wait -- the last of which was peppered with "bad news" headlines that may find the band permanently without two key members -- AC/DC's new album 'Rock or Bust' is finally here.
Of course it doesn't suck. But just how good is it, and does either the music or lyrics show any signs of the massive lineup change and other troubles the band endured during its recording? We tackle five burning questions you need answered before plunking down your hard-earned cash on 'Rock or Bust.'
Does AC/DC's First Album Without Malcolm Young Sound Different?
Under normal circumstances, there would be no point even asking that question. But if there was ever an AC/DC album that you thought might break from the band's set-in-stone-for-decades template, it's 'Rock or Bust.' After all, this is the first time they hit the studio without founding rhythm guitarist and de facto leader Malcolm Young, who was forced to retire from music as a result of being stricken with dementia.
For reasons that would become clearer later in the year, the group said they also had trouble getting longtime drummer Phil Rudd to arrive on time for the 'Rock or Bust' recording sessions, a situation that no doubt added to the already challenging work of acclimating Stevie Young (Malcolm and Angus' nephew) into his new role as rhythm guitarist.
At least, you'd think all that would be challenging. But if any of this turmoil did cause the band any stress, 'Rock or Bust' betrays absolutely none of it. Instead, it's business as usual, with 11 hard-hitting tracks featuring AC/DC's trademark blend of crunch, space and swing -- and a whole bunch of arena-ready choruses.
One tiny little change we noticed: Angus makes a couple of cool nods to Jimi Hendrix. Check out the the 'Highway Chile'-inspired riff at the start of 'Dogs or War' and the 'Foxy Lady'-like feedback that opens 'Sweet Candy.'
Do Any Songs Talk About the Band's Recent Troubles?
When the 'Rock or Bust' album title was first revealed, it seemed possible the band was addressing its recent challenges head-on. And that still could have been their overall inspiration, but very few direct references to these troubles seem to have made their way into the album's lyrics.
A closer look at the title track's verses, for example, doesn't reveal any talk of overcoming obstacles or mourning Malcolm Young's absence. Instead, the song simply seems to be about getting charged up for a big concert: "We turn the amps up high / The crowd's gonna hit the sky / We play it fast and loose / Because this night we're gonna burn the fuse."
'Hard Times' could be the exception, with singer Brian Johnson noting that "these hard times sure ain't been good to me." But he's quickly back to his usual chipper self, promising to outrun his troubles and "make it fun" again.
Other songs with titles you might think would lend themselves to heavy personal introspection instead seem aimed at lighter, more universal concerns. The hero of 'Rock the Blues Away' is simply after a fun night out with his girl, and 'Baptism by Fire' is once again primarily concerned with getting the party started.
Everywhere else, it's the usual range of topics, with songs about girls ('Miss Adventure,' 'Emission Control' and 'Sweet Candy'); fighting ('Dogs of War'); and rocking (pretty much everything else).
Is 'Rock or Bust' Better Than Their Last Album, 'Black Ice'?
Yes. 2008's 'Black Ice' was a notable improvement over the band's already not-bad last two efforts -- 2000's 'Stiff Upper Lip' and 1995's 'Ballbreaker'. It featured a handful of songs that rightfully (if temporarily) earned their way onto the group's already hit-packed set list, most notably the irresistible 'Rock 'n' Roll Train.' But running more than 55 minutes, it was also weighed down with too much filler, a problem that doesn't affect 'Rock or Bust.' Which brings us to our next question ...
'Rock or Bust' Is Only 35 Minutes Long. Isn't That Too Short?
Heck, no! Curse the "more is always better" mentality that set in with the advent of the compact disc era. Here's hoping the brevity of 'Rock or Bust' sparks a trend that spreads like wildfire. There are a whole bunch of rock records released in the past few years that would have been a lot better with a few less songs -- and that list includes 'Black Ice.' Remember, the 'Highway to Hell' album clocks in at less than 42 minutes, and 'Back in Black' just a shade over. If we ran the world, there would be a strict government agency where bands have to apply for a license to go beyond the magical 44-minute mark.
What Are the Best and Worst Songs on 'Rock or Bust'?
We'll get the bad news out of the way first, since there isn't much of it to report. There are no real misfires to be found, but if we had to pick a "worst," we guess we'll go with the especially lyrically clunky album closer, 'Emission Control.'
As for highlights, both the title track and 'Play Ball' were excellent choices for singles. We're hearing a lot of friends rave about 'Rock the Blues Away,' but the downright nasty 'Sweet Candy' is the one we're dying to hear live on the band's upcoming tour.
Bonus: AC/DC on the Creation of 'Rock or Bust'