Hello again from the highway to you-know-where. Rock legends AC/DC come calling with their lean fifteenth album, "Rock Or Bust" and the title just might represent the factual mindset of the band as they trooped through well-publicized adversities to deliver it. Angus Young (who will likely be buried in that omnipresent schoolboy outfit whenever his time comes) now finds his nephew Stevie Young slinging rhythm in place of Malcolm Young, who has sadly been forced to bow out of the band with the shattering prognosis of dementia. If that wasn't debilitating enough, the roundabout allegations cast against Phil Rudd dampens the otherwise optimistic release of "Rock Or Bust", which has a lot going for it, efficiency being number one.
Fortunately, AC/DC is the kind of band that always has and always will maintain a set audience that looks past any internal drama. So long as the band sounds like themselves and the cannons roar onstage during "For Those About To Rock, We Salute You", the tickets will sell to their gigs and the albums will fly, even in a stale record sales climate as we have today. "Rock Or Bust" enjoyed the benefit of a shrewd pre-launch campaign in the form of "Play Ball" becoming the anthem of this year's MLB playoffs and it was even kicked around a few times by networks during the opening of the NFL season. Not too shabby when prefab divas and desperate, post-teen sex mavens dominate music headlines today.
Let's play ball, yes, but let's also shoot straight. "Rock Or Bust" is nothing new nor overtly booming. The shaky though muscular "Dogs Of War" sets off a handful of flat tracks ("Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder" is barely a tremor, sorry) smooshed toward the middle of "Rock Or Bust". The good news is that the front and rear sections of the album are snap tight and unquestionably pleasurable.
It being six years since AC/DC's last outing, "Black Ice", there's an appreciative sense of economy to "Rock Or Bust"'s grooving 35 minutes that gives fans something to shake a hip to while they're tossing down the Jack. "Baptism by Fire" being the most energetic and dirtied-down song on this album, it's terrific hearing AC/DC get their boogie back in doses even as they send nods to LED ZEPPELIN thereafter on "Rock The House". Earlier on, Angus tosses out a quick salute to Jimi Hendrix on the intro to "Dogs Of War". Still, "Baptism By Fire" and "Rock The House" are louder and more spirited than anyone could've expected from a band this far into their careers and weathering new storms crashed upon their camp.
"Play Ball" being one of the most memorable AC/DC jams in years, other strong tracks on this album are "Rock The Blues Away", "Miss Adventure" and "Sweet Candy". Even the title track leading off the album, while sounding like every danged AC/DC song that's come before it, puts the listener into a comfortable place that makes this album worth checking in with. "Sweet Candy" is that sleazy little engine that always could, grinding away upon Cliff Williams' bass humps and no matter how many times you've heard these simplistic rock arrangements in the past, they dependably hum.
Brian Johnson sounds his tobacco-whiskey-clogged best on this album, even as Angus Young proves ever-reliable with his crusty licks and mangy solos. Whatever he's proven guilty of in his personal life, Phil Rudd's a beast on this album. Cliff Williams' lines range from lazy to freewheeling, depending on what's called for, same as it ever was. There's never a battle for supremacy in the mix on this album, prudently processed by Brendan O'Brien and Mike Fraser. "Rock Or Bust" thus sounds like a proper AC/DC album and at times, like the big rock record it wants to be.
While Angus was left holding the reins to finish the writing of "Rock Or Bust" after he and Malcolm began its course, there is a sense of hurry-up to the album, but in this case, that's a benefit and not a detriment. At times, AC/DC's latter-day albums have sunk in numerous spots due to bloating and the unwise decision to extend playing times. In this case, "Rock Or Bust" is largely quality over quantity. When the songs catch (and they do frequently), AC/DC still proves entertaining as hell. If "Rock Or Bust" ends up being AC/DC's curtain call studio outing, then Angus and the boys can retain their stiff upper lips by saying they gave it their all.