There’s an argument to make that AC/DC’s approach to songwriting is the most successful in the history of popular music. Every album they’ve recorded draws from a beefed up treble-heavy take on blues rock based on big chords and bigger choruses, and since 1980’s legendary ‘Back in Black’ album they’ve been untouchable at the top of the hard rock mountain. Because even though every record they’d made before it and have made since is transparently cut from the same musical cloth, they’ve all come with a handful of incredible songs it’s impossible for the primal human brain to connect to.
‘Rock or Bust’ makes no attempt to differentiate itself from its predecessors and doesn’t suffer a smidgen from that, in fact standing head and shoulders above the other AC/DC albums of the 21st century thanks to its reined-in, filler-free 35-minute runtime. It’s also, despite the lack of chief songwriter and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young, a perfect channelling of the band’s immortal strengths – the perfect fusion of melody and hardness, a youthful vigour that the decades of their existence has not diminished, and simple chemistry. No prizes will be won for variety, but there’s enough to maintain the listener’s interest, from the belligerent call and response of “Dogs of War” to a headlong charge on “Baptism by Fire”.
Lyrically, the lewdness and single entendres may not be to everybody’s taste particularly delivered by a group of this vintage, but Brian Johnson sounds as energised and ever and somehow gets away with it. The music could never be described as complex, but it shows a mastery of the base elements of songwriting that may never be bettered. ‘Rock or Bust’ may well be the last AC/DC album the world gets, and it’s thus appropriate that it’s as single-minded and uncompromising as anything in their discography. No matter how many imitators continue to spring up in their wake, their like will not be seen again.
~ Michael Bird