They say that there are only a few certainties in life; death and taxes. Oh, and AC/DC. Over thirty years since the band overcame the devastating loss of the one and only Bon Scott, they have now had to come to grips with the loss of founding member Malcolm Young to dementia, as well as ongoing legal issues with drummer Phil Rudd. Despite such a seismic shift in their fortunes, AC/DC have once again resigned themselves to the situation and proven to be among the most stoic bands on earth.
‘Rock or Bust’ is yet another uncompromising declaration of what it is to be AC/DC. The title says it all. When faced with seemingly insurmountable adversity, they throw on their best stiff upper lip, rally together and do what they do best; Rock The Blues Away.
Stripped down to nuts and bolts AC/DC have effectively adopted an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to their music. The running joke that they have consistently recorded the same album is not really a joke at all. However, there are subtleties and nuances that separate their records. In this case, unlike its predecessor, ‘Rock Or Bust’ is quite short, clocking in at only 35 minutes.
Its concise design lends itself towards an intention to say more with less, to be louder with less time. This is accomplished with Brendan O’ Brien behind the production desk for the second album in a row. Each song strikes right between the eyes in only two or three minutes. Every riff sounds like it could crack a skull. It’s edgy and dishevelled, even by AC/DC’s standards. Hard Times and Emission Control invite the listener down into the grit and dirt with classic Angus riffs with a hint of a blues infusion.
As with the catharsis that 1980’s ‘Back In Black’ offered the band after the death of Bon Scott, ‘Rock Or Bust’ fulfils the same emotional requirement, not with heartfelt ballads or direct references, but with spirit. There is a palpable sense of the band honouring their founding member by the sheer defiance that the album represents, especially on its title track.
However, in many other ways it is business as usual. Lead single Play Ball is a fun, radio friendly hit while elsewhere Dogs Of War and Rock The Blues Away represent the tried and tested rock anthem format perfected by the band decades ago.
The world and the band itself may be subjected to the ever changing dynamics of life but somehow AC/DC, as a rock n’ roll entity, has remained immune. Their spirit has endured, their sound forever engrained in the united consciousness of the rock n’ roll community. Death, taxes and AC/DC indeed.