The last few years leading up to 2020 had been a rough ride for AC/DC. Band founder and leader Malcolm Young was diagnosed with early-stage dementia in 2014, and ultimately passed away in 2017, leaving his brother Angus alone and in charge to lead the band. Compounding that tragedy was the not-surprising hearing loss from singer Brian Johnson that left him unable to perform with the band. I have “only” seen AC/DC live four times, and each experience left my ears crying for mercy, so I can only imagine what scars those eardrums must have. As a short-term solution, Angus asked Axl Rose to take over the lead vocals, and while it seemed crazy to me, it worked much better than I expected. All of that said, it wasn’t Brian Johnson and it wasn’t really AC/DC. Drummer Phil Rudd and bassist Cliff Williams had also left the band after their 2014 tour, so it was really just an AC/DC tribute band with Angus on lead guitar.
Through the modern miracles of science and medical treatment, Johnson was able to return to the band, and they returned to the studio to record “Power Up”, their 17th studio album. Steve Young, who was Malcom Young’s nephew, replaced his uncle on rhythm guitar, and the other four joined him to record a dozen new songs. I had no idea what to expect, although I remained hopeful. Beyond his hearing troubles, the vocal duress Johnson must endure each time he performs with the band, either in studio or on stage, is unreal. At times, on songs like “Thunderstruck”, it seems like those bionic vocal chords were finally wearing down over the years, so I didn’t know if he really had anything left to give.
I remember being stunned and amazed the first time I heard the lead single on the record, “Shot In The Dark”. It was as if time stood still, and I was back in the mid-1980s. Not only did the song have a wonderfully filthy lead riff, Johnson sounded EXACTLY like he did almost 40 years before. I honestly don’t know how they did it, but they delivered a song that stands tall with any of their best songs. If only for “Shot In The Dark”, this record was a phenomenal triumph.
The rest of the album is a lot like every album they released after “For Those About to Rock”. There are some highlights which I will note, and the rest are standard fare, if not spectacular. My other favorites include “Witch’s Spell”, “Demon Fire”, and “Wild Reputation”.
None of us get to live forever, and the band will never again have Malcolm Young on the side corner of the stage, pounding power chords and blasting backing vocals, but Angus and Brian Johnson continue to “Power Up” and power on, and as one who attended his very first rock concert ever seeing AC/DC in 1982, it was heartwarming and absolutely awesome to see and hear this triumphant return.