Sound — 8
"Rock or Bust" is easily AC/DC's best record since 1990's "The Razor's Edge." Even in the absence of their mastermind Malcolm Young, AC/DC has managed to create an album full of killer tunes, but one that functions as a great mission statement and summation of their work over the past 40 years. Brian Johnson's smoking, whiskey-tinted growl sounds better here than it did on "Black Ice" six years ago and compliments the riffs Angus has pulled together by himself for the first time in the band's history.
Lyrics — 7
Brian Johnson's voice has been going downhill for quite some time, perhaps even since 1995's album, "Ballbreaker." He manages to sound great on "Rock or Bust," however. Whether it's electronic enhancement or just delivering a committed performance, Brian's more enjoyable to listen to on this record than he was on either "Black Ice" or "Stiff Upper Lip."
For the first time in a long time, AC/DC's lyrics seem to hold some meaning other than encouraging their listeners to cut loose. The title track, "Rock or Bust," is an anthem here that carries some extra meaning in the wake of the tumult surrounding the band. Even with rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young fighting dementia and drummer Phil Rudd battling drug and murder-for-hire charges, the band is still rocking and pledges to always do so. It's what they've always done and makes the track come across as a promise delivered.
Additionally, "Hard Times" are what the AC/DC gang is currently going through, bringing some dark meaning to the song, and "Emission Control" features another dirty double-entendre, which the band has used since their first album. On the other hand, a few of the lyrics sound a bit silly. In "Rock the Blues Away," it's a little funny to hear a man old enough to be a grandfather sing about how he's "picking up my girl tonight." "Play Ball" sounds a bit like it was commissioned by a sports network to be written, even though we know it wasn't. Still, I don't know anyone who listens to AC/DC for the lyrics. They work.
Overall Impression — 9
AC/DC has never promised to be anything more than a full speed ahead rock and roll band, which is exactly what they deliver here. Without a doubt, the best songs on the album are the title track, "Play Ball," "Hard Times," and "Baptism by Fire." Whereas 2008's "Black Ice" was held back by a few too many snoozers despite its phenomenal opening track, "Rock or Bust" shows the band doing what they do best, and the album benefits from it. A few tracks sound like they could have been on "Stiff Upper Lip" or "Black Ice," while other sound like they could have come from mid-'80s albums like "Flick of the Switch."
I mean it as a compliment when I say that the band has never changed. They're still delivering the same high voltage rock and roll that they began writing in the 1970s, and have proven that they can do it even without Malcolm. If this is AC/DC's final album - which it very well could be considering the group's age and the absence of Mal - it's a great way to go out. With AC/DC it always has been and always will be rock and roll or bust.