Rock or Bust review by AC/DC

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  • Released: Nov 28, 2014
  • Sound: 6
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.7 Neat
  • Users' score: 7.1 (51 votes)
AC/DC: Rock or Bust

Sound — 6
AC/DC is one of the most popular and (whether you like it or not) most important bands in the history of rock and roll. Whether with Bon Scott or Brian Johnson on the microphone, AC/DC has achieved remarkable success, releasing one the best-selling albums of all time with "Back in Black" and writing some of the most memorable hard rock riffs of all time, such as the main riffs of "Highway to Hell," "T.N.T.," and "Whole Lotta Rosie." In addition to great songwriting, AC/DC is renowned for having one of the best live shows in the world, mostly due to Angus Young, whose schoolboy attire and rapturous stage movement (he literally never stops moving) have been the model for countless rockstars after him. Personally, watching AC/DC's DVD documenting their 1991 performance at Donnington (now Download Festival) is one of the biggest reasons I started to play guitar. 

That being said, AC/DC has more than its fair share of critics. Especially on this website, I've seen comments criticizing AC/DC for simple songwriting and albums that have not progressed creatively over the years. But as can be said for many elements of music, it is not about what you use, it's how you use it. And AC/DC has managed to create a catalog full of powerful, unique songs that, yes, only use a small collection of chords. But I would challenge anyone to say that the riffs of "Highway to Hell," "Rock N Roll Train," and "Whole Lotta Rosie" are anything alike even though they all use simple A5 to D5 changes. 

Getting to this album specifically, it feels like something is missing. Beyond the exit of rhythm guitarist and riff master Malcolm Young from the band under the most unenvious circumstances, something is just missing. Yes, the album features the same thing that any AC/DC album does, but at the same time, the riffs are just not as powerful and the choruses are just not as catchy. I can sing from memory many of the choruses from "Black Ice," the band's last album, but after a solid couple of weeks listening to "Rock or Bust," the only thing I can remember is Brian Johnson's vocal open to the song, "Rock the House."

Phil Rudd's drumming is worse than normal. It seems like he doesn't vary the tempo or include as many important fills as usual. I understand that Rudd's drumming is probably some of the simplest in rock history (though it must take fortitude to keep the same fast beat going for seven or eight minutes at a time). But at the same time, his simple as hell drum fills, are essential to AC/DC's sound and when he plays as monotonically as he does on this album, it is noticeable.

On the brighter side, Angus' lead playing is as lively as ever. I don't know how he does it, but he plays the minor pentatonic scale like nobody else. With this album, I am humming his guitar solos more than I am the main riffs. Stevie Young (Angus' 58-year-old nephew) fills in for Malcolm on this album and he does a great job keeping AC/DC's sound full. In general, this is probably the fullest sounding AC/DC album since "Back in Black." Producer Brendan O'Brien and mixer Mark Fraser have nailed the AC/DC formula. The guitars sound warm and full. The bass and drums are clear as can be. The only fault is the vocals seem to be mixed a little too low in the mix. Other than this miniscule criticism, this album could not have been produced any better.

For individual songs, the best is "Rock the House," "Rock the Blues Away" is the most refreshing, and the most varied (also featuring Angus' voice) is "Dogs of War."

Lyrics — 7
Brian Johnson has the most indefatigable voice in rock and roll. More often than not, it seems that rock singers' voices get deeper with time. Robert Plant, Bruce Dickinson, Geddy Lee, and Paul Stanley are all examples of great singers who struggle to keep up with their original vocal intensity. But Brian Johnson is different. He sounds the same at 67 as he did at 37. I listened to "The Razors Edge" for the first time in a long time and realized that his voice shows no change at all. Maybe his words have become a little more mumbled over time, but overall, his voice is as good as ever.

AC/DC vary their lyrics about as much as they vary their chords. As most are quick to point out, four of this album's eleven songs have the word "rock" in them. And six of the other seven, of course, are double entendres with sexual connotations ("Hard Times," "Miss Adventure," "Emission Control," etc.). Outside of the titles, the lyrics aren't interesting at all, and honestly, that is exactly what I, as a longtime AC/DC fan, wanted; any time spent contemplating the deep meaning of the lyrics is less time spent marveling in the best rock-blues guitar work the world has to offer. 

The only issue I have with the vocals is a lack of catchy choruses. Yes, all of them attempt to be catchy. But after listening to the album straight through a couple of times (quite easy when the album is less than thirty-five minutes long), I still cannot hum most of the choruses. The best one is "Play Ball," which unfortunately became the song that provided the backing for the worst music video of 2014. Regardless of the music video, the chorus to "Play Ball" is hummable and the simple chorus guitar part is mesmerizing, very similar to the main keyboard part from The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Overall Impression — 7
In closing, this album is a solid AC/DC album, though "Black Ice" was far superior. On the one hand, the album proves that AC/DC are certainly not too old or beaten up to quit. At the same time, if this album were to be the band's swan song, the feeling would not be, "They had so much left to say! I wish they could have just recorded one more!" If Phil Rudd is to be believed, the band will continue until they drop dead (although with Rudd's current predicament, it seems like his death could occur any second). Whatever happens, this album is at the very least decent and you should give it a spin or two. If nothing else, be sure to catch AC/DC on their upcoming tour. Do it because there is just nothing like watching a guitarist go crazy on stage for two hours without stopping.

But mostly do it because after seeing such high voltage, you will be inspired to do the same each and every time you pick up a guitar.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Gotta hand it to them... Still at it, and while it's not the best AC/DC ever, they are still making music. And we are still talking about them. The rock and roll road map is still being drawn. Retire? And do what? Flip burgers? I know it's hard for younger people to understand but the only thing that doesn't age is your brain. Acts like AC/DC are called dinosaurs, told they are too old, retire already. Well take my word for it, you never feel too old to fire up the Marshall, plug in the Les Paul, and open the heavens with your two bare hands. Here it is in a nutshell, if you like it listen to it, if you don't, don't. But respect it, because you may be in their shoes one day.
    Man the lack of Malcolm really shows on this album it's not a bad album but you can tell that Malcolm really is the glue that held the band, his iconic tone and power crunching chords usually blasts through my speakers, here the riffs are kinda just there also this album is waaaay too short i know the guys are getting on but as soon as song starts to pick up just its over however props to Johnson who some how still sounds amazing at the age of 67 he kills it on this album stand out tracks Rock Or Bust Miss Adventure Dogs Of War Baptism By Fire
    It was stated in an interview that Stevie Young literally used Malcolm's exact same setup in the studio, guitar and amp and all. That's not to say I don't see what you mean with Mal's missing presence being a big factor in the album, though.
    This is the best album from them in YEARS. You all complained about Black Ice because it was too long, and now you're complaining about this one because its too short. AC/DC decided to try not to have as much filler, and got right to the point with these songs. Brians voice sounds better than it has in 20+ years. Great album, and for those that have listened to their first albums, its about the same length as their first ones. "Rock the House" is a GREAT song, I really enjoyed it, and the rest is just a great nostalgia trip because I get to hear Brians voice sound better than it has in years.
    The first three tracks and the last one honestly stand out for me the most. Great album, AC/DC has nothing to prove, and this is the type of album they decided to go for: short and sweet. While Malcolm's absence is definitely noticeable - there's just something about the rhythm guitar that, while still great, isn't superb - Stevie still nails his part. Overall great album, I'll be blasting this one for a while!
    Pretty good album, It's just too short.. Also Rock The Blues Away is bit weird for AC/DC song, reminds me of Bruce Springsteen for some reason. Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder is one of my favorites off the album! Sad what happened to Malcolm and Phil is doing something crazy but Im still excited to see them Live again.
    I'm not one to suggest when an iconic band should hang it up.....but Goddamn Nothing but the best for the boys, but please consider retiring while there's still a legacy to be had.
    I don't agree with that point of view at all. I mean, here is a group of guys who have been working all of their lives to live out their dream... And they have, they don't NEED the money and are doing what they love. You want someone to stop living their dream over your perceived legacy? No one is that important.
    Somehow I agree with both of you guys... AC/DC are an iconic band and if they love this, why stop? On the other hand, personally I love a lot of their stuff, but this album is rather boring and unnecessary for me to own. It feels not important in their discography.