First Listen: AC/DC's Rock Or Bust

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So far, AC/DC have kept their Rock or Bust album under wraps. Two videos have surfaced: the lo-fi Play Ball, and the altogether more expensive (and exciting) title track. There have been listening parties in New York and Buenos Aires, and an official launch in the small town of The Rock, New South Wales. Selected journalists in London were invited to listen to the album once, in a small club in Soho, but had to sign a document confirming they wouldn't write about what they heard. And now, without fanfare, the band have made the album available to stream on iTunes ahead of its release on Monday. Here's what we thought.

**Rock Or Bust **Here we go, and it all begins with a staccato riff that brings to mind Nervous Shakedown. But it quickly opens up into one of those anthemic, rollicking drives AC/DC have always done so well. And the lyrical philosophy is a belligerent celebration of the music we all love.

Play Ball Another call to arms, DC style. The opening salvo harks back to the era of For Those About To Rock, with Angus peppering the melody with one of his trademark incantations. It’s so simple and catchy that you’d think anyone could do this. But it’s also a reminder that nobody delivers like AC/DC.

Rock The Blues Away The production values are clearly superior, but in essence this is a nod back to the days of High Voltage. The blues sprints have the stain of those glory times, and the lyrics spell out booze and women. Ah, how simple life was back in the mid 70s!

Miss Adventure One of those play on words song titles DC have always enjoyed, on a song that has an almost funky groove to it. The armoured mob chant has the sniff of Thunderstruck, but the overall impact could almost be the Stones circa Black And Blue.

Dogs Of War Hey, nearly halfway through the album and no mention as yet of Malcolm Young’s absence. That’s because Stevie Young has stepped into his uncle’s shoes, and you don’t notice. In that, as with Malcolm, Stevie is so damn neat and on the mark rhythmically that his best work is done in the shadows. Here, he combines brilliantly with bassist Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd on drums to allow Brian Johnson and Angus to rip out a slower paced snarl.

**Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder **Rudd leads off with a leg shaking drum tattoo, as the band once again expose those blues roots. While most bands would be tempted to break into a gallop, Angus is given the space to develop some guitar motion slickness, while Johnson sounds 20 years younger as he metaphorically punches the crisply rhythmic air.

Hard Times You could hear this fitting onto Flick Of The Switch somewhere between Landslide and Guns For Hire. It has the firmly disciplined pacing of the former, and the bar room symphonic aggression of the latter. And it’s raw, mean, heavy.

Baptism By Fire You can visualise Johnson shaking hunched up shoulders, as he strides through a song that reminds you how much DC have been inspired by Chuck Berry. The lead guitar is all duck walk action, and the tune scorches. It has the fervour of those Bon Scott times, yet the fever of the early Johnson years.

Rock The House There’s the whiff of Black Dog here, but only fleetingly. AC/DC haven’t turned into Zeppelin, but you do get the feeling that here they are openly paying homage to those giants. Even Angus’ lead role reminds one of Page. You have to be very confident of your own style to do something like this so well.

Sweet Candy This follows smoothly on from Rock The House. Again it reaches back through the years, carving out a song graced with the sort of balance between rhythm and lead that the band employed way back in the Powerage days. It’s solid, thudding yet also has the elasticity that separates DC from all the wannabes.

Emission Control The finale. But no need for the band to try and be climactic. They just glide once again into their pocket, with lusty lyrics and loose lipped musicianship. It’s got class, yet in a slutty rock’n’roll manner the band have made their own for so long. And, as the song finishes, there’s just the hint of a smirk from Angus’ guitar.

Verdict

AC/DC don’t make bad albums. Some, though, are better than others. And this one is better than most. It’s arguably their best since Flick Of The Switch. Only a shade over 30 minutes in length, there’s not a wasted second, and it leaves you wanting more. Brian Johnson sounds fuller and more vigorous than he has for a long time, Angus licks up a storm, Stevie slides right into his uncle’s old position without ever sounding like he’s trying to usurp the master. And the Rudd/Williams combination is just unbeatable. And Brendan O’Brien has done a magnificent job capturing the live passion of the band. This busts out and keeps on rocking.

All 11 tracks of Rock Or Bust can be heard as an iTunes Radio First Play.