As is the way of these things, the internet lit up with unbridled fury after AC/DC biographer Murray Engleheart took to Facebook with a bold if unsubstantiated claim: the band would make other album, and Axl Rose would handle the vocals. Cat, meet chickens.
“They’ve become a brand. I’m disappointed,” commented one fan. “What an absolute disgrace. Love both bands, but to do this to Brian Johnson is an utter insult,” wrote another, while a third added, “If Axl becomes the voice of AC/DC, the band is DEAD to me!”
Amongst those making the most noise about Axl’s possible journey from fill-in frontman to studio singer, two contradictory statements seem to be at play. The first argument, that Angus can do whatever the hell he wants, is countered by the second, which argues that Angus can do whatever the hell he wants as long as he doesn’t call it AC/DC.
It’s possible, of course, that Brian Johnson will return to the fold. Despite the undeniably shabby way his departure from the band was handled, there are rumours of handshakes and hatchet burying taking place at Malcolm Young’s funeral. Hell, even Phil Rudd was there.
But Johnson seems to have written himself out of the story. Only last week he told The Times, “It was getting harder and harder to hear the guitars, even hear the keys, and I was basically going on muscle memory. And I’m not the kind of guy who likes to cheat. The way I look at it, I had a great run.” For a man who’s appeared so determined to put himself back in the frame in the past — performing Back In Black with Muse at the Reading Festival, and publicly seeking help from cutting edge hearing specialists — it felt like a curiously subdued statement.
We have to presume that Angus is reluctant to stop. Those who’ve met him tell of his obsession with crafting new riffs, with finding the perfect AC/DC chord progression. And if Axl’s keen, why not make an album together? Not everyone liked the AXL/DC shows, but it’s difficult to deny Axl’s giddy, almost fanboy enthusiasm, and many would argue that he did a better job recreating the wild, lascivious feel of the Bon Scott material than Brian ever did.
No one wants AC/DC to go out on a whimper rather than a bang. It’s been slowly diminishing returns since Back In Black, and another album will invariably follow a familiar pattern: there’ll be a couple of excellent singles, and a load of other songs that sound exciting at first pass but don’t really hold up to repeated listens. So here’s an idea: make a final album that isn’t just an excuse to change the scrim on another world tour. Make it an album that’s worthy of half a century of carefully curated legacy. Pull out all the stops. Make it gigantic.
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How? You get Axl in for a couple of songs. And then you fill the rest of the album with the ultimate all-star line-up. Get Airbourne’s Joel O’Keefe in — he’s got the right amount of swagger, loves the band, and he knows his way around a riff. Bring in Jimmy Barnes, another Aussie legend. Bring in Lzzy Hale and Lady Gaga. Get Brian back for one last hurrah, whatever the doctors say. Get Keith Richards in to play some rhythm alongside Stevie Young. Presumably Chris Slade is already on board, but Phil Rudd can cross The Tasman and join in. Invite both Cliff Williams and Mark Evans back into the fold. Hire Mutt Lange to sit behind the console. Turn it into the ultimate celebration of the ultimate rock’n’roll band, a glorious exclamation mark at the end of a stellar career rather than an underwhelming full stop. A proper 21-gun salute.
Then, having gone to all this trouble and expense in order to celebrate the last chapter in AC/DC’s explosive, unparalleled career, you’d have to give it a name.
And of course you’d call such a thing AC/DC. You’d do so in giant fucking neon letters.