AC/DC are hands-down my favourite band. I've loved them since I was getting into rock’n’roll as a kid. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Back In Black. I watched the Live At Donington video every single day for I don't know how long - that is the greatest rock show in history. They’re everything to me when it comes to rock’n’roll.
So a new AC/DC record in 2020 was a unicorn that I always wanted to become real but never knew if it would. Brian Johnson and Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams left, and Malcolm Young passed away, and it looked like it was over. But then I started seeing stories saying that people had spotted Brian and Cliff and Angus at a practice space in Toronto, then someone ran into Brian at an airport and he said, ‘I'm sick of hiding it, we’re working on new shit.’ But it all went quiet, and I was, like, ‘Maybe it'll happen, maybe it won't.' And then out of nowhere, they drop the Shot In The Dark single, and it was on.
Was I nervous about a new AC/DC record without Malcolm Young on it? That dude wrote some of the biggest riffs of all time, and he was the most rock-solid rhythm guitar player. In fact, he’s probably my favourite guitar player ever. So yeah, I was nervous. And then I put it on. And that’s when I knew I absolutely would not be disappointed, because this is probably the best record they’ve done in 20 years.
From the first two notes of the opening track, Realize, you know AC/DC are back. It has their 80s sound mixed with the early 90s sound. They’re ripping through these chords, the big ring-outs and crashes at beginning. This is how you nail the start of an album.
Shot In The Dark was the perfect song for them to release first. It's the most classic song on the record - the tempo, the guitar tone, the solo, everything about it is what you want from AC/DC. There are so many other cool tracks on here too. Kick You When You’re Down has a great riff - it's got a really bluesy, early 70s vibe that I love. And Wild Reputation - the solo in that song is sweet. Angus' solos across the whole album cover a wide spectrum - he does a lot of ripping various chords and bending the shit out of them, and then there's a few songs where he’s just covering the scales. It's Angus. Whatever he’s doing, no one does it like he does.
Phil Rudd being back is a huge thing for me. Yeah, that dude just lays into a pocket and keeps a really simple groove, but the way he plays it is amazing. The drum sound is that classic old school AC/DC drum sound.
And then there’s Brian Johnson. If anything has saved my 2020, it’s the fact that Brian Johnson is back in AC/DC. I mean, the guy went deaf. I don't know what kind of black magic they did to fix his hearing, but it's fixed. His voice sounds amazing - as good as he at any time in the last 20 years. And it’s not only his voice - the background vocals on the whole record are phenomenal. They have this really gritty, ratty-sounding thing they do when all of them sing together, which is just great.
Of course, Malcolm is a big absence. If you're an AC/DC nerd like me, you can hear it in the playing and in the guitar tone. But the riffs are there - you can just tell a lot of this stuff came from him, even if he didn’t play on it. He’s not in the band, but he’s there on this record for sure.
Interestingly, the pace of the album is a little slower than AC/DC usually are, the grooves are a bit more downtempo, though there are a couple of faster songs. But the thing I love is that sonically it's one of the best things they've put out in a long while. The guitar tones are maybe a little more backed off, but the way that works with the drums and the bass means it’s so easy to listen to it at super-high volume, which is the only way to listen to an AC/DC record.
It was absolutely devastating to lose Brian and Phil and Cllff and especially Malcolm. Angus could have quit after Rock Or Bust. But they got back together and cranked it up and they’ll keep rocking out until they physically can't any more. That’s what Malcolm would have wanted.