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Rock or Bust by AC/DC- A CD Review

Updated on December 7, 2014

11 Great Songs!

While this is a review of Rock or Bust by AC/DC, it is also a salute and wave goodbye to the rock hero, Malcolm Young. While most know of Malcolm as the longtime rhythm guitarist, songwriter and cofounder of what is arguably the most wondrous rock band in all of existence, Malcolm has been suffering from health issues, most notably Dementia, for some time now.

It is a happy note to point out that Mal contributed to all the songs on this latest release, working with his brother Angus on the writing. But today Malcolm is retired and passed the baton to his nephew, Stevie, to play the rhythm guitar and backup vocals, and we can hear the sheer talent for exquisite rock and roll is certainly in the blood. Rock or Bust is a fantastic CD by the band and the fans are sure to relish in the wonder and passion that slithers through each and every song.

What makes this latest CD a lot of fun is that this is very terse, simple and effective rock and roll without all the hoopla and goofy antics and special effects most groups are tempted with in today’s musical scene. Sure, these guys are older men and have been at this for about four decades, but these talented musicians demonstrate rock doesn’t have to hand the reigns to the new school just yet. So to Sevendust and Theory of a Madman and so many others, the old royalty isn’t ready to step down yet.

Brian Johnson still sounds great even with all those miles on that gravelly voice, and it’s somehow sweet to recognize he (other than the unique addition of Stevie) is still the newbie to the band. After all, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams have been around a long, long time and through several eras even though they came and went on occasion. While his days of belting it out there like on Back In Black and For Those About To Rock are somewhat over, it isn’t as though he’s done. It’s just that, come on; that sort of vocals requires genuine care. Not just anyone can do that.

The CD begins with the title track, letting every fan out there that, oi, things are just fine. From there we move to the clean and snappy song called Play Ball, with a sharp beat and clean rhythm. Brian sings it with verve while everyone is clearly on board and having a great time. Rock the Blues Away is an easy and flowing tune that shows AC/DC doesn’t have to punch you in the throat every single time in order to entertain and rock right. This song is smooth, like a good whisky.

Miss Adventure is one of those songs similar to What Do You Do for Money, Honey, giving a wink to fun and adventurous ladies who rock to the band. This is fun rock and Angus’ solo proves it. Dogs of War begins with a bluesy start and good beat just before Brian kicks off a rocking tune. It should be noted that up to this point this CD is clearly going for a classic, classic, and classic rock sound. While every song is unique in and upon itself, so isn’t every song from Boston. But yet, we have a carrying theme that indicates this is signature AC/DC and not some nod to the new blood.

That is confirmed with the next song, Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder. The Thunder from Down Under blazes in like Hell’s Bells with this one and gives those AC/DC fans something to move their feet to while they, if they’re in the car, had better watch the accelerator if they don’t want to have to explain themselves to the officer. Hard Times, the next song, has a smooth into that moves right into a song that would keep the crowd hopping. According to a statement made by Brian Johnson, Baptism by Fire is a salute to those troops who often play their favorite AC/DC before going into battle. The rhythm isn’t morbid or gruesome, however, but upbeat and energizing. The smooth rhythm of Stevie comes through well on this one, showing he’s a warm member of the family. The next one feels similar in tone, Rock the House does, although it stands on its own.

Sweet Candy doesn’t need a map to figure where it’s going. The guitar sounds fantastic and the beat is as sexy as whoever she was that prompted this one. Those lovely ladies who keep the pole close to our hearts; this one just might be a mandatory part of the soundtrack. And then of course the CD ends with a great song, Emission Control. This song wraps up a collection of fantastic tunes brought to us by the overlords of prime and gritty rock & roll.

It smarts to think Malcolm wasn’t there at the rhythm guitar, but yet it feels good to see a genuine member of the family as opposed to some session guitarist. For those who enjoy the history as well as the sound, it warms the soul much as it does when the rare moment comes to see Jason Bonham play with Led Zeppelin. So overall, this latest addition from a wonderful rock band that has brought us so much is a welcome addition to the music libraries of those who know the good stuff. And it makes me, your humble reviewer, feel awesome to have the chance to pass it on. If you like, check out the hub below, where you can see what I thought of the group’s last entry, Black Ice.

Man, I can’t wait to offer the next review!

Black Ice

In order to give this review the justice it deserves, and the quality the reader deserves, I have given the idea of doing this review serious consideration and planning over a span of time exceeding a month. When I first heard that AC/DC was putting out a new release (their first in eight years), it was while I was online at XM radio’s site. It was there that I saw a new CD was on the way and, increasingly common for XM, they created a channel devoted specifically to the band. AC/DC is not the first band to receive such an honor, but somehow their turn caught my attention. This is likely because there is a list of AC/DC songs I simply crave and never tire of, even though I cannot claim to be a devoted fan. So, since I planned early to obtain the new release once available, I put my satellite radio on their channel, ‘AC/DC Radio’, and left it there from when it first started in September until…I think it’s still on that channel.

When writing, I prefer instrumental music because someone singing, for me, is a distraction while writing. Normally, I simply cannot listen to radio-friendly music while writing because what’s being sung catches my attention and diverts it away from what I am writing. This happens mainly because I go from enjoying the work to enjoying the music. This doesn’t occur when doing tedious work, but only when in the creative mode of new writing. With all that being said, I geared away from the norm a bit to devote some attention to the new AC/DC release as well as a protracted repertoire of the band’s music throughout their career. As I said, I put the radio on AC/DC’s channel and left it there. This provided me both a reminder and mindset of this band’s unique niche in the Rock & Roll scene, as well as a renewed appreciation of how they clung to their specific niche and made it their own. The band’s music was drilled into me, preparing me for what was new on Black Ice.

The Bon Scott era was mainly Delinquent Rock joined with the other unique rock sounds of the seventies, such as Southern Rock of Skynyrd, Jazz Rock of Steely Dan, the Orchestral Rock of ELO, and even the Operatic Rock of Queen. In those days, the niche rock came into full swing it seemed, and AC/DC seemed content to trespass on the grounds of Shock Rock, with their Big Balls and continuous threats to cut someone or just wreak some havoc as they raced down the highway to hell. So, lock up your daughters, lock up your wife, lock up your back door and run for your life. But what brought them to fame and kept them there was their demand for quality within their devil-may-care brand of music. Bon Scott was famous for thinking himself a badass for such a shrimpy fellow, but also famous for being musically particular. It had to be both sinister and awesome. These efforts on the part of Scott and the Young brothers paved the way for Brian Johnson to fill big shoes after Scott’s untimely demise, and the band went into a slightly different direction. They didn’t intend on veering from their brand of rock; they just chose to drive it straight up.

Back In Black remains one of the most successful Rock Albums/CDs of all time. It just seems as if almost everyone loves it. Every song on the list is both amazing and timeless. Also, that fearless, grinding, relentless sound, now led by Johnson’s gravelly voice, is perfect, and perfectly cranked out by the perfect choice of musicians. The Young brothers and the band know what they’re doing, despite looking like people most would avoid in a civilized setting. Well, they once did, but these days they’re showing a little more wisdom of their ages. Yea, sometimes it seems odd to note almost thirty years have gone by since they first rang Hell’s Bells.

After traversing more than three decades and numerous albums, along comes Black Ice after a considerable amount of time with nothing new. It’s a welcome addition to the long line of AC/DC work even before it’s heard, mainly because these rock veterans have paid their dues. This is an AC/DC CD, people. Come on, even if you’ve never heard it, you know exactly what it’s going to sound like, right?

Yeah. That’s right.

Black Ice gives a long list of new music sounding exactly like something AC/DC would do and do well. The first song on the list is what might likely be the CD’s biggest hit. Rock ‘N Roll Train careens at you like a runaway train, giving awesome sound from every single one of the guys, with Brian Johnson belting it out with his unique sound. One might think his voice would have given out after all these years, considering how powerful he is in cutting it loose (perhaps they held off in anything new to give his voice a chance to heal, but that’s just an assumption) and doing it with great, natural talent. But there he is, raking it over the hellfire with the power of a train.

Skies On Fire demonstrates more open strings in the first notes than most AC/DC music, and the song flows with less crunch and grind than a lot of the band’s stuff. But it’s still loud and powerful, with Brian showing he has benefited from his years of experience. In fact, the entire band shows their expertise, with a sense of timing this band has mastered. This is yet another great example that AC/DC can play it loud and raging without having to do so at Mach 3. Looking back to work on Back In Black and For Those About to Rock, they prove a group doesn’t need to blaze in at terminal velocity to barrel everything over. That is genuine power, and Skies on Fire has it, too.

Big Jack is really just classic AC/DC, but new. While most of this band’s music is aimed more for the gut than the feet, it isn’t hard to imagine the hot chicks dancing on the bar with this one blazing from the juke box. Actually, now that I think about it, what an awesome video idea.

The song, Anything Goes, is okay, but somehow akin to the anomalous AC/DC tune, Rockin’ In The Parlour, sung by the little-known Dave Evans, from long ago. This song might be a good song to introduce new blood to the band after they’ve graduated from the bubblegum rock of their prepubescent days. I feel dirty putting this like this, but if that was Belinda Carlisle up there singing the same lyrics instead of Brian Johnson, I would not doubt this was done by her group. It doesn’t sound bad in any way, but perhaps AC/DC in a festive mood few are used to.

Now, the next song brings us back to our band with a shove. War Machine is the name, and the mood. Here’s big sound from these guys, with the guttural back-up vocals we recall from Dirty Deeds. It sounds like awesome AC/DC as a team, with Cliff Williams laying out a good foundation on Bass, and then Phil Rudd pounding in with his awesome power of percussion.

The next one comes right in as more classic AC/DC, with a bunch of aging offenders showing they’re not behind the times, but appreciate the simplistic effectiveness outlined in this one, Smash ‘N Grab. Smash, grab, and take it, Brian says, and that’s what AC/DC has been doing since many of today’s grandfathers were greasy-haired teenagers terrorizing the neighborhood in their Camaros and Barracudas. I can smile and imagine the days past while the grandkids are behind me in their super-safe car seats while we crank up this one on the less than perfect sound system of my proper four-door. Yup, we can get older without having to grow old.

Spoilin’ For A Fight is more of that, but might be best if the bunch hanging out was just the guys. Sure, the first generation of AC/DC fans are cranking this one out while cruising in the carpool, high-occupancy lane, but we’re checking out the women younger than our first-born and not feeling guilty about it. This song sets that mood. The name conjures up a scene at a rumble, but the rocking attitude of this one gets the blood pumping without needing to spill it. This is more classic AC/DC, fitting in seamlessly while shuffling it in with your other AC/DC music on the IPod.

The next one down is Wheels, and a good driving tune; much like the old classic, Highway to Hell. You can picture the band having fun with this one, enjoying the time recording it, with everything smiling and in a great mood while Angus bobs away while belting out great sound. They’re having fun and showing the young guns of today how easy it can get over time. But with Decibel, there doesn’t seem to be so many smiles, but this one oozes with confidence all around the band, with a rhythmic, bluesy riff and powerful percussion. Hey, Angus really moves the fingers on this one, showing he knows the range of possibilities on his weapon of choice.

Stormy May Day steps out next, with more open strings and a bluesy twang, along with great timing and effortless teamwork from a bunch of guys who work together like a well-oiled machine. The group meshes perfectly, with perfectly timed decrescendos coming and going from start to finish. It’s typical AC/DC for the most part, but shows the guys are seasoned pros.

With She Likes Rock ‘N Roll, the band returns to the foot of the altar of Great Rock while eyeing the American thighs. Yeah, Rock is somehow even better when it moves the women, especially the ones that like rockers just for what they are. Here, we return to shorter, terse riffs with an open blast of sound over the bridges. You can almost feel the sweat slinging from Angus when he hits the solo, and you can definitely feel the ground shake.

The next on the list is smart, savvy rock, with the song, Money Made. More awesome timing flows from this tune, and you know the countless tribute bands are going to have to prove their mettle when attempting this one. But, like Olympic athletes, AC/DC makes it sound like it was easy as that; just chilling out and rocking with the guys in the band. There’s no doubt this is hit material.

A broader range and more thought emanates from Rock ‘N Roll Dream. The same mood brought up while listening to Rock ‘N Roll Ain’t No Noise Pollution is revisited here. There’s a rhythmic undertone hinting to smart work done here, and it wouldn’t be any surprise to hear a lot of fans claim this is a big favorite on this CD. It isn’t high velocity, but it is smart, good, and serious work.

We get back to snappy and in-your-face with Rocking All the Way, and here we have more classic AC/DC music done with classic riffs, classic beat, and very classic Angus on the solos. By now, we’re fourteen songs into this release, and a strong reminder of where we are and who this is comes in sharp and straight.

The title song comes in last, and you were forced to wait for it with the unapologetic delicacy of a snow chain, and then it cuts loose with the subtlety of releasing the dogs. It hits with a one-two riff stepping in first and alone, and then the band steps up to let loose on a song fitting the title slot. Everybody’s skills are put to the test, as well as their abilities to work as a group. This is loud and it is supposed to be, and people would pay a premium to be a fly on the wall and watch this one put together. Black Ice wraps it up and makes you want to punch the repeat button hard enough to crack it.

I would like to say this CD has the sheer, quintessential AC/DC we were whacked with by this band’s ultimate accomplishment, which is the title shot of For Those About To Rock, or Hell’s Bells. Instead, the band gives us great classic reminders that they’re still in the game and hitting hard. Here, AC/DC shows us they are where The Rolling Stones were when Steel Wheels came out. Now, we just gotta wonder how much they’ll be banging away at it when our grandkids are cruising in their Camaros. My bet is, it’ll be hard-hitting and a blast if Black Ice gives us anything to go on.


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