‘Rock Or Bust’ was made in tragic circumstances, as founding AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young (not featured here) succumbed to early-onset dementia. It is not, it may or may not surprise you, a piano-lead lament to the ultimate horror of losing your memories one day at a time. Instead, the Sydney veterans’ 17th album is pure business as usual. Like the Ramones, or Iron Maiden, AC/DC have never released a bad album because they’ve never shown any interest in making a great one. Progress, art: these are not words in their lexicon. The only words in their lexicon are: ‘rock’, hell’, ‘noise’, ‘baby’, ‘yeah’ and ‘c’mon’. Everything else is overthinking. So while Malcolm’s condition worsened, his bandmates did what he probably would have wanted and just kept on trucking.
AC/DC’s first album without their founding member is a crisp Brendan O’Brien-produced musical wrecking ball. A few of the rear tracks can’t turn over the ignition on their hooks, and typically, the Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine producer has taken a bit too much dirt out from under their fingernails and over-compressed everything so even the mellower cuts stab at your ears like a tattoo machine. But these are minor sins in what must be one of the best records you’ve already heard to be released this year. ‘Dogs Of War’ and the title track are vintage-era good. ‘Play Ball’ is an anthem that feels like it’s slightly cynically been written for that exact purpose – it’s already been picked up by US sports networks to fill in the foam-finger moments at baseball games.
As a creative endeavour, ‘Rock Or Bust’ is ninety-nine per cent perspiration, nought per cent inspiration and one per cent raw chutzpah. It’s a testament to the often-derided power of formula: these guys have spent a lifetime figuring out where to turn the screws on a lick, where to swing the drumbeat. If there were ever a band-as-franchise model waiting to be adopted, it’s AC/DC. With Malcolm being permanently replaced by his nephew, and drummer Paul Rudd facing a possible seven years in prison if found guilty of threats to kill and drug possession charges, you sense that they could keep on pushing that perfect formula even after all the founders have passed on.