AC/DC’s peculiar musical talent is the ability to remake virtually the same album every few years as if no time at all has passed at all since the last one … and as if the music world itself hasn’t changed a bit since the 1970s. Indeed, any of the 11 songs on these Aussie rock icons’ 15th album in 42 years would have sounded right at home on any of the band’s releases. In 1975, for instance, original lead singer Bon Scott (who died in 1980) sang, “It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll).” Four decades later, Brian Johnson proudly boasts, “In rock we trust, it’s rock or bust!”
For AC/DC, then, the institution of rock music is as close as the band is likely to ever get to religion. But will it really console these guys as the ravages of time and the consequences of poor choices take their toll?
In mid-2014, the band announced that at age 61, rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young could no longer record or tour due to dementia. In a recent issue of Guitar World, his brother Angus (the 59-year-old lead guitarist who still proudly struts across stages in his famous schoolboy get-up) said of Malcolm’s descent into the disease, “Mal got a little disconnected when we were making our previous album, [2008’s] Black Ice. The tour after that was difficult. And in hindsight, I realize I was noticing things even before then.” Stepping into Malcolm’s shoes on Rock or Bust is nephew Stevie Young (who is just a year younger than Angus).
If that weren’t tribulation enough, drummer Phil Rudd recently landed in significant legal trouble, with his real-life choices echoing the assassin-focused lyrics of the band’s 1976 hit “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” In November 2014, Rudd was arrested on charges of murder for hire, possession of methamphetamine and a separate charge of threatening to kill someone. The hit man charge was dropped for insufficient evidence, but Rudd still faces trial for the other allegations. Shortly after the arrest, Angus told Australia’s The Age, “Phil created his own situation. It’s a hard thing to say about the guy. He’s a great drummer, and he’s done a lot of stuff for us. But he seems to have let himself go. He’s not the Phil we’ve known from the past.”
The rest of the band’s response to all this? Well, let’s just put it this way: “Hail, hail to the good times, ‘cuz rock has got the right of way!”
“Hard Times” finds the band determined to face adversity with, well, determination: “Hard times/Blue and sad/ … They try to hold you down/But they can’t push you around/Trying to hold you back/Getting on the right track.”
AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson is 67. But that doesn’t keep him from singing about sex as if he were eternally young and preternaturally potent. Thus, “Rock the House” offers a thematic reboot of the signature 1980s hit “You Shook Me All Night Long.” And lest we miss that connection, Johnson connects the carnal dots with, “Mistress, mistress, all night long/Hey, ooh, keep on coming/Hard and strong.” He then adds descriptions of touching, tasting, screaming and squealing.
“Miss Adventure” also gets right to the sexual point with, “Love you, love you all the night/Make you, make you, nice and tight/Miss Adventure, hot surprise/Bare essential, yeah that’s nice.” “Sweet Candy” salutes a stripper’s sensual prowess (“She do a dance/Slides down the pole/She turn a backflip/Make your heart roll/ … Crawls across the floor/Calls for attention/The boys yell out for more/Sweet Candy.” Meanwhile, the band’s longstanding penchant for double-entendre-laden naughtiness is again on display on “Emission Control,” the cheeky title of which already tells us more than we really need to know about it. Allusions to pornography and masturbation turn up on “Hard Times” (“Hard times/Get online/Make a grown man blind”)
The band is equally vocal about its passion for alcohol. “Play Ball” says, “Pick me up/Fill my cup/Pour me another round/Come on in, mix in the sin/ … I said, it’s party time/ … Listen, drinks all around.” Johnson loves his liquor so much, in fact, he’d like to swim in it (“Dive on in and swim in the gin”). A pub is the destination on “Rock the Blues Away” (“Drivin’ in my car/Headed for the local bar/ … Drink the night away/Until the light of day”).
If you asked AC/DC’s members what the meaning of life was, the lyrics to their songs here (and on all of their albums, for that matter) suggest a simple answer: To rock. Oh, there’s plenty of sex and drinking to go along with that, mind you. But the debauchery is just part and parcel of the life of real rockers, the kind that never age … and never seem to mature much, either.
On Rock or Bust, we’re told that rock ‘n’ roll is a salve for pain (“Rock the blues away/Up all night and day”), a drug (“I get high on rock and roll”), a source of encouragement (“And when I’m on the way back home/I listen to some great rock sounds/That make you wanna sing out loud”), a vocational calling (“Down on your luck?/I’ll turn you around, I’m here to help you/Show you what I’ve found”) and, as I said earlier, something like a religious faith (“It’s rock or bust/In rock we trust”). Rock is a way of life for these guys that encompasses seemingly everything.
It’s as if they really don’t know yet that real-world pain and loss can’t be coped with by simply turning up the radio, downing a pint and shaking all night long. Or, more likely, they’re just stubbornly refusing to admit it.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.