AC/DC Rock or Bust

AC/DCRock or Bust
At their peak, AC/DC were like an older brother — immature and on the nose, but funny nonetheless. Lately though, the Aussie rockers are more like a dirty drunk uncle — inappropriate and more than a bit embarrassing. All that is to say, while AC/DC haven't changed much over their 40-plus-year career, our perception of them has. But Rock or Bust might be the band's first concession to their agedness.

It seems that the band have abandoned their quest to turn every track into a sing-along stadium anthem. Here, the group are content to sit back and just enjoy the ride. That should be the death knell for a band who've built their rep as a sing-along stadium rock band, but the result is AC/DC's loosest record since the Bon Scott era, and one that favours their blues roots. In many places the shift works — Johnson's vocals, strained due to age, feel more natural than on recent releases, and Young continues to display surprising versatility within the box he's created, even if tracks like "Dogs of War" fall flat — but overall, the formula hasn't changed. For a band accused of writing the same song for their entire career, any change is relative, but the surprising lack of double entendres is the first clue to listeners that something's up.

Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young's battle with dementia sidelined him for recording sessions (nephew Stevie is filling in), and it's hard not to read his absence into the group's shift. It's possible that this brush with mortality (not the group's first) shook some of the cobwebs off their sound. Rather than phoning in the record fans expect, AC/DC made one that suits their own needs. (Columbia)