All images courtesy of Getty Images
By Andrew Daly
I am not a critic. To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity, I would call myself a “Professional Appreciator of Music.” That said, it is usually around this time of year that I personally begin to think about what my favorite records of the year are. I could drill down and separate things into genres and so forth, but that feels trite. Still, with one month left in the year 2020, I do believe I’ve found my personal “Album of the Year” in ACϟDC’s Power Up.
Allow me to begin by saying that I am not here to review the album. I generally find critics to be boring. Why is it that they get to have the privilege of telling us what’s “good” and what isn’t? It’s one thing to appreciate or recommend, but it’s another thing entirely to have such a myopic view on life and music, that you actually believe your viewpoint is the endgame decider as to what is “good” and what isn’t. One would think it obvious that what is “good” is subjective, but it seems these days people like to be broken in like show cows and be told what to like.
“Hey! Have you heard the new Turd Weasel album? It’s called I Was Born a Turd. It’s awesome!”
“Nah. Jerk Off magazine told me it’s only worth 3.8 stars. I can’t get down with that.”
“Have you listened to it?”
“What? The magazine told me it’s bad. No need.”
“Oh. That’s true. I’m so glad we have people to tell us what to like these days.”
“Yeah! Thinking hurts!”
All jokes aside, critics can be annoying. I could go on and on about the potential landside of shit we’re exposing ourselves to by allowing others to tell us what to like. Simply put, it’s not good for music, artistry, or for our collective spirit. So, today I don’t have a review. Instead, I’ve got stories, and yes, I’ll talk about why I like the album, but that doesn’t mean you need to as well. I’ll also remind you to be respectful of the viewpoint others hold. That’s the through-line. Don’t like things because someone else tells you to like them. If someone is extremely passionate about an artist, or an album, don’t feel guilty if you aren’t as well. Taste and what’s “good” are entirely subjective. Simply put, no one gets to tell you what you like, and you don’t get to tell anyone what they like either. The things we love are intensely personal. Don’t ruin someone else’s day by being a jerk and impressing your opinion onto them. Easier said than done, perhaps. And now, storytime.
I’ve been friends with Joe O’Brien since 1993. For those keeping score, that’s nearly 28 years. That’s a long time. When I was growing up, my dad exposed me to a fair amount of music. Music that I still love to this day. While my dad did show me KISS, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and more, he also made it clear that bands such as ACϟDC, Guns ‘N Roses, and The Rolling Stones weren’t his favorite.
As time and my friendship with Joe wore on, I spent more and more time at his parent’s house. Joe’s parents loved music in their own way. His mom, Emily, could always be seen or heard singing and humming songs she loved, and Joe’s dad, Don, was seldom seen without music in the background of whatever he was doing. In the 90s, Joe’s dad had a massive collection of CDs. This was to be the treasure trove where Joe and I would discover untold legends to that point we had no idea existed. It was here we discovered Bruce Springsteen, Randy Newman, Boston, Warren Zevon, Queen, and of course, ACϟDC.
In my house, ACϟDC simply wasn’t a “thing.” I knew a couple of radio songs but had dismissed them entirely. And then one weekend, I arrived at Joe’s house and we went down to the basement. We had an area in the back of the basement which we called “The Club.” The Club was basically a huge area of the basement that Joe and I had taken over without asking. Over time, it became an awesome space with pictures, toys, and things we liked, and Joe’s parents were even cool enough to give us our own tube TV and couch. It was one of those all-in-one deals that even had a built-in VHS player. Joe’s parents were awesome.
As you entered The Club, there was an old couch, with one of those sort-of multi-colored ones with Native American patterns on it. Off to the side of the couch was an old tray table. It was kind of like the ones you get when you’re at the hospital. On this table was a classic 90s Sony Boom Box. It was silver. Joe had told me he had something that I, “Needed to hear” and so, Joe popped the top of the Boom Box, and placed his dad’s copy of Back in Black in. Soon, I heard the opening chimes of “Hells Bells” which gave way to ‘Shoot to Thrill’ and then “What Do You Do for Money Honey,’ the last of which Joe was particularly obsessed with. This moment is sort of a sign marker for me. It was the first moment that I (internally at least) challenged my dad’s music taste. I knew that my dad was wrong about ACϟDC. They were much better than he had opinioned. He may not have liked them, but at that moment, I knew I loved them.
So, that’s the backstory. What does that story have to do with ACϟDC’s new album, Power Up? Everything. Since that day at Joe’s parent’s house, I’ve loved ACϟDC. I am not delusional. I understand that ACϟDC aren’t “innovators” per se. However, they are very influential and they are fantastic and highly proficient at what they do. They are extremely consistent. Of the seventeen studio albums they have released, there isn’t a single album that doesn’t contain at least one extremely memorable track. I personally find it a bit shortsighted when people belittle them for, “Doing the same thing over and over again.” Look, bands like Radiohead and Blur are incredible and I love the fact that they are always pushing boundaries, and exploring new territories, but it’s OK to be meat and potatoes as well. Just because a band has a formula doesn’t mean they have any less musical integrity. That type of stuff is a bit divisive and makes people ashamed of what they like. Simply put, if you dislike something, that’s OK, but don’t make them feel like a poseur for digging it.
Maybe more than any other year in recent memory, in 2020, we need a little bit of comfort. So, it’s important that we be thankful for the positives, and that we indulge and take solace in the comforting things. For me, ACϟDC is comfort. It takes me back to a simpler time. A time when I was first starting my journey toward musical discovery. When it comes to ACϟDC, they’ve always been about good times and simple Rock ‘N’ Roll. They’ve suffered some losses and in 2016, the band nearly came to an end. Now, soldering on without Malcolm Young (but with Stevie Young in his place), the band seems to have renewed vigor, and perhaps in paying tribute to what they’ve lost, they’re celebrating what they still have. In my opinion, that is a lesson we can all take away and apply to our own lives.
At their core, ACϟDC is simple lyrics, raging vocals, crunching/driving rhythm guitar via a low volume Gretch G6131, searing leads through a Gibson SG, and a steady downbeat, pounded out on Sonar drums, complemented by the deep, pulsing groove of a Fender Jazz Bass. It’s classic. It’s timeless. It’s ACϟDC. Call it boring, repetitive, or overly simplistic, but it’s also unmistakable. When it comes to Power Up, ACϟDC isn’t reinventing the wheel. They’re doing what they do best and while I do love all their albums, at this stage of the game, I was not expecting them to transport me back to the early 80s. I won’t sit here and say it’s as good as Back in Black, but in my opinion, Power Up sits proudly beside the likes of For Those About to Rock We Salute You or The Razors Edge. It’s top-of-the-heap type stuff. More importantly, it’s comforting. It’s comforting to know that the lineup of Angus Young, Phil Rudd, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams, and now Stevie Young are back together and doing what they do best. Doing what nobody else but them can do.
Why do critics and music snobs like to dismiss ACϟDC? Maybe it’s because they themselves are boring and repetitive. Or maybe it’s envy. ACϟDC is doing what they wish they could do, having a good time, doing what they love, all the while succeeding. I will leave you with this: if what this group of men does is so simple, so formulaic, so lowbrow, and monotonous, then why does it sound so wrong when they aren’t together? Why don’t other bands do it with the same success? Think about it: remove Phil Rudd, and the downbeat isn’t the same. The simple interplay between the hi-hat, snare, crash, and bass is entirely different. Remove Cliff Williams and replace him with another bassist. What happens? The pulsing rhythm that lies beneath the surface of ACϟDC’s music leaves. It’s rudderless. I could go on.
So, don’t belittle ACϟDC for being simple. Instead, enjoy them for no other reason than they are still here. And if you don’t like them, that’s fine, but maintain respect. Maintain respect for longevity in an increasingly disposable world. Maintain respect for the collective. And most importantly, keep an open mind and don’t be herded about. Like what you like. Not what someone thinks or tells you. Nobody likes a critic. More so, nobody likes an asshole.