AC/DC's Rock or Bust, out today, sticks to the band's basic three-chord structures, same as always. But I'm talking about emotional chords, not musical ones: Namely, their holy trinity of Rock, Drunk, and Fuck.
Sure, everyone sings about getting high and boning. The phrase is "sex, drugs, and rock & roll," after all. But most bands flow with the times, experiment, change artistic direction, or try to capitalize on fads. AC/DC want none of that shit, and never have. Which is part of their appeal. It might be all of it.
They've never really written songs about love, addiction struggles, social issues, politics, or religion. Nor do they generally describe what it's like to be a human being feeling and perceiving the world. Nor have they told any stories that didn't involve killing, drinking, head-banging, or banging-banging. While most rock music is meant to appeal to the everyman, no other band has an approach more basic or less pretentious.
Look at the song titles from their new album. "Play Ball." "Miss Adventure." "Emission Control." More than a third contain the word "rock." Some might see this as pandering to the lowest common denominator, but really, they're just sticking to what they've always done, because it always works.
Rock or Bust might as well have been released in the late '70s. "Got Some Rock & Roll Thunder" could be an outtake from High Voltage. "Dogs of War" could fit in Powerage alongside "Gimme a Bullet" and "Kicked in the Teeth." While AC/DC's streak of world-class arena- and radio-rocking anthems halted after 1990's The Razors Edge [sic]—that one had "Thunderstruck" and "Moneytalks"—the band has released three Top 10 albums since 1995, even though many casual fans haven't even noticed.
This one will probably be the fourth. It's not as complete as 2008's Black Ice, nor does any one track have the hit potential of "Rock 'n' Roll Train" (see?). But Rock or Bust flows better and is less top-heavy than 2000's Stiff Upper Lip, and there's really no discernible difference between it and 1995's Ballbreaker (which started with the one-two punch of "Hard as a Rock" and "Cover You in Oil"). Nothing really stands out here, good or bad, but then again, other than a handful of absolute classics (Back in Black and Highway to Hell, at least), AC/DC albums aren't designed to stand out.
Instead, they're designed to be just solid enough to accompany hard fucking, rocking, and drinking. Alternately, they make for great background noise at work or on your commute, because the music isn't so good that it'll distract you, but isn't so shitty that you'll want to change it. There's a comfort in the band's thoughtfully constructed thoughtlessness. AC/DC will always stick to their formula, regardless of fads or obstacles.
Think about it. After their original singer suffered an alcohol-related death, the band didn't change things up or alter their behavior; instead, they replaced him with another guy who sounded pretty much exactly like his predecessor, and just kept on fucking and rocking into oblivion. When the business models behind recorded music evolved, AC/DC gave no fucks; instead, they dug deeper into their old-fogey ways and barred their music from streaming sites, even thought that alienated legions of casual fans who consequently may not have heard a single scrap of the band's music post-Thunderstruck. Even for die-hards, checking out Rock or Bust is cumbersome without simply dropping the $9.99, although iTunes did offer a free (albeit temporary) streaming preview last week. That stodginess might cost the band a few fans (and some cash), but it also prevents them from looking like douchebags betting on failed gimmicks.
Still, the upcoming AC/DC tour may present challenges. Guitarist Malcolm Young is out with dementia. Drummer Phil Rudd is being charged with allegedly hiring a hit man for some dirty deeds. Regardless, the band will continue putting on energetic shows until Angus Young (who turns 60 next year) and Brian Johnson (67!) die or are forced into nursing homes. The holy trinity is intact.