The departure of ac/dc rhythm guitarist malcolm young due to illness would not normally be that much of a story. The man who stands at the back of the stage, who never says anything, who rarely gives interviews and never has anything interesting to say when he does — hardly ever does the departure of a man like that make rock headlines. Rhythm guitarists tend to be ranked around the drummer in the hierarchy of rock’n’roll, they’re water carriers who do the unshowy jobs that let the lead player unleash flashy solos.
Yet in 41 years with ac/dc, to describe malcolm young as a bit player would strongly undersell his role. Next to his brother angus, the two are the only founding members of the band still left, and formed the core of the band’s unrelenting, high-energy sound.
Ask anyone to talk about ac/dc and you’d hear about the singer and lead guitarist — brian johnson or bon scott and angus young — or angus’ school uniforms, never-ending solos, and screeching voices full of sexual innuendo. But a core part of the ac/dc sound, despite onstage props that included inflatable women, “hells’ bells,” and live cannons, has been restraint. This was malcolm young’s job.
Malcolm was a master of doing a great deal with very little. Under his guidance the band’s music was all about producing high impact with low input.
Malcolm took the approach to his music that great riffs do not need 300 different components to make them great — what they really need is clarity. He stripped his riffs down rather than building up, and understood how to make volume work. To be sure in concert ac/dc are gut-shakingly loud, known for leaving eardrums ringing. But in studio Malcolm preferred quietness, playing with the amps turned down but with the mic extremely close.
As a result on the greatest ac/dc albums you hear not just the chords in the riffs but also the burnished, rounded texture of the sound. You can tell ac/dc immediately from this quality, even if you don’t know the song you’re hearing.
At the same time ac/dc is a monolith, something of an edifice in rock and roll. Perhaps this is one reason angus or malcolm young have never put out a solo album — to compromise the unity of the band would set the monolith crumbling. The band has survived changing out nearly all of its members in its 41 year history and it looks like it will survive this one too.
Malcolm yonug will be replaced by his nephew stevie young, who looks enough like malcolm that fans have confused the two on stage. Ac/dc confirm a new tour is being planned, it will support their new album, rock or bust, to be released on 1 december.
Rock or bust as well as the new tour will feature stevie young playing in malcolm’s role — recorded in vancouver, canada, it is the first ac/dc album without malcolm young. It will also be the first ac/dc album in six years, since black ice (2008). Black ice went straight to no. 1 on the charts around the world, and has sold about 8 million copies since its release.
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