Rick Rubin couldn't change them. Replacing one of the greatest frontmen in rock history couldn't change them. And now that they've lost the guy who co-wrote every one of their original songs, did you expect AC/DC to change at all?
If you're enough of a fan to sit through more than one paragraph of an AC/DC review, you already know that the answer is no. AC/DC is like your favorite beer, and you always go back to it because you know exactly what you're going to get. People love to complain that all their songs sound alike, and that they never take any artistic risks (maybe those fans should listen to Metallica--you love it when they take risks, don't you?), but they can't forget that AC/DC thrives entirely on the power of their songs. There's no public squabbling, reality TV appearances, trend-hopping or celebrity guest spots, just another album of great songs that sound like all the other ones.
How do they do it? People have been replicating AC/DC's sound for almost as long as it's existed, but none of the Silvertides, Jets or Buckcherrys have been able to make it stick the way AC/DC do. AC/DC's biggest risk is that they're constantly imitating one of the most accomplished careers in music history, not to mention one of most imitated and easiest to imitate, and somehow making it sound fresh in their fifth decade as a band. Months away from Angus Young's 60th birthday, they're still doing it better than anyone else.
So how does it stack up against the previous sixteen records? If it's your first AC/DC album, you're going to want to pick up all the others (Hearing your first AC/DC album is kind of like seeing your first James Bond movie--"There's 20 more of these??"). If you've got all the rest, you've already memorized "Play Ball" and "Rock or Bust" for the world tour screamalongs, and might be hoping they'll play "Sweet Candy." If you haven't bought an AC/DC record since The Razor's Edge, or For Those About to Rock We Salute You you probably won't need to hear this one, but you'll be happily surprised if you do.
And yes, it's the first AC/DC album without Malcolm Young, the incomparable founder, songwriter and rhythm guitarist, who retired earlier this year to receive treatment for dementia. His influence, and reportedly his previously unused riffs, are still all over the band's songs, and replacement nephew Steve imitates his uncle's tones like a champ. Malcolm's retirement has convinced some fans that the band should quit, but on Rock or Bust it's clear that AC/DC is the implacable force we all knew they were. A lot of bands run until the wheels fall off, but thank Satan, AC/DC is going to rock and roll until the whole car explodes.