NEW RELEASE: Slash – Slash
A solo album from one the world’s great iconic guitarists, also featuring a multitude of famous-name guest appearances? What’s not to like?
However, I should start by saying that despite these obvious attractions, this is not an album that I’ve been waiting for with baited breath. Amongst Slash’s numerous projects, Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver stand out as having received serious attention. But for many of us, Slash just means Guns ‘n’ Roses. And even though I can appreciate Guns ‘n’ Roses as much as the next man, I’ve never been a devoted fan. I’ll acknowledge ‘November Rain’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ to be the classics that they are, but that’s about as far as it goes.
So I’ve no shame in admitting that it wasn’t any great admiration for Slash that drew me in, but rather the novelty of so many famous name contributors (and it is a rather impressive list). What’s definite is that this will not be an album that will be easy to ignore.
For those not overwhelmed by the album’s celebrity points, you may be pleased to hear that the release is based on real collaborative song-writing efforts, rather than being filled with token contributions. The cynical amongst you may have suspected that the guest vocalists had been invited to be a part of the project as a desperate attempt to keep things interesting, or to build up hype ahead of the album release. But this is simply not the case. Whilst Slash has (not surprisingly) written most of the guitar sections, most of the lyrics and arrangements are the work of the guest artists.
Whilst this is certainly encouraging, an initial listening reveals one very clear downside: although each of the album tracks share Slash’s distinctive guitar-sound, there are very definitive high and low points.
And the low point that really stands out is the song ‘Gotten’, which features Adam Levine of Maroon 5. Whilst it’s relatively difficult to get past the truly terrible song title (which essentially means absolutely nothing), it’s the vocals that will guarantee that you skip this track every time. It’s a mystery to me how anyone can listen to a Maroon 5 album without being driven into a murderous rage, but perhaps it’s just not my kind of thing. What I’m certain of is that Adam Levine has perfected the whiny, overly sensitive vocal performance that may appeal to twelve-year-old girls, but which has absolutely no place on anything with any rock n’ roll credibility. There may be some quality song-writing there somewhere, but I challenge anyone to have the patience to find out.
Now that the anger has partly subsided, I should really mention the highlights of the album. But there are a couple more demons to exorcise before we reach the parts of the album that actually make it worthwhile (so bare with me).
Firstly, we have ‘Beautiful Dangerous’ featuring ‘Fergie’ from ‘The Black Eyed Peas’. The immediate question is ‘why?’ If you listen to any promotional interview about the album, you’ll likely to hear Slash making a concerted effort to convince you that Fergie really is “a rock n’ roller at heart”. Well, I for one don’t believe it. ‘Beautiful Dangerous’ immediately provokes painful memories of any number of female pop stars trying to reinvent themselves as ‘rock chicks’ (Britney Spears’ version of ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ anyone?). It simply doesn’t work. And if Slash can do very little to save it, you know it probably wasn’t worth all the effort in the first place.
The final low point is the album closer ‘We’re All Gonna Die’ featuring Iggy Pop. If you’ve read either of my two previous reviews you may have spotted that I have trouble ignoring bad lyrics. In my defence, I’ve come across some pretty tragic examples. Iggy Pop’s contribution to this catalogue of lyrical catastrophes is as follows:
“We’re all gonna die, so let’s get high. We’re all gonna die, so let’s be nice.”
Really? Let’s be nice? It’s not inspiring stuff. Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but the song really does have few redeeming features, and seems a strange choice of closing track. Thank God for bonus tracks (but more about that later).
Before you despair completely, there are some very good reasons to pick up the album (and there would have to be given the songs I’ve mentioned so far). Sometimes somewhat surprising collaborations can work. And this is exactly what we have with first single ‘By the Sword’ (featuring Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother). Although not necessarily the best track on the album, it manages to successfully merge two very distinctive styles, building from a simple guitar intro to a well-composed crescendo, featuring a catchy chorus.
The radio-friendly tunes don’t stop there. Album-opener ‘Ghost’ (featuring Ian Astbury of The Cult) kicks things off with a fantastic riff, and features what is probably the best guitar solo on the album. Slash does manage to steal the show in some of the album’s less brilliant songs, but after a few listens of ‘Ghost’ you begin to appreciate how much the drums do to maintain the momentum and how well everything fits together. With original Guns ‘n’ Roses rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin also featuring, this is definitely my prediction for a second single release.
But my personal favourite has to be ‘Nothing to Say’ (featuring M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold). A slightly heavier tune, featuring a double-bass drum setup, it’s far more energetic than anything else on the album. Apparently Shadows was the one contributor not originally hand-picked by Slash to appear on the album, and was instead suggested by his record label. The thinking behind this decision might not be immediately clear, but this does seem to be one of those occasions where label-intervention was in the best interest of the music.
Anyone who might refuse to listen to Avenged Sevenfold on principle (perhaps as a result of having heard their truly awful cover of Pantera’s ‘Walk’) might have cause to reconsider. But then again, it might just be that the desperate need for some heavy metal influence on the album has led me to give M Shadows more credit than he deserves. One of the most disappointing things about the album is that Ozzy Osbourne’s contribution (the song ‘Crucify the Dead’) isn’t brilliant. The song, which Ozzy reveals is based on his understanding of how Guns ‘n’ Roses came to break up, isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. But with a new solo album out this summer, we might have be forgiven for hoping that this was an opportunity for Ozzy to give us a glimpse of his return to form. We’ll just have to keep hoping.
There is plenty more that can be said about the remaining songs, but I’ll keep it brief.
‘Back from Cali’ and ‘Starlight’ both sound a lot like Alter Bridge (which isn’t surprising given that Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy provide the vocals). Without question, this has to be a good thing. There’s a reason why Myles is the only singer to feature twice on the album, and why he will be joining Slash on tour when the project takes to the road. If you’re not familiar with Alter Bridge, check out ‘Down to my Last’, ‘Shed My Skin’, or ‘Open your Eyes’.
‘Doctor Alibi’ (featuring Lemmy from Motorhead) is pretty solid, and easily surpasses ‘Shake Your Blood’ (Lemmy’s collaboration with Dave Grohl on the latter’s ‘Probot’ album).
‘Promise’ (featuring Chris Cornell of Audioslave / Soundgarden) has some interesting moments, but doesn’t really go anywhere (so, a little bit like Audioslave really).
‘Watch This’ (featuring Dave Grohl as well as Guns ‘n’ Roses bass player Duff McKagen) does exactly what the name suggests, and will have you open-mouthed as the technical proficiency at work. Definitely one that’s difficult to forget (even if it is entirely instrumental).
‘I Hold On’ (featuring Kid Rock) doesn’t annoy me nearly as much as I thought it would, and is actually one of the better songs on the album.
‘Saint Is a Sinner Too’ features Rocco DeLuca. Nope, I’ve no idea who he is either. Whilst I can understand the thinking behind including a few ballads in the track listing, this one was a bit of a waste of space. Apart from a brief moment in the chorus, it’s easily forgettable.
There is one more that deserves special mention. Because I’ve managed to get my hands on the ‘Classic Rock Slashpack Edition’ I’ve been treated to a bonus track (and given the vast number of different formats that the album appears to be available in, chances are that you’ll end up with a different one). This really is a pity, because ‘Baby Can’t Drive’ (featuring Alice Cooper and Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls) is absolutely brilliant.
It should come as no surprise that Alice delivers his trademark vocals in the flawless manner to which we’ve become accustomed. But if you were assuming that a Pussycat Doll would be just as ineffectual as a Black Eyed Pea, then you couldn’t be further from the mark. Nicole’s inclusion is not a novelty that is carried by the talents of her counterpart. Her voice is varied enough to allow her to complement Alice’s talents, and yet powerful enough to allow her to fully command the chorus. The song is wonderfully ridiculous, and does make me start to wonder what other gems have been demoted to the status of bonus tracks.
If you’ve managed to read all of the way through this review, you may still be left with the feeling that you still have no idea whether this is an album for you. That might mean that I’ve failed completely, or it could just reflect the fact that the album contains a lot of very different songs and vocal performances (naturally I favour the latter). The inclusion of big-name contributors is always going to prove divisive (with some naturally preferring the collaborations with artists of whom they are already fans). But, in a way, the truly dreadful songs do help to make the album (even if they just help you appreciate the otherwise high standard of both composition and performance).
Clearly, the diversity of the album is a real talking point (which may explain why this review has ended up being so long). But Slash’s ability to draw everything together seamlessly, and at the same time offer no end of impressive guitar-work, goes a long way towards proving his abilities (as if any proof were needed). For this alone, the album is a great achievement, even if it’s not ground-breaking.
However, there’s one question I think will stick in the listener’s mind. And it’s quite a simple one: with all this musical talent on offer, why do I still miss Axl Rose?
I’m off to listen to November Rain one more time…
– Phil Henderson
A full track listing and list of contributors is available on Wikipedia.