The Guns ‘N’ Roses joke stopped being funny, ooh, around 1995 when it became clear that an album of new material was about as likely as a Chinese Democracy (arf, arf).
So, while Axl continues to Use His Illusion of grandeur to produce diddly-squat in the recorded stakes, his previous cohorts, Slash and Duff McKagan have cast aside their Snakepit and Neurotic Outsiders and formed a proper new band (or should that be “supergroup”?) with one-time G ‘N’ R drummer Matt Sorum, Electric Love Hogs guitarist Dave Kushner, and Stone Temple Pilots‘ former walking drugstore, Scott Weiland.
The result? “The best f**kin’ record I’ve ever made,” according to Slash, and you know what – the coiled-haired one might just be right. Okay, there’s no Sweet Child O’Mine here (like that’s possible), but this hour-long statement of intent is the album the Gunners should have made after Appetite For Destruction, and maybe could have done if Axl’s sanity hadn’t got lost up his kilt.
But that’s enough about him, and don’t get the idea that Contraband is some late ’80s hair metal, let’s do the timewarp again, rock-y horror show, either. No, Contraband is the sound of some of hard rock’s leading lights returning fresh, invigorated, revitalised and taking care of business.
This much is evident from the moment Sucker Train Blues comes roaring out of the speakers after only being briefly muzzled by an effects-laden intro. Sorum’s drums pound, Duff’s bass throbs, Kushner’s rhythm guitar rocks, Weiland’s vocals are stronger than they’ve ever been and Slash… Well, Slash is Slash – it’s good to have you back, dude.
And it keeps on coming, with not a glimpse of a weak link in the remaining 12 tracks. There are riffs a-plenty, punkish attitude in abundance and choruses that could level a small building. The new single is Slither but to be honest they could’ve picked nearly anything from here, such is the cocky, adrenalised swagger of the likes of Illegal i Song and Headspace.
Of course, these chaps are past masters at taking things down too, but the good news is that the couple of less in-yer-face numbers here are glorious pieces of anthemic rock, which will have you singing along quicker than it takes to confuse Nickelback‘s Chad Kroeger with a poodle.
Album closer Loving The Alien is a case in point, where the laid-back, semi-acoustic groove gives way to some cool pockets of electric guitar from Slash in the chorus, while Weiland’s effortlessly gliding vocals carry a winner of a tune.
Fittingly, Slash has the last word with his guitar motif fading out at the end. Remember kids, this is the chap who, when asked on children’s saturday morning TV what the strangest rumour about himself was, managed to innocently mention “blow” and “job”, and so cause a torrent of complaints.
What the heck was he doing on Ant & Dec anyway? Thankfully, the exile is over because Contraband should see Slash, Duff, Weiland, Sorum and Kushner restored to their rightful place on big stages, manic moshpits and, if you know what’s good for you, in CD collections up and down the land. This Velvet Revolver is well and truly smokin’.