Released: 2004, RCA Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Since Axl Rose is taking his sweet time getting CHINESE DEMOCRACY out, he missed the chance to show up his former bandmates who joined forces with ex-Stone Temple Pilots frontman, Scott Weiland, to form Velvet Revolver. Their first effort, entitled CONTRABAND, is, not surprisingly, a blend of the pop sounds of STP and the harder rock of Guns ‘n Roses. While CONTRABAND isn’t trying to be the successor of USE YOUR ILLUSION or CORE, it is a damn good hard rock record and as long as Weiland is able to keep his own demons under control, Velvet Revolver should have a long and fruitful career. The CD is full of hooks, melodies and hard rock groove and many of the tracks have crossover potential to radio behind Weiland’s unique voice. The constant references to drugs and use of the word “fuck” in what seems like EVERY song will certainly limit additions to the top 40 playlists, but there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Weiland’s cryptic lyrics (“Somebody raped my tapeworm abortion” HUH?!?!) can leave you scratching your head but the way the songs are constructed make up for it. Slash’s riffs and solos are clearly the focus on many songs, but Duff McKagan’s bass is out in full force, as well. Second guitarist Dave Kushner gets swallowed up by the magnificence of Slash but Matt Sorum’s drums seem to have taken on a heavier tone than anything he did in the past.
“Sucker Train Blues” gets things rolling with a healthy dose of raunch ‘n roll and shows that despite all of Weiland’s unfortunate lapses, he still has a killer voice. Slash’s tight riffing and squealing solo will have you hitting repeat over and over again. “Do It For the Kids” features some Beatle-esque harmonies in the chorus and Slash’s rocking solo is the centerpiece to another excellent track. The opening of “Big Machine” sounds just like Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony” but McKagan’s bass is positively thunderous. “Illegal I Song” has a fuzzed-out vocal sound but the choruses make up for any shortcomings. Slash shines on “Spectacle” and later on “Dirty Little Thing,” two of the heaviest tracks, with some ferocious riffs and a searing solo. Things slow down on the amazing “Fall to Pieces” as everything that makes Weiland a great vocalist are on full display. Slash’s guitars easily make this Velvet Revolver’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” “Set Me Free” has all the elements of a good heavy rock song with its accessible melodies, groovy bass line and memorable choruses. More Beatles influences turn up on “You Got No Right,” a beautiful, moody ballad with Weiland’s softer side coming out. “Slither,” the first track released by the band in last year’s HULK film, smacks of the radio-friendly knack that this band has. Slash’s riff meanders through the song and Sorum’s pumping drum beats create a head-bobbing aura. “Loving the Alien” ends the brilliance with a simple picked riff and a soothing vocal from Weiland. The pairing of that riff with Weiland’s work in the chorus is spellbinding. The perfect ending to a near-perfect album.
The truth of the matter is, I really wanted to like CONTRABAND because I was (and still am) a huge fan of both Guns ‘n Roses as well as Stone Temple Pilots. The problem was I had set the bar so high that I was afraid I would be disappointed no matter how good it was. Luckily, that didn’t happen and I can honestly say that CONTRABAND is everything I expected and then some. Supergroups usually suck and Velvet Revolver has avoided that, delivering a killer rock record and shut the mouths of all their detractors. Debuting at #1 the week of release and selling 250,000 copies shows that many others are in agreement. Now if Axl could just get it together…
KILLER KUTS: “Sucker Train Blues,” “Do It For the Kids,” “Illegal I Song,” “Fall to Pieces,” “Set Me Free,” “You Got No Right,” “Slither,” “Dirty Little Thing”