It must have looked great on paper: three musicians from one of the best hard rock bands of the last twenty years joining forces with one of the most electrifying frontmen of the past decade. The talents of former GUNS N' ROSES guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Matt Sorum could hardly be doubted, and have been more or less wasted in the years since the original GN'R fell apart. In the case of STONE TEMPLE PILOTS singer Scott Weiland, his own considerable abilities had to fight for space with his drug busts and trips to rehab, severely hindering that band's forward motion.
So how did these four (plus previously obscure guitarist Dave Kushner) come together to make such an underproduced, underwhelming debut album? "Contraband" promised to be a dangerous, exciting return to balls-out, raw rock 'n' roll, free of trends and genres and bows to mainstream sensibilities. Instead, the album only highlights the alarming possibility that this group of musicians has run out of ideas.
"Do It For The Kids" and "Headspace" sound like warmed-over STP, with Weiland's vocals (which have, sadly, diminished in power over the last few years) rehashing vocal melodies from earlier, better songs. Meanwhile, the GUNS-type songs — and yes, the album is pretty evenly divided between those tunes that sound like GUNS and those that sound like the PILOTS — feature an assembly of riffs that we've heard all too often as well. On the ballads — "Fall To Pieces" and "Loving The Alien" — Slash performs, not once, but twice, a variation on the signature lick from "Sweet Child O' Mine", as creatively bankrupt an idea as one can imagine.
Interestingly, it's two of the earliest songs conceived by the band — "Set Me Free" and first single "Slither" — that are the liveliest and catchiest, as if the band had enough juice in their first writing sessions to produce two solid songs before drying up. None of the material is helped by overrated producer Josh Abraham's flaccid work, which often buries vocals and instruments alike in a midrange mush.
The decade's other great supergroup team-up, AUDIOSLAVE, took their respective strengths and largely succeeded at making something new and original out of them. VELVET REVOLVER is the anti-AUDIOSLAVE in many ways, but chief among them is that this new combo has simply not done enough to create something wholly fresh, relying instead on their old moves and past reputations. In the end, however, it all sounds tired. I'm fairly certain that the band puts on a helluva live show, but musically speaking, VELVET REVOLVER needs a reload.