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Velvet Landmines


Velvet Revolver: Contraband

RCA, 2004

Rating: 3.5



Posted: June 16, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

On paper, the union of Scott Weiland (Stone Temple Pilots) and Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum from Guns N' Roses seems promising enough: Take three members of the 1980s' most energizing hard rock band, add one elegantly wasted front man from a second-tier "grunge"-era hitmaker, and voila! Instant supergroup. Never mind that the workmanlike Sorum came to Guns N' Roses from the Cult only after the ejection of firebrand Steven Adler, or that Slash never really recaptured his slash-and-burn peak without Izzy Stradlin to play off of. Never mind that Weiland is a so-so singer given to nagging glam-rock affectations. Never mind any of that: Despite the fact that half its individual members are beneficiaries of iconic stature out of proportion to their talents or accomplishments (Slash and perhaps McKagan being the exceptions), on paper the Velvet Revolver equation gives hope that the sum will outstrip its parts.

Contraband, the debut result of said pairing, never does transmute its elements into something new and exciting. Mostly, it sounds like no more and a little less than one might expect (or hope for) from such a union: Scott Weiland singing over some relatively crunchy Slash guitar templates. As with, say, velvet and a revolver, Weiland's synthetic stylings don't quite fit the rest of the band's game excursions, much the same way that they didn't seem to fit the brawnier moments of assorted STP albums. But that's not really a problem, because Slash, second guitarist Dave Kushner and the others don't unleash the incendiary, boundary-busting rock one might expect. There are no breakout solos, no wild hairpin turns into bold new directions mid-song.

Instead, the band turns in an album that will undoubtedly play well on MTV and Modern Rock radio. But, as was the case with the similar supergroup Audioslave, the album never achieves the spark the collaboration promises. The sinewy single "Slither" comes closest, thanks to a confident guitar riff and a remarkably non-mannered vocal from Weiland. But at best, numbers like "Sucker Train Blues," "Set Me Free" and the earnest ballads "Fall to Pieces" and "Loving the Alien" favorably recall Stone Temple Pilots, which is (no offense to STP's brothers DeLeo) a waste of Slash's guitar-god talents. (It's a bit like hiring, say, K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest to play Eagles tunes.) Slash and company never get Weiland to ascend to the heights they're capable of; instead, they stoop down to his largely ordinary level.

Contraband does manage some moments of real hard-rock grit, particularly the aforementioned "Slither," "Spectacle," the kinetic "Headspace" (which packs a fairly passable G'n'R wallop) and the slower, assured "Superhuman." These make up for the moments when Velvet Revolver tries too hard to swagger into its mythic shadow (the ridiculous police siren intro to "Sucker Train Blues," or the line "I went too fast I'm out of luck and I don't even give a fuck" from the patronizingly titled "Do It For the Kids") or simply commits a calculated arena-rock misstep (or the drum-powered singalong break in "Big Machine").

So no, Contraband isn't the rock masterpiece that patient fans of Appetite for Destruction might have been hoping for -- but then this kind of collaboration rarely produces such a result. Neither, however, is the album the clunker it might have been, given Weiland's struggles with substance abuse and most of the principal members' reputations for rock excess. Instead, it's just another reminder that as rock supergroups go, the whole often measures up to a little bit less than the sum of its parts.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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