S. L. Duff, Reviews Editor
Never one to concern himself with reinvention, Slash knows what he does, knows what his fans like, and wants to continue to thrive, learn, and improve within that realm. Make no mistake, that realm is straight-up, bluesy hard rock. As the twin guitar jams rip outta your stereo, the resultant, riffy, groovin', drivin' sound is familiar to anyone who has made Guns N' Roses part of their listening diet.
The album draws from a lot of sources, covering a variety of feels and nodding to numerous inspirations. In a way, it's a compact, more to-the-point Use Your Illusion -- ambitious, yes; sprawling, no. This more truncated version of the cinematic hard rock vision GnR were cultivating before they lost focus and lost each other works well for Slash. For starters, it allows him to showcase his mastery of traditional hard rock guitar. Face it, give this guy a Les Paul and a Marshall and he can make them speak a language of their own.
The new Snakepit is fronted by vocalist Rod Jackson. A few reviews of the group's opening spots on the current AC/DC tour that have knocked Jackson's gravelly tenor, citing it as overblown and out of date. This is a matter of taste. When I first heard the record, I honestly thought Slash had brought ex-Rainbow/Alkatrazz belter Graham Bonnet on board. Well, he hasn't, but Jackson is definitely cut from the same cloth, and if you like one, you'll like the other, and if you don't, well, there you go. Jackson is solid and reliable, on the record at any rate, and while the rock/blues tenor may seem utterly '70s, Slash's brand of rock is straight from the gospel of Aerosmith, so it fits, dig? Jackson also has come up with catchy, well-penned choruses, and his lyrics, while not particularly deep, are not retreads and flow well. Give the guy a chance. He might not be Axl, but what the Hell, he showed up!
As mentioned, the tunes cover a fair amount of ground within the template, so it doesn't get boring. Things kick right off with the stompin' "Been There Lately," about the drawbacks of being the host of the party house. "Ain't been there lately, there's no room!" Sounds like KNAC.COM studios. "Just Like Anything" brews up out of a conga/bongo-percolated brew into full-blown scorch - not unlike an updated "Sweet Emotion." The vibe gets downright gospel soul-shoutin' (in a Free/British-Blues/Rod Stewart-when-he-was-cool sorta way) on the gorgeous "Back to the Moment." Speaking of Rod the Mod, you can almost see another Les Paul/Marshall manipulator creating the gentle, silky slide lines: Jeff Beck. But forget all that, Slash is his own man, and while he doesn't hide his influences, he by no means leans on them, either. He is able to command center stage with as wide an electric guitar vocabulary as anyone currently bending strings.
A slight nod to post GnR rock comes in the nasty little hip hop intro to "Mean Bone." After the female rapped intro (Lil Kim, is that you?) the band gets back to business with a fairly standard heavy riff, with a pretty catchy chorus to pump your fist to. "Landslide," particularly the guitar arrangement, has a Guns feel, and Jackson gives all he has. The title track is a swingin' medium-tempo blues that grew out of a session with Iggy Pop. It has a great sway, accented by some understated but effective horn parts. This bloozy, boozy sing-along, designed to close down your favorite drinking hole, builds with some soulful backing vocals and a climbing guitar and bass line. Exiles on Vine Street!
The centerpiece of the album is an epic track called "Serial Killer." This one's pure rock psychodrama worthy of status alongside Cooper's "The Ballad of Dwight Fry" or the Gunner's own "Coma." Everyone in the group - which also includes Johnny Blackout on bass, guitarist Kerry Kelly and drummer Matt Laug - gets a significant amount of stretching room here. This track also shows Slash can shred along with most blazing six-string speed freaks, he just chooses to do it very infrequently. It's a great piece that expands the more often it's heard. The hour-long album is a very satisfying chunk of traditional hard rock music, done to perfection with no apologies. Those who have been waiting for something in this vein should be significantly blown away.