Review: Guns N’ Roses Drop Another “New” Song “Hard Skool”

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Now this is more like it…

Long time readers know of our love for Guns N Roses here at B&V. When Slash and Duff McKagan rejoined the band to go on tour a few years back we were hoping for new music. I saw them in 2016 and it seems like yesterday. It took a while but finally 2021 has seen the release of new GnR music. A few weeks ago they debuted a “new” song in concert named “Absurd.” Shortly after they played it live, the studio version was released to the public. It’s actually not a new song but a reworked Chinese Democracy outtake that was originally called “Silkworms.” Our reaction was… disappointment. It was an odd choice for their first track in 13 years. I couldn’t help but lament, this is what they came up with after being back together for five years?

I spent most my week listening to solo Lindsey Buckingham. My old college roommate, who I’ll call Walt (named changed to protect the guilty) would be proud… he was a big Buckingham fan. Walt is the only person I knew who owned Buckingham’s second solo disc, Go Insane. He played it in the room enough that I was the one who almost went insane. Lindsey recently released his latest solo, self-titled LP. Its the record that got him fired from Fleetwood Mac. I liked it but it’s too artsy for mass consumption. Lindsey plays all the instruments. The man needs to bring in some other musicians to play off of but I’m getting off topic. I wasn’t sure what, if anything I’d be writing about this weekend. This time of year, one must never underestimate new music Fridays. The rock gods smiled on us with the latest GnR track. Beautiful fall weather, football and now some “Hard Skool.”

Yesterday indeed saw the release of a second new GnR track, “Hard Skool.” Yet again this is a track who’s origins date back to yes, the Chinese Democracy days. It appears that instead of holing up during the pandemic and writing brand new material GnR are content to just rework leftover stuff from Axl’s vault. If that’s what we’re left with, I will say I’m relieved that at least “Hard Skool” is a kick ass song. While “Absurd” sounded like a bad Nine Inch Nails cover band, “Hard Skool” at least sounds like a Guns N Roses song. At their best GnR sounded dangerous, perhaps almost menacing and this track captures that alchemy. We are once again reminded that at one time, Guns N Roses were the greatest rock band on the planet.

The track opens with a great, rolling, Duff McKagan bass line. I don’t think Duff gets the credit he deserves as a bass player. He did some amazing work last year on Ozzy’s last LP, Ordinary Man. When the guitars kick in on “Hard Skool” there’s no mistaking that this greasy blues rock metal is Guns N Fuckin’ Roses, baby. While this is a Chinese Democracy outtake, it sounds like it could have been on one of the Use Your Illusions discs. It has that unhinged “Back Off Bitch” or “Right Next Door To Hell” vibe. I can not say enough about Slash’s lead guitar on this track. His solo is classic. There’s even a spacey, Led Zepplin-y bridge in the middle where everything slows down except for drums, Duff and Slash. Slash has such a distinctive tone when he plays. And let me say, kudos to Axl on the vocals. He sounds great. I don’t know if these are vocals from 13 years ago or not but he sounds like a man possessed. Nobody does pissed-off, scorned lover vocals like Axl. On this track, everybody shows up and does what they do best. It’s a great GnR track.

Here is the link to the new song, if you haven’t heard it you’ve gotta check it out:

If I have any complaint, I still wish these guys were collaborating on new music rather than just  being content with reworking Axl’s leftovers. After five years I would have expected that to have happened. Of course this could be an Axl ego thing, one never knows. He may be refusing to move forward with new stuff until he tidies up his music backlog. I hear they’re going to release an EP with the two new tracks (“Absurd,” “Hard Skool”) and several cover songs including, apparently, a version of Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets.” It kinda makes me feel like this is more of a touring exercise than full-fledged band reunion. Although for me, it can never be a real reunion without Izzy Stradlin but that’s another topic. For now we can just be happy with some new savage rock n roll…Nobody does it better than GnR.

Review: Guns N Roses First New Song In 13 Years, The Aptly Titled “Absurd”

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Leave it to Guns N’ Roses to sneak up on me…

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that I’ve taken a “vacation” from music. Mind you – it wasn’t by choice. My corporate masters called me to New York for a series of meetings that chewed up most my week. Typically my job allows me to have some music on in the background when I’m toiling away on a spreadsheet or a written report. It comes as no surprise to B&V readers that I like to listen to music while I’m writing stuff. In between Webex meetings I’ve usually got tunes on. I don’t think I’m unique in that habit. But when I’m traveling to meetings like the New York session I’m typically sitting in conference rooms surrounded by people. At night I’m usually out at dinner with colleagues making small talk (“So what do you do Hank?”) and by the time I get back to the hotel, it’s lights out. I didn’t even get to listen to any tunes on the flights I was on getting to and from New York. Flight time is thinking time… which really means nap time.

When I got back home on Thursday night, the Rock Chick had her usual plethora of things we “need” to get done. I typically have music on at all times in my personal life, but the Rock Chick kept me busy… well, her and the Olympics kept me occupied. It was the first week in a long time I hadn’t posted anything on B&V. But having spent the week in the relative silence of a rock n roll void, I didn’t even think about posting. I did see however, that G’n’R had performed a “brand new song” called “Absurd” at Fenway Park in Boston. I lived in Boston for a summer and Fenway would be an awesome venue to see Guns N’ Roses. Eventually I pulled the track up and listened to the live performance. I thought perhaps they were messing with us and this was some kind of joke. To quote the Rock Chick who I played the song for, “That’s fucking terrible.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m on record as a huge Guns N’ Roses fan. I think had Axl been able to avoid his LSD (Lead Singer Disease) and the original line-up held together these guys would rank up there with the Stones or Zeppelin. I have to admit, after Axl took over the band and was the last original member standing, then took fifteen years to record an album, they lost me a bit. And, I will admit I found Chinese Democracy to be a huge disappointment. In retrospect, if you set aside all my enormous expectations, it wasn’t a horrible LP. It just wasn’t that great dirty blues metal that I’d come to love and cherish from GnR. Axl clearly has a Nine Inch Nails fetish. They veered into an almost Industrial Rock thing.

I was very encouraged and delighted when original lead guitarist Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan returned to the fold for the “Not In This Life Time Tour.” I saw their Kansas City show at Arrowhead Stadium in 2016. Other than last year’s pandemic shutdown, they’ve been touring almost constantly ever since. For those us hard core fans out here, that was great but I think I speak for the “GnR Universe” when I say we all wanted to hear new music from these guys. Although I have to admit, I was a little leery of their creative process without founding member, rhythm guitarist and foremost Axl songwriting partner Izzy Stradlin. It’s a shame that he’s not included in this reunion, but that’s another post.

I just realized on Monday that they’d released the studio version of “Absurd” on Friday… I’m usually on top of these new music releases but hey, I was still jet lagged. New York is my kinda town. I have to say, upon hearing the studio version of “Absurd” I was stunned… by how absurdly bad it is. I try to stay positive here on B&V but when something momentous like a new GnR single happens, I have to say something. Apparently they reworked an outtake from the Chinese Democracy sessions called “Silkworms” and now it’s called “Absurd.” It was written by longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed and former keyboardist Chris Pitman. Soooo, its been 5 years since Slash and Duff came back and you just reworked a single written by the keyboard section that wasn’t good enough to make it onto Chinese Democracy? I guess I was right about the absence of Izzy Stradlin. These guys have put out one album in like 30 years and this is what they chose to lead with?

The track starts with the line, “Listen motherfuckers to a song that should be heard.” This is one motherfucker who would disagree on that whole “should be heard” premise. Axl’s vocals are sung like he’s mad at us. It sounds like he’s shouting through a megaphone. I mean, Zach De La Rocha has an impassioned delivery but at least the music – while still very powerful – has some nimble swing to it. I’ve never heard the oft bootlegged original version of this song, “Silkworms” but I understand it was more electronica than classic GnR rock. I will say that “Absurd” does have some great Slash guitar work. It’s the only thing that makes this track palatable. And Duff has a lovely little bass line on the song, the guy is a nimble player. Those guys certainly elevate the track but not enough to make it interesting. And the lyrics are some of the most misogynist I’ve heard in a while, even for GnR.

You would hope a band this important would want their first single in over a decade to be something epic, something that will burnish their legend and re engage fans. This is so far off the mark that it baffles me. I’ve been hoping for a new GnR album for 5 years… now, not so much. Let’s hope this turns out to be a minor stub of the toe and they’ve been actually working on new material – not just rewarmed Chinese Democracy rejects. They had a year off to write, didn’t they?

Sigh. Cheers!

LP Review: Slash (Feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators), ‘Living The Dream’ – Hard Rock Delight!

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Despite being one of the coolest people on the planet, it’s hard to not feel a little sorry for Slash sometimes. The man has dealt with some pretty intense LSD in his career… Lead Singer Disease (The BourbonAndVinyl Worst Cases of LSD – Lead Singer Disease). The man had to put up with the paranoid, megalomania of Axl Rose who single handed-ly squeezed Slash, Duff, Izzy and everybody else out of Guns N Roses. Then in Velvet Revolver Slash had the unreliable, drug addled Scott Weiland to contend with, may he rest in peace. That’s a lot to take on in a career. Slash is one in a long line of great guitarists who can’t sing a lick and therefore have to rely on someone else to bring the vocals. Jeff Beck had his Rod Stewart. Jimmy Page had his Robert Plant. Angus Young had Bon Scott, who he lost and then Brian Johnson who he may also have lost. Poor Angus may end up working with Axl, inheriting Slash’s problem. Guys like Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan are lucky enough to be able to sing as well as play guitar… That must be freeing.

I was very happy to see Slash get back together with Axl and Duff (although I wish they’d cut Izzy in on the reunion, money kills all cool things) and take GnR back out on the road in 2016 (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). While that was really cool, I think we all were kind of hoping for some new Guns N Roses music. Slash has hinted that they may be working on some new stuff, but so far all they’ve put out was an expanded version of Appetite For Destruction. Of course if they do record, they’ll miss Izzy’s songwriting chops, but I’m getting off topic here… In the interim we have some good news for hard rock fans, Slash has reunited with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, Todd Kerns on bass guitar, Brent Fitz on drums and now officially in the band (previously just a touring member), Frank Sidoris on rhythm guitar, for a new album, Living the Dream.

When GnR broke up, I sort of lost track of Slash. I totally missed out on the whole Slash’s Snakepit thing. They put out two LPs that I must admit I have never heard. No one has ever reached out and told me to find them, so I’m guessing I didn’t miss much, but with Slash in the band there had to be something good to hear there. I did jump on the Velvet Revolver bandwagon – Slash, Duff, Todd Sorum on drums, Scott Weiland – and I dug those guys. I think Contraband was my favorite of those two records, you can’t argue with tunes like “Sucker Train Blues” or “Slither.” I even heard a few covers those guys did, Pink Floyd’s “Money” and Aerosmith’s “No More No More,” that I liked. But alas, the wheels came off that band too. Weiland quickly decamped to reform Stone Temple Pilots before his untimely demise.

At that point, Slash decided to go solo. He released his first truly solo album in 2010, creatively titled, Slash. I’m sure the eponymous title was a declaration of independence and solo-hood. He went the Santana route and had a host of different singers he collaborated with. As you could probably guess, with that many different singers, it was a bit of a hodge-podge. I still loved that record. Ian Astbury seemed to bring out the best in Slash on the killer track, “Ghost.” There were also great tracks with Chris Cornell and Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale. Hell I even dug the song with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. Old timers like Ozzy, Lemmy and Iggy all showed up and rocked. I was amazed at the diversity of sound Slash could make with his different collaborators. Of course there were misfires – the songs with Kid Rock and Adam Levine (Maroon 5) – I could have done without. The only singer who stuck around for more than one track was former Alter Bridge front man, Myles Kennedy who did two tracks. It was Myles who actually went on tour with Slash in support of that album. It seemed, at last, Slash had found a lead singer who sang without the drama.

Somehow I missed 2012’s Apocalyptic Love, Slash and Myles’ first full album collaboration. It was my friend Stormin’ in Denver who called in 2014 and said, in his usual brief way, “Slash, World On Fire, get it now.” Of course I complied. When Stormin’ calls with rock and roll, B&V takes notice. World On Fire was an epic hard rock album. Coming in at 17 songs and over an hour and fifteen minutes, it was a lot to take in. Slash played both the rhythm and the lead guitars. Myles hammered every song home at the top of his voice. I liked that record a lot, if you dig hard rock how could you not, but I found it a bit monochromatic. It was just full out rock, all the time. “30 Years To Life” had a touch of bluesy slide guitar, but other than that these guys just stuck to the hard rock script. There wasn’t much variance. Turn it up to 11, rinse, repeat.

Flash forward to 2018 and Slash, Myles and the Conspirators are back on Living the Dream with one key, critical difference. Frank Sidoris, who played rhythm guitar on tour, has officially joined the band and was involved in the recording of this album. While I was impressed with Slash’s ability to play lead and be a Keith Richards-like Riff Meister at the same time, I think Sidoris’ presence on this album has freed Slash up a bit in terms of his playing lead. The more of the rhythm stuff Slash turned over to Sidoris, the more solo’ing he was able to focus on. And the solo’ing on this album is epic. I have to wonder if not only having a rhythm guitarist on board helped, but having been on tour with GnR reconnected Slash with that melodic solo’ing from days of yore. Slash’s lead playing on this album is as out front as anything I’ve heard him play since Velvet Revolver. The solo from “Lost Inside the Girl,” a mid-tempo, ballad thing is as searing as anything on World On Fire.

This is a really strong hard rock album. I like that it’s only 12 songs, I think trimming World On Fire in a similar way would have helped that album. I also like that there’s a variance of sounds on this record. There are a few mid-tempo songs and ballads, so it’s not pedal-to-the-metal from start to finish. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I like to catch my breath every 4 or 5 songs. Mix it up a bit, why not? I’ve never been the biggest Myles Kennedy fan, although my friend Drummer Blake says I’m wrong on that, but I have to say Myles impresses me on this album. His vocals, like the music on this record, is more varied and nuanced. The entire band seems more relaxed, less frenetic than on World On Fire. The band just sounds looser, while still rocking out.

I liked the crunchy rocking first single, “Driving Rain,” which I reviewed previously, Slash: New Single, “Driving Rain” With Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. It’s a strong track. My favorite is probably “My Antidote.” Fitz’s drumming is great on that tune. It’s atmospheric and dare I say, textured. “The Call of the Wild,” the track that opens the album is a great kickoff track. “Serve You Right” has a great, dirty riff… it jumps out at me. While Myles will never have that dirty, banshee wail of Axl, he does the song justice. “Mind Your Manners” is one of those great, play fast and meet me at the finish line tunes. There is a lot of tasty hard rock to enjoy here. “Sugar Cane” keeps things rocking as well…

“Lost Inside the Girl,” and “The One You Loved Is Gone” are the quieter moments on the album, ie, ballads. Slash’s guitar work on these tracks calls to mind that melodic work he did on Velvet Revolver’s “Fall to Pieces.” “The Great Pretender” starts off with a great little lead riff from Slash. These tracks give the album more texture than their previous work and I think it makes for a more interesting listen.

While I’m still hopeful we’ll still get some new Guns N Roses in my lifetime, Slash’s new set certainly satisfies that hard rock itch I’ve been feeling. It’s got me rocking this week… I’ve been bouncing from Living The Dream to Sabbath’s Vol 4 to Motley Crue’s Shout At the Devil and back again, all week. Hard rock is just good for the soul… it occurs to me, listening to all this hard rock, I may just be living the dream…

It’s been a dark and ugly week… rock and out and have some fun. Inject as much heavy metal into your life as you can. Cheers!

 

 

Slash: New Single, “Driving Rain” With Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators

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Is there a cooler rock star than Slash?

The top hat, long hair over his eyes, and shades are, simply put, iconic. I think the top hat/smiley face thing is an emoticon on my iPhone these days. Unfortunately for Slash, like your intrepid blogger, the man can’t sing a lick. At least it’s the Rock Chick’s opinion that I can’t sing, although I do so with great gusto every time I shower, but I’m getting off topic here. Slash falls into that group of super talented guitarists who can’t sing and have struggled with LSD – Lead Singer Disease (The BourbonAndVinyl Worst Cases of LSD – Lead Singer Disease). Slash has had Axl and Scott Weiland (RIP) to contend with, much like Eddie Van Halen with David Lee Roth, Jeff Beck with Rod Stewart or poor Jimmy Page whose been following Robert Plant around for years begging for a reunion. Record something solo Jimmy, it’s starting to get embarrassing. I always thought Slash should get together with his fellow Beverly Hills High School alumnus, Lenny Kravitz and do something because that would be ultra-cool. Lenny… Slash… together? Forget about it. It’s off the cool scale.

Slash’s lead guitar and melodic solos were a corner stone of the Guns N Roses sound. I was hoping since GnR have been on what seems to be a never ending tour, maybe they’d find some time to duck into a studio and try to recapture a little of that old magic. Apparently that ain’t gonna happen. All we get is the Appetite For Destruction box set.  There are still rumors that Axl is sneaking off to record with Angus Young in a new version of AC/DC, but I don’t know if I buy it. I think it was interesting that Axl filled in after Brian Johnson’s abrupt retirement but a full fledged album? I don’t think they should call it AC/DC if it’s just Angus and Axl. Maybe call it AC/AC.

Slash has once again reunited with vocalist Myles Kennedy, of Alter Bridge fame and recorded a new album that’s coming, like every other album this year, in September, entitled Living The Dream. Aptly titled, if you’re Slash I’d guess. It was my buddy in Denver, Stormin who turned me onto Slash’s last album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, (Todd Kerns on bass/backing vocals and Brent Fitz on drums) 2014’s World On Fire. That album was a tour de force of hard rock. It was 17 songs long. Nothing on it was an anthem like say, “November Rain,” but it was solid, hard rock and certainly an album everybody ought to check out.

Kennedy’s vocals are more, for lack of a better word, soaring than some of the other vocalists Slash has worked with. Axl always brought a grimy, nastiness to his lead vocals. He always sounded like he was on the verge of either an emotional breakdown or some fit of unspecified violence. Weiland’s vocals were more slippery and he had an almost psychedelic vibe. I’m not sure Slash and Weiland were were a perfect match but I really enjoyed the Velvet Revolver albums, especially the first one, Contraband. I certainly liked Velvet Revolver better than Slash’s Snakepit, which barely made a dent in my musical psyche. But with Myles it appears Slash has finally found a sane, powerful enough vocalist to play with.

This first track from the upcoming Living The Dream, “Driving Rain” is much a piece with the music on World On Fire, Myles and Slash’s last album. This is solid, straight ahead hard rock. Slash plays a dirty Aerosmith-y riff. Myles vocals are custom built for an arena. I will say, I played this song in my car and it’s a perfect car song, which probably goes without saying since the word “driving” is in the title… Slash’s solo is, as usual, the highlight of the track. It’s melodic and it really jumped out at me. This isn’t a song that’s going to change your life like say, “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Paradise City,” but those are probably unfair comparisons. It’s just nice to hear some guitar-driven, hard rock for a change! With Slash on guitar, you just can’t go wrong – even Michael Jackson knew that, which is why he had Slash play on “Black Or White.” “Driving Rain” certainly has me looking forward to the full album… it’s going to be a September to remember.

Cheers!