[10 June 2012]
PopMatters Associate Events Editor
If Apocalyptic Love proves anything, it’s that Slash will always, and without exception, fucking rock. Now, whether “rock” means absolutely slay guitar licks and write bone-crushing rock songs—or just play loud music—is up to the listener. But essentially, it will tell you that, yes, he’s done it again. When you hear Slash play guitar, you instantly know it’s him. You can practically see the top hat, long curly hair, and cigarette dangling lazily out of his mouth and floating in front of you. He shows so little enthusiasm in his face and body movement, but the overarching calm is manifested as pure furious soul in his playing. There is beauty in this fury, melody in the madness.
The album, Slash’s second as a solo artist, is, not surprisingly, exactly what you’d expect. With backing band Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, it sounds like something of a mix between early Guns ‘n’ Roses (with Appetite for Destruction-type energy) and Velvet Revolver, except perhaps with slightly less feeling. Kennedy is pretty much as close as you can get to Axl Rose, except lacking that piercing scream and low range, and The Conspirators play with the kind of energy that evokes images of smashing guitars and burning embers of stage. A lot of hard rock bands dream of emulating Guns ‘n’ Roses but fail miserably. The Conspirators, on the other hand, come damn close – just two decades late and without quite the reputation for destroying everything in their path. Thankfully though, they have Slash to corroborate their story.
The opening title track is a practical doppelganger for most of the tracks on Appetite For Destruction itself, with a head-banging guitar riff that serves as the basis for a roaring solo late in the tune, in addition to a shrieking verse/chorus. The main difference, besides the fact that it isn’t G’n’R, is that the lyrics here don’t really matter. Where Axl Rose had a tendency to write poignant, or at the least, highly offensive, lyrics – Kennedy’s are rather bland and unenticing. To an extent, that doesn’t matter here because, not only is this a different band, but most listeners will be focusing solely on Slash’s incendiary guitar playing (to steal a word from Almost Famous).
Though that remains true on most songs, the exception comes in the form of the first single, “You’re A Lie”. Not only is this tune original comparatively to the rest of the album – standing apart from both G’n’R and Velvet Revolver – but Kennedy also shows his soul with lines like “I’m fragile but I’m not a fool / I won’t hear another word from you / You won’t hurt me anymore”. Of course, his fragility is masked behind a façade of anger—both in the tune as well as on the album as a whole—but Slash’s proclivity at turning a rock song into a ballad (for at least a minute) with a singing guitar solo is apparent as ever here. That’s also true on the following track, “No More Heroes”, one of the most attractive songs on the disc (at least until the chorus kicks in).
Unfortunately, that seems to be a theme for the record. The songs are far more than listenable – they are attractive, sexy – until the choruses kick in. It’s as if they’re reaching for an energy that isn’t there. Though it’s similar, Kennedy’s voice is not as grabbing as Axl Rose’s (a comparison that is impossible to avoid given the similarity in songwriting and overall flavor, not to mention the fact that Kennedy had to serve as Rose’s replacement for G’n’R’s performance at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction—the still-bitter Rose refused to show at the last minute, though his former bandmates all seemed ready to put the past behind them and bask in the glow of the Hall.)
With each successive tune on Apocalyptic Love, the theme becomes more and more apparent. Songs don’t necessarily blend together, but there aren’t many that stand out – aside from “Anastasia”, which starts as a finger-picked classical guitar tune with some Mexican influence added, before squeezing its own balls just for the simple joy of self-induced pain. Slash is at his best on this tune, with two long solos that bring the song to a whole new level. He finger-taps blues riffs and ultimately reinvents the instrument for himself, yet again. The last two minutes reach almost “November Rain” musical highs, though it’s absolutely impossible for the song itself to ever be compared to that classic.
Despite the undeniable volume of the record, it mostly slips into the background with a few true exceptions. Let’s say it has its moments, and those moments are perplexingly awesome. But, insofar as being a lasting record, one that advances the genre (if the genre can in fact be advanced any further is cause for another discussion altogether), it falls just short. In reality, it is another sampling of ridiculous guitar riffs, and for Slash, it’s a way to keep playing at a level he can dominate. Is it a new chapter in his career? No. It’s just a continuation of previous chapters. But maybe that’s OK. I’m certainly not going to question it.