What's the point of being the greatest guitarist in a world that doesn't care about guitarists anymore? Considering Slash's Living the Dream.
Living the Dream
Slash feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators
21 September 2018
Look. Slash is my favorite guitarist. I was there when Guns N' Roses filmed their video for "Paradise City" at Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1988. My cover band plays three songs off Appetite for Destruction. For God's sake, I owned a Slash Signature Gibson Les Paul until a windblown tent unceremoniously decapitated it at an outdoor gig. I'm genetically predisposed to love Slash's new album, Living the Dream—technically, released under the unwieldy moniker "Slash feat. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators". On some level, I do. I must. The essential question is—does it rock? Reader, it does.
And yet: according to the top definitions on Urban Dictionary, "living the dream" is ironic, "usually given when someone at work asks how you are and it is quite obvious that you have a crappy job and are just as broke as the next person". What could Slash have to be sardonic about? Does he need a day job to support weekend gigs in an elementary school parking lot, where my Slash Les Paul lost its headstock? Of course, he's living the dream: we learned this month that his guitar collection—221 instruments—is collectively valued at $1.92 million. (Perspective: I made $50 at the gig that cost me that guitar.) How do we know? That's the rub: because of the documents released as part of his divorce settlement, for which he will pay $6.6 million, plus $139,000 per month in spousal and child support.
So: Is he living the dream? Slash isn't sure. "Well, you know, the album title is actually meant to be a sarcastic statement about the world we're living in at the moment," he explained in an interview with Blabbermouth. "I never wax political on records, but it was just something that came to mind—this tongue-in-cheek thing directed at social-political events across the globe."
And yet, Slash continues, "If you do take it in the literal sense, then, yeah, making records and touring and getting up on stage every day and playing music with these guys, that is the essence of living the dream." And leaving out Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page or previous generation players like Van Halen, who, aside from maybe Vernon Reid of Living Colour, even comes close to Slash as the greatest living guitarist of his era? He is living the dream! But unfortunately, the dream itself just isn't what it used to be. Last year the Washington Post chronicled "the slow, secret death of the six-string electric", observing that Gibson's $100 million debt is ultimately attributable to the decline of the guitar hero. Even the rock bubble ushered in by the Guitar Hero video games burst close to a decade ago. Being a tyrannosaurus rex surely rules, but what about being the last tyrannosaurus rex?
And so, quarantining my own fanboying, it's impossible to listen to the album and not notice the similarities between many of the riffs, arrangements, and certainly lyrics of these 12 new songs—averaging a hard and fast three and a half to four minutes, and, again, which indeed rock—and previous songs. Does "The Call of the Wild", the opening track—if anyone in the streaming age even cares about something as antiquated as an "opening track"—and which should not be confused with other songs of the same name by Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, or Saxon (or, I guess, the Jack London novel, although that's not likely), sound too much like "Rocket Queen"? Or, even if you don't hear it, there's no way to describe it without resorting to platitudes: it's an "up-tempo rocker" with a "staccato, bluesy guitar intro", "catchy, harmonized chorus", and "searing solo". If you're not already into these things, this album won't convert you.
Does "Read Between the Lines", which shares its title with at least 11 songs, sound like Extreme's "Rest in Peace", which was always an acknowledged take on Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile"? "Slow Grind" is not slow; unlike Skid Row's "Slave to the Grind", is not very grinding; and features the lyrics "Never waste my time / Cause I ain't got time to waste", echoing Van Halen's previous lyric-challenged refrain from "Right Now", "Only time will tell / If we stand the test of time." "My Antidote", like all the tracks, has what can only be called a "blistering" guitar solo, but it leans heavily on "You Could Be Mine".
The album includes the longer, moodier, mid-tempo "Lost Inside the Girl" and the acoustic-inflected "The One You Loved Is Gone", but as the songs accumulate, so do the patterns: guitar into, stripped down verse, soaring chorus, halftime bridge, raucous solo, repeat verse and/or chorus. Interview to the contrary, there is nothing remotely political on the album, just the accumulation of clichés with all-iambic song titles like "Serve You Right", "Mind Your Manners"," "Driving Rain", and "The Great Pretender". Yes, Bon Jovi made a whole career of rhyming clichés ("I'd die for you / I'd cry for you / I'd do anything / I'd lie for you / You know it's true"), but that was 1986, and he damned well meant every one of them. This raises the question: is Slash's heart really in this album? How you feel, then, about listening to all these songs in succession may mirror how you'd feel about eating pizza—good pizza!—for several days of consecutive meals.
And then there is Myles Kennedy, Slash's singer, co-songwriter, and right-hand man. If you put pictures of rock's greatest vocalists—Robert Plant, Chris Cornell, Bon Scott, and yes, Axl Rose—into that machine from the 1985 movie Weird Science, Myles Kennedy is who would emerge instead of Kelly LeBrock. It's why it was easy for Kennedy to replace vocalist Scott Stapp so the remaining members of Creed could form Alter Bridge; it's what compelled Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham to collaborate with him in the Robert Plant role temporarily; it's what lets him continue to perform Guns N' Roses songs with Slash on tour. If you remember the 2001 movie Rockstar, Myles Kennedy concluded the film as the replacement's replacement: the singer who replaces Mark Wahlberg, who previously replaced the first singer in the fictitious rock band based on Judas Priest.
Kennedy can indeed wail, but he's a gleaming simulacrum. And this plasticity makes him too smooth against Slash's authentic grit. As opposed to Axl Rose's outsized, belligerent paranoia or the passionate unpredictability of the late Scott Weiland, who sang with Slash after Guns N' Roses in Velvet Revolver, Kennedy comes across as a sweet, healthy guy, surely great for sharing a tour bus but more like call of the mild on the record. Cheese pizza.
For the record: Living the Dream rocks! But, I fear, aside from me and some other middle-aged guys, who is it for? Tied into the album, Slash announced yet another guitar, the Brazilian Dream Slash Signature Model, the "guitar of Slash's dreams". It's hot and gorgeous and indeed dreamy and retails for a cool $13,000.
Whether Slash is treating the phrase sarcastically or not, in 2018 Slash's dream is simply not for everyone. But, man, does he play the hell out of that guitar.