Slash is pretty much what you’d expect from an album called Slash. While the other major figure from Guns N’ Roses chose to estrange himself from pop culture and spend over a decade trying to find himself, Slash has never really been afraid of embracing his rock n’ roll image — which, over the years, has been branded into more of a trademark than anything else.
This certainly isn’t to take anything away from the man’s playing. It’s just to say he isn’t as much the tortured artist as he is the fun-loving junkie who got high because he liked it. “Give the ghost that hides in your soul rock n’ roll,” intones The Cult’s Ian Astbury on the opening track of the axeman’s self-titled album. And that’s basically the chorus of the song. For the remainder of the record, it doesn’t really get much deeper than that.
Astbury sounds weathered and worn and certainly knows the vices of rock n’ roll all too well – one of the reasons he’d have been a suitable immediate replacement for Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver – but most of Slash’s best moments come as complete (and giddy) delights: Fergie makes the successful transition from annoying auto-tuning pop tart toward full-on rock duchess. Her collaborative track with the Top-Hatted One, “Beautiful Dangerous,” is silly but impossibly infectious – expect to hear this one all over the radio.
The album’s peak might be the resurrection of Chris Cornell, grunge’s fallen rock god (thanks, Timbaland), who seems to have finally embraced the laidback, soulful vibe he teased us with a decade ago on Euphoria Morning. His “Promise,” a song ostensibly written from the perspective of a father to his child, has a great chorus and a wonderful performance by the singer that makes one wonder what a collaboration between these two men in their prime might have sounded like.
Besides channeling the best from Fergie, Cornell, Kid Rock and Adam Levine (!), Slash also had the wisdom to pay attention to Jimmy Page and enlist former Plant-replacement runner-up Myles Kennedy (the only dude to snatch two spots on the record), a highly talented singer who had the misfortune of being tied to one of those shitty post-rock bands (Alter Bridge: Nickelback, but with a good singer). “Back to Cali” has the kind of gritty, simplistic blues-riff that Slash built his legacy on, and “Starlight” is appropriately anthemic.
Andrew Stockdale does his best Zeppelin imitation with “By the Sword,” one of the better hard-rockers featured here, and Lemmy Kilmister reminds us with “Doctor Alibi” what chugging whiskey and smoking cigarettes for a few decades will do to your voice – namely, make it sound freakin’ awesome.
For the most part, however, the other rock titans fare less well. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crucify the Dead” – which the singer wrote as his own take on the breakup of Guns N’ Roses – features a pretty cool solo and decent lyrics, but frankly, Osbourne’s voice is short of self-parody at this point. He mumbles and slurs his way through a song that just never really comes together. Likewise, Iggy Pop really phones it in with “We’re All Gonna Die,” which doesn’t sound unlike anything found on The Stooges’ last abortion of a record. “We’re all gonna die / so let’s get high!” he suggests repeatedly. Then: “We’re all gonna die / So let’s be nice.” Huh?
No one will approach Slash with the lofty expectations that Axl and Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy was saddled with. Nor will people be as eager to hear new material from someone so omnipresent in popular culture. But this album will satisfy people looking for a quick fix – some (mostly) good tunes with (mostly) catchy hooks and a fun vibe. Unexpectedly solid production and the surprising strengths of its typically less reliable guest stars are only bonuses. Anyone expecting something more substantial should take a pass.
Note: Various regional releases of the album contain bonus tracks. One of them, “Mother Maria” (featuring Beth Hart), was originally recorded as part of a Haiti benefit album. It’s better than most of the songs on display here, and definitely worth seeking out.