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Velvet Revolver | Contraband | review | rock | Lollipop
by Michael McCarthy
Anyone who's ever been a fan of Stone Temple Pilots and/or Guns N' Roses seemed curious, if not entirely enthusiastic, when word broke that (now former) STP singer Scott Weiland was collaborating with former G N' R members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum. (Guitarist Dave Kushner, formerly of Electric Love Hogs, rounds out the band.) Everyone was talking about this union before Velvet Revolver had ever recorded a note. It was the hip thing to talk about. (Like how it used to be cool to speculate about when G N' R's Chinese Democracy would finally come out.)
Just when everybody seemed to be done talking, they released the song "Set Me Free" on the soundtrack to that pitiful movie, The Hulk. And, well, nobody really had much to say about it. Some people liked it, some didn't. Nobody seemed to love it, nobody seemed to hate it. This seemed to leave most feeling rather ambivalent about the possibility of an actual album by the band. Maybe people just didn't want to get their hopes up. The likelihood of these guys recording an entire album together, much less a good one, seemed pretty nil, what with all of Weiland's personal problems. Meanwhile, nobody knew if Weiland was or wasn't still with STP. Still, when early 2004 rolled around and word got out that Velvet Revolver had an album in the can, it seemed to top everybody's "dude, I've got to hear that" list. Would it sound like G N' R? Would it sound like STP? Would it sound like a whole new beast? Nobody really had a clue; they couldn't have released a song that painted less of a picture than "Set Me Free" if they'd tried. In hindsight, one has to wonder if that was the idea. Had they released a song that sounded like G N' R, they would've put off some STP fans, and vice versa. That might also explain why the second taste of Velvet Revolver came in the form of a faithful rendition of the Pink Floyd classic "Money" in the movie The Italian Job. (It's not on the soundtrack, however.)
What does Velvet Revolver sound like? Depends on the song. "Slither" has an undeniable vintage STP sound to it, even with Slash's unmistakable riffs. (Some would argue that it sounds more like something off of STP's debut, Core, than anything STP ever did on subsequent albums.) Other tracks, like "Big Machine," reek of G N' R in the best way possible. In fact, "Big Machine" starts off a helluva lot like G N' R's "You Could Be Mine" with its strong bass riff and Matt's familiar beat of the drums. Some of their songs are catchy for their pound-your-fuckin'-fist aggression. The somewhat frantic "Sucker Train Blues" is the perfect intro track, while "Headspace" is one you'll want to see live and scream along to. Others, like "Fall To Pieces" and "Illegal i Song," are catchy for Weiland's beautiful melodies. There really isn't a bad song in the bunch. On the contrary, Contraband is a fantastic ALBUM. "Set Me Free" still isn't their best effort, but this isn't a collection of singles with a bunch of filler. This is something you'll want to play from start to finish, not unlike G N' R's Appetite For Destruction or the first few STP discs.