by Adam (Toronto, Canada)
Velvet Revolver - Contraband
Release Date: June 8, 2004
I remember hearing "Set Me Free" on the radio and telling a friend that it's a new band that includes the ex-members of Guns 'N Roses and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and he told me that that band would never, ever work. Ha! A few months later I heard "Slither" and instantly fell in love with the sound that Velvet Revolver created. And so I patiently awaited the debut of "Contraband" and in the mean time I got to see the greatness that is Velvet Revolver live at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia where I knew that this band had something special going on. And it's pure rock 'n roll!
Scott Weiland, Slash, Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum: It doesn't seem like a good idea to put these people in a room together, let alone a band! But it was the same exact explosive element of danger and low I.Q. scores that made both of these players' former groups - Stone Temple Pilots and Guns N' Roses - sell billions, so why stand in their way?
The music on Contraband sounds appropriately monumental, all window-quivering riffs, and ticker-tape parade choruses. "Do It For the Kids" and "Set Me Free" take direct inspiration from Nirvana, meaning they are brilliantly raw, raucous, and indecent. It's great stuff. The power-ballads like "Fall to Pieces" and "You Got No Right," however, are more heartburn than heartbreak when compared to past achievements like, oh, let's say "Sweet Child O' Mine."
Although I was a bit surprised by the album, I am very pleased with the results. As you would expect, it sounds a bit like GN'R and a bit like STP. Although it sounds more like STP than GN'R. If you are expecting 'Use Your Illusion III,' you may be disappointed because Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin were a huge part of the GN'R sound.
However, 'Contraband' isn't supposed to sound like a GN'R album, this is a new band. Producer Josh Abraham gives the album a modern twist. Unlike Slash's Snakepit, nothing on this album sounds retro. Although the album sounds modern, it's sprinkled with Slash's signature solos.
Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum provide a killer rhythm section and guitarist Dave Kushner gives the music an extra layer of thickness. Scott Weiland sounds great as always and is a perfect fit for the band.
I honestly believe these guys put everything they had into this record, and it shows. Better than any of the ex-gunners solo projects, this one really benefits from the synergy of such talented players. I think it's great they split the writing credits between all of them, because they all deserve it.
Who said there aren't many Slash solos on this record? A few songs don't have them, but Slash is all over this record. They are not as prominent as his GNR solos, but they are definitely there.
My only complaint: I wish sound engineers would stop making the final mix so damn loud! It's a recent trend, and apparently the record companies discovered that the louder the mix, the better the album sells. Too bad, because this causes the songs to sound flat and lose their depth. Just compare this CD to one that came out 10 years ago, and you'll see what I mean. The songs themselves are good, but because of the atrocious mixing job they sound bland and too compressed. It was often difficult for me to differentiate between the vocals, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar.
For example, when Slash would come in with some of his wicked lead guitar, I could barely hear it because it blended in with the rhythm guitar too much. At times it was almost like listening to a CD full of static and white noise. An adrenaline rush and a threat to anything within 2 miles of your stereo speakers!
As far as song writing goes, I'm very impressed. It's refreshing not to have to endure turn tables and DJs. Velvet Revolver is like STP on steroids with a touch of GNR thrown in for good measure. This is pure, modern, unadulterated Rock.
Overall, this is definitely the kind of record that gets better with each listen, I could tell that from listening once. The only real criticism I have read so far has been (in one form or another) "but it's not as good as Guns N Roses!"
Well people, that's because it's NOT Guns N Roses! It's Velvet Revolver, and they delivered one hell of a rock n roll record; maybe, the best of the past decade. The album is everything hard rock should be.
Don't use GNR or STP as comparison when listening to this - if you do, you may end up disappointed as a result. My advice? Open your minds to the new sound, and just let it take you in. It should take if you enjoy good rock music...
Highlights of the album:
I bought the album the day of its release, but hesitated on reviewing right away and listened to it a few times and got acquainted with the tunes, hooks, and lyrics to a few of the songs. (I would suggest downloading the album from iTunes. It's cheaper, and you won't be able to tell the difference in sound quality).
1. "Sucker Train Blues" (10/10): What a kick ass way to start the CD! I had this playing in my car with the windows down and it's just a great song all around. Fast, loud, with plenty of guitars. I was anxious to hear Scott's voice, but it works for the song perfectly. Great chorus to sing along with, too.
2. "Do It For The Kids" (9/10): A heavy arena rocker. I love the opening, no, not the lyrics, the guitar. Other than that, the lyrics are really awesome. Scott did a wonderful job. However, the song really starts to pick up around 43 seconds into it, when the chorus hits and then you're hit in the face with it. It's quite catchy and holds you for the rest of the song.
3. "Big Machine" (9/10): Thank God for the bass in this song because it goes very nice with Scott's voice. Starts off a hypnotic drum/bass combo….then the guitars really kick in for the chorus as Scott sings, "It's a big machine, it's a big machine, we're all slaves to the big machine". There's a nice little bridge too. Sleazy and fun. A standout.
4. "Illegal i Song" (8/10): Loud and fast, what more do you need? The chorus is once again very catchy, and it is an awesome song to see performed live.
5. "Spectacle" (8/10): Not really one of my favourites, but it's still a good track nevertheless. And by this point I was thinking "Wow, 5 fast tracks in a row. Let's hear it for rock!"
6. "Fall to Pieces" (10/10): I don't understand what the big deal is about this song. Yes, it's a power ballad with meaningful lyrics. This is the only song off the album that reminded me of GNR, particularly 'Sweet Child O' Mine.' It's the little guitar riff after the chorus like one that says so much more than you can put into words( much like Sweet Child intro) and then the solo-wow!
7. "Headspace" (8/10): The first 10 seconds are my favourites. The opening to this song is, in my opinion, the best on the entire CD. Good transition from the ballad though.
8. "Superhuman" (7/10): A Flaming Lips cover? Oh wait, that was "Superhumans". It starts off with a cool little electronic sounding guitar riff. The verses are bass heavy, pre-chorus has a neat vocal melody, and chorus is kind of generic. Decent, nothing special and thank you Slash for the riff in this song.
9. "Set Me Free" (10/10): My FAVOURITE song on the entire album. And to think that I'd turn it off on the radio when I'd hear it! It's the most unusual song on the album. This was on the 'Hulk' soundtrack last year. Scott's vocals are just so deep and dark, and wow. I love it. The best part of the song is, definitely, "So take me down, take me down..." and I don't know what it is, but Scott's voice just sent chills up my spine when I first heard that blasting on my stereo. Best song.
10. "You Got No Right" (9/10): For many listeners of Top40 Charts, this song is better than "Fall to Pieces" just because of the melody of Scott's lyrics and the way the song progresses and ends. I hope that this song ends up on the radio. I think it will be like Audioslave and "Like a Stone"... everyone will love it instantly!
11. "Slither" (10/10): The best fast song on this album. All parts from the bass-heavy intro to the end is just awesome. You can tell they put a lot of work in this album and this song really shines it, as first single. Also, the track shines on the radio, wonderful first choice for a single and Slash's solos are superb. Well done!
12. "Dirty Little Thing" (9/10): One part of this song reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age's "Go With the Flow," the piano part in the background. Not like it's a bad thing. This song will be loved by every radio station - what a great driving around the highways song!
13. "Loving the Alien" (9/10): Loving the Alien? Um, okay, beautiful! Primarily an acoustic ballad, this is excellent as an ending song, it keeps growing on you the more you hear it. If anyone can relate to it, I'm sure they'd have it on repeat for a while. The melodies are simply amazing and Slash gives another great guitar solo. Really good closer.
1. Sucker Train Blues
2. Do It For The Kids
3. Big Machine
4. Illegal i Song
6. Fall To Pieces
9. Set Me Free
10. You Got No Right
12. Dirty Little Thing
13. Loving The Alien
I liked this album the first time I heard it. However, after multiple listens, I enjoy it even more. Every song on the album is stellar. Velvet Revolver there is a band that takes hard rock back to its roots and brings great new innovative riffs influenced by classic bands such a the rolling stones and nirvana. The end of the grunge scene sparked the rap/metal fusion which was good at first but then you couldn't turn on rock radio without hearing a turntable or rapping. The garage rock had great potential but didn't appeal to everyone because of the incredible rise and popularity of pop and rap.
Velvet Revolver is a combination of great lyrics and stage presence identical to Axls'(thank you Scott) and a memorable guitar player and even more memorable guitar work. These boys will teach these Nu, Rap Metal, Alternative and Garage Rock bands how to play their instruments.
Velvet Revolver signals like Audioslave, the new era of the Supergroup. Here we have some of the best rock talents of the past 20 years jamming and delivering with an album of pure ferocity. The members of Velvet Revolver do not pretend to be nice about true rock and Contraband is no exception. The gritty, low sound of hard rock/heavy metal in the 80s returns with Velvet Revolver's debut album, with appreciation from those who long for that honesty of rock in today's sugar-coated popular culture. Anyone looking for something refreshing and exhilarating should make this album into a must.
Velvet Revolver has put out one of this year's most pleasant surprises. IT'S ABOUT TIME.
One of the best albums of 2004 by far!