Review Summary: A handful of jukebox-friendly hard rock tracks is almost as good an outcome as could be expected from this group of aging rockers.
Listening to Velvet Revolver’s new album Libertad
, it’s more apparent than ever that, as a singer, Scott Weiland sounds infinitely more comfortable atop his current group’s compact, dynamic hard rock arrangements than he ever did with his one-time cohorts in Stone Temple Pilots. While the DeLeo brothers continue to make a hell of a racket with Filter’s Richard Patrick in Army Of Anyone, Weiland often appeared lost in the expanse between the brothers’ spacious, Sabbath-inspired riffs; the archetypal singer of instinct, it often felt with STP as if Scott had too much time to think. Almost without exception, the best-remembered Stone Temple Pilots tracks remain the ones which broke this mould: ‘Sex Type Thing’; ‘Crackerman’; ‘Interstate Love Song.’ Now, with three former members of Guns N’ Roses and an LA punk stalwart to back him, Weiland appears in his element, even more so here than on the cobbled-together debut Contraband
’s many flaws were immediate and apparent: as early as the second track the lack of sonic diversity was apparent, and Josh Abraham’s (Static-X, Limp Bizkit) streamlined, muddy production did little to highlight the instrumental prowess of Slash & Co. With producer Brendan O’Brien, overseer of all five Stone Temple Pilots releases, in tow both problems have been rectified- Libertad
is simultaneously more cohesive and more diverse than Contraband
; for the first time, Velvet Revolver sound like a band rather than ‘Guns N’ Roses with Scott Weiland.’ If anything, the album is too accommodating of the singer- the hard hitting instrumental section remains, arguably, the band’s greatest asset and, while Duff McKagan’s thumping bass is too often conspicuously hidden in the mix, guitarist Slash and drummer Matt Sorum appear oddly restrained, exhibiting little of the playful indulgence which made tracks like ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Slither’ so exciting.
For the most part, the compromise between the two poles yields satisfactory results. Lead single ‘She Builds Quick Machine’ is obviously tailored for radio, similar in structure and sound to Contraband
’s ‘Slither,’ boasting a sultry, lustrous middle section which culminates in a firework-display solo from the bepermed one, while anti-drug rocker ‘Pills, Demons & Etc.’ (never use a comma when an ampersand will do) recalls Jimmy Page with a wah-assisted boogie guitar riff and Bono-inspired coo-ing from the singer. Token ballad ‘The Last Fight’ has shades of The Wildhearts’ ‘Lily’s Garden’ and the Marvelous 3’s ‘This Time,’ telling the story of a soldier who leaves for the front lines on bad terms with his significant other and all the ominous conclusions it entails; unlike Contraband
’s ballads, however, ‘The Last Fight’ avoids standard rock ballad clichés, climaxing with additional layers of backing vocals rather than progressively loudening guitars a la ‘Fall To Pieces.’
presents little outside of the ordinary: both Weiland’s brother Michael and Sorum’s brother Daniel died from separate drug overdoses during the recording of the album: ‘For A Brother’ and ‘Pills, Demons & Etc.’ are dedicated to the brothers’ alternating paths with regards to the demon drug. Weiland also finds time to comment on the state of the nation, decrying modern America’s misguided sense of entitlement on the Rubber Soul
-inspired rocker ‘American Man’ and politely inviting the Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans of this world to neuter themselves for the greater good in the hilarious Rose Tattoo-meets-Johnny Rotten punk rock number ‘Spay.’ Righteous anger aside, Weiland still manages to take things down to a personal level, taking a page out of his own diary with the Stonesy ‘Mary Mary’ (his wife’s name), the empathetic bonus track ‘Messages,’ which is inspired by reports of phone calls home from the doomed United Airlines Flight 93, and the aforementioned ‘The Last Fight.’
Yet where Libertad
succeeds, it also disappoints. Weiland’s never quite regained his lyrical mojo since the troubled latter days of STP- limiting himself in recent years to the occasional irreverent classic like “went too fast, I’m outta luck and I don’t even give a fuck”
and “somebody raped my tapeworm abortion”
- and Libertad
does little to redress the balance; even well-meaning ballads like ‘The Last Fight’ and ‘Messages’ come across a little foolhardy, and “sister keeps her motor clean”
(from ‘She Builds Quick Machines’) was a terrible line when AC/DC coined it thirty years ago, and posterity has done it few favours. ‘For A Brother’ is affectionate but unrefined, boasting the sole hastily-assembled chorus of the record, while ‘Fall To Pieces’-pastiche ‘Gravedancer,’ ‘American Man’ and ELO cover ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’ pass by without leaving much of an impression, though the latter cover is delivered with a refreshing lack of irony (not to mention Slash’s best performance), symptomatic of the earnest, fun-loving spirit which permeates each of the band’s recordings.
Special mention must be made for Libertad
’s opening trio: ‘Let It Roll,’ ‘She Mine’ and ‘Get Out The Door,’ and standout old-time rocker ‘Just Sixteen.’ ‘Get Out The Door,’ composed by guitarist Dave Kushner, is the obvious choice for a third single (following the obligatory ballad), juxtaposing a fuzzy, hard rock verse with a funky, dance-floor friendly chorus. ‘Let It Roll’ is an appropriately brainless blues-rocker to open the rocker, allowing Weiland to show off his cocksure Jim Morrisson-inspired brogue, while ‘She Mine’ and ‘Just Sixteen’ juxtapose Chuck Berry-style rhythms and blues licks with sugar-laden pop chorus about bi-polar disorders and horny teachers respectively. Libertad
, regrettably, can’t sustain the quality of the above tracks over forty-five minutes- but a handful of jukebox-friendly hard rock tracks and a thoroughly replayable album is almost as good an outcome as could be expected from this group of aging rockers.