It’s rare lightning strikes twice for anyone in the music industry, but for the two-thirds of Guns N’ Roses who left or got fired from the band back in 1996/97 because of Axl’s increasingly disagreeable nature, they somehow managed to catch another bolt to put in a bottle. After all, who’d have thought a collaboration with two of hard-rock’s biggest names and a figurehead for the 90’s grunge, alt-rock movement could have such harmonious results. The longevity of the band speaks volumes for how it was never meant to sustain itself, but there is something entrancing about this record. Of course, the way Contraband
was created answers any curiosity you’d have on why they imploded just two albums in, and why their debut functions so much better than that of the stupendously bland Libertad
: it’s because all the music was written and raring to go before Weiland signed up. Yes, it’s clear the clashing of egos was prevalent during the making of Libertad
, and why it feels so insecure on what it’s trying to accomplish, but for the debut they knew exactly what they wanted and how to obtain it.
Despite my continued frustrations for the band’s sophomore effort, – that failed to capture the same essence and strength this album had – Contraband
still holds up really well. The sleazy, haughty attitude is present from the get-go; carried over by Weiland’s trademark arrogance and cocksure performance, Slash’s blues style-meets slick riffs and the undying support from the remaining parties driving punk rhythms. It all unifies itself to deliver a sound one would expect if you sat and thought about what type of music the guys would produce together. And yet, there’s something particularly special underneath the hard-rock chassis; the fusion of Weiland, Kushner and GNR cooks up a sound with more serration, grime and hook than any GNR or STP album could hope to achieve. From the strip club swirling guitar-intro on “Sucker Train Blues,” to the excellently transitioned chorus on “Do It For The Kids,” there’s a number of stellar moments to be found here. The dirty, seductive bassline for the driving and groovy “Big Machine” sets the mood perfectly with Slash’s choked wails, but Weiland’s delivery and assertion “It’s a big machine, we’re all slaves to a big machine”
brings an infectious quality that will be left in your head well after hearing it. Couple that with the cathartic transition into the bridge and it pours the icing on the cake, making for one of the strongest numbers here.
But this is a record chock-full of melody, great harmonies, tight rhythms, fuzzy ear-pleasing solos and a punchy production that helps represent the dense energy the band are trying to convey here. The sombre introduction from Scott on “Fall to Pieces,” coated on top of the bright, luminesce of Slash’s guitar riff, brings a great dynamic to the song, with further surprise when it kicks into an energetic chorus of radio-friendly hooks and a “November Rain” level solo. The hard-rock “Headspace” with its building verse and surging pre-chorus is a setup to a well-paid chorus of busy guitar licks and several vocal approaches that range from a falsetto to a gravel, offering a trove of excellent emotions you can take away from it. Further highlights come from the sashaying groove and dank atmosphere on “Superhuman;” and well-chosen single “Slither” for its grinding bass, bouncy riffs and chorus that splits open the tight verse, transforming the song into a blistering size. While the melancholic “You Got No Right” and “Dirty Little Thing” offer a more personal welcoming into Weiland’s rocky relationship with drugs: the former presenting itself as a slow ballad, while the latter fires furious riffs in a quick-tempo fashion. Bar the B-side sounding “Spectacle” and lacklustre closer of “Loving the Alien,” this is a pretty flawless hard-rock album, and one I tend to visit more than the individual’s seminal classics. There’s an edgy danger emitted throughout 90% of Contraband
, and it’s a sound I can’t hear on a GNR or STP record, nor is it carried over onto Libertad
. If you’re a fan of Stone Temple Pilots or Guns N’ Roses and you haven’t listened to this, I urge you to check it out. It’s catered for this type of audience, but it’s also an album that stands strong on its own.
PACKAGING: Slipcase and standard jewel case.
SPECIAL EDITION: Depending on the country, the CD contained various bonus cover songs, music videos and acoustic versions for tracks off the album.