When Slash put out his first solo album – It’s Five O’clock Somewhere, under the name Slash’s Snakepit, in 1995 – he encouraged fans to ask, “What if?” about the music – “What if this were a Guns N’ Roses song?” “If I write something, my first and foremost priority would be to dedicate it to Guns,” he told Rolling Stone at the time. “Axl said, ‘That’s not the kind of music I want to do.’ I said, ‘OK,’ and I took it all back.” Now, after nearly 25 years of public tumult, the guitarist has improbably re-joined Guns N’ Roses and perhaps even more improbably, the first music that he’s releasing since the reunion is a solo record.
Although he and his bandmates in Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators were working on Living the Dream before Slash went back to GN’R, it’s still hard not to wonder, “What if?” – “What if he had presented these songs and worked on them with Axl Rose and Duff McKagan?” That’s because, in some ways, Living the Dream is a character study in Slash the guitarist. The music all bears his fingerprints – a biting blues filigree at the end of a riff, weeping solos full of long notes, boogie-woogie riffs.
Every color on his mood board is represented on the record. The solo on the ballad “The One You Loved Is Gone” sounds like classic Slash with its slow-climbing blues phrasing, “The Great Pretender” shows how he can play the instrument lyrically and, on the lead for “Boulevard of Broken Hearts” – a song with a certain “Welcome to the Jungle” vibe – he channels all the drama of GN’R at their peak. It’s why he’s one of the few guitarists could have a solo career where he doesn’t sing but still has a “band” per se, and enjoys the same success as a solo vocalist.
Still, something seems missing. Kennedy and the Conspirators have made three previous records with him, so it feels like a band, but there’s something about it that lacks the bite of the music he’s made with GN’R. A lot of it has to do with the lyrics. On “Sugar Cane,” Kennedy sings, “My baby’s sweet as sugarcane.” On “Lost Inside the Girl,” he sings “Love reveals, she’s a diamond, she’s a pearl.” On “Mind Your Manners,” you can already guess that he wants you to mind your manners. They’re simple platitudes that never rise to the level of Slash’s playing. It makes it seem like they’re minding their manners a little too much.
The songs are mostly shit-kicking hard rockers in the vein of GN’R’s glory days, and tracks like “Serve You Right,” “Mind Your Manners” and “Slow Grind” each sound like they could sit nicely on a follow-up to Chinese Democracy. But needless to say, even at their most insipid lyrically, they’re still better than most of what’s on hard-rock radio today. So it’s easy still to wonder, “What if?” What comes next?ko