There is one great track on Apocalyptic Love. It is called “Anastasia” and it arrives at the midpoint of an otherwise generic rock album from a struggling genre icon. The song opens with a classical-influenced arpeggio before launching into a riff reminiscent of a faster “You’re Crazy” from Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. It’s a a bit of a beast, and a reminder of what Slash is capable of when he stretches beyond his comfort zone. (I realize the irony of saying this after having just compared it to a song he wrote 25 years ago, but bear with me.) “Anastasia” is not radio-friendly or friendly at all, for that matter. It’s a brutal assault on the senses with a vicious guitar solo.
Not that radio-friendly is bad. Slash’s eponymous debut album was chock-full of commercial hits, and I enjoyed it for what it was. Fergie, Adam Levine, Ian Astbury and even Kid Rock all turned in surprisingly impressive tracks with the top-hatted-one. He wasn’t pushing himself, perhaps, but it was affable stuff: His attempt at a crossover pop record.
Apocalyptic Love — a harder-rawkin’, leather-studded affair — abandons the Hot 100 aspirations and sounds more like the work of an actual band with an identity, and that would only be fair to surmise given that vocalist Myles Kennedy fronts every song here with his back-up band The Conspirators.
Kennedy, once a front-runner to replace Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin back in ‘08, performed vocal duties on two or three songs from Slash’s last album – and in small doses he’s certainly OK. He’s in another band called Alter Bridge (“Creed minus Stapp,” as they’ve been referred to), and their song “Blackbird” is one of the great hard rock ballads in recent memory. But Kennedy’s vocal style often just doesn’t mesh with Slash’s playing here. His whiny, nasally pitch pervades pretty much every track, and at times it sounds like he’s struggling to keep up. He’s at his best on slower, lower-register tunes such as “Not For Me” (the record’s second-best track).
I partly blame the production. While it successfully captures some of Slash’s licks n’ noodlings better than 2007’s Libertad might have, it’s a muddled affair. In my review of lead single “You’re Not a Lie,” I wrote that it was the sound of “…Slash fulfilling the sleaze-rock stereotype that he’s branded a cultural image out of – but the truth is, this isn’t the kind of music that made people admire his talent in the first place.” I stand by my words, and unfortunately they apply to all of Love. Sure, there are some Appetite licks here and there, a straight lift of a riff from “Locomotive” (on the second single “Standing in the Sun”), the odd moment from a solo that reminds you of “Nightrain” or whatever; but they merely serve as underwhelming reminders of how good this guy is capable of being when he tries; and the overly-loud, aggressive, slick production doesn’t only cripple Kennedy: it undermines the very qualities we enjoy about Slash’s playing, too, by sort of burying and muddying his iconic presence at times.
The best Slash moments from history typically came courtesy of his subtle interplay with rhythm guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke. Producer Eric Valentine seems to have an understanding of this by attempting to bring out more of Slash’s rhythmic jamming and the interplay between the band members, but there’s still too much going on at once; it’s hectic, and not in a good, crazy rock-n’-roll kinda way. Slash has often been compared to Hendrix and Richards; now he’s just treading water. Richards released the awesome, bluesy Talk is Cheap after his frontman dicked him around; Slash seems incapable of doing so, and thus should either get back with Weiland (Axl seems an impossibility at this time) or work with a better producer (and better songwriters, for that matter) on the next record (Where’s Izzy, anyway?).
Apocalyptic Love isn’t bad. Nor is it particularly good. It just sort of…is. There’s potential here but it’s sadly unrealized.