Can we all agree that Slash, the infamously top-hatted guitar god, is the coolest dude on the planet? His awesome ostrich-nest hair helps; not wearing a shirt for 44 years is impressive, too. But what has really made Saul Hudson stand out is his incredibly uncool co-workers: Guns N' Roses' surly leprechaun, Axl Rose, and Velvet Revolver's zombie scarecrow, Scott Weiland.
As those singers unleashed diva destruction, the shy ax slinger with the serpentine style remained a mystery, hanging back, uncorking snake-bitten solo after solo. Welcome to the Jungle is 23 years old, and Slash's stuttery licks still give me chills.
But on a self-titled new solo album being released Tuesday, Slash is finally emerging from the sideman shadows and revealing himself. He co-writes and jams with a who's who of stars, including Fergie and Kid Rock, but he's calling the shots. So what kind of frontman is he? The answer is not as cool as you'd hope — unless you're a 16-year-old 7-Eleven clerk stuck in 1986.
Slash is such a majestic talent, I expected a head-snapping array of genre-mashing. Have you ever heard him do the Godfather theme? Mind-blowing. Instead, most of Slash is vaguely Dokkenesque — overly slick production, ripe lyrics, rote power chords. Hey, at this very moment I could sing along to at least 10 Ratt songs — not including Round and Round. But even the suburban dirtball in me is bored.
Opening cut Ghost, featuring Ian Astbury from the Cult, is a midtempo clunker: "Kill the ghost that hides in your soul / Rock 'n' roll." Ozzy Osbourne shows up on Crucify the Dead, a direct shot at Axl Rose: "We were like brothers with the world in our hands / You always had too much to say / Someday you'll look back and you'll wonder why / You let it all slip away." That's a decent punch, but the song ultimately plays like a lame Bark at the Moon B side.
The missed opportunities are myriad. Old pal Duff McKagan and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl jam on Watch This Dave, which never reaches the expected transcendent highs. Wolfmother's Andrew Stockdale, the one guy with bigger hair than Slash's, shows up on By the Sword, but the pseudo-mythic vamp only skirts greatness. Slash's playing on Doctor Alibi is ferocious, a Jackson Pollock painting come to life, but Motorhead's Lemmy sounds as if he's singing it from a busted wheelchair.
There are a few highlights. Fergie and Slash are sexy as all get-out, so it makes sense that the gentlemen's-club grind of Beautiful Dangerous works, especially her high-wailing Axl impression. I Hold On is more Kid Rock than Slash, but it has the gospel-tinged makings of a hit. And who would have thought that the strange-bedfellows inclusion of Maroon 5's Adam Levine would pay off? The black-and-bluesy Gotten features Slash's best solo, slowly exploding like a broken heart.
This is a chummy album: newbies paying respects, Slash nodding to his heroes. But something's off. Maybe the problem is that, for all the madness of Rose and Weiland, Slash thrived on insanity, darkness, danger. Or maybe, for a man who hides his face from the world, he's better off lurking in the shadows and simply letting the mystery be.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.