Every year at this time I make a resolution for the new year, and every year it’s the same: to learn to play guitar with some sort of proficiency. I can’t say for sure how many years of my life I have done this, but I’m pretty sure the start of this tradition coincided with the first time I heard Slash play.
You may safely assume that my discovery of Slash is not even remotely recent, and you may feel free, also, to judge harshly my almost total inability to play an F chord. I can take it.
It’s true, my commitment to learning guitar has waxed and waned in the ensuing years. Alas, I earned my credentials and proficiency as a musician over more than twelve years as the geekiest of orchestra geeks. Still, my enthusiasm for the kind of guitar solos that twist around your whole body and squeeze — and the guys who play them — has endured, and Slash continues to inspire me to want to learn how it’s done. Maybe this will be the year.
For the combination of technical mastery and general badassery, it doesn’t get better than Slash, and he’s at the peak of both on Apocalyptic Love, his 2012 release with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. There’s a hint of funk on the title track, and balls-out rock on “One Last Thrill.” He even goes a little orchestral on “Anastasia.” Slash can do the big guitar sound, of course, but he does more than just play. He makes a guitar sing.
The guitar is the driving force on Apocalyptic Love, but Kennedy and the Conspirators — that’s Todd Kerns on bass and Brent Fitz on drums — complete a lineup of some of the finest musicians to come together in recent years. Although my love of the guitar sound is eternal, a great bass line provides the dark underlayer that makes rock ‘n’ roll happen. Kerns’ style provides that foundation, yes, but he also establishes himself as a force in his own right.
I confess, however, that it took a little time for Kennedy’s vocals to grow on me. His voice is technically flawless and has a range that might kill a lesser man, but he spends more time in the upper registers than is my personal preference. (I had a similar experience on my first listenings to a singer Slash worked with much earlier in his career, but I came around on that guy as well.) Then, in the fourth track, “You’re a Lie,” it clicked. Kennedy growls through the verses and howls through the chorus, showing the fullness of his range with such visceral expression that I could only say, “Yes. More, please.”
Also, how much do I want the cover art as a tattoo?
1) Apocalyptic Love
Riffs that make me want to be in a police chase in an action movie from the ’70s.
2) One Last Thrill
Vocals and guitar here are good, but Fitz’s drumming is the real standout for me on this track.
3) Standing in the Sun
I take it back. Kerns’ bass line is what I want in my police chase scene.
4) You’re a Lie
I don’t know what it says about me that I seem to like the angry songs on every album. And how much more satisfying is it to call someone not just a liar, but a lie?
5) No More Heroes
You know what I said about how Slash makes the guitar sing? Here’s where that happens.
It also happens here.
7) We Will Roam
As much as I love the vocal on “You’re a Lie,” this is my favorite performance from Kennedy on the album. It doesn’t sound like the most technically difficult, but it’s satisfyingly expressive.
Note the classical guitar influence on the opening notes, with a Spanish flavor, followed by something that sounds suspiciously like Bach (and my time as an orchestra geek finally pays off).
9) Not for Me
Excuse me. I seem to have something in my eye….
10) Bad Rain
Love the chorus — this should definitely appear in the action movie somewhere. Maybe when the main character comes to the bar seeking vengeance.
11) Hard & Fast
The title really says everything you need to know.
12) Far and Away
Something in my eye again…. Must be these damn contacts. Yeah. That’s got to be it.
13) Shots Fired
Strong, rocking finish. Two things occur to me. First, I’m seeing a lot of albums that use the shooting metaphor. Second, the chorus includes the line “Still, I live to die another day,” which makes me think this would have been a better addition to that James Bond movie from a few years ago than the theme song Madonna recorded. Why don’t James Bond movie soundtracks include more metal?