Monday, 2 May 2011

DUFF McKAGAN'S LOADED - The Taking

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The previous album by Duff McKagan’s Loaded, 2009’s ‘Sick’, was a partly enjoyable romp through a selection of trashy hard rock numbers. However, it was one of those albums which could be easily forgotten once the tunes ended. It was very much a case of enjoyable, yet ultimately, inessential listening. Duff McKagan never pretended to release thought-provoking music, but even so, a little more groove and a couple of heavier riffs might not have gone amiss. 2011’s offering, ‘The Taking’ - proposed to be the soundtrack for a ‘Slade In Flame’ and ‘Hard Day’s Night’ style film featuring the band - certainly has a much darker edge on a few numbers.

The darker approach can be heard on the opening track, ‘Lords of Abbadon’. Mike Squires delivers a grinding guitar riff, which in part, resembles some of Jon Hudson’s work on Faith No More’s swansong ‘Album of the Year’ (particularly ‘Naked In Front of The Computer’). This is joined by a solid drum part from Isaac Carpenter. Duff’s vocals are of their usual raggedy style, but are rounded out by some decent backing on a more upbeat chorus, which is incidentally one of the album’s best (for that, read one of only a few memorable ones). There are a few twin guitar moments thrown into the mix which work well and Squires’s featured solo is also great, making full use of effects pedals. The slightly threatening vibe carries through to the following number, ‘Executioner’s Song’ which crashes in with a suitably weighty riff. It has a slow pace resembling many stoner rock grooves, though without the fuzzy bottom end. Over the almost monolithic chug, McKagan stretches his vocal to his limit. The band are in great form, with Carpenter’s drum sound, once again, being particularly pleasing. ‘Your Name’ is the greatest of the harder numbers, with Mike Squires’s down-tuned riffs creating a suitably menacing atmosphere during the opening. McKagan’s vocal is sneering, which combined with the riffs would have made a decent track, but Loaded up the ante for a mid section, where Jeff Rouse plays a few great bass fills and Squires offers a fantastic old school melodic metal guitar solo.

For the rest of the album, Loaded revert to the kind of trashy hard rock which they’ve delivered previously. ‘Dead Skin’ is an upbeat hard rock number which shifts the focus away big riffs and delivers a great, upbeat vocal performance from McKagan. McKagan’s rhythm guitars are far more evident throughout, with Squires taking a step back. Similarly, ‘Indian Summer’ finds a space neatly in the hard rock pigeon hole, with slightly distorted rhythm guitars against a punchy, yet simple drum pattern. Some solid backing vocals flesh out a chorus which, after a few spins, proves to be a definite highlight. ‘King of The World’ features some solid bass work, a meaty hard rock riff and another decent-ish chorus. It’s not quite in the same league as ‘Indian Summer’, but a good performance nevertheless.

‘Cocaine’ shifts sideways from trashy hard rock, bringing in a slightly bluesy element via Squires’s vibrato filled lead work. On this kind of swaggering material, McKagan’s sometimes limited vocal style sounds far more at ease. For those who wish the blues tint had been played up a little more, the album closes with an acoustic reworking. On the acoustic version of ‘Cocaine’, Loaded fully embrace a bar room blues groove, with Squires’s lead work adding a few nice lines (no pun intended).

‘Wrecking Ball’ sounds, at first, like it may bring the listener something as good as ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘King of The World’, but aside from a good bass line and another of McKagan’s better vocals, it falls a bit flat. A better chorus certainly would have helped. Although it’s not great, it’s miles better than ‘Follow Me To Hell’, which marries a dirgy riff with a really bad vocal. It makes the sleazy moments of Loaded’s previous album sound like polished, meaningful rock music. The ugly riff could have scraped by (even if it couldn’t quite muster an enjoyable quality), but there’s something about McKagan’s vocal which pushes the ugliness a little too far.

If it’s riffs you’re after, parts of ‘The Taking’ present Duff and co at the top of their game. Riffs aren’t always enough to get by though, and there are times when Loaded could really benefit from better hooks. Like Loaded’s previous works, ‘The Taking’ is not always a consistent album, but the good parts certainly outnumber the bad...and even with their faults, this is a band which still manages to sound more vibrant and enjoyable than Velvet Revolver.


April 2011

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