"It's time to set this world on fire". It's a bold opening gambit, but, at this point in Slash's career, it's less a promise and more a recognition of the weight of expectation that has shrouded his post-Guns 'N' Roses projects. Fans are fed up of giving their top hatted hero a pass, he needs to prove, not only that he is still an elite guitarist, but that he's a force of nature, making vital artistic statements in the here and now.
With Velvet Revolver and the Snakepit in the rearview mirror, Slash has offered two different visions of his solo career. The first was the six string gun for hire; lending his chunky riffage to a revolving door of superstar vocalists on an eponymous album that felt more like a novelty collection than a cohesive work. The second was to turn "Slash" into a working band. His name might be on the marque, but, by settling on one set of contributers, he'd launch a conventional career. The former ensures short term excitement, but the latter path represents the potential for a long term revival.
Following Apocalyptic Love's (2012) example, Slash's latest effort sees the return of Myles Kennedy on lead vocals and the arrival of a credited backing band, The Conspirators. Whether this line up actually suceeds in setting the world on fire remains to be seen, but they certainly sound galvanised. They fly out of the gate with "World On Fire", "Shadow Life" and "Automatic Overdrive" - three tracks that thrive on shallow lyricism and fast thrills. Hedonism and danger are being served up in spades, and with genuine pace.
Slash's guitar work is not obtrusive. He shows his chops and slips in a selection of signature flourishes without upstaging his bandmates or derailing the track. "Shadow Life" is driven spiralling downwards by Slash's guitar, while "30 To Life" soars toward a satisfyingly broad-shouldered chorus. Most excitingly, without undermining his sleazy onslaught, The Conspirators appear to have bent Slash's ear towards more modern sounds, as post-hardcore and Avenged Sevenfold echoes abound.
Unfortunately, killer quickly turns to filler as World On Fire sprawls to an unnecessary 17 tracks. What starts as a blitzkrieg assault turns to a slow and systematic butchering. Faults that would have otherwise remained hidden, become unavoidable. Myles Kennedy, who gives every vocal his all, falls down lyrically. Catchy titles are ever present, but they are rarely fleshed out with anything more than bareboned cliches, with warbling in place of intrinsic emotive detail. It is perhaps unfair to compare Kennedy to Axl Rose or Slash to Guns 'N' Roses, but there is a level of restraint on display that pales in comparision to the visceral, fearsome, gutter-born, cocaine-fuelled hedonism of Appetite For Destruction and the gloriously unaware pomposity of Use Your Illusions. "Stone Blind" and "Dirty Girl" are the worst offenders, supposedly wild tracks that feel, if not apologetic and false, then distant and tame.
"Battleground" suggests there's more than rehashed highs on offer, eschewing its title the track is one of Slash's most modern productions. It bears the post-Radiohead hallmarks of modern stadium indie and the warm more postive feel of 21st century rock. Kennedy, however, cannot summon anything more interesting than a "la la la" chorus for one of the album's more daring compositions. Sadly, "Safari Inn", a brazen slab of six string virtuousity, is dulled, not through any fault of its own, but because it comes after 15 wearing tracks. What should have been a paradoxically meaty and agile triumph is rendered moot by exhaustion.
This is World On Fire's one decisive failing. There is a stunningly sharp and dexterous 10 track LP hiding in plain sight, camouflaged by half baked rehashes of ideas Kennedy and Slash have already succinctly expressed. Judicious fans will no doubt turn to iTunes to create their own perfect World On Fire playlist, but, as is, what could have been Slash's stand out solo offering has been diluted (and ultimately let down by) poor editing.
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