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Monday, May 30, 2011

Album Review: Duff McKagan's Loaded - Sick Reissue

Duff McKagan's Loaded - Sick Reissue
2011 Armoury Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Ah, the exuberance of living in the moment. Case in point, the critical stylings of a young, drunk Brit exiting a 2008 Duff McKagan's Loaded gig with the audacious declaration that Duff and his rumble posse out-do Iggy Pop on their cover of The Stooges' trash classic, "I Wanna Be Your Dog."

Now, there's something to be said for the euphoria of scratch-up, rowdy rock 'n roll and of course, many an incredulous thing has been said and done while under the influence. Sorry, although Slayer might gets dibs for the best Stooges cover, there's just no substitute and it's crass to say otherwise. Yet you understand why people were so caught in the moment after checking out the live DVD accompaniment to this reissue of Duff McKagan's Loaded's debut album, Sick.

While the live concert presented here is so-so overall and the intercut segments of backstage fart games and hangouts with punk legends makes for fun nyuk nyuks, it all comes dwindling straight back to the core album itself for analysis. It's a giddy thing to see Duff McKagan prove that Buddy Holly horn rimmed glasses and trenchcoats is sudden stage rock chic (actually, thank Bono and in some part Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" video for this dusty dweeb look) and certainly Loaded comes to the table ready to go. By the end of this DVD (which includes webisode segments and the promo video for Loaded's "No More"), the exuberance is shared by the band as much as its fans. While allowing themselves to be ribbed and teased and torching themselves for "sucking" onstage, the final note by reecently-departed drummer Geoff Reading serves as understated excitement Duff and the boys shared at their live performance at The Glasgow in the UK. Tour buses instead of slate gray vans help them enjoy the ride.

As Loaded returns this year with a new studio album The Taking, right on its heels is a retrospective look back at the group's 2008 release, Sick. Between the two albums, one might conclude that Duff McKagan is absorbed in fundamental grease rock and lofty Beatles melancholia reflecting his contributions to Guns n' Roses and Velvet Revolver. Frankly, when Loaded lets their pistons fly, you just know the rock gods are guffawing at the irony. Guns n' Roses is left in a singlehanded limbo courtesy of Axl Rose, who might as well be considered the Citizen Kane of the rock world. Shame, because you know input from his foundation Guns guys would make a reunion venture the rock 'n roll event of the next few years.

Yes, this statement was similarly posited by this writer in a recent review of Loaded's The Taking, but damnation, take a listen back to some of Sick's more adrenalized tracks such as "Sleaze Factory," "I See Through You" and "Forgive Me." It's Sunset brought back to its proper throbbing stature. Nostalgic, of course, but pure rock legends such as Duff McKagan not only realize the importance of the vibe to their longstanding fans, they're slave to them.

The thing with Sick, however, is you get to hear Duff McKagan lose himself in this band. As his 1993 solo album Believe in Me was largely a one-man show that was lost on many people, Velvet Revolver stoked his creative fires and restored Duff's confidence in working with a unit, lest he dwell in isolation like his one-time singing partner.

As with The Taking, not every tune on Sick is a bona fide gem, but it does flow with juice for most of the album, dwelling yet again lyrically between angry relationships, drug confessionals ("The Slide" is a particularly shivery haunt) and cures for the rock 'n roll blahs. On the front, the midtempo grind of "No Shame" rings like a smackdown against Axl--and it likely is. "Flatline" might be the poppiest and yummiest-sounding breakup song in years. This one is for strutting your way out of a bad union if there ever was one. Then there's the downright morose "Mother's Day," which is both Duff's personal apology and revelation of a fractured upbringing that ends well for nobody in the end. Talk about a haunt.

McKagan's confidence in his band, however, is what makes Sick a really enjoyable ride despite a few rough edges left for intent of rock legitimacy. Handing the vocal reins over to bassist Jeff Rouse on the sweet and sugary pop rocker "Translucent" is a cool gesture. As you see on the live DVD, Duff and Rouse switch instruments on this tune as well. Remember, Duff plays guitar in Loaded. As interchangeable a player as they come in rock, Duff McKagan lets "Translucent" roll with its hooks and background "oohs" and it's one of Sick's calling cards. A little extra thickness could've made this one a minor radio hit.

At the end of the day, Duff McKagan's Loaded is a harmonious sanction of like-minded rock ruffians who blast off when they open their thrusters yet show through two albums they have mixed results on their lesser-charged tunes. This reissue of Sick comes bogged with goodies including two bonus songs, "Roll Away" and an acoustic version of "Wasted Heart," indeed making it worth the investment if you're a fan of Duff McKagan. If your heart still lingers for the days of plastic fantastic, then of course, Sick is your beta blocker.

Rating: ***1/2

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