I didn't much care for Velvet Revolver's Contraband. It was poisoned by its hype and malnourished through a dominance of weak tracks. These dudes are older and, consequently, do not share in the passion of the young, deranged and ravenous. If you can understand that, then it's clear as glass that Libertad is an awesome record and looks down from the mountain at the bastard sophomore slump.
Opting out of working with an over-booked Rick Rubin, VR flexed their brains and called up Scott Weiland's old buddy Brendan O'Brien (who produced Core, Badmotorfinger, Evil Empire and scores of heavier classics).
Libertad is a true-ass record, blessed, in part, by excellent sequencing and thoughtful, melodious songs that oscillate seamlessly through emotion and feeling. The first three, "Let It Roll," "She Mine" and "Get Out The Door" are chunky, fiery throttlers flanked by the jive of the jump-off single "She Builds Quick Machines." A plea to his wife in "The Last Fight" is one of the more emotive vocals I've heard from Weiland. On "American Man" he laments on moral deterioration with "Free men / Haunted by the music / Ghosts of generation / Beat the drums of freedom / Those who toiled and suffered / Now those they try to smother." Sobriety for Weiland has clearly improved his greatness with lyricism.
Throughout the record, Slash's guitar is insular within the framework of the band. There isn't much of the Les Paul histrionics. His axe remains more a tool of coloration for the canvas of each song. It's some of his more inventive playing that I hadn't heard since the Snakepit days.
And it's Dave Kushner's (Wasted Youth), Duff Kagan's (Guns 'n' Roses) and Slash's love of the Ramones and Talking Heads that lend an abrasively stripped aesthetic to the structure of the songs on this album, without any one cut sounding much like another. "Just Sixteen" (my favorite) slices with sexuality around that timeless fable of the budding young high schooler and a Svengali.
There are few ballads, but the best, "Grave Dancer," soars beautifully and closes the album. Or so I thought. A hidden track immediately follows, and it's all the country sleaze of the Stones' best from Exile and is a truly wonderful exit.
Velvet Revolver is a real rock n' roll band with plenty of sonic capital, and they're having a helluva time spending it.