REVIEW: Slash’s fourth solo album is his grittiest in decades

World famous Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash is an icon in his own right. But when partnered with Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators on the rhythm section, Slash is elevated even further. 

4, as its title suggests, is the fourth album by Slash ft Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators (SMKC), following their 2018 effort Living The Dream. Where their previous albums have been slick, well produced and clear cut, this album takes a far more dirty, casual and grounded approach. 

There is a distinct difference in sound between SMKC’s live performances and their studio recordings, and 4 brilliantly blends the two styles. This is an album that is not layered with overdubs, auto-tune or effects. Instead it sounds raw, unclean and just plain nasty. It is basically a live album without an audience. 

This is primarily due to the album’s recording method. It sounds like a live album because that’s exactly how it was recorded. This helps to create a pure and honest performance which perfectly captures who the band really are. 

There are some slip ups dotted throughout. Occasionally you might hear Slash miss a note in one of his solos. Sometimes he might play a riff differently at various points during a song. Where this could be considered lousy and imperfect, it actually helps create a much more intimate and personal connection with the music. 

When comparing this album to Slash’s previous work the production doesn’t seem as smooth. Where this is brutal and rough, previous albums such as 2014’s World On Fire and Living The Dream have large scale and epic qualities to them that really lend themselves to a loud rock n’ roll band.

The same could also be said of Slash’s guitar tone. Where usually his guitar is full of rich, full tones and effects, 4 has some of his nastiest and dirtiest guitar sounds to date. When he’s shredding a solo or jamming on a riff, it feels more untidy and loose opposed to well crafted and clean. 

If a loud and spontaneous rock performance is what you’re after, the production serves the album well, and the backing band complements this perfectly. Frank Sidoris (rhythm guitarist) has a dirty yet smooth sound that beautifully counteracts Slash’s performance, while Todd Kerns’ bass tone oozes with rasp and some spectacularly gritty distortion. 

The songs

By far one of the less technical albums in Slash’s discography, 4’s tracklist practically mirrors the recording style. Aside from one or two tracks, these songs have a strong ‘spur of the moment’ execution to them.

Opening track The River is Rising sets the ball rolling quickly and effectively. It is a fast paced, catchy and politically fuelled tune with some incredibly entertaining guitar licks and hypnotically catchy vocals from Kennedy. The second track, Whatever Gets You By, also sees Kennedy hit and sustain some genuinely breathtaking high notes while delivering some awe inspiring singing. Kennedy’s vocal prowess on this track brilliantly accompanies one of Slash’s most brutal riffs.

Other strong highlights are Call Off The Dogs and Spirit Love. The first track is a gritty energetic rocker with by far the harshest riff on the entire album. Spirit Love is a track with a unique Middle Eastern flair, featuring some of Kennedy’s more interesting vocal melodies. 

Overall the songwriting on 4 is fairly simple. Outside of some interesting lyrics from Kennedy, most of the tracks are not especially original, many following a similar formula in terms of structure. Tracks like The Path Less Followed and April Fool, while catchy and entertaining, don’t offer anything particularly groundbreaking. 

Some of Slash’s riffs also share this feature. Slash has composed some of the most mesmerising riffs and guitar solos in rock throughout his career. Tracks like 2014’s Wicked Stone, 2012’s Anastasia and 1991’s Coma are closer to epic musical pieces rather than typical rock songs, and that songwriting is somewhat missed on 4. However, despite not being particularly original, what saves these songs is how well executed and performed they are. A perfect example is the seventh track Fill My World

Definitely the softest song, Fill My World, from a structural standpoint, follows a fairly typical love ballad formula beat for beat. Despite this, the song still grabs you. It has a beautiful chord structure alongside an infectiously catchy chorus. Partner this with a spectacular vocal performance and powerful guitar playing, all of the structural negatives fly out of the window. It is definitely one of the most emotional tunes Slash has recorded in recent years. 

But if you’re after material similar to some of Slash’s more grandiose pieces, the closing track completely overshadows the entire album. Fall Back To Earth is without a doubt the strongest song on 4 by a long way. Unlike the previous tracks, this feels meticulously calculated to perfection. Not only is it the longest song, it is also the most technical. The verse chords alongside Kennedy’s lyrics have a strong David Bowie feel, while Slash’s solos and chorus leads are more akin to the bluesy licks of Gary Moore. Fall Back To Earth completely steals the performance. 

4 might be relatively short (43:35 minutes), but it is ram-packed with hard rock anthems and sleazy blues licks. It is an album which relies entirely on the performances of the musicians, and it delivers.

The rhythm section perfectly elevates the tracks with punchy and powerful grooves. Kennedy hits some incredibly high notes that leave the audience breathless. And Slash himself provides some of his most electric and honest guitar solos in years, especially on tracks Whatever Gets You By, The River Is Rising, Fill My World and Fall Back To Earth. 

If you are looking for a loud rock n’ roll performance filled with adrenaline, energy and attitude, 4 is certainly worth listening to.

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