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Velvet Revolver plays it safe on their second disc Libertad. The would-be supergroup, featuring Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland and three ex-Gun & Roses members - guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum - stay away from any volatile edges their former bands skirted with and stick firmly with tried and true "middle of the riff" rockers.
The strange thing is that both of the mother bands had loads of personality and attitude, while this second marriage has practically none of either. Weiland sounds anonymous for all intent and purposes, trying to fill the rock cliches in the lyrics with misplaced machismo. And Slash, who used to be one of the most distinctive guitarists around, could be another hard rock session musician for all the individuality he adds to the songs.
However, the problem doesn't lie particularly with the performances themselves. The band actually sounds fantastic, thanks to the clear as a bell production of Brendan O'Brien and the years of experience the basic G&R band has working together.
The blame must goes to the material - the ensemble Velvet Revolver writing team simply hasn't come up with any songs that stand out.
The opener "Let It Roll" has one of the quintessential hard rock riffs that every young guitarist learns at 15, and is seductive in a bluesy Aerosmith kind of way.
But the "heard it before" element soon blunts any excitement generated by the performances. Only when the band occasionally breaks out of their self-imposed confines do they display signs of growth - the slightly more melodic songs like "The Last Fight," "American Man" and "Mary Mary" offer a semi-successful synthesis of hard rock and pop that's much more memorable than the rest of the album.
But when they get to covering the ELO hit "Can't Get It Out of My Head" - featuring one of Slash's few awe-inspiring solos - it becomes clear what's been missing on Libertad: great songs. It simply puts the rest of the album to shame. Maybe next time, Velvet Revolver should have Jeff Lynne write all their material.
For the last couple decades, every Prince album has predictably been an unpredictable grab bag - some high pitched funk, some pure pop, some wailing guitar, and not much focus, like he's going through his bag of tricks at will. Which has been incredibly frustrating, because with a little concentration, the immensely talented showman could still be making albums for the ages, rivaling his work in the '80s.
The 2000s have seen overtures to returning Prince to his once royal glory with solid efforts like Musicology and 3121, and a scorching appearance at last year's Super Bowl. And Planet Earth is another step in the right direction, with a strong collection of songs that touch on all of Prince's chameleon-like personas - from coy popster to soulful balladeer, to James Brown funkster, to rock eccentric.
The opening title song is one of his epics, almost like a mini-opera featuring several changes and a stupendous, but too-short "Purple Rain"-worthy guitar solo - the message being that Prince is once again engaged with his music.
The delightful rocking pastiche "Guitar" hints at what early U2 would have sounded like if Prince fronted them instead of Bono, and "The One U Wanna C" is one of those pop songs that only Prince could perform with any kind of credibility, until The Bangles cover it.
While the slow falsetto-heavy ballads "Somewhere Here on Earth" and "Future Baby More" sound more like Prince in his lost years, they provide a respite to the effervescence found everywhere else.
Amid the showcases and long funk workouts like "Chelsea Rodgers," an unassuming two minute sleeper in the middle of the album called "All the Midnights in the World" reveals Prince's hidden heart. The piano-based melody sounds like it could have been an outtake from an early Steely Dan album and Prince sings the lyrics without any of his usual affectations.
Prince may not enjoy the relevance he once did, but Planet Earth proves that he can still make listening to his music a relevant experience.
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