Maybe Axl Rose has the right idea.
If you're an early-'90s rock star, perhaps it's best to tell the world that you're working on a staggeringly anticipated comeback album and then lock yourself in a broom closet until everybody forgets you exist.
On the other hand, if you're guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum -- three other castaways from Guns N' Roses -- maybe you keep rocking in obscurity for the next decade or so, wishing that someone cared. (Remember Slash's Snake Emporium or whatever it was called? Didn't think so.) Eventually, this trio of glam-rock relics was bound to let ego take over:
How about reforming as a supergroup deviously called Velvet Revolver? The similar, leather-and-lace moniker should subliminally attract Guns N' Roses fans.
And why not attract paparazzi by hiring a washed-up vocalist with even more problems than Rose? Hey, what about heroin enthusiast Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots infamy? Is he out of jail yet?
Apparently so. And with a resume like this, Velvet Revolver's debut CD, "Contraband," begs to be mocked: Seriously, like, welcome to the bungle, dudes.
Dismissing out of hand this motley crew of headbanger has-beens, though, is so much easier without a listen to the songs. Because the music on "Contraband" -- sigh -- flat-out rocks.
Among '90s refugees, Velvet Revolver's debut is better than Courtney Love's recent underappreciated solo effort. And it blows away the snoozefest from the mysteriously successful supergroup Audioslave.
Delusional as ever, the members of Velvet Revolver sound tipsy, oblivious and ready to lead a rock-star revolution. Maybe it's second guitarist Dave Kushner, the guy nobody mentions, but whatever the case, "Contraband" twitches and jerks with the hopeful energy of a rock-and-roll newborn.
The brooding, ominous intro to the album opener "Sucker Train Blues" is the offspring of GNR's "It's So Easy," launching this steam engine urgently.
Slash and McKagan have retained GNR's raunchy, party-hearty "Appetite for Destruction" attitude. Slash's stabbing blues-rock guitar is like a junkyard dog nipping at the heels of every track.
Yet somehow, inexplicably, Velvet Revolver feels timely, like a fresh canvas for the masters. Weiland's thick alt-rock howl keeps these songs from sounding quite like Guns N' Roses, but several remind you of that legendary band. And with the exception of "Headspace" -- which sounds like a Stone Temple Pilots gem culled from the vault -- these aren't STP songs, either.
The power ballad "Fall to Pieces" is a perfect fusion of both bands: Slash's familiar jungle-shred soars beautifully, while Weiland discovers the same dark beauty he mustered during "Purple"-era STP. Throughout the album, Weiland's bottomless-pit vocal harmonies are as potent and alluring as ever, even when Slash experiments with irreverent guitar tones on "Superhuman."
Velvet Revolver's biggest challenge will be getting anyone to take "Contraband" seriously. The group isn't helping by spewing cheesy quotes like, "It's fast. It's ferocious. It's like drinking lightning in a bottle." (Thanks, Weiland.) Still, give it a ride in the stereo, and "Contraband" will do exactly what few thought it could: It rocks your face off.
It's probably too early to predict the summer soundtrack of 2004, but Velvet Revolver has come out gunning.