A word of advice: don’t listen to this album through laptop speakers, and for god’s sake don’t play it through your phone (or at least not the first time). These days that’s a less common prerequisite than you may think – even ‘proper rock records’ are now usually mixed with lo-fi, portable platforms in mind. Which is perfectly fine. Being a music fan isn’t always about spinning deluxe editions on high-spec equipment.
That said, there’s something very appealing about 4’s old-school values. All rich, roomy tones, captured live in Nashville’s RCA Studios, it benefits from being listened to on a decent sound system or headphones. Lovingly analogue, hot-off-the-floor records are what 4’s producer Dave Cobb does, and it shows.
Where the previous two Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators albums carried more Alter Bridge DNA (both produced by AB’s go-to guy ‘Elvis’ Baskette), 4 leans further into Slash’s box of Guns N’ Roses tricks. It doesn’t create the bright-eyed punch of its predecessors, but for live atmosphere Cobb’s approach pairs brilliantly with Appetite For Destruction-era dirt.
It’s also arguably the first time a SMKTC album has really sounded like a band affair, as opposed to the Slash ’n’ Myles show backed by drummer Brent Fitz, bassist Todd Kerns and rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris. On 4 all their parts are tangible, while Myles Kennedy’s vocals are less polished, a little lower in the mix; less precision-honed wailer, more rock star.
Indeed, everything on 4 is deeper, looser and grittier. River Is Rising sets a heavy, menacing vibe with an accelerated lead guitar bridge straight out of the Paradise City playbook. Whatever Gets You By has the rumbling bass and big, Bonham-y drums of Rival Sons’ Electric Man, while Spirit Love flits between electric sitar twangs and grungy, Alice In Chains verses.
Slivers of brightness gleam through Fill My World (built on a Sweet Child O’ Mine-style riff). Best of all, though, is Call Off The Dogs, an irresistible dirtbag of Guns-y nastiness, with Kennedy’s tenor soaring across it like a dove over a burning, bombed-out city.
It all ends relatively solemnly, with the Bowie-esque Fall Back To Earth (technically a power ballad, although that’s a bit like saying technically an apple has as much sugar as a Mars Bar) leaving a disarmingly minor-key impression.
So 4 is not an instant sugar fix, but nor is it hard listening. In some ways it’s like returning to in-person meetings after zillions of Zoom calls – a little edgier, perhaps, but… well, real.