It was a time for heroes.
It was a time when the state of music called for a gravel-voiced script to a trailer for some really bad Jerry Bruckheimer film. It was 2002, and Appetite For Destruction was but a distant memory, Chinese Democracy was nothing more than a tired punch line, and the great Satan Nickelback was penetrating the airwaves like a prison bunkmate. Then, like a powder keg in a church, news broke that a new supergroup was forming following a semi-reunion by Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Slash for a benefit concert for cancer-stricken erstwhile Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe drummer, Randy Castillo, with Buckcherry’s Josh Todd on vocal duties; a line-up jokingly referred to as Buck N’ Roses, and then Cherry Rose. The new supergroup had already chosen a second guitarist – ex-Suicidal Tendencies and Infectious Grooves rhythm-player Dave Kushner, and only the question of a permanent singer remained.
The lengthy auditioning process for what effectively was going to be Guns N’ Roses sans Axl was never going to be a quiet affair. With VH1 filming proceedings for what would become their Inside Out: The Rise Of Velvet Revolver documentary, the band only referred to as The Project and then – at Slash’s suggestion – Revolver, was suddenly generating a buzz of messianic proportions.
Rumours of who would dare sing opposite Slash’s riffs were rife and names soon surfaced – among them Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy and former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach. With Faith No More’s Mike Patton and The Cult’s Ian Astbury reportedly having declined offers, no one seemed more certain to get the golden ticket than the skeletally chiselled Josh Todd. Then Stone Temple Pilots suddenly dissolved, singer Scott Weiland became a free agent, and the rest was history.
“We knew we needed a great rock frontman to make the statement we wanted – which is basically, ‘this is a great rock band!’” Matt Sorum explained at the time. “So when Scott became available, we nicked him!” The new supergroup oozed a life-after-Axl energy reflected in the fact that only three songs on what became their debut album, Contraband, had been finalised prior to Weiland’s joining. Incredibly, considering the titanic forces in the room, this was to be a democratic affair, despite the 50-odd songs McKagan said were written prior to Weiland’s arrival.
Recorded with Josh Abraham (Staind, Limp Bizkit) Contraband was, according to Sorum, merely a vehicle for VR to play live. “We’ve made a record that’s indicative of what we are – it’s a fresh new band but we’re still of the ilk that a live gig is a fuckin’ war.” The album, as it turned out, would be far more than that.
With stainless steel resistance to accusations of it being little more than a high-profile cash-grab, a mere echo of former glories, the unit would go on to produce a disc reminiscent of the stadium-filling rock records of yore, and – as live shows would demonstrate – they would have no qualms about resurrecting tunes like Mr. Brownstone or Sex Type Thing from their respective back catalogues. But without the soaring, forlorn beauty of Contraband’s Fall To Pieces or indeed the kick-to-the-groin gusto of opening salvo Sucker Train Blues, VR would never have established themselves as a credible band.
More importantly, the synthesis of Slash’s inimitable, unmistakable grace with a fretboard and McKagan’s snarling bass-lines sated a hungry GN’R fan-base and breathed fresh air into a stagnant, uninspired post-90s rock scene possessed of a growing nostalgia for the ball-hefting swagger of yesteryear./o:p