Monday, July 06, 2009

What's Hiding In Your Snakepit?

Slash's Snakepit
Ain't Life Grand

Review by Steve Huey
The second Slash's Snakepit album, Ain't Life Grand, reigns in the blues-rock jamming of It's Five O'Clock Somewhere in favor of a more song-oriented approach. New vocalist Rod Jackson is a combination of '80s pop-metal bluster and Faces-era Rod Stewart, which -- with more than a touch of Aerosmith added -- is actually a pretty accurate way to describe the band as well. The new Snakepit does kick up a lot of noise as the album rushes by, and the strong chemistry between the members is immediately obvious. In fact, Slash's guitar work sounds oddly tamed, as if he's trying to subsume his playing to that of the ensemble and emphasize the full band's talents instead of his own virtuosity as a soloist. Theoretically, that's a nice concept, but in actuality, it ends up making the project sound kind of bloodless and generic. The main problem is the songwriting: it never rises above the level of solid, and too many tracks are by-the-numbers hard rock at best (and pedestrian at worst). A couple of the catchier numbers are undone by lyrical awkwardness -- "Mean Bone" starts off with an embarrassing female rap full of gold-digger clichés, while the chorus of "Serial Killer" is cringe-inducing ("Do you like the way I murder your heart?"). But even when the songs click -- like the opener "Been There Lately" and the Stonesy, horn-driven title track -- Slash's burning solo work is conspicuous in its relative absence, and often not all that memorable when it does show up. It isn't that Slash or the band don't sound committed to what they're playing; in fact, it's obvious that everyone involved genuinely loves this kind of music. It's just that since the material isn't generally that inspired or vital, it needs a certain extra spark to really come across as alive and passionate -- the sort of spark that could be supplied by instrumental fireworks, which are never really emphasized. In the end, Ain't Life Grand is still a passable, workmanlike record that will definitely appeal to fans of grimy, old-school hard rock, but since it doesn't really breathe new life into that style, it's never much more than that.

1 Been There Lately
2 Just Like Anything
3 Shine
4 Mean Bone
5 Back to the Moment
6 Life's Sweet Drug
7 Serial Killer
8 The Truth
9 Landslide
10 Ain't Life Grand
11 Speed Parade
12 The Alien