Somewhere in the multiverse is an alternate reality where Axl Rose did not reject Slash’s songs for the next Guns album. In that version of history, the new Guns N’ Roses was not titled Chinese Democracy; perhaps it was called Back and Forth Again. And it would have sounded a lot like It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, the debut album by Slash’s Snakepit that we received in our reality’s year 1995.
As it went down, Axl said “no” to the songs Slash had finished, so Slash put them out as his first solo album. And then Axl wanted them back. In 1994, on the VHS The Making of Estranged: Part 4 of Trilogy, you can hear Guns working on one of these songs. In the background, the music that would eventually become Slash’s “Back and Forth Again” is playing with Axl whistling overtop. In the alternate reality, somebody’s listening to it right now as a Guns N’ Roses song. In ours, it will only be Slash’s Snakepit.
Although Slash was enthused about his new music, and was eager to make a raw bluesy rock n’ roll album, Axl had other plans. Who was right in the end? It’s hard not to see Axl’s point of view. Slash’s 14 songs had just one hit and 13 fillers. Most of the best GN’R tracks were not written by Slash; they were written by Izzy Stradlin. Left to his own devices, Slash’s batch of songs here lack memorable hooks.
Let’s start on a positive note at least — the lead single “Beggars & Hangers-On”. Written by Slash n’ Duff with lead singer Eric Dover, this is a song that any band from Skynyrd to the Crowes to Zeppelin to Guns N’ Roses would have been proud to play. Check out that riff — it’s as regal as the blues gets. Powerful and soulful aching vocals from Dover. The chorus roars, bright and bold, and you could only imagine what Axl could have done with it. Matt Sorum’s drums splash at all the right moments, in his trademark fashion. It’s a damn perfect song. And it made people really excited for the album that was to come, Guns or no Guns.
Well, there were some Guns. Slash had been working with Matt Sorum and the recently fired Gilby Clarke. On bass was Mike Inez from Alice in Chains. Though not in the Snakepit lineup, Slash also imported Dizzy Reed and Ted “Zig Zag” Andreadis from GN’R. With those players, it sure sounded like Guns. Only Dover really differentiates them. Dover…and the songs.
There are fragments of brilliance through the whole record. The acoustic intro to “Neither Can I” for example. The circular snaky riff to the manic “Be the Ball” (not to mention Slash’s lyrics, which seem to be his personal life philosophy). The boogie-woogie of instrumental “Jizz Da Pit”. The wicked Inez bass on on Gilby Clarke’s “Monkey Chow”. The Aerosmith vibe to “I Hate Everybody (But You)”.
And it’s a long album. 70 minutes of solid rock without a lot of variation. Which is one reason why Slash’s 14 songs wouldn’t have cut it for Guns in 1995. Appetite for Destruction had a variety of different songs on it, even if all shared a go-for-the-throat ferocity. Slash did get the straightforward live sounding rock album he desired. The guitars sound absolutely thick and offer a hint of what Slash and Gilby would have sounded like together on an original Guns studio album (like naturals).
It’s just a damn shame Slash’s solo debut is so disappointing. It bears witness that Axl might not have been wrong. You could make a hell of a GN’R album* out of the best tracks its members came up with. But this isn’t it.
* Alternate 1995 Chinese Democracy:
- Chinese Democracy (GN’R)
- Beggars and Hangers-On (Slash)
- Better (GN’R)
- Dead Flowers (Gilby/Axl – Stones cover)
- I.R.S. (GN’R)
- Street of Dreams (GN’R)
- Tijuana Jail (Gilby/Slash/Matt)
- Madagascar (GN’R)
- Absurd (GN’R)
- Six Feet Under (Duff/Matt – Neurotic Outsiders)
- This I Love (GN’R)
- Back and Forth Again (Slash)