Sunday, June 2, 2019

Album Review: Duff McKagan - Tenderness


For several decades Duff McKagan was the punk-rock alibi of 80's hard rock. Back when Guns N'Roses was making videos with dolphins, he was the guy who kept it down to earth by releasing a solo record that adhered to the core principles of punk. Even after the classic line-up of the band imploded, he carried on with Loaded, a band punk that made up what it lacked in originality with pure punk energy.

But those who really followed his career knew that he was more than that. Ever since So Fine, it was obvious that the man had more to offer than aggression or revolt. And the title of his new project sums up exactly what that is.

Tenderness is a surprisingly mature and contemplative record. There is very little actual rock on it: instead, it's a rootsy album full of acoustic and pedal steel guitars. Producer Shooter Jennings is the the perfect choice for this LP: not only does he bring the legitimacy of his family heritage, he also comes from a place of reverence and love for the hard rock and punk scene Duff has been a part of for about forty years now.

The album opens with Country/Gospel title track which could have fit on Exile on Main Street. In fact, Duff's voice all over the album is very reminiscent of Jagger's.

Of course we are accustomed to punks showing their sensitive sides: Johnny Thunders' aching ballad You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory is a staple of Duff's solo spot since the GN'R reunion and Social Distortion has always infused their brand of Californian punk rock with some honest country music. It's still a bold thing for an established artist to come out and reinvent himself like Duff does on this record.

Aside from the opening song, the highlight of the record is Last September, a poignant tale of spousal abuse in the tgreat radition of murder ballads of yore, complete with fiddle and steel guitar solo. But a track as topical as Parkland also hits the mark. No doubt the internet will be full of rage-filled avatars calling Duff a SJW beta cuck for daring to write a song in tribute to the fallen children from high school shootings and the inspiring stories of the ones who said enough and stood up for change. These people need not be rewarded with attention. And then there's the rollicking swing of Chip Away, the intense guitar solos on Breaking Rocks or the saxophone on Don't Look Behind You and the surprising entrance of the brass section... There are no weak songs on Tenderness, and it's a near-perfect album.

Duff could easily rest on his laurels and keep cruising on the back of the most financially successful tour of all time. And while his reunion with Slash and Axl is a great resolution to one of rock and roll's most bitter conflict, this album shows that that third act is not necessarily the last.

Genre: Alt-Country/Americana
Release Date: May 31st, 2019
Label: Universal Music
Rating: 8/10

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