The Taken

Duff McKagan's Loaded

Armoury Records, 2011

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


After half a dozen listens, I think I’ve pieced together how this album came to be.  Picture it, if you will:  The year is 1993.  Guns N’ Roses bassist, Duff McKagan, has just come off the road from the band’s highly-touted Use Your Illusion tour.  Arriving at his home, McKagan goes on a bender to flush the adrenaline out of his system, topping things off with a colorful mix of narcotics. 

Fast-forward.  It’s 2011, and Duff has just emerged from his self-induced coma. The Velvet Revolver albums are but a vague recollection. Hazily, he casts his eyes about the room. Still sitting on the coffee table are some faded newspaper articles discussing the emergence of grunge rock, or, ‘The Seattle Sound.’

In an unlikely Eureka moment, Duff seizes on the term:  ‘The Seattle Sound.’  A catchall phrase that will at once seduce listeners thirty-five and under, and offer surefire success for aspiring solo artists of yesteryear.  With this in mind, McKagan takes to the publicity circuit. “This Loaded effort can also be associated with the Seattle sound,” wrote Duff in a column published in the Seattle Weekly.  “Terry Date... recorded a whole slew of these early records, and he produced our new Loaded record...The way he mikes-up drums and guitar cabinets…on his mixes is the same. Dry and hard and tough, and without bluster or shine.”

Speaking as a child of the '90s myself, Duff’s latest solo effort, The Taking, barely has an ounce of the ‘Seattle Sound’ to its name.  No, this is very much an early 2000s album, sounding closer to a punk-injected Nickelback with a pinch of emo lyrics, and contemporary everything-louder-than-everything-else production. Whereas Alice In Chains recaptured the sound of the early ‘90s scene on their masterful my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Black Gives Way To Blue, McKagan has fallen short, offering instead a half-baked serving of generic rock that caters more to teenagers than to long-time fans.

McKagan switches to guitar and vocals for this outing, and while the riffs he serves up are passably heavy, they have an almost complete lack of groove about them.  It gives the album more of a punk feel, with Duff hammering out basic power chords, backed by some heavy drumming.  In a departure from the ‘Seattle Sound,’ though, which saw somber verses punctuated by heavy choruses, Duff has gone for power in volume with this one.  Part of it is that the drums are so up-front in the mix.  But another is McKagan’s shouting vocal style.  Much of The Taking sounds like a wall of noise: the first two songs, “Lords Of Abaddon” and “Executioner’s Song” nearly blend into one another over the course of a droning seven minutes. If you’re going for heaviness, it’s best to pair it with a sense of groove, and these songs have none.

Perhaps conscious that the ‘heavy’ formula isn’t working, Duff steps closer to the mainstream with “Dead Skin” and “Easier Lying.” Both feature singable choruses, and “Skin” is genuinely catchy.  But the music seems better suited to the title screen of an EA Sports video game than an album from a member of Gn’R.  

The strongest of the tracks is “Indian Summer.” It’s the most melodic of the bunch, and the lyrics stir a sense of bittersweet nostalgia despite their triteness (“Thinking back about the Indian summer / Will that picture ever fade / I’m glad it couldn’t last forever / ‘Cause it burns to this day.’’) I can imagine blasting this on a car stereo during a lonely, exhausted drive down the highway.

But after “Indian Summer,” things careen downhill.  True, the ship has been rocking unsteadily to this point – the angsty power-anthem of “We Win” nearly has one reaching for the Stop button, four songs in.   The second half of the album though, merges into a single, blurry whole.  Duff’s lyrics are possibly the biggest nail in the coffin.  While it seems petty to hold what is essentially a heavy garage band to their written words, the bulk of them are so juvenile, one could organize a drinking game wherein you take a shot for each rhyme that you guess correctly.   Few listeners will have persevered for the entire 40 minutes by the time things collapse in a noisy heap with “Follow Me To Hell,” a comedy of errors accentuated by McKagan’s forceful grunting during the verses.

“I'm not quite sure just why Nirvana has become arguably the most beloved band from this era that made the ‘Seattle Sound’ famous,” wrote McKagan in that same column, on the eve of The Taken’s release.  Well, Duff.  Perhaps you should go back and listen to Nevermind again. You might learn something. 

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2011 Ben McVicker and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Armoury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.