CD Review: Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking

CD Review: Duff McKagan's Loaded - The Taking
Armoury Records
All Access Review: B

A financial whiz now, with a money column on and many irons in all different kinds of fires, Duff McKagan has finally emerged from the long, black shadow cast by Slash, Axl and the whiskey-drowned mythology of Guns 'N Roses to say, "Here I am world. Remember me?" Until recently, McKagan seemed content to stay out of the spotlight while Axl's long, tortured Chinese Democracy saga played out and he played second fiddle to Slash and Scott Weiland in the supergroup Velvet Revolver.

But, the man with the strongest punk pedigree — The Living and The Fastbacks are listed on his resume — of all the Guns has, once again, turned the ignition on Loaded, the project McKagan formed in 1999, after years spent picking up such rock and roll hitchhikers as Jane's Addiction, the Presidents of the United States of America, 10 Minute Warning, former Screaming Tree Mark Lanegan and a host of others. Along for The Taking's agonizingly slow, metallic, death ride are Loaded veterans Jeff Rouse on bass and guitarist Mike Squires, with relative newcomer Isaac Carpenter in the back seat on drums and McKagan driving, taking lead vocals and rhythm guitar.

Smartly, no attempt is made to exhume Appetite For Destruction here. The raw, screaming energy and sleazy, outlaw spirit of that hallowed record is still lying in a crack house somewhere nursing a knife wound and killing the pain by downing a bottle of vodka. No, The Taking is more Black Sabbath or Alice In Chains than the shotgun wedding of the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders and L.A. metal that was Guns 'N Roses, and it is dark and crushingly heavy in parts. Ponderous and woozy, "Lords of Abbadon," with its beehive of buzzing guitars, and "Executioner's Song" feel hung over as they stomp and crash into everything in their path, including anything resembling a melody.

Then, Loaded's head clears ... somewhat. The shutters fly open to reveal the glorious, if a little weak, morning-after sunlight of "We Win," a thick, life-affirming anthem that moves with purpose and full-on power, and "Easier,"  . Everything comes into focus on "Indian Summer." perhaps the best song the foursome has ever written. Its bittersweet hooks dig through the tough fabric of The Taking and catch the ear with a flood of sugary acid. The momentum continues with "Wrecking Ball," another winning track that sees Loaded finding the right mix of hard rock and tough melodies that should be more prevalent in The Taking.

Every so often, McKagan, who successfully fought off alcoholism and a dangerous episode of pancreatitis a while back, and company do revisit their demons. The seedy "Cocaine" explores the sick underbelly of addiction, and the guitars sound as if they about to crash and head off to rehab. Political corruption and corruption of the soul are two subjects Loaded studies with great depth on The Taking. It's not exactly an uplifting record, although "We Win" seems to capture McKagan's sincere lust for life and all the good that is waiting out there in a future without drugs, booze and hopelessness. Loaded is getting closer to fully realizing its potential, and there are moments on The Taking that rise above the muck and garbage at its silty bottom. One day, perhaps, McKagan will replace the engine on this machine and increase Loaded's horsepower.

— Peter Lindblad 

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