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DUFF MCKAGEN: ‘Lighthouse’

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Since I’m a brutally honest bastard, I’m going to let you all now that I’ve been sitting on this album for a couple of months. And unlike my normal reviews I’ve actually had the odd listen here and there before sitting down to write this.

Like every Guns N Roses fan ever I was hoping for an album full of anthemic rock songs, an Appetite for Destruction as such, like we do any time a former member, or rebirthed version of the band releases something. Lighthouse is not that, it’s far from it, and from my partial listens so far, it appears to be a collection of mostly acoustic tracks. But let’s do my usual blow-by-blow of Duff’s third solo album and leave all of my expectations and preconceptions aside.

The album commences with some strange almost alien sounding samples before Duff strums in and starts singing about the ocean and navigating the wastelands to get back home. It’s the title track Lighthouse, and it speaks heavily about its light guiding him home.

The track doesn’t stay completely acoustic and lifts mid-track to include some distorted guitars and heavier drums. Ok, so it’s not all acoustic, but it’s not heavy. Can I call it soft rock? I don’t really feel comfortable calling a hard-rocking punks’ album soft rock, but it is, and so I will. The next track is titled Longfeather, and I have no idea what a longfeather is? Judging by the song lyrics though it has something to do with the Wild West and is possibly a reference to a well-known historical Native American, but I’m Australian so that just goes way over my head.

Next up is Holy Water, which I’ll clearly state has never gone over my head. Is Duff a religious man or is this some kind of sneaky reference to more of a bottled, alcoholic type of holy water which he has been more akin to in the past? I’m not sure, and I’m probably just making this all up. Maybe Mother Mary will know?

I Saw God on 10th ST kicks off with some guitar strumming which would have fit in well on GnR Lies. Somehow, although acoustic, Duff manages to make this track sound like a punk song. I’m not sure going by his description though that he actually saw God, it may have just been a bum with a beard. Apparently though, we are all rotten to the core but don’t let one bad apple spoil a whole damn bunch right?

I can tell you exactly how many of my favourite songs start with a piano and accordion, zero. Fallen starts with a piano and accordion, so it probably won’t be one of my new favourite songs. And it’s definitely not, it’s way too slow for this rocker. Disclaimer: it may not be an accordion; it may be a pipe organ or just some kind of synth.

For those who don’t know what a Flanger is, flanging is an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, one signal delayed by a small and (usually) gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. This produces a swept comb filter effect: peaks and notches are produced in the resulting frequency spectrum, related to each other in a linear harmonic series. Varying the time delay causes these to sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. A flanger is an effects unit that creates this effect. Forgiveness has a flanger all the way through it, well, at least I think it’s a flanger, I could be wrong. Thanks, Google.

Just Another Shakedown surprisingly kicks off with some distorted punk riffs which instantly prick my ears up. This is actually the exact thing I expect from Duff and takes me back to the punk rock covers that most of the world hated on The Spaghetti Incident. I liked that album for what it was, and I like this song for what it is, a rocking punk tune!

This next track has two names, Fallen Ones and To The Fallen Ones. Same thing right? Well, no, it’s not but just pick one and be happy about it. The tracks a straight-up ballad which I’m guessing refers to the veterans that the US have lost due to its penchant for war. It also might not have anything to do with war, I was probably just jumping to assumptions. It may just be long-lost friends.

Now, those guitar licks at the start of Hope were just what I’d been hoping for as Slash jumps in for a guest appearance. Again, it’s not as rocking as what you would expect from the combination of Duff & Slash, but it’s ok, and it edges towards something with a little more GnR flavour. That could just be the Slash guitar tones and my growing desire to hear some new GnR tunes speaking though. Don’t expect any epic November Rain solos in deserts though, not just yet anyway.

It seems we hit the guest appearance part of the record as Jerry Cantrell joins Duff for a guest appearance on I Just Don’t Know. And here I am again hoping for something special, like those haunting vocal harmonies that Jerry used to sing with Layne Staley.

Unfortunately, I don’t get any epic Duff & Jerry melodies, apart from maybe in the chorus preceding the guitar solo which I believe might also be Jerry. Oh, there we go, there are those harmonies for another short stint in the last chorus. More of that please!

To finish off the album, we get a reprise of Lighthouse featuring the one and only Iggy Pop. Is this it, is this the hard-rocking punk rock mayhem that I’ve been waiting for? No, it’s not, it’s an outro that may or may not feature some spoken word by Iggy. I can neither confirm nor deny!

Well, that was exactly the opposite of what I expected, but I am not disappointed. It’s a well-written album which shows the songwriting and personal maturity of a once reckless punk rocker.

Now, Duff, if you can get back in the studio with Axl and Slash and get that new GnR record sorted that’d be great. Until then, I’ll calm my irritable soul with the relaxing sounds of Lighthouse.

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