Is the new Guns N' Roses supergroup any good?
There's still no democracy in China, but the second supergroup of the millennium has finally released a song -- and, no surprise, it sounds like a Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots mash-up. ''Set Me Free'' (which is newly available on Apple's iTunes music store and has illicitly leaked elsewhere on the 'Net) is the first single from the just-named band Velvet Revolver, which features STP's Scott Weiland fronting an Axl-free version of Guns. The song is easily as ferocious as ''Cochise,'' the lead single from last year's Chris Cornell-meets-Rage Against the Machine supergroup, Audioslave.
Like Audioslave, ''Set Me Free'' (which appears on June 17's ''The Hulk'' soundtrack) sounds like no more than the sum of its parts: The verses resemble vintage GN'R, with drummer Matt Sorum playing a big Bonham-esque, ''You Could Be Mine'' beat, guitarist Slash tearing out ''Welcome to the Jungle''-like guitar lines, and bassist Duff McKagan keeping it, ah, simple. But the poppy chorus (''Set me free/'Cause I think you need my soul'') could easily be mistaken for STP.
Weiland (whose pending substance-abuse charges could be this superband's Kryptonite) wisely avoids an overt Axl Rose imitation. But while the singer faced early comparisons to Eddie Vedder, ''Set Me Free'' is a reminder that he always had a lot in common with Mr. Rose, including a tendency to shift personalities as he moves between vocal registers. Weiland delivers the verses in an ominous Johnny Cash baritone (kinda like the lower portion of Axl's voice); his switch to a youthful tenor in the choruses is agreeably jarring, even if it seems like he's engaged in a duet with another singer.
''Set Me Free'' feels like an automatic rock-radio hit, which is more than anyone expected from an Axl-less GN'R (and more than can be said for the sole track released by Axl's new Guns N' Roses, 1999's aptly titled flop ''Oh My God''). The song is also more focused than anything the apparently defunct STP has done since the Clinton Administration. But to live up to their legacy, Velvet Revolver need to be more than competent; they need to make magic. And no, Slash pulling a rabbit out of his top hat won't qualify.