Velvet Revolver’s debut album Contraband was released on June 8, 2004. It was an album that came at the perfect time for me: the summer heading into my senior year of high school.
Attending high school in the early 2000s and discovering my identity through music was a weird experience. I can’t speak to anyone else’s high school experience at that time, but similar to how the rock genre had splintered into unique sub-genres, so did the groups at my very suburban high school. I listened to anything and everything, but I was never “metal” enough for the metalheads. I definitely wasn’t cool enough for the “indie” kids, and I was certainly too upbeat for the “emo” crowd.
There was another issue, too: While I embraced a lot of newer bands of the day, I oddly didn’t think of them as my own. I had a far better connection to iconic bands from previous generations, particularly U2, AC/DC, KISS and Guns N’ Roses. To me, those bands were “mine.”
As you can assume, I was a bit of a loner and I felt that I didn’t really belong anywhere. Oddly enough, neither did Contraband. In a sea of sub-genres, Contraband was an unapologetic, straight-forward rock record and a breath of fresh air in the process. Then again, when your group consisted of GNR alum Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, was fronted by former Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland and featured journeyman rhythm guitarist Dave Kushner, there wasn’t much choice other than to rock.
By shrugging off additional classifications, Contraband was able to cut through a lot of the other offerings from the rock world. It was big guitars, big drums, big vocals and just a big noise, especially when blared through the upgraded speakers I had installed in my 1992 Dodge Shadow. Sure, the band had an outstanding pedigree, but it also had the substance to back it up, and they weren’t messing around right out the gate. They weren’t a supergroup, they were a great band in their own right.
“Set Me Free” was the first song the band released, which was featured on the 2003 soundtrack for The Hulk, but the first single from Contraband was “Slither,” a song that just dripped with sex and swagger. Each band member was operating at the top of their game, from McKagan’s heavy opening bass line to Slash’s blistering solo.
The album’s second single, the powerful, but not cheesy ballad “Fall to Pieces,” would become the band’s most successful single in their catalog and would top the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart for 11 weeks. The track and its autobiographical lyrics about Weiland’s drug use have since taken on added poignancy since the singer’s death in 2015.
Contraband would yield another other solid single, “Dirty Little Thing,” which would peak on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart at number eight. Even Contraband‘s non-singles packed a punch, from the driving opening track “Sucker Train Blue” to roaring “Spectacle.”
Contraband would go on to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart, and as if that success wasn’t enough, “Slither” would also score Velvet Revolver their lone Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.
In the process, the repackaging of some of my favorite rockers under a new banner gave me, at the time, the rare experience of a new band that I felt like was “mine.” More importantly, and inadvertently, Contraband made me accept that it was okay that I wasn’t “metal,” “indie” or “emo” enough for those kids at school, because it made me realize what I was: a badass, straight-forward “rock” kid (Sub-genres be damned!). And when you have that realization of who you are heading into a landmark time like your senior year of high school, you can’t put a price tag on that sort of confidence boost.
While so much has changed in music and my life in the years since, one thing that hasn’t changed is that Contraband still rocks just as hard as it did upon its release, and thankfully, so do I.
GALLERY: Remembering Scott Weiland