Duff McKagan, ‘Lighthouse': Album Review
Duff McKagan has made a career of steamrolling over nuance and hard-rock history as Guns N' Roses' off-and-on bassist for more than 35 years. As a prime mover in the band's early days, he lived the rough and debauched lifestyle of the '80s Sunset Strip cliche, a teased-haired wild man whose appetite (for destruction) couldn't be sated.
But Guns N' Roses were always smarter than their spandex brethren, uncovering new layers of depth and ambition within the confines of the genre. McKagan, who exited the band in 1993 before returning in 2016, got sober and found a second life as a writer, an entrepreneur and a session musician. On his third solo album, Lighthouse, he sets aside his band's loud, aggressive playbook in favor of more reflective and stripped-down work.
Tenderness was a surprisingly touching 2019 LP that found McKagan instilling hard-won lessons and advice; Lighthouse picks up where that album left off. "I had to navigate this wasteland trying to get back home," he sings at the start of the title track opener over a gently strumming acoustic guitar. "I washed up on the rocks and all broke up on the stone." For much of the next 40 minutes, he picks up the pieces.
Despite the occasional heavy metaphors and mannered delivery, Lighthouse sounds earned. "Longfeather" is genuine, rootsy heartland rock with a big piano, big riffs and a big heart; "Holy Water" is nearly as good. On "I Saw God on 10th St." he nods back to his punk-band roots, recalling Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers with a slightly more focused agenda.
McKagan leaves Lighthouse's three guest star moments – tracks with Iggy Pop, Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell and Guns N' Roses bandmate Slash – for the end of the record, allowing the more personal songs to play out beforehand. They serve as a coda for fans looking for a connection to McKagan's past, but Lighthouse isn't about that: McKagan abandoned the self-destructive lifestyle years ago, and this album, like its predecessor, is about finding new highs. The healing process continues.
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Gallery Credit: UCR Staff
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