It’s been no secret that Duff McKagan’s latest solo offering, Tenderness, would be something completely different from his past efforts (regardless of whichever band it’s been) and was originally meant to be his next book. If you’re after something up-tempo and bristling with swagger, go listen to Believe in Me or one of the Loaded records. Four years on from How to Be a Man where McKagan shared his thoughts on the rashness of youth and the Internet’s ever-increasing dominance over life, he’s taken the latter’s idea and applied it to a full album.
As he looks at everything that’s happened in the last few years and what he’s experienced as he’s travelled the globe, he’s looking at some of the most important stories and where the human race is at right now. McKagan’s goal isn’t to point fingers, even if it’s obvious who’s responsible in some of these songs. He wants to shed light on these topics as they affecting people across the world and encourage people to step up and help change for the better.
Lyrically, it gets pretty dark as he examines issues like #MeToo, mass shootings and homelessness. However, McKagan does offer hope such as opening tracks “Tenderness” and “It’s Not Too Late”, explaining as a species that we’re not too far gone and if we provide a little bit of goodness, we’ll tip the scales back. It’s a very stripped-back album, powered by acoustic guitars and pianos for a lot of it and it makes McKagan’s messages all that more imperative and passionate. There’s a real old-school feel to the album, full of warmth you can find on albums from the 60s and 70s. It’s an album which visits a number of different parts of that era such as the Exile on Main Street feel to “Chip Away” and you can almost imagine Mick Jagger rasping this one.
Meanwhile, “Cold Outside” and “Breaking Rocks” are full of Southern twangs and brings in a fresh twist to run alongside the more Americana elements of the album. Then, there’s the song that if you’re familiar with McKagan’s past work, a song you should recognise. It’s “Wasted Heart” but not as we know it. As one of the more sombre Loaded songs, it’s been re-interpreted to be even more so in this format. Those Southern elements are present here before it swells into a more grandiose beast and is the best this song has ever sounded. It’s the closest the albums gets to more personal lyric content rather than addressing the current issues the human race has to deal with.
Elsewhere, closing song “Don’t Look Behind You” has a Ziggy Stardust-era feel to it and you can imagine McKagan was intentionally channelling Bowie here, which he does with an equal measure of respect and ease while backed by The Suicide Horns. It’s a perfect end to the album as McKagan reminds the listener that whilst we’re in a period of turmoil, we should learn from this to create a better future without fixating on the past. And it’s a method people can apply to their own personal lives with the idea that there’s always an opportunity to be a better person than you were yesterday.
McKagan’s rough, sandpaper-esque vocals are in top form, showing far more control and range than ever before. Indeed, in this stripped-back iteration of himself, his raw approach is a perfect marriage and imbues his thoughts with more potency and urgency. Songs never labour or meander to the finish line and he’s surrounded himself with some excellent musicians to fully realise these songs, showing how versatile a stripped-back album can be whilst keeping it sonically consistent.
Tenderness is as close to a perfect album as it gets and frankly, it would have been a tragedy if this was a book rather than an album. With a number of great records to his career, Duff McKagan has added another to his catalogue. With its full-bodied production and lyrics which won’t fail to resonate, he’s crafted not just something you should listen to but something you should learn from.
Header image by Jesse DeFlorio
Tenderness is out now