Guns N’ Roses packed an entire career’s worth of brilliant songs onto their seminal debut album, Appetite for Destruction, which turned 30 last month and spurred us to rank the band’s 15 best songs. It’s a good thing, too, because the group dissolved just a few years later, forcing fans to satisfy themselves with band members’ various solo albums and side projects. Not every post-GN’R effort was a knockout, but several stand on their own as perfectly enjoyable rock albums, while a few come tantalizingly close to the glory of Guns N’ Roses’ heyday. Here then are the eight best post-GN’R solo albums.
It’s telling that the best songs on Sick previously appeared on the band’s 2008 Wasted Heart EP, as Loaded doesn’t quite have enough strong material to constitute a full-length album. But if McKagan and Co. don’t break any new ground musically or aesthetically—they’re heavily indebted to the alternative/hard rock bands that graced Hot Topic shelves in the late 2000s—they still excel at writing workmanlike radio rock gems that are stuffed with hooks. The bassist no longer plays the reckless, alcoholic cowboy from GN’R’s heyday. Instead, he rocks soberly and deliberately, though he does himself no favors by swapping bass for rhythm guitar. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny the snarky power-pop of “Sleaze Factory” and “Flatline,” and “Wasted Heart” boasts a remarkably tender vocal from McKagan that rivals his old band’s strongest ballads.
On his second solo album (his first without the Ju Ju Hounds), GN’R’a “other” guitarist doubles down on the unpretentious roots-rock that made his debut such a simple pleasure, albeit with slightly diminishing returns. Opener “Ain’t It a Bitch” coasts on a killer groove and sharp licks from George Satellites lead guitarist Rick Richards, proving that if rock music had evolved significantly in the six years between his albums, Stradlin had absolutely no interest in finding out about it. He alternates between barnstorming hard rockers and acoustic kickbacks, the former often proving more memorable than the latter. The minute-and-37-second “Parasite” opens with a gut-busting drum fill and rocks with a vivacity not heard from Stradlin since his Appetite days. A revved-up rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” showed Stradlin to be an old dog who’s none too keen on learning new tricks.
After the exorbitant perfectionism of GN’R’s Use Your Illusion albums, McKagan sought a return to his punk roots on his first, and technically only, solo album. The resulting Believe in Me, from 1993, runs the hard-rock gamut, from the raunchy grind of “(Fucked Up) Beyond Belief” to the laid-back, bluesy swing of “10 Years.” McKagan’s not the most technically gifted singer, but he’s a dynamic, energetic presence behind the mic, with a cocky snarl that lends itself to his lifelong hero, Johnny Thunders. McKagan recorded much of the album himself, but he enlisted several all-star guests, including fellow Gunners Slash, Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke and Dizzy Reed. Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach appears on the glam-punk rager “Trouble,” and Lenny Kravitz howls on funked-up blaster “The Majority,” making Believe in Me an often thrilling, if inconsistent listen.
Slash ditched his original star-studded rhythm section when he reformed the Snakepit in 2000; as a result, sophomore album Ain’t Life Grand lacks the nuance that made It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere such a rewarding listen. Still, the top-hatted shredder shines on full-throttle rockers “Been There Lately” and the aptly titled “Speed Parade,” which boast some of his most gonzo solos this side of “Paradise City.” More often than not, though, Slash happily defers to lead singer Rod Jackson, whom he plucked out of obscurity and who winds up being the album’s secret weapon. Jackson’s full-bodied roar bears more resemblance to Mountain’s Leslie West than to the banshee screamers like Axl Rose, and his soulful croon turns “Back to the Moment” into a bona fide gospel-rock anthem. Slash quickly disbanded the Snakepit Mach II, but still included a few Ain’t Life Grand numbers in his most recent solo tours, a testament to their endurance.
Izzy’s strongest Use Your Illusion contributions (“Dust N’ Bones,” “You Ain’t the First,” “14 Years”) often got buried underneath the album’s megalithic rockers and bloated ballads, but the guitarist’s effortless swagger shines uninhibited on his solo debut. Stradlin never cared for rock-star histrionics—he even gives lead guitar duties to Georgia Satellites axman Rick Richards—and instead leads the Ju Ju Hounds in bluesy, mid-tempo rockers and mellow acoustic numbers á la Exile on Main St. So deep is Stradlin’s reverence for the Stones, in fact, that Ronnie Wood shows up for an exhilarating revamp of his solo number, “Take a Look at that Guy.” Elsewhere, the slide-guitar-tinged “Train Tracks” and punky blitzkrieg “Bucket O’ Trouble” show how instrumental Stradlin was in crafting some of Guns’ hardest-rocking numbers.
Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum could identify with ex-Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland on more than one level: Perhaps the only thing more famous than both their bands were their near-fatal drug habits. Thus, they built Velvet Revolver (along with Slash’s high school friend Dave Kushner on rhythm guitar) on a shaky foundation, but their debut, Contraband, suffered none for it. The band rocks furiously and purposely; Slash sounds especially thrilled to showcase his guitar wizardry on a massive stage after years of start-stop solo efforts. Weiland, whom critics once derided as an Eddie Vedder clone, indulges his affinity for glam and arena rock, lending a winking sense of humor to the NSFW hook of “Do It for the Kids.” Anthemic alt-rocker “Slither” and the raucous “Dirty Little Thing” are still essential entries in the GN’R/STP canon.
On Contraband, Velvet Revolver proved they could rock; on Libertad, they proved they could write great songs. The distinction is noticeable from the first notes of album opener “Let It Roll,” a fizzy garage rocker with more bounce than anything on the band’s clobbering debut. Slash, McKagan, Sorum and Kushner maintain their experimental spirit throughout Libertad, from the seductive psych-pop of “She Mine” to the nimble bass line and playful percussive flourishes of “American Man.” Weiland sounds fully engaged with the material, trading chest-beating bravado for the melodic sneer he developed around the release of STP’s Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. “Spay” and “Pills, Demons & Etc.” explode with calculated fury, but it’s the ballads—the heroic “The Last Fight” and the country-fried “Gravedancer”—that cement the band members’ status as master craftsmen.
Here it is: the best Guns N’ Roses album that never was. While Axl was holed up in the studio trying to recreate Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, Slash funneled his frustration into 14 incendiary guitar anthems between 1994 and ‘95 that rival anything on Appetite for Destruction. “Neither Can I” and “Beggars & Hangers-On” are sprawling blues epics, while “Doin’ Fine” and “I Hate Everybody But You” recall the good ol’ fashioned party metal of the Sunset Strip. Slash expertly places every note of his dazzling solos and always prioritizes melody, with help from Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke and Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez. The only unknown here is lead singer Eric Dover, who clearly did his time in the School of Hard Rocks, as evidenced by the larynx-shredding screams in “Dime Store Rock” and “Be the Ball.” His only flaw? He’s not that other redheaded guy.