Despite a star-making tenure with G n’ R and playing bass for supergroup Velvet Revolver, Duff McKagan was never one to rest on his laurels. Even during his Slash and Axl days, McKagan released Believe in Me, a solo project in ’93, and, shortly after G n’ R’s big “transition”—read: Axl’s dismissal of the classic lineup—the busy bassist took up with Neurotic Outsiders, one of the more surreal übergroups of all time, featuring Sex Pistol Steve Jones and guitarist John Taylor of Duran Duran. (Let’s all pause to process that—if possible.)
Now Duff is getting back to his roots as a native of Seattle, forming the seasoned all-Washingtonian quartet, Walking Papers, for the group’s self-titled debut. Accomplished and fun yet never really groundbreaking, Walking Papers is a solid, get-in-and-get-out affair. And, given their straight-ahead intentions, this seems to suit the band just fine.
Of course you’ll find your fair share of rock ’n’ roll raunch, as in the saucy lady hitchhiker tale of “I’ll Stick Around,” as well as the indulgent Hendrix-isms of “Capital T,” but, perhaps to flout our expectations, the album’s engaging opener, “Already Dead,” eases in on a slow and pensive note. Be it lusty or forlorn, vocalist Jeff Angell, formerly of blues outfit The Missionary Position, is very skilled at telling a story—here and throughout the record. “Just like you / I’m only passing through / Coming and going / Never quite knowing / What I’m trying to prove,” goes part of the verse, with Jeff playing on the theme of a broken troubadour. Bassman Duff understates his notes in keeping with the mellow, beer-dampened sensibility, while ex-Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin lays down a restless and grasping rhythm.
Though more soul-searching is found in the pleasant, U2-like “Leave Me in the Dark,” there’s no mistaking this is a rock record. “Red Envelopes” is an AC/DC-style boogie—though, here and elsewhere, Angell invokes an Ian Astbury, rather than Bon Scott, swagger—while the aforementioned “Capital T” sounds like a construction worker’s catcalls set to all manner of meaty, hairy-chested guitar wails.
“Two Tickets and a Room” wins the award for most ribaldly amusing, as Angell tells of a couple who, after having passionate sex in a Vegas hotel, proceed to royally undo their vacation: The girl drinks one too many and wanders off, later to tear her dress while peeing in the bushes—with “half her ass showing,” no less—while the guy is wrongly cuffed for looking the part of her domestic abuser. Oh, well. “The night the lights went out / In Vegas!” screams the singer. Such is Walking Papers’ debut: At times bawdy, macho and even vulnerable, Duff and co. have indeed put a promising foot forward.