Try as I might I cannot imagine Axl Rose in place of Scott Weiland or the DeLeos and Eric Kretz stepping in for Slash, Duff, Matt Sorum and Dave Kushner. This speaks volumes for the gritty and hard-rocking Velvet Revolver. They are the real deal, an unlikely combination of proven musicians coming together in an era when rock ’n’ roll is more often than not pretty-boy pop ’n’ roll. The newly formed rock band adopted the Velvet Revolver name in the midst of yet another drug possession bust for Weiland. Before unleashing an album of new material (“Contraband”), the band promoted the single “Slither,” which was popular and the perfect foundation to prove there is no question about the relevance of its band. This isn’t sweet, sticky, no guts rock ’n’ roll, it is the dirty rock I so loved from both STP and GNR. And regardless of whether you like STP or respect their work, there is nothing negative to be said about Weiland. He is still a quintessential rock vocalist – one of the few recording today. “Contraband” doesn’t come as any surprise to me. It’s loud, it’s fun, and it is exceptionally high-quality rock. Weiland’s growl melds perfectly with the heavier slant of his bandmates, particularly Slash’s awesome guitar. I’m not sure if I dreamt a band could have done any better than these five. GNR meets STP? What’s better than that? “Slither” is the first single but it’s surprisingly buried as the eleventh song, which is actually a very smart move since listeners are more likely to hear the first ten. Plus, it shows that the band has confidence in their other material. As it is, “Slither” is a grinding, slow-burning, radio-ready track. The rhythms and melodies are memorable, but it is the great pairing of Weiland’s vocals and yelping with Slash’s typical licks that makes it original and entertaining. As much as I like “Slither,” and despite the fact that I would have purchased “Contraband” regardless of reviews, I still love the album. “Slither” is just the tip of the iceberg. Velvet Revolver is both hard and soft. I really like that they aren’t afraid of the occasional guitar solo and don’t shy away from showing emotion. I think the band shines most brilliantly at these moments of softness. “Fall to Pieces” is a stirring, superb song unlike anything I’ve heard Weiland sing. His voice is reined in by the delicate, intricate guitar work. It is at points like this that it seems as if the stars meant for Weiland to end up with what remains of GNR. “You Got No Right” is a slightly psychedelic, wonderfully textured selection. It’s not as sure-footed as some, but it’s still incredible and shows great command. Oh, and Slash gives a great guitar solo toward the end. How I miss the days of the gratuitous guitar solo! I get the feeling that all five band members were looking to pay homage to the rock gods of the past while carving out a more comfortable niche. This may not be ground-breaking, but there is zero question that Velvet Revolver’s “Contraband” is an excellent example of modern hard rock. It is as much as I’d hoped for, nothing more and nothing less.