Duff McKagan's latest solo album has been a long time coming – 26 years to be exact – and he has a lot to get off his chest. Rather than rant at the wind and the rain, shaking a fist at imaginary slights, and simply crank up the volume for full effect, McKagan's concerns are painfully real as he steers this cathartic album to a different direction. On Tenderness the Guns N' Roses bassist, does indeed take a softer approach. The punk/ rock sound he's better known for is stripped away, leaving music that's rich in sentiment and lyrics penned with honesty that is to be lauded.
The album's sound is hard to define. Technically it's not a country album, although it has many of its idiosyncrasies, it's not a rock album either; rather it's a record that uses the poetic lyrics to thread a story about modern society and life on the road and tells those tales using the music that fits best. Despite the album not being conceptual in nature, it did, however, start life as an idea for a book, and McKagan keeps that narrative flow throughout. Teaming up with country producer Shooter Jennings (son of Waylon) is key to this process. There's no big band to hide behind, no Marshall stacks or bass driven riffs, just McKagan a guitar and artfully placed instruments such as peddle steel to emphasize the lyrical elements, rather than detract from them.
At times McKagan's dry vocal calls to mind a more tuneful Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger out of peacock mode, but it suits the stories McKagan tells. Calling for us all to be kinder to each other is the central focus here, but it's really rather tempered and held back, even when singing about the evils of domestic violence and challenging his own demons. It's not until Parkland that his punk passion is released as McKagan laments about gun violence and its futile waste of life that we feel the full force of his emotions.
The album wraps with asking us to look forward not behind, disconnecting from the electronic world and return to what is important. After building up nearly three decades of material to write about, he's had a fair amount to work through, but hopefully, McKagan can move forward now that he's laid ghosts to rest and we can all try a little Tenderness.
Groupie rating 4/5