ALBUM REVIEW: Duff McKagan – Lighthouse


Duff McKagan is an interesting character. Having released his first solo album in 1993, a big gap followed till 2019’s Tenderness, with Lighthouse (BFD Records /Orchard/Sony) his third. This of course is but a fraction of McKagan’s musical story. Consistently coming across as the most likeable out of the classic Guns N’ Roses lineup (in which he played bass and for his part was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), such a rock pedigree is already more than most mere mortals would ever get a sniff at. 


But then you discover (if you didn’t already know) that a teenage McKagen was already playing in punk bands as far back as 1979 and later citing Barry Adamson of Magazine as an influence. Hardcore luminaries such as Henry Rollins clearly think highly of him. Mark Lanegan devotes a whole section of his memoir Sing Backwards and Weep to how McKagan helped him in a pivotal time of need. With such references it’s hard not to be an admirer (and we haven’t even talked about Velvet Revolver and all the many artists he’s recorded and played with). 


Across eleven tracks, spread out over forty minutes and change, Lighthouse provides the kind of assured, anthemic, classic rock that only someone who’s played packed stadiums can really have any business with. For sure, my internal soaring-rock-motif-and-rhyming-couplet-cliches alarm is frequently going berserk while this album plays, but there’s a sincerity in the reflective melancholia permeating this record that makes Lighthouse (just like the man himself) ultimately very likeable.    


After the album’s opening title-track (in which McKagan first gives notice that, yes he can deliver lines like “Shine on me, my lighthouse, make me right and bring me home” and get away with it) Lighthouse really sets its stall out with “Longfeather”, a Thin Lizzy evoking, piano-supported, rocker that offers a reminder of how an artfully crafted chord progression, delivered with poise and conviction can be genuinely affecting when you let your guard down to the unashamed soul power of rock ‘n’ roll.   


Likewise “Holy Water”, “Forgiveness”, “Hope” and the acoustic guitar-led origin story “I Just Don’t Know” with its rousing string-supported finale are all pretty artfully constructed, at times poignant, rock songs.


The light political commentary of “I Saw God on 10th Street” with its up-tempo, acoustic-driven rock is, ultimately, endearing. “Just Another Takedown” is standard Aerosmith/ Velvet Revolver-fare (though at least they hold off on the handclaps, unlike with the former). These two tracks add further variety to the flow of the album and helps it avoid otherwise getting overloaded with emotive, soaring choruses. 


While Iggy Pop is never unwelcome, his appearance on the final “Lighthouse Reprise” feels a bit incidental (guest guitar spots from Slash and Jerry Cantrell provide what you’d expect). There are also occasional allusions to Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers), especially on the brooding verses of “Hope”, that makes me wish he’d been on hand to add a touch of his song-writing finesse to proceedings. 


All the same, the album’s stories of death, pain and the hope of redemption through love generally land. McKagan doesn’t try to pose as a rock god, but neither tries to disingenuously sidestep the fact that he kind of is one. The byword is authenticity. 




Like Lemmy, another of his musical heroes, McKagan can tell stories of outlaws burning alters and killing men and place them alongside autobiographical tales of rock outlaws and you can’t cry foul. I can’t. Well, a part of me can, but just the weary cynic in me, and today I’m giving in to the redemptive soul power of rock n roll. 

Praise be, I believe in a thing called Duff. 


Buy the album here: 


8 / 10