November 20th, 2008

Don't Hassle the Hoff

Guns N' Roses N' Fuck You

Rock / Metal / Rock

That's what the MySpace page says under the name GUNS N ROSES where tonight they were streaming the new Chinese Democracy album. But, really, it should probably read:

Rock / Metal / Rock / Classical / Techno / With a side of Easy Listening

Before I get too far into this, I should get the token comment about how long it took to get this album out of the way: After 14 years of waiting for Axl to get off his ass and put this record out, most of us figured we'd actually see democracy in China before we saw "Chinese Democracy".

Thank you, thank you. I'm going to go throw up now.

In the GNR fanbase, you've got two crowds with distinctly opposite expectations. There are the rabid hardcores who are convinced that Axl IS Guns N' Roses and that the new album will blow people away with its awesomeness. Naturally, these people are in the minority. The rest of us are steadfast in our belief that this record will, WILL, suck major ass.

Well, I'm surprised to point out that it's neither. It ACTUALLY falls somewhere in the middle. Almost exactly in the middle, if you ask me. Though, is it possible for an album to sound dated before it's actually released in stores?

Really, though, there's ample reason to expect greatness. The debut GNR album went on to sell over 20 million records and has been dubbed one of the best albums of the last 30 years. The follow-up was an odds & sods of sorts that still spawned a hit single with massive MTV airplay. Two years after that, they dropped two albums on the same day; 30 songs of absolute Killer that to this day sounds as fresh and exciting as it did in 1991. Two years after that, an album of covers that marked their first foray into Filler, but still had enough Killer to make most diehards happy. Then, that was pretty much it. GNR released a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For The Devil" on the Interview With A Vampire soundtrack before disbanding. Then, in '98 or '99, with just Axl and a bunch of scrubs, a song called "Oh My God" was released on the End Of Days soundtrack; and honestly, even THAT song was fucking amazing.

With that kind of a track record, it's hard to NOT look forward to the new album like a giddy schoolgirl.

But, I'm older now, and I've been burned too many times by my favorite bands getting older and sucking harder. See: Aerosmith, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, The Who, Santana, et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, onto the actual review. First of all, you'll notice the more rocking songs are put at the very front of the record. This is a nasty little trend that I'm starting to really despise (See: the latest Kings of Leon record, where the ONLY three rocking songs are the first three songs). Fortunately, and unlike the Kings of Leon record, the more rocking songs on Chinese Democracy are the weaker songs on the album.

And you'll be happy to know that Axl has still got it. You'd think, a guy getting older, having spent a decade plus screaming his lungs off night after night, he'd have little-to-nothing left in the tank (See: Brian Johnson from AC/DC; Roger Daltry from The Who). But no, once that third track kicks in and he loses the vocal enhancers, you hear the same old Axl you heard in the 80s. That high-pitched howl actually brought a smile to my jaded face. It's just too bad the rest of the band doesn't shape up like the original lineup.

Gone is Duff's trademark bass line, gone are the pounding drums of Steven Adler; sure, the lead guitar solos are sub-standard to very-excellent, but they're not Slash-Standard! Sometimes you can really hear the Buckethead in a song, sometimes you get the feeling they just bit a replica from some Whitesnake song, but rarely do the solos feel like they actually belong in the song. More often than not, they're shoe-horned in there like a fat girl in a prom dress.

To be perfectly honest, most of the songs are Filler. With the exception of: "Better", "There Was A Time", "Madagascar", and "Prostitute". There Was A Time is the best song on the album by far. The thing is, even on their best albums - the Use Your Illusion albums - when there was absolutely no Filler, there was still Filler. Here's what I mean: for you GNR fans who aren't really fans, but you just like the singles, you'll notice there isn't any cursing in those songs. And yet - until now, it would seem - every Guns N' Roses album had that Parental Advisory, Explicit Lyrics sticker. Because on a majority of the non-singles, Axl was cursing up a storm or having sex with the mics on.

Yet, on Chinese Democracy, I only caught one "fuck" and even that didn't show up until the 10th track. This is practically Seseme Street! From what I can understand, it seems like Axl went into this trying to craft 14 hit singles instead of actually building a 14-track album. Albums ... have filler! On the better albums, the filler is still kick-ass, but still, it's filler. They can't ALL be singles, it's just impractical!

And make no mistake, this album is the most over-produced album I've ever heard. Dr. Dre should really take notice, because this one is going to be hard to top. There is just so much going on in every song, but not in a good way. It's not like a Mr. Bungle album where you can listen to it 20 times and get something new out of it each time. No, the songs here just feel muddy and thick and soulless.

I feel like I'm being really hard on this album though. You give me any other band's album that's 70 minutes long and have over a quarter of those minutes be classic, another quarter of those minutes being very good, and the rest adequate, and I'll say that's an album worth listening to. But, you take that album and slap the name "Guns N' Roses" on it, and I'm sorry, but you're going to have to do better than 50% palatable. You're going to have to do better than 90% palatable, really, but that's neither here nor there. Because this isn't really Guns N' Roses. This is William Axl Rose, out of the ashes of his fallen career like a hard-rocking version of Brian Wilson, and now he's back, and he still has the pipes to try and regain his title as the Voice of Rock Music. But this isn't the band I grew up adoring. It's just a group of guys backing up a legend.

Poor Axl, I know he tried so hard, but this is probably going to be the best objective review he'll get for this album. Fortunately, he's not dead. Now that he's got his solo opus out of the way, he can really form a band, gel with them, and make more records. Because there is obviously more music for Axl to make. It just won't be what he was doing 20 years ago. Instead of singing about drugs and fucking women and being hard, he's singing about ... God knows what! I suggest, for the next album, get the old lineup back together and sing the phone book.

But, we'll see. Maybe this thing will grow on me. Time will tell.
  • Current Music
    Guns N' Roses - There Was A Time