Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chinese Autocracy

The snow kept me indoors all day, and I’ve been listening to G’N’R for about the last 5 hours. I think I’m about ready to begin dissecting Axl’s new work. Before I being I need to preface this by saying Axl and I have had our ups and downs over the years. I’ve always liked him, but we had quite a falling out my senior year of college when the donkey cancelled a show in Portland which I had primo tickets for. The Guns website claimed it was because the Civic Center wasn’t going to let them shoot some of the pyro they used on the regular. This was also back up by the friend of an ex-lover who worked at the Civic Center at the time, though well after the fact. The roadies on site that evening, however, claimed it was because Axl drank his face off until 6 in the morning in NYC and didn’t want to drive to Maine just to head back south that night. Since then I’ve mellowed in my old age and have forgiven him. So I’ve come to purchase this new work, Chinese Democracy, with open ears.

With all that being said, after multiple listens of old and new material this afternoon and now into the evening I feel I need to say “Axl’s new work” because this shouldn’t really be called a Guns N’ Roses record. This was Axl wanting to make a record. In my opinion he did a pretty nice job. I like Axl on a mic, I always have, probably always will. But Slash’s absence from the album is glaring. To me, Guns without Slash is like lamb without tuna fish. It’s just not the same.

It was also very clear how overproduced Chinese Democracy was…the liner notes told this story as it took two pages to give proper credits for the 14 tracks. Six guitarists contributed, two bassists, three keyboardists, and it continued on down the line to digital editors, mixers, and orchestral arrangements throughout. All this lead me to the conclusion that there’s no possible way to compare this album to Appetite. It’s just not possible. In the case of Appetite there was no excess, it was just 5 or 6 guys in complete synergy bringing it with no regard on every track. The new work was a Roman orgy of sounds with very little natural chemistry.

Right from the start it was certainly apparent Axl can still bring it. He still has the range to hit many highs and still has his patented snarl that can kick a song up a couple of notches. From the very beginning of the first track he’s wailing away and getting it done nicely. Of course, for all we know his vocals were laid down in 1995 when he was still young and foolish and have just been placed over new background vocals and instruments, but the world will never know the answer to that…

There’s no question this new album built substantially off the experimentations which were present on the Use Your Illusion albums (FYI: I consider these the last works of Gun’s N’ Roses. Shut your mouth about “The Spaghetti Incident?” If you try to bring it up, I will hit you.). The vocals were a lot more emo as a lover scorned than earlier songs about blatant drug use and explicit fornication which Appetite was wrought with (Nighttrain, Mr. Brownstone, My Michelle in the case of the former, Anything Goes, Rocket Queen for the latter). While there was still death and destruction present I have to say I found it much more subdued. This isn’t to say the lyrics were deeper or better-crafted, just mellower. They were still in most cases simple as shit. “Street of Dreams,” which I found to be fairly similar to “Estranged” on UYI-II, contains the verse “So now I wander through my days / and try to find my ways / to these feelings that I felt.” Just read that a couple of times and it should be apparent what I find lame (Just in case: “feelings” and “felt” within 4 words of one another…that’s just lazy.)…

Before hearing I guessed this would be overproduced, and that prediction was spot on. However, as I also said earlier with 17 years to dicker and rework everything 600 times I’d expect nothing less. This brought with it plusses and minuses. I liked the tight, crisp feeling which was present thoughout; however, t just felt like Axl was striving for perfection on every song, and if you’re going to set yourself up with those kinds of expectations if you don’t get there people are going to notice. I noticed in some instances. It sounded “together” because of how much time was put into combining the myriad elements of each song, not because the people making music were actually together feeding off one another. Again, the absence of Slash was hard to handle. Never before had I heard Axl getting back on the mic during a guitar solo and that continually caught my ear throughout the record. I found this to be rather sad, and my biggest complaint. The guitar work wasn’t always there. It was a lot less complex than Slash’s work, and that was tough to take.

With no idea what’s been released as singles, I thought the middle tracks on the album were strong. “There Was A Time,” “Catcher In The Rye” (shitty name, though), “Riad N’ The Bedouins,” and “I.R.S.” (corny subject matter, but a lot of their songs were built on corny subjects so I still found it catchy) were all good tracks. I also thought “Prostitute” was a decent closer. Still, the old times of Guns were simple times. The track titles were the hook. Not the case on Chinese Democracy. Just another case of Axl trying too hard. Overall: 13 out of 18 stars. A little better than middle of the road. Not Appetite, not Lies, but I’ll still give it airplay here and there. Cheers.

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