Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guns N' Roses Have Released "Chinese Democracy"

Axl Rose back in the late 1980s Appetite For Destruction era

By far the most anticipated rock album of the decade has been Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy. It is the first Guns N' Roses album to appear since 1993's cover album The Spaghetti Incident? that marked the end of the classic line-up featuring Axl Rose on vocals, Slash on lead guitar, Duff McKagen on bass, Matt Sorum on drums, Gilby Clarke on rhythm guitar and Matt Sorum on drums. Now that Chinese Democracy is finally out. the big question is why is it not dominating the charts? The reason may be it was delayed too long and people have lost interest or they are just angry the album doesn't include Slash, Duff McKagen or original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin. Some may have thought vocalist Axl Rose (who is the now the only original member from Guns N' Roses) would never release the album and just tinker with the songs for the rest of his life. This is an album Rose claimed would be released right after he played "Welcome to the Jungle," and "Paradise City" at the MTV music awards in 2002.

After the MTV awards Guns N' Roses went on tour with a new line-up that included electric guitarist Robin Finick from Nine Inch Nails, lead guitarists Buckethead and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, and also keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who had played with Guns N' Roses on Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, both released all the way back in 1991. The tour didn't last long as Axl Rose failed to show up at two concerts in Vancouver, Canada, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sparking riots from the crowd and causing Clear Channel to cancel the remaining dates in fear more riots would occur. Riots at concerts were nothing new to Guns N' Roses as they had already sparked two major riots before the 2002 tour even began. On the Use Your Illusion tour, on a stop at the Riverport Ampitheatre in St. Louis, Axl Rose grew angry at a fan who was taking pictures of the show, and when the security guards wouldn't take the camera away from the fan, Axl yelled, "I'll take it god damn it," and jumped off the stage tackling the fan. He then jumped back onstage and said, "Thanks for the lame ass security, I'm out of here!" He then slammed down his microphone so hard some fans thought he had shot someone until Slash calmed them by saying, "He just slammed down the microphone, we're out." A huge riot erupted in St. Louis following the show, and Rose was accused of starting the riot but never got arrested until a year later as the band went on to Europe to continue their tour. Another Guns N' Roses riot occurred in Montreal, Canada, during a tour with Metallica when Metallica's vocalist James Hetfield stepped too close to the pyrotechnics and was burned severely, forcing .the band to cancel most of their set as Hetfield was rushed to a hospital. Guns N' Roses had the chance to save the day by performing a long set to ease the crowd but instead Rose refused to perform claiming his voice hurt, sparking the huge riot where fans overturned cop cars and looted nearby stores.

The original classic Guns N' Roses lineup with bassist Duff McKagen, lead guitarist Slash, vocalist Axl Rose, drummer Steven Adler and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

This is part of the notorious legacy Guns N' Roses have left behind as fans awaited for Chinese Democracy to be released. Now the question should be asked was Chinese Democracy worth the long wait? Personally I think so, being a huge fan, even though Slash and Duff have departed and formed Velvet Revolver. This new version of Guns N' Roses still has potential. As Rob Sheffield from Blender Magazine recently commented, "It's like James Joyce taking 17 years to write Finnegan's Wake, which was also a follow-up nobody thought could live up to the hype." While Chinese Democracy is definitely not the same caliber as say Appetite for Destruction and the Use Your Illusion albums, it still will stand out as a solid recording full of good piano-driven ballads. It is clear that Slash's guitar is missing, as you don't hear those ear-splitting, bittersweet guitar solos found on earlier songs like "Sweet Child O' Mine" or "November Rain." Still songs like the single "Better" and "Street of Dreams" have that classic Guns N' Roses" feel with a modern touch to it.

On "Better" Axl sings higher than we've practically ever heard him when he opens the song with "No one ever told me when I was alone, they just thought I'd know better." He goes on to paint a love-sick picture. The song may be the best ballad Rose has written since the early 90s, but who knows he may have written "Better" back in 1995 and just shelved it until now. The lyrics are very personal, as in many of Rose's songs; as Sheffield in Blender said, "He wails about Nietzschean existential despair." Axl sings, "So bittersweet, this tragedy won't ask for absolution. This melody inside of me, still searches for solution. A twist of faith, a change of heart kills my infatuation. A broken heart provides the spark for my determination." As the guitars start to crank and the song gets heavier, Rose screams with a fierce, venomous voice, "I never wanted you to be so full of anger. I never wanted you to be somebody else. I never wanted you to be someone afraid to know themselves. I only wanted you to see things for yourself."

Everything on this album sounds more synthesized and piano-driven than prior G N' R albums, but Axl Rose can still hit those high notes if he wants. This surprises even me, as I had heard that he had burned out his voice years ago from smoking cigarettes and frying his esophagus from all his screaming. The title track on the album may be the heaviest as it leads off the album with some of Buckethead's great electric guitar playing and Axl giving a good breakdown with his classic voice, "It don't really matter. Guess I'll keep it to myself. Said it don't really matter. It's time I look around for somebody else." "Chinese Democracy" as well as the second song "Shacklers Revenge" sound more new metal then anything Guns N' Roses have ever done in the past, which is interesting since bands like Korn and Staind are not nearly as popular as they were at the start of the decade. This makes me ask the question again, were these songs recorded way back in 1999 and just shelved until now? It seems like a real possibility! Maybe Rose, being the perfectionist he is, was just waiting for more material to be written and that material never surfaced.

The album winds down with some more good and synthesized songs, such as "Madagascar," with Axl singing in a burnt-out croon, "I won't be told anymore that I've been brought down in this storm. And left so far out from the shore, that I can't find my way back, my way anymore." The song is by far the most orchestrated sounding and is also one of the many ballads worth checking out on this album. The next song "This I Love" is even better with an incredible guitar solo by Bumblefoot and some of Rose's best lyrics about his feelings about how relationships have tortured and persecuted his soul. "So if she's somewhere near me. I hope to God she hears me. There's no one else could ever make me feel I'm so alive. I hoped she'd never leave me. Please God you must believe me. I've searched the universe and found myself within her eyes."

Some fans may be angry at Axl for cutting himself off from the outside world and taking fifteen years to release Chinese Democracy. His re-emergence from his retreat in the Hollywood Hills has most likely shocked some people who thought he would probably be a recluse the rest of his life and never relaese another album. Now that Axl's back, though, I'm seeing some excitement in people. Just the other day I was reading an article about Slash in Blender Magazine on a BART train going from Berkeley to San Francisco when some random guy sat next to me who was a huge Guns N' Roses fan. Seeing the article, he started talking to me immediately and showed me his G N' R tattoos. Then he talked about how fun it was seeing the new Guns N' Roses line-up in Oakland last year. "I hope they come thorugh again," I told him, "but you never know."

The new look of Axl Rose, onstage in the 21rst Century


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