Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a Chinese Democracy CD are standing at a crossroads…
I’m not gonna get sucked in again. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not…
…all right, I am. There are a lot of reports that Guns n’ Roses is finally going to release its ten-years-delayed album Chinese Democracy…and brother, I’m stoked. A buddy of mine sent me copies of some recently-leaked GnR tracks entitled “I.R.S.” and “T.W.A.T. (There Was A Time)”—and man, what a rush to hear ‘em. I can’t yet decide if they’re great songs—these two haven’t yet gone through final mixes, and the orchestral (yes, orchestral) arrangements are out of phase with the guitar solos and riffs. But still—this is some cool shit to hear.
I’ve had copies of some other tunes—“The Blues,” “Madagascar,” “Riyadh and the Bedouins,” “Silkworms,” and “Chinese Democracy”—for a few years now. (Live versions of them are freely available in the Downloads forum of mygnrforums.com.) Some are godawful, some—particularly the piano-driven “The Blues,” which echoes GnR’s epic “Estranged”—rank with the best second-tier Guns material. I’ll be interested to see how they sound mixed and mastered. The problem with that is, of course, that Axl Rose has never quite known where to stop when it comes to production—if Appetite for Destruction was the perfect pepperoni pizza, Use Your Illusion was that same pizza slathered with every ingredient in the restaurant, plus butter, cake icing, sprinkles, and red hots.
So how will Chinese Democracy be received? I can predict it—anybody under 35, or anybody in what was once called the alternative press, is going to hate it, calling it an arrogant, hubristic sonic mess. See, it’s my pet theory that most modern-day rock critics are comfortable with the fact that the “rock” heroes of today—your Ben Folds, your White Stripes, your Arcade Fire—are far more brains than brawn. They love the fact that David Lee Roth is a washout DJ; that most hair-metal bands are consigned to, at best, touring state fairs.
That’s why Velvet Revolver, made up of former Gunners and Stone Temple Pilots, scared the hell out of a lot of people—because they were both a popular success and a band that looked like they could whip your ass, steal your wallet, and nail your girlfriend (who, I guess, would by now be the mother of your children…but still.) Jack White, Julian Casablancas, Conor Oberst—extremely talented guys, but not exactly the type to strike fear in anybody. That’s left to the rappers these days. Axl Rose, of course, ain’t gonna scare anybody ever again, except for the waiters at a Golden Corral at closing time. (Yes, I made a hack fat-Axl joke. Shut up. Even Barry Bonds settles for a slap single now and then. Plus, check out my fat-Axl costume from Halloween last year. Badass, huh?)
Anyway, the GnR album will be significant not for what it is, but for what it represents. Will there be a rebirth of bands who can play straight-ahead rock without having to dress it up in rap clothes (Linkin Park, among so many others) or play it for ironic laughs (The Darkness)? If so—if Axl Rose inspires a new generation of bands to play damn good electro-Stones rock—then Chinese Democracy will have been well worth the wait.
–One other thing…while I was digging around in the GnR forums earlier tonight, I came across a Holy Grail I didn’t even know existed…a performance from 1990 at the Hollywood Palladium that featured members of GnR, Metallica, and Skid Row. This was friggin’ unbelievable—I wish I could have transmitted it back to my 20-year-old self, but it’s probably better that I didn’t, since that goofball would’ve played it nonstop for a couple weeks in a row. The recording quality is godawful—some clown with a camcorder—but it’s amazing for its archival value. It’s the heavy-metal equivalent of the Greatest Basketball Game Ever Played, back in 1992 when the Dream Team was practicing, and Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley, and six other legends shared a single Barcelona court. The GnR/Metallica/Skid Row set is only four songs long, and on all four, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich plays drums and GnR’s Slash and Duff play guitar. Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach sings GnR’s “You’re Crazy” and Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls;” it’s funny watching Slash try to figure his way through Metallica’s intricate guitar figures on the fly. Then Axl comes onstage and blows his way through Skid Row’s “Piece of Me.” This is Axl before he became a paranoid loon, so he’s still in good enough vocal form to blow Bach off the stage in Bach’s own song. Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett come onstage—Hetfield in full Cowardly Lion-diva mode—and the band fumbles its way through Metallica’s “Whiplash.” Bach doesn’t know all the words, and Slash is clearly watching Hetfield to learn the song as it’s being played. Axl comes back onstage and laughs at Hetfield, saying, “We tried to tell him nobody knew the song, but he thought it was Lumberjack Day.” Hetfield is wearing a flannel shirt, and never once gives Axl even a hint of attention. He then orders the band back into “Whiplash,” saying, “I’ll sing, ‘cause the other guy fucked it up.” The band rambles to a finish. It’s a half-hour-long mess, but man…for anybody who ever spun Appetite for Destruction or Master of Puppets until you could see through the CD, this is friggin’ gold.