“Guns N’ Roses Made Simple” – An Old Post

Once upon a time, I reviewed an uncompleted version of Chinese Democracy and then later changed my opinion.  These two posts are both ancient.  Content after the jump.

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Chinese Democracy
Axl Rose handed Geffen a finished product earlier in the year, and the album that took fifteen years to record is finally done. I by no means have the actual album, but I have listened to ten songs that have been confirmed to be on the album. There are some gems, to be sure, like There Was A Time, the longest song leaked so far that puts Buckethead front and center with his guitar, and the simple but powerful titular track Chinese Democracy. Ron Thaal and Bumblefoot are fine on the guitars and even have a few inspired moments, but they never even come close to filling the void left by Slash leaving the band. The real tragedy of a lot of the songs (Shackler’s Revenge, Rhiad and The Bedouins, If The World) is that the guitar tracks are layered so god damned much that it doesn’t sound like complex harmony (See: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs) but instead sounds like noise that blocks out Axl’s vocals. Oddly enough, this can be something of a blessing, as Axl can sound pretty damned bad here. I know he’s aged, and I guess I’ll blame time for his strained (in a bad way) voice on time, but that raises another question: He has an album titled Chinese Democracy and fifteen years to write it. Why is there absolutely nothing profound in the lyrics? The lyrics can be good (There Was A Time) or simple enough (I.R.S.), but in a lot of the songs they don’t really contribute anything useful to the song or, for that matter, the album (If The World, Madagascar). If these ten tracks were released as an album, I think that Axl would either need to stop making albums altogether or think about making amends with his former bandmates (Try out to be the new Velvet Revolver singer, Axl!)
C
Definitely Listen To:
There Was A Time
Chinese Democracy
Better

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I published the following to my Facebook on November 25, 2008.  My opinions and writing style have changed a lot, so please do not judge me.  I’m posting this because I’m currently writing an article that references this.  Content after the mark.

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In the summer of 2007, I was in a rut. I felt slightly crazy and I was just really bored with myself. Luckily, I began to listen to more classic rock around that time. Queen quickly became my favorite band, with their powerful, over-the-top sound. Still, I was completely stuck.

I think I ran into Guns N’ Roses in October. Up until then I had really only listened to Sweet Child O’ Mine on a regular basis. I downloaded the song Paradise City and I instantly fell in love with ferocity of the band. I had heard of another song called November Rain, so I went for that next. Within weeks it became my favorite song, and while it’s now second to Layla, the song holds a special place in my heart. The following Christmas, I received the two Use Your Illusion albums, and they might be the most important Christmas gift I’ve ever received. I was just blown away by what was on these albums, and my love for music really bloomed when I heard these.

Let me get this out of the way. Guns N’ Roses is a stupid band. They take themselves too seriously, they think they can pull everything off, and they don’t back down on a terrible idea. However, there has always just been something that I loved about the band. They’re completely true to who they are: A bunch of fuckups that got lucky and made it big in Southern California.

First, there’s Axl Rose. His screaming and wailing, which is more dynamic than you’d probably think, is winning out of its sheer sincerity. If he sings something stupid, it’s because he is stupid. If he sings something corny, it’s because he has a heart. If he sings something smart, it’s because he is. Axl Rose’s voice is the heart of the band. Then there’s Slash, the man who’s probably my favorite guitarist. His riffs give the band the great swagger that history will remember them for, but I’ll cherish his playing for his killer guitar melodies that he plays on the higher strings. If you can’t recognize that there’s something special about a good Slash solo, then I feel sorry for you. Izzy’s backing guitars are probably even better than Malcolm Young’s to his brother Angus in AC/DC. Duff McKagan helped write the foundations of the musical arrangements for a lot of the songs, and he deserves credit for that along with his bass guitar adding enough to the sound. Steven Adler and Matt Sorum added that popping sound, accenting Slash’s guitar and helping the listener feel the energy of the song.

Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin are both great songwriters, no doubt about it. Sure, they can be stupid, but only when they feel like it. Izzy’s more clever, but Axl brings the ambition that brought the band to the recognition that it eventually received.

If you flat out don’t like Guns N’ Roses or don’t think much of them, I hope that you use this as a guide to find their best music so that you can get as much out of that music as I have, and trust me, that’s a lot.

Appetite For Destruction

Right from the beginning, you know that you’re listening to something that’s going to blow you away. The intro to Welcome To The Jungle is one of the most recognizable bits in music, and it starts of the album before the main riff of the song kicks in with a bang. Killer riffs abound (Out Ta Get Me, Mr. Brownstone, You’re Crazy, Rocket Queen), Appetite For Destruction is one of the most powerful-sounding albums that you’ll ever listen to. Slash’s solos aren’t as fantastic as they eventually will be, but his solos in Welcome To The Jungle, Sweet Child O’ Mine, and Rocket Queen are some of his absolute best, and the fast half of Paradise City is made frightening by what he’s doing on the guitar. This album is about drugs, sex, insanity, and ideal love. How stupid. How fucking fantastic, though.

A

Definitely Listen To:
Welcome To The Jungle
Nightrain
Mr. Brownstone
Paradise City
My Michelle
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Rocket Queen

GN’R Lies

Despite Patience, the vulnerable-sounding song about failed love that couldn’t be sweeter, being the best song, this album will always be “The Guns N’ Roses album that has One In A Million on it.” If you aren’t familiar, here’s the offending line: “Immigrants and faggots/They make no sense to me/They come to our country/And think they’ll do as they please/Like start some mini Iran/Or spread some fucking disease/And they talk so many god damn ways/It’s all Greek to me.” The word “niggers” is used once, as well. I have tried to come up with ways to ignore this. Maybe Axl is making fun of people who think this. Nope. Despite idolizing Elton John and Freddie Mercury throughout his career, Axl Rose means what he says here. He said that once a homosexual tried to rape him, okay. When you’re singing a song straight from the heart, you can be stupid. In fact, it’s probably to your advantage to be stupid. You really should say what you mean. “Like start some mini Iran?” Good lord. The horrible thing is that I can’t dismiss the song entirely, because there’s something to be said for speaking your mind and the music is actually pretty damned good, so I won’t skip past it when I listen to this album. To those unaware, the first half of the album is some recordings of theirs from 1986, which are pretty competent but only the Aerosmith cover Mama Kin really wins me over, and the second half is acoustic tracks. Patience and Used To Love Her are both nice, easy songs to listen to, and the acoustic version of You’re Crazy isn’t bad, but One In A Million, despite a fantastic job on the music, leaves you with a bad aftertaste. When you speak straight from the heart, you’d better watch your god damn mouth.

B-

Definitely Listen To:
Mama Kin
Patience
Used To Love Her
One In A Million

Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II

Yes, they’re two separate albums. I’d give them the A and A- that they respectively deserve, but something happens when you shove them together. Let’s face it, Coma isn’t an ending track and Civil War isn’t a beginning track. If you have the two hours and thirty minutes to spare, listen to these albums as one. Despite two stupid tracks (Back Off Bitch, Get In The Ring) and a stinker to end it (My World), this collection of thirty songs is absolutely perfect. Back Off Bitch and Get In The Ring have some really fantastic guitar work to make up for their dumb, but representative of the band, lyrics, and My World somehow really works to close off the album (Though the alternate version of Don’t Cry would have worked just as well.) There are six songs here that are over seven minutes, including the absolutely perfect November Rain. This album may have been a result of Axl’s and the rest of the band’s ideas colliding, but it covers more ground that way. Slash’s awe-inspiring guitar work and Axl’s fantastic howl drive these two albums to leave one hell of an impact. For how imperfect this collection is, it’s amazing how perfect it is.

A+

Definitely Listen To:
Right Next Door To Hell
Perfect Crime
Bad Obsession
November Rain
Don’t Damn Me
Coma
Civil War
14 Years
Pretty Tied Up
Locomotive
Estranged
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry (Alt. Lyrics)

“The Spaghetti Incident?”

For those who don’t know, this album is all covers. And really, this sounds like the album where the band is just chilling out and having fun. Slash is as fantastic as ever, Axl and Duff switch off on lead vocals, and Matt Sorum is absolutely fierce on the drums. Their craziest success is with the New York Dolls’ Human Being, the most profound punk song this side of The Clash. Their version of Since I Don’t Have You is a surprise winner, and their version of Hair Of The Dog is as good as you’d think it would be. Another really outstanding track, Ain’t It Fun, seems to best represent the Guns N’ Roses sound: Slash’s melodies combine with Axl’s attitude and make badass music.

A-

Definitely Listen To:
Since I Don’t Have You
Human Being
Ain’t It Fun
Hair Of The Dog
Attitude

Contraband

Velvet Revolver came together with the Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland, rhythm guitarist Dave Kushner, and former GN’R members Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, and Slash. Their first album, Contraband, shows that supergroups are still alive and well. Slither is the best song on here, and it might be the defining hard rock song, energizing the listener with its awesome attitude. While that song is phenomenal, the rest of the album struggles from a haphazard listing. This doesn’t seem like an album, just a collection of listenable songs. They don’t vary as much as I’d like them to, and when they try something different it sounds like it’s too different. The band is still learning to click, and you can tell. Still, this is some class hard rock right here.

B+

Definitely Listen To:
Big Machine
Fall To Pieces
Set Me Free
Slither
Love The Alien

Libertad

What’s better about Libertad isn’t just that it has better songs an average; It flows way, way better. The Last Fight is, along with Slither, Velvet Revolver’s best song, and from tracks three to six, the band gets into a really great groove. With memorable licks, riffs, and choruses, they give us hard rock songs that we can remember, instead of giving us the first thirteen songs they finish. Too band Scott left, I was finally beginning to like him. Oh, well, I’m sure the songwriting of this band’ll get better with him gone.

A-

Definitely Listen To:
Get Out The Door
She Builds Quick Machines
The Last Fight
Pills, Demons & Etc.
Mary Mary
Gravedancer

Chinese Democracy

What ever happened to the quest to make the greatest album ever? Where’s the next Led Zeppelin IV or the next Exile On Main St? I can’t even begin to say how refreshing it is to hear someone trying again. To those who say that this is an Axl Rose solo album: Shut up. Tommy Stinson (As made famous by The Replacements), Robin Finck (As made famous by Nine Inch Nails), and Buckethead (As made famous by Guitar Hero) all contribute fantastic amounts to this album. While this still sounds quite a bit like the old Guns N’ Roses, that’s because Axl Rose is still behind the wheel. The astonishing thing is that there are no stupid songs at all. Axl’s lyrics are sarcastic, biting, and actually pretty damned smart. A few months ago, I reviewed the eleven leaks as an album and I gave them a C+. Boy, has my mind changed. All of these songs are worth listening to, and I’ve seen each listed as a favorite from one reviewer or another, but my favorites are the ones where Axl does what he sets out to do. There Was A Time, Street Of Dreams, and Catcher In The Rye all have that fantastic, grandiose sound to them that you know Axl was struggling to get over these fifteen years. Axl’s vocals are better than they ever have been. He varies what he does and barks out every word in the most effective way possible. I’ve gotten goosebumps listening to Street Of Dreams near the end thanks to his passion that you can hear. Now, Slash was my favorite guitarist, and I miss him, so I need to address how the guitarists are doing. There are some great riffs in Chinese Democracy and Riad N’ The Bedouins, but the solos are what I’m worried about. Some of the solos are unremarkable, and while there are some very good solos (Street Of Dreams, This I Love), the absolute best is Buckethead’s in There Was A Time. Instead of trying to sound like Slash, which sometimes accidentally happens in this album, Buckethead just plays like Buckethead does at his best here. It’s fucking fantastic, and it matches a lot of Slash’s performances. Despite Axl’s narcissism and the overblown sound, every song here is good and a lot of songs here are outstanding. The album has its faults, yes, but if I had to use one word to describe the album, it would be “satisfying.” The album ends on a note the leaves you feeling like Axl finished what he set out to do, and after all this waiting, it was worth it. Considering that we’ve been waiting for fifteen years and I had already heard all but three of these songs, I think that’s telling.

A+

Definitely Listen To:
Chinese Democracy
Street Of Dreams
There Was A Time
Catcher In The Rye
Riad N’ The Bedouins
Madagascar
This I Love
Prostitute

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Published in: on October 1, 2010 at 8:23 AM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Dear Joey,

    Well, I have not read all of these published reviews yet, but I did read the first and the second ones. I must say that I love how you put your personality into your write ups. It makes for interesting enflesment. I also am impressed with your writing and how in depth you get. One would think that all you did was spend time listening to music, as the writing is so thorough, and there is such an immense amount of music that you add even to the music you have agreed. Of course, I have not heard these albums, or I would be able to respond more critically. But I do appreciate your passion, and I am happy you have a place to publish it.

    Oh, also I was getting a little wary of some of the bad language words that could be left out. So watch that, remembering that it turns some people off, and you can express yourself just as well by using better words. Do not get too judgmental but that is what critics do as I am thinking about it.

    Hope you are putting as much energy into your studies, remembering why you are in school. You are too intelligent to neglect what you need to do to get through. Miss you. It was great seeing you a few weeks ago. Every time I see you, you seem more mature.

    Love,

    G.G.


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