Guns N’ Roses
Axl Rose steps off a Greyhound bus with nothing but a suitcase and a piece of hay between his teeth. It’s the opening shot of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ video: the Indiana rebel has arrived in Hollywood. Twenty-one years have passed since that image introduced the prefab rock star to the world. A bewildering two thirds of that time has been spent awaiting the Gunners’ third original album, Chinese Democracy. After a US$13 million tab on Geffen Records and complete turnover of band members, Axl’s opus is easily the most financially irrecoupable album of all time, if not the most anticipated.
The absurd story of Democracy’s creation manages to remain more entertaining than the baffling music within – a patchwork of synthetic soft-rock and computer-assembled funk metal. The dense mix speaks to the decade spent maniacally tweaking these songs. Axl caulks every crevice with trip-hop breaks, French horns, flamenco guitars, DJ scratching, multitracked vocals, etc. The bridge in ‘Madagascar’ alone piles on Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ speech, Cool Hand Luke dialogue and strings.
The only salient elements throughout are Axl’s outlandish banshee howl and numerous ludicrous guitar solos. As the album dips into Andrew Lloyd Webber-like treacle (‘This I Love’), these rock ’n’ roll handles keep the affair uniquely Guns N’ Roses. Axl’s vocal range shows no sign of ageing; he soars from his Sam Kinison growl to band-saw wail, as his emotions fluctuate from belligerent to paranoid. In the album’s most revealing moment, one unique to its genesis, the singer follows the line ‘The world is on top of me’ with ‘Nothing is stopping me’. They were clearly recorded in different eras.
For their part, Slash’s replacements, Bumblefoot and Buckethead (Axl loves monomial guitarists), make their instrument mimic the cry of a peregrine falcon, R2-D2 gargling, car alarms and Stevie Ray Vaughan freestylin’ atop a Mesa.
After the eternal wait, it’s hard to say this mess sounds finished. Slower numbers like ‘Sorry’ and ‘Better’ could pass for the GN’R of old, but there’s scant trace of the sleazy bar band of 1987. One listen is a fascinating yet anti-climactic ride – as with any creation of quixotic madness, the album is ideal only in the imaginations of the public and the artist.
Even the best song, the ‘Hey Jude’-ish ‘Catcher In The Rye,’ is severely over-decorated. Asking why is like pondering Elvis’s motivation for turning his living room into a fake safari hut. ‘Welcome To The Jungle,’ indeed.
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Queen + Paul Rodgers
It’s a fair bet that most articles written about Queen’s latest incarnation will contain some reference to their late singer Freddie Mercury, the inference being that Queen + Freddie = brilliant, whereas Queen + Paul Rodgers = bad. Naturally, it’s a formula that displeases the present day members. ‘I have no patience with people who say
I shouldn’t be doing this,’ Brian May informed us last month. ‘Get on with your own lives. Get a life.’
He does have a point. Who are we to say he and drummer Roger Taylor shouldn’t make records or go on tour? No doubt it’s a hard habit to break after 40-odd years. Enter Paul Rodgers who, considering the fact that Robbie Williams was once mentioned for the job, probably wasn’t such a bad choice.
So, let’s wipe the slate clean and judge this record on its own merits. The verdict? Well, there is good news: it does rock in places. Not in a remotely adventurous way, granted, but there are plenty of big choruses, multi-tracked guitar solos and loud drums. Bad Company fans, should they still exist, will love it. Fans of the theatrical Queen of old will be disappointed, but let’s face it: Freddie died 17 years ago. It’s time to move on.
A far more pressing concern are the lyrics. Specifically, the fact that many of them are rubbish. Unless you’re 15 years old or a former Beach Boys member, even contemplating releasing a song called ‘Surf’s Up… School’s Out!’ is, frankly, a little bit silly. And while it’s nice that Rodgers can admit that, ‘Once I loved a butterfly/Don’t know how, don’t ask me why’, we’re not really sure why the rest of us need to know about it. The worst example, however, has to be ‘Warboys’, in which the band appear to be holding anyone in a uniform responsible for war and pestilence. ‘They look so pretty as they march and drill/It’s such a shame they’re dressed to kill’. Really, chaps – is that the best you could come up with?
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