• Chinese Democracy: Guns n' Roses

    Nov 28 2008, 2h40

    After 14 or so years, Guns N' Roses finally released Chinese Democracy - Axl Rose's labor of love. I first listened to it on the MySpace page, launched a couple of days before the CD hit the record shops. I then bought the CD a day or two after it was released. The first 4-5 listens, I was pretty impressed. There are some very good songs on there - 'Better' and 'There Was a Time' two immediate favorites.

    A scan of the lyrics last night revealed a lot of emotional words from Axl, repetitive, not particularly poetic when reading the CD liner notes. But when you listen to the words at the same time as the music, they seem real and you can tell Axl is releasing a lot of pent up feeling - about an old girlfriend, band members, other nemisises - it's hard to tell. But he is raging against someone or something through the whole album, himself maybe.

    The opening song 'Chinese Democracy' is a strong opener. 'Shackler's Revenge' is so-so. The first great song IMHO is 'Better', which has some classic Axl wailing, bits of Smashing Pumpkins-like techno experimentation, and a slinky snaking guitar solo a la Slash. 'Street of Dreams' is a rocking ballard, with Axl bitterly bemoaning a lost love. This song highlights that Axl hasn't lost his ability to belt out a song with those unique and great tonsils of his. Axl Rose has one of the best and most distinctive voices in rock, and this song showcases that.

    'If the world' is another Axl wailer. 'There was a Time' is a straight out awesome song. The ending, with Axl screeching "I would do anything for yooooouu, there was a time" is sublime. That line probably sums up the lyrics on this album too - wistfully looks back at the past, very pure feelings, Axl thinks someone/something has debased that purity, he is bitter about it, but also he's trying to look forward and (14 years later, let's not forget!!) trying to get his life back on track. People give Axl a lot of shit for being a dictator, egomaniac and a bigot etc. But at heart this song makes you believe that his intentions were always pure, and that his non-compromising position on love, record-making, relationships, are worth it in the end. Whether they actually are or not is still open to debate.

    'Catcher in the Rye' is a good strong tune, with literary pretensions in the lyrics and some Slash guitar noodling at the end to wrap it up in a lively manner. 'Scraped' isn't the best song here, but it's ok. 'Riad n' The Bedouins' seems like a dig at his former bandmates - an angry song, not one of the better ones on the album. 'Sorry' is one of Axl's bitter songs.

    'I.R.S.' is a good rocker, with a classic Axl Wail and Slash-y guitar licks to close it out. 'Madagascar' features a number of Axl's custom "mwwwooooahs" and other moans and shivers. It's another bombastic rock ballard, with several layers of production in it (and Axl doing harmonies, another thing he does well on GnR records). What distinguishes it though is the media quotations from Martin Luther King and others - and the "what we have here is a failure to communicate" line from Civil War returns.

    'This I love' starts out with Axl at the piano, belting out a ballard a la Queen - or maybe more like Queen if they had done a Broadway show. It's a lovely tune though, and again nice guitar work when it comes in (I think it's Buckethead, but who knows as there are loads of guitarists credited on this album). Axl's romanticism and idealism is to the fore again, and sense of loss that this relationship slipped away.

    The last song, 'Prostitute', is a solid song to end the album.

    Overall, this is a good album by Guns n' Roses, Axl's version of it that is. Very centered on Axl obviously, and so the themes in it are all about his life, his lost loves, and his struggles over past 15 years or so. That's probably why the album ends up working, because it tells an interesting story about the life of one of modern rock's distinctive characters. Love him or not, Axl Rose finally delivered the album he's been wanting to put out for a decade and a half. For that reason, I think this is a record to be thankful for.

    p.s. now I'm going to go read other reviews. I've resisted the urge to read Rolling Stone et al, as I wanted this to be my unswayed opinion :-)
  • Metallica Death Magnetic

    Set 21 2008, 10h42

    The new album by Metallica rocks big time. The album has relentless riffs, constant changes in rhythm, awesome melodies, and a story running thru to tie everything together. Long songs, heavy stuff. But mostly it just rocks. I'm not a traditional Metallica fan, although I listened to the Black album when it came out etc. But this album is impressive, one of my favorites of 2008 so far.
  • Syd Barrett

    Ago 30 2008, 11h29

    It's really only been the last year that I've gotten to 'know' Syd Barrett, the ex lead singer of Pink Floyd who sadly went crazy in his early 20's, retreated from the music industry entirely after a couple of fragile solo albums, and lived as a near recluse for the rest of his life. He died a few years ago.

    I am now a big fan of Pink Floyd's debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It's my favorite Floyd album. Barrett was lead singer, lead guitarist and wrote most of the songs I think. Later on, after Barrett departed the scene, Roger Waters took on the main song writing duties and Pink Floyd turned into a much different band - darker, monolithic. Still very good. But with Barrett at the helm for that one glorious album, Pink Floyd was an upbeat, 'out there', very english band with true psychedelic spirit.

    I've read the biographies which question whether Syd went crazy by nature, or due to the LSD. No one will ever know, but you can already hear Syd's mind going to the other side in Piper. In his solo albums, it is painfully obvious that Syd is far gone. However there are moments of real beauty too. Check out 'Golden hair take 5' from The Madcap Laughs. Syd sings harmony with himself, and the lyrics (apparently from a James Joyce poem) are very apt. I wonder who chose them, Syd or his producers?

    Lean out your window, golden hair
    I heard you singing in the midnight air
    My book is closed, I read no more
    Watching the fire dance, on the floor
    Ive left my book,
    Ive left my room

    For I heard you singing through the gloom
    Singing and singing, a merry air
    Lean out the window, golden hair...

    (lyrics from a poem by james joyce)
  • In Utero

    Jul 25 2008, 6h33

    A very powerful album, In Utero was Kurt Cobain bringing Nirvana back to a raw sound with heavy riffs and dark lyrics. There are some great guitar parts in this album. One of these days I'd love to hear a rough and raw mix of Nevermind, because I think it wouldn't be too dissimilar to what Steve Albini (the producer of In Utero) got. Ok the lyrics of In Utero are darker and full of unpleasant but deeply personal imagery ("I wish I could eat your cancer").

    My fave songs aren't so much the more well-known ones, such as Rape Me and All Apologies. Both great, don't get me wrong. But I really love the guitar work and melody on Scentless Apprentice, the intensity of Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle, and Milk It is a fine track too.

    Do I like In Utero better than Nevermind? No, I think Nevermind overall has better songs. I do like the production of In Utero better and think this raw, direct sound would've made Nevermind sound better (altho not as commercial, so you can't fault Butch Vig for what he did - it needed to be done at the time).
  • Zuma

    Jul 8 2008, 0h14

    Zuma is one of Neil Young's mid-seventies album. This is a true album, in that all the songs are connected and have the same feel, sound, vibe. The guitar work on Zuma is superb, reminded me a bit of Lou Reed's guitar work in the last decade. There is a lot of guitar harmony, counterpoint -- which is something I love.

    This is an album you'll want to listen end to end, rather than pick out your favorite songs like with many other CDs these days.
  • Velvet Underground

    Jul 5 2008, 10h44

    The Velvet Underground is my favorite band of all time. I discovered them when I was 17 or 18 I think, via a 'Best of' CD (the one with the silver cover). One day I will try to explain why they became my favorite, but for now these words spring to mind: real, innovative, different, unique, poetic, literary.

    One more thing: I never thought 'Heroin' (from the debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico was about the drug. For me it's always been about self-discovery. And some other stuff, but it's essentially a song about finding out who you are.

    My favorite VU album is 1969: Velvet Underground Live: this is just a great band jamming. The version of 'What goes on' on this album is the best psychedelic song ever. And I love the rock n' roll counterpoint of the instruments.

    More later, but this is my first journal entry, so just getting my writing juices flowing here.