Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Chinese Democracy": The 17 Year Itch

Today's post does not contain a song, as any posted G n' R song would undoubtedly result in the shut-down of our blog, not to mention the repossession of our homes and children.

I bought Chinese Democracy, but my motive for doing so is elusive.

Sure, I was one of the millions who owned (and still owns) a copy of "Appetite for Destruction." I listened to friends' copies of Lies but never bought it. I hardly even sniffed in the direction of their legitimate follow-ups, Use Your Illusion (Parts I and II!).

So it's not like I'm much of a G n' R fan. "November Rain" was overrated, and the only thing Axl's involvement with supermodel Stephanie Seymour managed to accomplish was to totally kill her hotness. She was part of the Sports Illustrated "Big Three" in the '80s, along with Cindy Crawford and Elle Macpherson, but she jumped the supermodel shark with Axl. (And don't kid yourself; without Seymour in that video, it's not nearly as popular.)

My judgment on the album after the first listen: Not bad. This call still holds, more or less.

My immediate thoughts after a third and fourth listen: I had no idea Axl Rose was such a big Rush fan. Seriously, each listen brings our more Prog Rock and less Hard Rock. None of these songs have the masterful touch of Neil Peart's lyricism or his drumming, but Axl's voice is four notches away from Geddy Lee's -- some would say that's an improvement -- and the guitar work in places is impressive enough.

Understood that Rush holds no monopoly on progressive rock, or whatever the hell that particular genre of rock is called, but they're the band I know that does it best.

What made Appetite such a huge success was not its high IQ nor its layers of experimental sound. G n' R rocked the late '80s because they dumped a huge vat of make-up remover on the increasing glam-ification of the hard rock scene. They made hard rock ugly again. Ugly, raw, and catchy as hell.

Well, that version of G n' R might be somewhere in Chinese Democracy, but it's on life support and barely breathing. In its stead is stuff that, while not bad, ain't what I personally was looking for in an album by Axl and whoever else he could get to play on it.

As I close out Day Five of owning this CD, what keeps coming back is this: Why did this take 17 years? Peter Gabriel is infamous for taking eons between albums. Eons in his case being five or six years, which is how long he was going between albums until Up, in 2002, was a decade in the making. To me, Up was a colossal disappointment, in part because you can't help but ask what the hell took so long to make songs that feel less than inspired.

My expectations for G n' R's 17-year itch weren't nearly so unreasonable, so their output isn't nearly so disappointing. But is it really enough for such a wait for my conclusion on Chinese Democracy to be: "It's not bad"?

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