Friday, November 28, 2008


Guns N' Roses Finally Issue Their Long-delayed New Album

[From the Cleveland Free Times.]

Well, it's here at last. Maybe the Olympics gave Axl Rose the kick in the ass he needed. Maybe it was the rumbles that Velvet Revolver was breaking up (they've been dropped by their label and bassist Duff has a new band), which are bound to start a new round of "will the original G N' R lineup reunite?" rumors. Whatever the reason, after 17 years, Rose has released his long-rumored opus and…it's pretty goddamn good.

If you've been harvesting the leaked versions of Guns N' Roses songs over the past year or two, you have nine of Chinese Democracy's 14 tracks already, more or less. Despite Rose's spin about how those versions were substandard demos, they don't sound that different from the final release. "Street of Dreams" was known for years as "The Blues," but the song itself is the same. The title track, "Better," "Madagascar" (which he's been playing live for years), "I.R.S." and "There Was a Time" haven't changed much, aside from elements moving up or down in the mix. But the genuinely new songs - "Shackler's Revenge," "Sorry," "Scraped" and "Prostitute" - will reward your patience.

If you haven't been paying attention to the rumors and the leaks, and you're just kind of popping your head up now, saying to yourself, "New Guns N' Roses album? Jeez, I haven't thought about those guys in years," you won't be disappointed by Chinese Democracy either. On the one hand, it doesn't sound like anything from the band's back catalog. On the other hand, it doesn't sound like Axl's been listening to any music made outside his bunker in the past 15 years. OK, "Shackler's Revenge" seems more than a little indebted to Nine Inch Nails and the solo work of Rob Zombie, but the post-grunge "alt-rock" movement that's given us stumblebum bands like Nickelback, Alter Bridge, Staind et al. has exerted absolutely no influence on him.

Somewhat surprisingly for a guy who's spent more than a decade in virtual isolation, Rose doesn't seem to have developed a taste for self-pity or introspection of any kind. He likes guitar solos. He likes thunderous drums and as many as five guitarists riffing away in unison. He likes epic, sweeping anthems that enthrall the arenas full of screaming fans inside his head. And he likes the piano, but even the ballads here eventually get up to a full, impressive roar.

This album won't reshape hard rock the way Appetite for Destruction did, but it's still quite an achievement. Despite the army of shifting personnel and the years-long recording process, it sounds unified and not tied to any particular time period. It's classicist and futuristic, angry and world-weary, but never rote or enervated.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


I posted this in 2006 but didn't have the video that time. So here it is again.

Thanks for the wild turkey and the passenger pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger.

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin leaving the carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream, to vulgarize and to falsify until the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen, feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women, with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where nobody's allowed to mind their own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the memories - all right, let's see your arms!

You always were a headache and you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I bought my copy of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy today. It leaked last week, and I downloaded it then, and of course I'm sure I could have the label send me one this coming week, but I still felt like it was worth a trip to Best Buy to pick up the physical object. So for $11.99 plus NJ sales tax, I got myself a copy.

The first line of Chinese Democracy's album-opening title track is "It don't really matter." And that's what I've been thinking about for months now, as the album's release date approached: Does it matter?

I think it does, but in more of an Animal House way ("I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part") than anything else. Axl Rose, like Michael Jackson, is a man who creates his own context, and Chinese Democracy does the same thing. It can't be compared to the other five Guns N' Roses studio releases (Appetite For Destruction, G N' R Lies, Use Your Illusion I and II, The Spaghetti Incident?) because Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed are the only people to appear on those records and this one. Also, it doesn't sound much like the band's earlier work. Some things are the same - it's bombastic, and his yowl is unmistakable, if coarsened by time. He's still got a taste for power ballads, too. But there's a cyber/"industrial" edge here that's a little bit Rob Zombie, a little bit Nine Inch Nails, and a little bit J-pop. When I first started hearing leaked tracks in 2007, one of my strongest impressions was that you could replace Rose with Ayumi Hamasaki and the songs would lose none of their power. Chinese Democracy doesn't sound dated, but it doesn't sound like anything else on the radio in the 21st Century. (Which is a good thing; no matter what one may think of CD, anyone with ears can admit that an album of Axl Rose attempting screamo, nü-metal or post-grunge mopery would have been infinitely more cringe-inducing and horrible.)

But again, context matters. MTV, which Guns N' Roses used to rule, ran a documentary this week explaining to their current viewership who this band was and is (and, presumably, why they should care more about this album than, say, the new Fall Out Boy disc). But MTV is dying. So is the record industry, which will never again spend on anything the kind of money they gave Rose for this project. The biz is flailing around, attempting to come to grips with the Internet and declining sales through stunts, "deluxe editions" of albums, 360 deals, et cetera. But Axl Rose, like Michael Jackson, continues to live and work like he thinks it's 1998. Look what you get for your 15 years of waiting - a single CD. No bonus DVD with a documentary on the making of the album; no videos (yet); no exclusive tracks on the digital-only edition; no link to buy Guns N' Roses ringtones. I guarantee there will not be a deluxe edition of this album in six months with three more songs and a T-Pain cameo. We'll have to wait and see whether, as Sebastian Bach (whose Angel Down is a pretty goddamn terrific hard rock record that deserved to sell better than it did) told me and several other journalists in 2007, it's the first volume in a trilogy to be released between now and 2012. But for now, this is what we've got, and it feels like the last blast of the Music Industry That Was. Axl Rose is the last rock star; whatever one may think of what he did with them, no one will ever again have the opportunities he was given.

But I'm left wondering who's impressed by that stuff? I was drawn in by the egomaniacal bombast of it all, but I'm 36. When Appetite For Destruction came out, I was 15. I saw the video for "Welcome To The Jungle" when MTV was only airing it late at night, as part of Headbangers' Ball. Do kids these days - those who are 15 now - give a crap? I doubt it; I certainly didn't care the year before Appetite, when the Rolling Stones put out Dirty Work, their first album in three years. Is Axl Rose hoping there are a few million guys in their mid-30s or early 40s who are gonna buy this record? If he is, he might just be proved right. A lot of them are probably listening to more country than metal these days, but they'll come back - maybe on Friday, when they're at Best Buy shopping for the kids' Christmas presents.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Shape-Shifting Boris Mixes It All Up
[From the Cleveland Free Times.]

Japanese power trio Boris has captivated hipsters and headbangers alike for several years now. The metal cultists have been onto them since 1996's Absolutego and 1998's Amplifier Worship, while the skinny-jeans set climbed on board the Boris bus with 2003's Akuma No Uta (with its cover art paying tribute to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter) and/or 2006's Pink. The band's sound changes from album to album, though high volume is a constant. Pink offered a heaping dose of distortorama garage-rock a la Mudhoney, while Amplifier Worship was a slow, skull-crushing exercise in stoner doom and Absolutego was a single rumbling 70-minute drone-metal track (with one bonus song on the U.S. version). They've also collaborated with Sunn 0))) and Merzbow, among others.

The sheer size of the Boris discography is quite astonishing. In addition to their "major" albums, they've released a slew of limited-edition vinyl-only items like the punky Vein, a trilogy of EPs under the name The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked and the soundtrack to the film Mabuta No Ura (of which there are four different versions, two Japanese and two Brazilian, each with different artwork and packaging, and somewhat varied track listings). They seem to stop recording just long enough to run down to the pressing plant or go on tour.

"I'd rather keep working, since I always feel bored and am looking for stimulations," admits the band's drummer and lead vocalist, Atsuo, through a translator, "though I am getting bored with new stimulations quickly. I [feel like I] just repeat myself." He confesses that the band's productivity can occasionally become problematic. When asked if there are some songs he wishes had received a higher-profile release, rather than being tucked away on a limited-to-600-copies, sold-out-instantaneously cult item, he admits that "we have had a bunch of materials." Almost regretfully, he says, "We never consider anything before recording sessions how we put it out or what is the best format for that song."

The band's latest album, Smile, is simultaneously an apotheosis of its maturing sound and a perfect example of its philosophy regarding releases - the U.S. and Japanese versions offer not only unique cover art but totally different versions of the disc's eight tracks, including some title changes. But the songs retain enough melody and power across both versions to have earned rave reviews across the critical spectrum, and Boris' shows have gotten correspondingly bigger and more enthusiastically attended with every visit they make to U.S. shores.

It helps that their live shows are awesome. The two players up front - petite female guitarist Wata and bassist Takeshi - work away impassively at their instruments, cranking out thunderous riffs and waves of distortion. Ironically, it's Atsuo who's the biggest showman of the group, slamming his kit like an Asian version of Grand Funk Railroad's Don Brewer - raising his arms high, standing up to incite the crowd, bashing away at a huge gong. "For me, those two ideas are totally different," he says. "I am not so interested in 'OK' or 'cool things' in typical rock music methodology. On the other hand, clichés like exaggerated gestures or hitting the gong are far from 'cool things' these days, so I am thinking those behaviors are OK for me."


Currently watching Death Proof on one of the cable channels. I bow to no one in my admiration of Kurt Russell, but this movie is a piece. of. shit.

To clarify, it has some good stuff in it, but Quentin Tarantino should never be allowed to write dialogue. Ever. His jokes are lame, his popcult references are just as lame and twice as shoehorned-in, his taste in music is about 80 percent for shit (the only good song on the whole damn DP soundtrack is "It's So Easy," by Willy DeVille), and he has absolutely no ear for the rhythms of actual human speech. He should never be permitted to write dialogue. He should, at best, be allowed to direct action sequences, second-unit, for directors who have the ability to get convincing monologues and conversations and scenes with emotional resonance out of their actors.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


[From this week's Cleveland Free Times.]

Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder
(Roadrunner) Listeners unfamiliar with the band might say every song by norteño kings Los Tigres del Norte sounds the same; and to a first-timer, they probably do. But a devotee understands the value of subtle changes on a theme. For the same reason, an album as utterly lacking in dynamic fluctuations, rhythmic shifts, hooks and catchy choruses as Godspeed on the Devil's Thunder is probably exactly what a Cradle of Filth fan is seeking. And if everyone else on Earth is repelled, that's fine - indeed, for some, it could be part of the appeal.

Godspeed suffers from all the usual Cradle weaknesses, starting with Dani Filth's voice, which is so harsh and caustic it makes the listener's throat hurt in sympathy. It kicks off with a faux-orchestral overture that sounds like a Chiller Theatre reworking of the theme from Requiem for a Dream. It seems interminable - more than a dozen songs, nearly 78 minutes of music. And it's pretentious beyond belief: A concept album about the life of medieval aristocrat/serial killer Gilles de Rais, it features between-song poetry bits read by Doug "Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies" Bradley. But if you're already a fan, you'll probably love it.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


[From the SF Weekly.]

The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton

Saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton's reputation as one of jazz's most intellectually rigorous avant-gardists was well established by 1974, but Arista signed him anyway. He recorded nine albums for the label; two more titles, licensed from the Freedom imprint at the time, are not included in this set. Almost all of this material has been out of print since debuting on vinyl three decades ago, and much of it's among his best work.

The music runs the gamut from solo saxophone excursions to small-group sessions (duo, trio, quartet) to a single epic composition performed by four 39-piece orchestras playing simultaneously(!). It's great to have this material back (with the possible exception of that orchestral piece and For Two Pianos, neither of which feature Braxton playing an instrument).

No potential listener should be warded off by Braxton's dry, academic image, or this box's price tag. Albums like New York, Fall 1974, and Five Pieces, 1975 are strikingly accessible. Any fan of Ornette Coleman's 1959-1960 recordings can hear the beauty in the musicians' four-way interaction. The live The Montreux/Berlin Concerts is suffused with a joyous vitality, belying Braxton's reputation as a chilly avant-gardist. The somewhat more forbidding material on Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 and For Trio offers a rarefied, ascetic type of beauty, but won't scare away fans of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEOC hornmen Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman turn up as guests on the latter album). This box isn't all the Braxton a serious jazz fan needs, but it's a tremendous collection.