Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Tales From the Crypt

[I have yet to hear a note from the nearly two decades in the making new Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy, but until I do, I thought you might get a kick out of my review of the band's last magnum opus. From the Magazine Formerly Known as Stereo Reivew, in December of 1991.]

GUNS N' ROSES: Use Your Illusion I and II (GEFFEN)

As just about everybody in the world has heard by now, the new Guns N' Roses double album Use Your Illusion -- sold as two separate discs or tapes for reasons known only to God and W. Axl Rose -- is the most successful pop artifact-as-cultural-event since...well, since 1967 and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. But is it any good?

Not particularly, alas. Strictly on statistics, this sprawling 2-hour marathon seems needlessly excessive, a set that wasn't conceived as some kind of organic whole but feels instead like thirty songs the Gunners had lying around and randomly threw together. Which isn't to say there isn't an overall lyrical theme: there is. In song after song we hear that the world -- mostly women (not GNR's preferred term) or occasionally rock critics (some actually named in the admittedly funny "Get in the Ring") -- is out to ruin these guys' breakfasts, making them mad as hell, and it's our turn to suffer. Earth to GNR: Pique is a pathetic concept to build an album around.

There is music here too, of course, and in fairness it's not a total loss. Both GNR and producer Mike Clink seem incapable of slickness, which these days is refreshing, and there are lots of moments here -- even in the bizarre cover of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" -- where everybody works up a phenomenal head of hard-rock steam. True, nothing is terribly original, but as pastiches of the Stones, Aerosmith, and (maybe) Lynyrd Skynyrd go, these are often pretty effective. The ballads, on the other hand, are pretty ugly, in the band's trademark faux-Beggars Banquet way ("November Rain," for example) but I doubt that even fans really care that much about the ballads anyway. As for lead singer Rose -- well, he performs about the way you'd expect from somebody who thinks Rob Halford (of Judas Priest) is the pre-eminent rock vocalist of our age. Probably you need to see him dancing onstage to appreciate his work here fully.

Listening to the album(s) straight through, of course, it seems pretty obvious that it's as representative of this band's world view as we're ever going to get. Chutzpah or greed alone can't explain their releasing 152 minutes of music; clearly, GNR poured their hearts and souls into the making of Use Your Illusion and that leads us to a larger question -- specifically, how come these guys are the most successful rock-and-roll band in the world right now? My guess is that it's simple, that compared to the competition (bands like Poison or Motley Crüe) GNR comes off as real, as genuinely dangerous. That's what we've always wanted from our rock stars, and GNR delivers it in spades. Unfortunately, their new album is an epic temper tantrum, the aural equivalent of a bratty three-year-old banging a spoon on his highchair.

So what does its enormous success say about the culture we all share with the band? Frankly, my dears, I don't think we want to know. -- Steve Simels


geor3ge said...

I actually Googled the "Get in the Ring" lyrics to see if your name was in it. In hindsight, Axl Rose doesn't really strike me as a Stereo Review reader.

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Having slept through the whole Guns ‘n Roses thing when it happened, I only just in the past year downloaded November Rain on account of I wanted to hear what Regina Spektor was talking about in her song On the Radio. And I thought sheesh, if I had to listen to it twice because the DJ fell asleep I wouldn’t be near as sanguine as Regina is. But I think lots of times, what we think we like about music is actually pretty situational, so I’ll just give her that one.

MrQwerty said...

Well, Chinese Democracy (you must have heard it by now) is the usual corporate stadium rock by numbers that the braying little turd and his new band of plug-in members are capable of - a little sprinkling of toy death metal to appeal to the yoof, but by and large I'd advise you leave it in the dumper where it belongs.