axl rose

#798: Chinese Democracy

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 285: Chinese Democracy

GETTING MORE TALE #798: Chinese Democracy

I met Thussy back in 2007.  He joined the team at work and we became friends immediately.  We liked the same stuff.  Trailer Park Boys, Guns N’ Roses, comedy.  He is responsible for getting me into Super Troopers, which admittedly took a couple tries.  We were also both getting married around the same time, so we had similar complaints and gripes to talk about.  Drama with bridesmaids and seating plans, egads.

Thuss is a gamer, and we enjoyed chatting games.  Axl Rose did a voice (a radio DJ) in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  You could switch between stations, and if you chose the rock station you got Axl.  It was one of the few things Axl did that was released during that long dry spell between albums.  Of course, this led to ample discussions of Chinese Democracy.

“It’s never coming out,” Chris insisted.  I hated to say he was right, but it sure seemed that way.  He refused to back down on his position.  We’d been fucked with by this band for so long.  Guns had missed several release dates, so many that it had become a joke.  Axl chewed up managers and spat them out like stale bubblegum.  Then the Dr. Pepper soda company offered to buy a Dr. Pepper for everyone in America if Axl managed to make his 2008 release date.  Axl seemed good-naturedly amused by the idea, offering to share his Dr. Pepper with Buckethead when the album comes out.  (This because Dr. Pepper said the only Americans exempt from this offer were former Guns members Buckethead and Slash!)

On October 22 2008, I was working at my desk, listening to the radio when the DJ, Carlos Benevides, announced that they would shortly be playing a brand new single by Guns N’ Roses.  It was the title track, a song both Thuss and I were already familiar with.  He had a disc of rough mixes for many of the tracks, and I had the Rock In Rio bootleg CD set.  We already knew half the new songs, and “Chinese Democracy” was a track I thought smoked.  I called Thuss and he listened in as it played.

It sounded like shit on our little mono telephone speakers, but we were listening to brand new Guns!  The overall listener reaction was mixed to negative, but I already loved it.  “The album’s never coming out,” said Thuss.

“It has to, now.  There’s a single out.  It’s definitely coming.”

“No.”  Thuss was insistent.  “It’s never coming out.”

“But Dr. Pepper…” I began before being cut off.

“No.  Not coming out.  Never.”

The funny thing was, “Chinese Democracy” wasn’t actually the first song released from the album.  A month earlier, “Shackler’s Revenge” became the first new Guns song in nine years, when it was released as part of the Rock Band 2 video game, which neither of us had.

A new release date of November 23 was announced.  “Nope,” said Thuss.  “Nothing is coming out on November 23.”  It was, strangely, a Sunday.  Generally, nothing came out on Sundays.  It was absolutely an odd move that did throw the whole release into question for some.

I asked ye olde Record Store to hold a copy for me.  “Do you want vinyl?” he asked.  “No, just CD.”  It was something I’d regret, when he sold out of the vinyl a week later.  I emailed to ask if he had any left.  “Do you remember me asking you if you wanted vinyl?” he scolded.  “Yeah,” I sulked.

When I walked into the store on November 23 and was handed my precious copy of Chinese Democracy, it was so anticlimactic.  There it is.  It’s in your hands, the culmination of a decade and a half’s work.  You’ve been waiting all this time for this album, and there it sits.  An album that had “release dates” going back to 1995 and every single year since.  Then, you witness Guns return to the live stage from their cocoon, different but recognizable.  You watch them struggle to establish a lineup, and you hear rumour after rumour about song titles and release dates.  Then you’re holding a CD in your hands, a pitiful little plastic case with a little paper cover inside.  You hand the guy your debit card, he rings it in.  Transaction approved, you are handed your receipt.  Chinese Democracy goes into a little plastic bag.  Even though it’s probably the most expensive and longest gestating album of all time, your little plastic bag weighs the same as if you bought Sex Pistols.

At least I’d be able to show it to Thuss.  Monday the 24th rolled around.

“It came out.  I have it,” I told him as I strolled into his office.

“No it didn’t.  It never came out.  It’s never coming out.” He was sticking to his story come hell or high water!

“Yes it did! It’s in my car right now!  I’ll show it to you.”

“You have nothing,” he responded, refusing to come and look.

In the years since, Thuss has stubbornly stuck to his guns and his believe that Chinese Democracy has never come out.  “I have the unreleased mixes,” he says.  “That’s all there is.”


I emailed him to tell him I was writing this story, our tale of the time Chinese Democracy was released.

“So you are going to take a crack at some fictional writing…nice.”

I will never win this one!

So now I have two stories both titled “Chinese Democracy”.  I say, why not?  Peter Gabriel has three self-titled albums.

#762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

GETTING MORE TALE #762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

 

“Where are the starting points and where are the end points? When’s a song ‘done’? What the fuck does that mean anyway? ‘Done’? When’s a record ‘done’? Where does a record start; where does it end?” — Lars Ulrich, Some Kind of Monster

When Lars Ulrich asked the rhetorical question “When is a song ‘done’?” he wasn’t just yammering meaningless bullshit.  In fact he was colourfully paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci, who said “A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.”  Da Vinci might be the best known example today of someone who laboured over his art.  Many of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa, conceal previous unseen versions beneath layers of paint.  Scanning the paintings with modern technology, we have been able to discern Da Vinci’s works in progress.  It is a little like peaking inside the mind of a creator as they create.

Imagine you’re finishing a painting of something completely imagined inside your head.  How much time will it take to be “done”?  Perhaps you have to make that sky a little more blue, or cloudy, to match your vision.  You will never be able to take a photograph of your imagination, so painting something is by its very nature a compromise.  You must decide when you are satisfied that you have accomplished your goal.  Let’s say you added that cloud to your painting.  It looks good to you.  Then you take a step back and look at the whole painting.  The corner where you added that cloud now looks too busy.  Did you overdo it?  Was the painting already “done”?

The same applies to music.  Axl Rose laboured over Chinese Democracy for 15 years.  There are, of course, some major differences between recording a Guns N’ Roses album and working on a painting.  With the rock album, there is far more outside pressure and this can become the dominating influence.  Even if outside forces end up pushing you to do something opposite from what they want, it has now effected your music.  The music will not take the same shape that it would have without that outside pressure.  Is that a good or bad thing?  It can be either!  Axl re-recorded the album at least once, and continually updated it as new members joined the band.  By the time 2008 rolled around and the record was “finished”, dozens of musicians and producers and managers and writers had made some kind of impact, no matter how small.

Let’s not forget George Lucas either.  The Star Wars creator fiddled with his movies continuously.  Do you really think the 1997 special editions were the first Star Wars that were changed?  Not even.  The initial updates happened in 1980, when George re-titled Star Wars as Episode IV: A New Hope.  He fidgeted with them steadily, even beginning a fairly recent conversion to 3D until he sold the rights to Disney in 2012. (Only Phantom Menace was released in 3D, with Disney putting the project on hold in favour of the sequel trilogy.)

You can obsess over and overthink art.  You can also rush it, and end up with something “unfinished” that might actually be better.  This often happens out of necessity.  Black Sabbath famously recorded their first album in two days.  They had been playing the songs live for months and were tight as hell (pun intended) but also had a very limited amount of time in the studio.  Maybe they would have loved to stay in there, experiment with different amps and guitars, get different sounds, but there was no time.  And so the debut album Black Sabbath pukes overloaded guitar, and you can hear amps hum.  You couldn’t have made it better if you tried.  (Zakk Wylde will try and will not succeed.)  Whatever they did on that album, they did out of necessity and it just happened to work.

Though my “art” is usually the written word (and occasionally video), I also love recording song introductions.  This is for our annual “Sausagefest” party, and it’s something that allows me to really get creative with sound.  In recent years, in addition to introducing the songs, I also create an introduction for myself.  It’s sort of an audio collage of things I found funny.  This started out of necessity — it was the only way I could get my comedic bits into the evening!  Now it’s something I work and obsess over.  And this is the question I’m currently struggling with:  When is it “done”?  I started recording bits for it almost a year ago, and I began piecing the whole thing together on May 11.  Now we’re at the tail end of June and I’m still making changes!

Without giving it all away, I like to begin my intro with a certain, recognizable musical theme.  You’d know it.  This year, a certain unnamed rock band recorded their own version of that classic theme.  I happened to be playing that album in the car when I realized, I had to use it!  As soon as I got home, I started editing the audio track that I thought was “finished”.  In a couple minutes, I removed the original theme and replaced it with the 2019 rock version.  It was a few seconds longer than the original so I also had to extend the space it fit into, but that’s pretty easy to do.  Now I’m even happier with the intro.

When will it be “done”?  It will be “finished” when time is up and I’m forced to turn it in.  Until then, I continue to listen for room to improve.

I’m no Leonardo, or a Lucas, and I’m not even a Lars Ulrich (although we have shared the same hair style on numerous occasions).  I do, however, have a keen understanding that art is never done in the eyes of the creator.

 

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – “Patience” (1989 12″ single)

GUNS N’ ROSES have announced an APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION deluxe edition coming in June.  While “Rocket Queen” will certainly be on it, it’s highly unlikely the interview track below will.

GUNS N’ ROSES – “Patience” (1989 Geffen 12″ single)

Fans of vintage Guns N’ Roses (what other kind are there?) should always be alert and eyes open for old singles.  Whether CD or vinyl, some of those old Guns singles have buried treasure on them.  One is “Patience”, released several months after the Lies EP from which it sprang.

Here’s some truth for you, and it’s rather strange.  “Patience” simply sounds better with the crackle of vinyl.  I can’t explain it but I sure can testify.  Just a little bit.  Just enough to transport you back in time to 1989 when people were spinning Lies on vinyl (or at least cassette tape) nightly.  The delicate strum of acoustics accentuate one another, and hot-damn, it’s hard to deny the timelessness of “Patience”.  The missus and I played it at our wedding reception and it was a highlight of the evening.  Almost every couple dancing to it that night is still together.  Magic, people!  It’s real.

But no, the real treasure is on side two, and it’s not “Rocket Queen”.  Don’t get me wrong!  “Rocket Queen” is an amazing showcase and could still today be the best tune Guns have ever laid to vinyl.  It’s heavy, it’s soft; it has a bit of everything.  I’d put it in my top five.  But you already have Appetite for Destruction, so you know this already.  What you have probably never heard before is the second track on the B-side, a vintage interview (7:44 long) with the elusive W. Axl Rose himself.

Conducted in his apartment among his broken platinum albums, Axl is asked some point-blank questions.  Did you know Duff had his own comedy version of “Patience” that could have come out at some time?  Axl even dropped lyrics from a new Izzy Stradlin song still two years down the road.  “Double talking jive, get the money motherfucker, ’cause I got no more patience…”  He also revealed they had a lot of ideas…anything from “10 songs to 30 songs”.  (Turns out, it was 30.)

Axl confessed that his violent streak comes from frustration and stress, and that he has always smashed his things.  It’s clear that this guy, sitting at the very top of the rock pile, needed some mental health care.  Bon Jovi, after all, didn’t smash his platinum albums.  He even went as far as to warn psycho fans to stay away or deal with the consequences of getting in his face.

It’s an odd interview, and revealing.  That’s why it’s a treasure worth seeking.  A single like this is valuable to fans who need to know these bits of trivia and minutia.

4/5 stars

REVIEW Round-up: Guns N’ Roses “Not In This Lifetime” Tour (Guest editorial)

GUNS N’ ROSES “Not In This Lifetime” Tour

By David Martin

A little while ago we reached back to the late-‘80s with a review of a Guns N’ Roses live session in New York. It wasn’t a perfect recording, but it’s a nice glance back to the early days of a band that’s become one of rock’s truly iconic groups. Another interesting thing about looking back at this time is that Guns N’ Roses has, against the odds, become something of a modern sensation.

Our first hints ought to have been when GNR started showing up anew in non-music pop culture. The band put out a vague teaser trailer before screenings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for instance, and also partnered with an online developer to produce a video game in 2016. The latter was particularly random, though it makes sense when you look at the industry. An Australian gaming resource site states simply that presentation is a huge factor on betting and gaming sites, and part of that means introducing visually and sonically interesting games – like a slot reel based on an iconic rock band, in this case.

Neither a teaser trailer nor a video game tipped us off to what would actually start in the spring of 2016 – one of the most surprising tours, arguably in all of musical history. The band took the stage at Coachella – with Axl Rose and Slash sharing the stage for the first time in years – and kicked off an international slate of shows that ultimately extended into 2018. The tour, dubbed “Not In This Lifetime,” has become one of the most successful in modern history from a financial standpoint. And while reviewing it in its entirety isn’t easy (or necessarily possible) we can look at a roundup of reviews for particular shows along the way.

Coachella (April ’16) – “The magic was absent.” This was a take from Vice, building on a headline suggesting that Guns N’ Roses had shown its age at the Coachella show. The review noted hints of pleasure when the band played the hits, as well as Slash’s enduring skill, but ultimately pointed to a lack of chemistry and the simple ravages of time as reasons for an underwhelming reunion.

Detroit (June ’16) – “This was history being made.” This comment came from none other than Rolling Stone, in a piece that directly refuted some of the earlier reviews. Citing a straightened out lineup and an Axl Rose out of the foot cast he’d appeared in for Coachella, it painted the picture of a reunion tour that had found its groove.

London (June ’17) – “You can’t blow the roof off a stadium that doesn’t have one, but they damn well tried.” So said The Guardian after one of GNR’s European shows, painting a picture not only of an electric performance, but of the thrill for an original fan seeing the band back in action again.

Cleveland (October ’17) – “Guns N’ Roses have no intention of coasting to the finish line.” This was a take offered on one of the tour’s later dates. Not only was it yet another positive review, but it was one with the perspective to mention the almost universally positive response to the tour – as well as growing hopes of fresh material from the group.

All in all the impression left by the “Not In This Lifetime” tour is that while there are occasional frustrations stemming from the simple fact that the band’s members have aged, it’s been good to have them back. And on some occasions, they’ve absolutely wowed all their old fans.

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Acoustic Session in NY (1987 radio broadcast)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Acoustic Session in NY (1987 radio broadcast, Laser Media release)

Radio broadcasts of historic value can be found for dirt cheap.  Guns N’ Roses played an intimate set on October 30 1987 at CBGB’s in New York, and today you can own a CD of it just by being in the right Walmart.

The GN’R Lies EP was still over a year away but several tracks were previewed:  “Patience”, “Used to Love Her”, the acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” and the controversial “One in a Million”.  It was only the second time “One in a Million” had been played live and the audience doesn’t particularly react where you think they would.  They do, however, get quite a kick out of “Used to Love Her”.  According to Rolling Stone, there were about 100 people in the club that night.  They also got to hear the unfamiliar “Move to the City” and “Mr. Brownstone”.

The balance of the CD is from an unknown gig, fully plugged in: “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, a ferocious “My Michelle” and a very early cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by the original five.  Since you’re never poorer for owning vintage live Guns with Izzy and Steven, the three tracks are welcome bonuses (though a source listing would be nice).

3.5/5 stars


200 word

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Lies (1988)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Lies (1988 Geffen)

Do you remember your first Guns N’ Roses?  I sure do.  I skipped Appetite and went straight to GN’R Lies.  We were heading to the cottage one spring weekend and my parents offered to buy me a new cassette.  “Patience” hadn’t even been released as a single yet.  I knew no songs.  But I was intrigued by the idea of a half-acoustic EP.  I fell in love with the acoustic guitar around that time, and I wanted to check out Lies as my first Guns.  I’m kind of proud that my first Guns wasn’t Appetite.

The acoustic side was the second; first I was assaulted by the jet-propelled electric “live” side.  Which wasn’t really live.  It was recorded in the studio with crowd noise dubbed in from the 1978 Texxas Jam.  If you listen to the vocals, knowing that Axl is always in motion on stage, you can tell they are not live.  This is, of course, with 20/20 hindsight.  This electric side was a reissue of the first Guns EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide.  Fans had been paying ridiculous amounts of money to acquire it, so Guns decided to beat the dealers by simply reissuing it with some new songs on top.

“Reckless Life” dated back to Hollywood Rose.  Even though it’s not from Appetite, it sure could have fit on that album.  It had the energy and the hooks to make it.  It speaks to the strength of the album that songs like “Reckless Life” were left off.  A slick and groovy tune, “Move to the City”, is also included on Lies.  It’s obviously different from the direction of Appetite (horns!), but not all that dissimilar to the Illusions albums.   The electric side is rounded out by a couple covers, something we later learned that Guns really excel at…or fail completely.  There is no in-between with Guns N’ Roses covers.  They either rule or suck.  Both covers on Lies rule:  “Nice Boys” (Rose Tattoo) borders on punk, foreshadowing the future.  Finally, Axl announces that “This song is about your fuckin’ mother!”  Not exactly the kind of thing parents enjoy, but a killer track:  “Mama Kin” introduced many youngsters to the Aerosmith classic for the first time.

That first side felt dangerous.  We were used to bands like Def Leppard.  Suddenly this guy is talking about our fuckin’ mothers?  Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide aka “side one” is also catchy as fuck, so we kept going back for round two, three, and more.

 

It was actually quite genius of them to pair Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide with four acoustic tunes on side two.  The contrast works, and when you flip the record it feels fresh when you drop the needle again.  In fact it’s easy to just flip back to side one and listen again.  The quality of the acoustic songs didn’t hurt.  The side progresses from softest to hardest.  “Patience” is first, which eventually became one of Guns’ greatest hits.  You didn’t hear acoustic guitar solos often back then, or a ballad with no drums.  Even though ballads were all the rage, few bands had a song like “Patience”.  The brilliance of “Patience” isn’t the melody or the whistling.  It’s the minimalist arrangement.

I still remember my dad watching the “Patience” video with me.  “That guy’s not a very good guitar player!” he scoffed as Slash solo’d.  He never liked Guns N’ Roses.

“Used to Love Her” was always a bit of a novelty, but even so, a good novelty track.  “A joke, nothing more,” according to the cover.  It’s about a dog, in case you didn’t know.  “Used to Love Her” is upbeat, catchy and easy to sing along to.  Regardless of what my dad may think, Slash’s (electric) solo work on it is tops.

One of the most interesting songs is “You’re Crazy”, a re-recording of the Appetite for Destruction favourite.  The cover states that it was originally slow and acoustic, before being cranked up on Appetite.  Because it’s unique, the Lies version is the better of the two.  It was notorious in the highschool halls for its refrain of “You’re fuckin’ crazy.”

Even more notorious however was the closer, and for good reason.  Certain words in certain contexts are unpalatable.  Context is the key.  It matters who is saying the word, and why.  Words in themselves are not offensive, it is their usage that can be hurtful.  “One in a Million” is an ugly, angry song.  Axl’s pissed off at the cops, religion, and seemingly homosexuals and the black community as well.  Some of the harshest words are levelled at foreigners:

Immigrants and faggots,
They make no sense to me.
They come to our country,
And think they’ll do as they please.
Like start some mini-Iran,
Or spread some fucking disease.
And they talk so many God damn ways,
It’s all Greek to me.

Later on, Axl has the gall to state, “Radicals and racists, Don’t point your finger at me.  I’m a small town white boy, just tryin’ to make ends meet.”  Here we are in 2017, three decades later, and the world is still infested with angry, small town white boys.  Although Axl smugly apologized for the lyrics in advance on the front cover, “One in a Million” can’t be excused that easily.  Axl has since worked with gay and African American artists…hell, Slash’s mom was African American.  As a fan of the music, I would like to hope that Axl has learned more about the world since 1988.  We are shaped by our experience, and I hope Axl has had more positive ones.

Moving on from the lyrics, the interesting thing about “One in a Million” is that it was album debut of Axl Rose’s piano, on a song solely written by Axl.  It’s simple and guitar based, and Slash’s acoustic solo is utterly fantastic.

Finally, one of the most appealing aspects of GN’R Lies is the cover.  Taking a cue from Jethro Tull, the cover looks like a newspaper replete with dirty articles.  Open it up, and there’s a naked woman inside.  “The loveliest girls are always in your GN’R L.P.” says the headline.  I quickly folded up the cover to hide it from my parents.

Lies was a good stopgap for Guns, considering the five year gap between Appetite and Illusions.  It demonstrated growth, and cool roots.  It will always be remembered for “Patience”, but also a couple ill-advised words that had lasting repercussions.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (1987 Geffen)

The first time I ever heard of Guns N’ Roses was from a rock magazine.  There was a picture of this weird looking lead singer with spiky red hair, and his name was “Axl”.  I immediately decided I didn’t like whoever he was, because he looked absolutely hammered, a complete mess.  And what kind of name was “Guns N’ Roses” for a band anyway?

MuchMusic began spinning their first video, “Welcome to the Jungle”, but only on the Pepsi Power Hour.  After a couple plays, I liked it.  I took Axl off the “banned” list and taped their video.  I asked my friend Scott if he liked Guns N’ Roses.  “They suck!” he answered.  A few months later, another video hit the airwaves and it was even better.  “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came out during the year of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but wasn’t like either band.  I loved the tune; this band had potential!  Before I knew it, school was out for the summer.

A funny thing happened on summer break.  Guns N’ Roses became huge.  When I returned to school in the fall, guess what band Scott was suddenly in to?  Guns N’ Roses.*  Everybody was.  And nobody believed me that I liked them first.  “You probably don’t even know the words,” said one kid.

That was 30 years ago.  Jesus Murphy…30 years!

I could yammer on and on about Appetite for Destruction.  For example, we could discuss these subjects:

  • How Guns went against the grain but changed the game.
  • Mike Clink’s sharp anti-80s production.  (Did you know Paul Stanley wanted to produce Appetite?)
  • The iconic album cover.
  • Slash’s immense influence on guitar players, including making the Gibson Les Paul the guitar to play again.
  • The under appreciated songwriting of Mr. Izzy Stradlin’.
  • The unstoppable rhythm section of Duff “Rose” McKagan and Steven “Popcorn” Adler.
  • That Duff McKagan is uber-talented and his backing vocals are a crucial part of Guns’ sound.
  • The single-minded, focused and unified direction of Appetite.
  • How their ample use of the “f word” drove the censors crazy.
  • Cowbell.
  • Riffs.
  • The all-important role of lead singer and frontman W. Axl Rose in their rise to stardom.
  • How Axl and Slash became the Steven Tyler and Joe Perry for a new generation.
  • That ten thousand bands followed in their wake when the sleazy side of the Sunset Strip became the hottest new trend.

We could talk about all those things until we’re blue in the face; each one would make for a fine subject for an article in their own right.  Or, perhaps I could talk about some of my more controversial opinions:

  • That Appetite is great, but Illusions are better.
  • The best song is not one of the singles, but in fact the last track, the sprawling “Rocket Queen”.
  • Even Appetite has filler, in this case “Anything Goes” and “Think About You”.
  • That Izzy was the most talented member.

I could do that, or I could even go through Appetite track by track.  It would be cool to analyze the riffage, anger and rock power of tracks like “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain”, “Out Ta Get Me” and “You’re Crazy”.  We could discuss that Guns groove that is the basis of the legendary “Mr. Brownstone”.  The simmering , biting intensity of “My Michelle”.  We could, or you could click on any of the numerous articles from rock magazines that do the same thing.

Maybe yammering about Appetite isn’t as important as the memories associated with it.  I’ve shared this story before, but my favourite memory of this album goes back to highschool.  When the album hit it big, virtually everybody I knew had a copy.  One guy named Anand liked studying to Appetite.  He had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement doing his homework with “Out Ta Get Me” playing.   His kid brother kept coming around to bug him, as kid brothers do.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to “Out Ta Get Me”, and returned upstairs.  When the parents heard the kid singing “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent,” Anand got grounded.  (He got grounded a lot, though.)

Appetite for Destruction has sold 18 million copies in the US, with another few million sold overseas.  It’s one of the select albums to go Diamond (1 million copies) in Canada.  That’s a lot of people with memories of Appetite for Destruction (even though about five copies were actually bought by myself).  I’m not the only one with stories.  So how do I go about reviewing Appetite for Destruction?

Like anything else, I guess:  on a scale of 5:

4.5/5 stars

 

* Scott responds: “In my defence, I heard ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ first, and wasn’t into the power ballad thing. It was when I saw the video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that I changed my opinion, and after getting the album — the imported banned cover — that I became a huge fan. I didn’t jump on no band wagon!”

 

#516: Use Your Illusion

GETTING MORE TALE #516: Use Your Illusion

25 years ago on this day, millions of fans used their illusions.

1991:  First year of university, and I was hard at work on some reading.  My sister and my mom were out shopping at the mall.  The record store I eventually worked at opened up just that summer.  Unbeknownst to me, they popped in on my behalf and returned with a present.

“Mike!” yelled my sister excitedly as they returned home.  The dog barked loudly in shrill Schnauzer barks as she talked.  “Did you know Guns N’ Roses have TWO NEW ALBUMS OUT?”

I sure did!  Use Your Illusion I and II were the long-awaited true followups to Appetite for Destruction.  With 30 brand new songs, Guns released the music as two separate but complimentary albums.  My sister eagerly handed me a gift:  a new cassette copy of Use Your Illusion II!

Why she chose II, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter.  For this fan, II was the first.  I had it a whole week before I caught up and bought Illusion I (again, at the same store I would work at only three years later).  It was $10.99.  Perhaps because I had the second album a week ahead of the first, I still really prefer II over I.  Songs such as “Breakdown”, “Pretty Tied Up”, and “Locomotive” are three of the strongest and most ambitious rock songs on an already strong set.  They stand up today as my personal favourites.

The Use Your Illusion albums spawned a combined eight singles:  “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Civil War”, “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Live and Let Die”, “November Rain”, “Yesterdays” and “Estranged”.  Additionally, music videos were made for the tracks “Garden of Eden”, “The Garden”, and “Dead Horse”.  Guns N’ Roses assaulted all formats as they trounced the world in a two year long world tour, with acts such as Skid Row, Metallica and Faith No More.  They even suffered their most devastating lineup change right at the very start of it.  Chief songwriter Izzy Stradlin departed in November of 1991, to be replaced shortly after by Gilby Clarke.  Although he has made numerous guest appearances since, Izzy has never rejoined Guns N’ Roses.

Did you buy Use Your Illusion I and II 25 years ago today?  Do you have a favourite?

 

#481: Hang It Up

GETTING MORE TALE #481: Hang It Up

Rock fans are a fickle bunch, aren’t we?  We will openly praise our rock heroes, placing them upon mighty pedestals.  We will proclaim that our love for said bands trumps anyone else’s; we are truer fans than the average wannabe.  Then at the drop of a hat, when our bands take an action we don’t approve of, we suddenly become the authority on what that band actually should have done.  We’re the experts after all, right?

Most commonly, we are quick to judge when a band has passed its prime.  We have all done it.  “They need to hang it up and call it a day, go out with some dignity,” we proclaim, pretending that we actually have a clue of what goes on in their creative or financial headspaces.

Why do we think we know what’s best?  Certainly, we are opinionated on what we like and what we don’t.  Let’s say a certain band “jumps the shark” a little bit, to use the TV vernacular.  For example, Aerosmith.  A lot of fans, this one included, feel that Aerosmith’s best days are long behind them.  As fans, we don’t want to see the band continue to sink further into a crapslide of mediocrity.  Mediocrity, that is, defined by us.

Certainly, Aerosmith have no problems selling out arenas even after several patchy discs and gigs.  Go and see them live and you will meet fans who have seen them dozens of times in their lives.  They have a blast doing so, and they don’t care if Tyler can’t jump around like he used to.   What makes one group of fans (the ones that cry “hang it up!”) right, but the others who will gladly go see them live again tomorrow, wrong?

Nothing.  It’s all personal taste.  You may fall on one side of fence with Aerosmith, but another side with the Stones, or the Who.  Look, I love Kiss.  I always have.  I loved when they were great, and I loved when they were shit.  Now that the original members are down to just Gene and Paul, and Paul’s struggling with his voice, do I think they should hang it up?  Absolutely not.  I still look forward to whatever Paul, Gene, Eric and Tommy have cooking next.   But I don’t necessarily feel that way about Aerosmith, or even AC/DC.

I saw Gordon Lightfoot perform about 10 years ago.  His voice is reduced to a quiet whisper now.  Years take their toll, but Gordon and his band still played a set of unforgettable music.  Was it a harsh reminder of the years gone by?  Sure, but I can say I’ve seen Gordon Lightfoot now, an experience I wouldn’t trade in for a cash refund, no way.

To compare an artist to their younger selves is almost universally unfair.  I can’t run the 100 meter dash like I used to.  Ian Gillan can’t hit the high screams like 1969 either.  That’s OK.  Ageing is a part of life.  It is also a part of music, even rock and roll.  Rock music used to be about celebrating youth, but today it is a far more diverse field than it was in the golden years.

On the other hand, take a group like AC/DC.  For all intents and purposes, they were still going very strong with the classic five members until very recently.  Then Malcolm got sick – irreversibly so.  Phil Rudd had his problems and was let go.  Now Brian Johnson is gone and Axl Rose is in.  At what point does a band become a parody of itself?  More importantly, who gets to decide that?  I’d prefer if AC/DC were able to continue with Brian; I don’t want to adjust to an AC/DC with yet another new singer.  But I don’t get a say, do I?

But we do get to vote on this, in one way:  the capitalist way.  We vote democratically with our dollars.  People who don’t want to see Axl Rose fronting AC/DC are offered full refunds, and by taking the refund, a fan can voice his or her displeasure.  If the tour continues beyond these dates, we will still be able to vote with our wallets.  There is no deception here.  Surely anyone in the market for AC/DC tickets knows what’s going on now.

Speaking personally, I would go see Axl/DC.  Who knows how long this aggregation will last?  It’s a possible chance to see history in the making.   Even if they suck absolutely (doubtful), I would still be able to say “I saw that.  I was there.”  So, given the chance, even if I don’t like the idea of Axl fronting AC/DC, I would still use my money to vote “yay”.  Even just out of curiosity, it would be worth it.

The single instance that I feel is universally appropriate for a band to retire is the sad day they find themselves without any original members.  Take Quiet Riot for example.  Nobody currently in the band played on the first two Quiet Riot albums.  Two of the members who did are now dead, and there is no connection at all to the earliest recordings of the group.  In cases such as this, what separates a band from a mere tribute?  Call it what it is, in my view.

Who do you think should hang it up?  And if they do, how long before the reunion tour?  Time will tell!