Guns n Waiting by Jonny Steiner

Posted: December 4, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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The first thing I wondered when I got my hand on a copy of “Chinese Democracy”, the new album by Guns N Roses, seventeen years in the making was: Are there still any GNR fans left? Undoubtedly there are but come on, were people really counting each day of the last seventeen years in eager anticipation of the new album? More and more, the endless hype seems to be an invention of a media starved for the resurrection of GNR who are true Rock heroes. We see this happen more and more when a band who was well known, decides to put out an album after some time. Usually it is heralded as a great comeback. Look at AC/DC with “Black Ice” or a few years ago with Jane’s Addiction’s triumphant return with “Strays”. The funniest aspect of the comeback is when it comes after the band suffers a tumultuous breakup. What we learn from those reconciliations is that as much as the band hates one another there is one thing that they are willing to set their animosity aside for, money.
With “Chinese Democracy” Axel Rose presents the hopefully triumphant return of GNR. Considering the fact that Rose is the only founding member left, this is much more a one man show than its predecessor, 1991’s “Use Your Illusion I and II”. Something interesting to note; when those albums came out in 91, much of the music industries core demographic today were not even born. All they know about GNR they learned on VH1 and VH1 Classic. So the album was released to a world and industry that has largely passed GNR by.
What I always liked about the band back in their heyday was that they truly lived the Rock life of excess. They played with reckless abandon, and lived that way. Their career path was notoriously chaotic, full of drugs and sex. It got to the point where the band was being overshadowed by its own image which made the music irrelevant. The dual release of “Use Your Illusion I and II” showed that the band still had the skill but by that point it was pretty much all the Axel Rose show. All of the excess had been channeled into the music and it was a successful record, but one that ended up tearing the band apart.
Enter Axel Rose seventeen years later to give us the next installment in the saga of the band. On the first listen, the album is not bad. It lacks the energy and immediacy that previous releases had, but it shows Rose on the same path he set for himself all those years ago. There are no epics like “November Rain” here, but the production is top notch. I would hope that after seventeen years of tinkering, the album would be tight. It is and perhaps in some way that is the problem.
Though the album shows Axel’s age and sounds dated, it is kind of nice to hear some legitimate guitar solos in the music. The art of the solo is something that is lacking in the soulless age of Rock that we live in. It also has hints of orchestra hiding behind many of the songs, another aspect lost in an era where many bands employ DJs to provide a similar background.
What is perhaps the most interesting fact about the album is that while the reviews have been steady and largely positive, the album is not moving well. I did a quick search of several media outlets and found that the two worst reviews given to the album were from Pitchfork Media (an indie publication) and PopMatters (you can guess what their focus is). In other words, what we are seeing here is the party lines being drawn across the industry. Now more than ever softer music is king ala the Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, and the eagerly anticipated (not by me of course) return of Britney Spears. This album is far too heavy for those people. On the other side of the spectrum the album is not heavy enough for true Metal Heads. Then there are the Punks, this album is far too bombastic for them. So what we have is a band trying to reestablish itself in an industry where all the rules have changed.
I realize that I have written very little about the music itself, but I find the social and cultural aspects of this release far more interesting. Let me put it this way. If you are already a fan of the band you will like it. If not, you won’t listen to it. I find it hard to believe that this album will find its way into a new audience rather than strengthen the love of the existing one.

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