#1 Re: 1999 » 1999: Chinese Whispers » 297 weeks ago
Hen for Robin
"When Robin Finck had left to rejoin Nine Inch Nails, we were looking for a guitar player, had auditioned a few people, and weren't really sure what we would do, and one day I walked into the studio and Axl goes, "Buckethead! Do you know him?" And I go, "I've known him since 1991, man!"
And (Axl)'s like, "I knew it! I knew you'd know him! How do we get hold of him?" "Last I heard, he was hanging up in San Francisco with the Primus crew. Let me call my buddy Dave, the manager of Primus, Dave Lefkowitz." So I called Dave and got (Bucket's) phone number. The first thing I was like, "Do you think Buckethead would be into this, he's such a quirky, weird, artiste?" And Dave goes, "Yeah, I think he is tired of the starving artist routine, I think he is ready to make a living"." (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"At Christmas [Axl] invited Brian over to his house. It hadn't been a happy Buckethead holiday up to that point: he'd really, really been hoping that someone would give him a certain hard-to-find Leatherface doll he'd been coveting as a gift, but no one had." (MTV, 11/21/02)
"Got invited to Axl's on Christmas night; never met him before. Sad about not getting the doll but it is ok, but still sad. Get to Axl's, he presents this box wrapped up. The Michael Myers version has been out for a while, knew it was the same box. Figured it was Michael Myers and opened it up. There was Leatherface." (Buckethead, NoneFerYouDear, 11/00)
"Brian took this as a sign ('He must understand me somehow')." (MTV, 11/21/02)
"I introduced him to Axl... He's got that white kabuki face mask with no expression on it and the bucket, and he doesn't talk when he's in character. He'll nod 'yes' or shake his head 'no'. Because Buckethead doesn't have a voice, he doesn't talk...
When he was going to audition, I said, 'Listen man, you have to know that I might not be here in six months... This is a cool thing, and if you want to do it, do it. But I don't want you to be angry if I'm not here in a month.'" (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
The news also reached the other guitarist supposed to audition. Tommy had appeared with him on P. Diddy's hit single and the music video, It's All About the Benjamins, in 1997.
"I got out to do the session, and Tommy Stinson and Josh Freese were on the session that I was doing for Yoshiki, ironically enough... So I said, 'Hey, I was supposed to come and audition for you guys this week.' They were like, 'Yeah! You’re the guy! Well, Axl found this guy Buckethead and we just stopped doing auditions.' Axl was convinced with Buckethead, so it was no problem. No big deal." (Richard Fortus, Ultimate Guitar, 11/26/08)
"[Buckethead] kinda jammed with Guns N' Roses 2 or 3 times before he got the job. He played and got a call back and came again." (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"My dad had got in a car accident a few months prior to that, and Axl sent... this nice, like giant, expensive skateboard and signed it, and made some joke about maybe you should try riding this for a while... So I was like, "Dad, you should come up and meet Axl and meet Buckethead, he is such a huge Disney freak." And Bucket knew my dad... conducted the Disneyland band... Warren [Fitzgerald of The Vandals] had told him that, and he was like "Oh my god, my dream is to work at Disneyland."
So that night... we were going to do some more playing.
Buckethead: "Man, I am really nervous, I'm really nervous about playing tonight."
Josh: "Dude, you are all good, you basically got the gig already. You wouldn't be asked to come down the fourth time."
Buckethead:"No, no, not so much that! You're dad's there and he hires the musicians in Disneyland!""
(Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"I think Axl [and Buckethead] went to Disneyland and they signed in the Haunted Mansion. I think, as he was on the ride, he signed the contract. I mean, you can't make this up!" (Brain, I'd Hit That, 02/15)
"[GNR] has been fun like a ride never been ridden. Every turn is new, it will be interesting to see where this ride goes." (Buckethead, NoneFerYouDear, 11/00)
Buckethead seemed to become fast friends with synth player/all-purpose soundman, Chris Pitman. Bucket heralded Pitman with the nickname Mother Goose, which first appeared in public in an April 2000 newsletter, courtesy of his TOOL associates.
"[Mother Goose] was a nickname I acquired sometime when Buckethead was in GNR, all his friends had great nicknames, and that name came up for me. I seldom hear it anymore, or I only hear it when I'm around people associated with that era and it always makes me laugh and remember some good times." (Chris Pitman, HTGTH, 03/28/09)
Another year had passed.
#2 Re: 2003 » 2003: Chinese Whispers » 364 weeks ago
Call or Fold
On 10/15/03, Geffen Records formally announced the release of Welcome to the Videos, a DVD compilation of all GNR's officially released live and promotional videos. Almost certainly an olive branch handed by Axl's people to Geffen, so that they might benefit from the sales of a new GNR product in the absence of a studio album.
A few days later, Amazon listed a new GNR album in their catalogue, with the release set for 11/25/03. The album was soon revealed to be the Greatest Hits release. The listing disappeared on 10/22/03, mere days after the title was revealed.
"The band's representatives managed to hold [the plans for a GHLP] off with yet another promise to deliver 'Chinese Democracy' by the end of the year." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
On 11/07/03, GNR were confirmed to perform at Rock in Rio-Lisboa on 05/30/04. The announcement came over six months before the planned event. On 11/10/03, the German MTV indicated the band was putting together a European tour for the summer. Later in the month, Rock Am Ring organizer Marek Lieberberg was said to be in negotiations with GNR to headline the festival in June.
As the tour rumors were began at such an early stage (with one show already unveiled), a thought that springs to mind would be GNR signaling Geffen that they were serious about releasing the album in or around June, and were setting themselves for a summer tour.
But, as usual...
"December 31, 2003 came and went without delivery of the studio LP, as had so many previous deadlines." (Greatest Hits lawsuit document, 2004)
"Both [Axl's seclusion and going overbudget forced Geffen] to cut their losses after he turned down a lucrative ultimatum to have the record out by year’s end." (AddictiveThoughts, 07/12/09)
Time had ran up.
- Replies: 17
All good things come to an end. With the release of the album, my work on Chinese Whispers is done and it's time to sit back and let better men take over. Having waited for CD with the lot of you, I now intend to take the time to reflect on our mutual journey in solitude, and will therefore head for a holiday from the online community. Before I leave, I'd like to take the opportunity to share with you some of our future plans and my thoughts on the album itself, as well as reminisce the steps taken so far.
Chinese Whispers shall remain a GNR Evolution exclusive, and it will eventually be paired with a completely new undertaking by the dedicated pair of Aussie and Polluxlm. Tentatively called Auditory Illusions, the sister-piece to Whispers is set to pull together the story behind the UYIs, which I feel remains to be told in all its grandeur to this day. The material we've come up with so far proves to be rather interesting to say the least, and upon its release, will dispel some myths and misconceptions that've plagued the GNR lore for nearly two decades. Also, if this band proves to have a future of any kind, we will be there to write it down. Warts and all.
I thank you all for attending this long and dusty trail with me. The wait has now turned into a reward in itself, as many good things have risen from the endless conversations, speculations and wonderings we've shared. A fine collection of memories, which I one day hope to relate when someone asks me how did it feel, to wait for Chinese Democracy. In the final analysis, it was oftentimes a whole lot of fun, really.
Many happy returns,
Chinese Democracy - A Review in Seven Chapters
Should I need to define The Album with one word, I might choose 'paradox'.
It's Guns N' Roses and it can never be Guns N' Roses, because the band exists and yet, doesn't. It's only an album and, simultaneously, a hood ornament to an entire era in the history of music. While the music will speak for itself, its voice is muffled by countless predetermined opinions. It holds the unofficial world record as the most talked about pre-release, and yet it will never outsell Thriller.
For all the things Chinese Democracy contains, it also includes their opposites. Therefore, it should be appropriate to be view it as a disc split in two distinctly recognizable cycles. This is partially due to the notion that when cut in half, the track listing reveals two like-minded sequences, which also have a seventeen second difference in length. I've also divided songs on both cycles into verses, and will consider each of them against their counterpart.
Take a seat, for a slow boat to China is about to depart.
1. Cycle (35:31) 2. Cycle (35:48)
1. Verse Chinese Democracy Scraped
Shackler's Revenge Riad N' The Bedouins
2. Verse Better Sorry
Street of Dreams IRS
3. Verse If The World Madagascar
There Was A Time This I Love
4. Verse Catcher In The Rye Prostitute
1. Cycle, 1. Verse: Chinese Democracy & Shackler's Revenge
Axl opens jaded, first towards his body of work, and later, even towards his own life. Sounding desolate and beaten, he tries his hardest to convince everyone neither the album or himself are worth waiting for, as neither appear to meet, let alone surpass, the mounting expectations.
The title track sets out to become the jet-set version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid with its chorusless structure and sleazy guitars, mixed with Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. But both Ozzy and Cobain had something this number desperately lacks: the catch par none. Paranoid and Teen Spirit both come with memorable main riffs and lyrics to match, while Chinese Democracy tries to counterbalance Finck's comparatively weak lead (with even the initial notes 'inspired' by the Nevermind opener) and Axl's mediocre lyrics with a superior amount of production. Try listening to the stripped down live versions from 2001 and you'll notice the empty barrels coming off every now and then.
While the song's not a total loss, it reeks of overdoing. Perhaps Josh Freese was just the wrong guy; maybe Axl should'dgone with Dave Grohl a decade ago, if only for this one track. For all their influences and musical awareness, the band simply does not click with whatever it is they're pursuing, last-minute additions by Bumblefoot and Frank Ferrer (second drummer to re-record Freese's parts) be damned. Axl's out of his depth as well: Originally, he went on with his 'low and manly' It's So Easy -tone, which makes the higher double vocals (as well as the opening wail) come out almost as a guilt inclusion. A for effort, but a B- for the result.
Shackler's Revenge brings out a completely different animal, tactfully introduced early into the game. This is the '02 touring lineup working rounds in the studio, with one-time producer Roy Thomas Baker's ('00-01) recording engineer Caram Costanzo promoted as full-time co-producer. Like them or not, they sound like an extremely solid unit - amusingly, most of the chagrin in the fanbase seems to come from the realization that they became a top-of-the-heap nu-metal band. While kicking Nickelback down to a bloody pulp should be considered more of an obligation than a merit to any upstart, Guns demonstrate the meanest rhythm section out there, with Buckethead doing a killing over the braided ones trademark vocals.
If you can live with the fact that switching top hats to buckets means turning apples into oranges, you can rest assured that somewhere down the road, Guns evolved into a contemporary group with loads of songwriting capacity. But Shackler's just a snack, as we're not into the big guns yet.
2. Cycle, 1. Verse: Scraped & Riad N' The Bedouins
As a new cycle begins, Axl is defiant, demanding his rightful place along with his cohorts. Ever so self-ironic, he mocks his own misgivings, letdowns and mental state, stripping the opposition from their most common arms of choice. No more apologizing.
In a perfect world, the Costanzo band would've had a full album dedicated to themselves. Of this stock, Scraped would've been the self-appointed opening track with its gritty punchline; "Don't you try to stop us now!" The entire band comes off with such amount of unexcused vitriol, self-indulgence, and all-around need to prove its worth, it's tempting to imagine the song was created in the immediate aftermath of the 2002 tour. Scraped comes out quick, makes a stand, runs like clockwork and finally, after shaking its fist long enough, raises the finger.
The greatest thing about Scraped is the way it captures the reckless spirit of the original Guns while they were still doing doughnuts at Sunset. Having the similar care-free attitude over the opinions of others, the testosterone-laden anthem draws to close with a clear remark: "We're here. Get on board or fuck off. See if we care." Try keeping a straight face after that one.
Riad N' The Bedouins stands as a testimony to the greatness of Thomas Eugene Stinson. Having doubts? Try listening to The Replacements' Tim. You'll notice that behind all the loose guitar work by Paul Westerberg and the late brother Bob Stinson, there's Tommy's bass, ridiculously simple and unassuming, tying all loose ends together and gelling the album into The Mats' greatest hit.
In Riad, Tommy works overtime. What he has is another ingenious bass line, and he holds the fort when every other band member (including Axl) goes amok. Someone has to be the designated driver, and 'General' Stinson, the former juvenile delinquent, has credentials to burn. The beauty of Riad lies in the fact that the band goes crazy; the totally demented Axl demonstrates some Plant-ish wails reminiscent to Immigrant Song, while Buckethead and Pitman fly way off the handle to convince the frenzied Brain that with songs like this, the album could really be the their equivalent to Led Zeppelin's II.
1. Cycle, 2. Verse: Better & Street of Dreams
Now approaching more significant states of emotion, Axl begins to contemplate on love's labor lost. This verse is the first in a series of vitriolic attacks, nostalgic longings and painful self-studies aimed the people who Axl thinks have wronged him. This verse sets the pace for the remainder of both cycles, both of which are opened by more generalized takes on what is to be expected. In Better, a lover is sent down in ignominy as her true colors are exposed; in Street of Dreams, Axl mourns for the damage inflicted upon both parties and the steps he felt he had to take.
Hey Slipknot, you think you pushed the boundaries in merging multiple songs into a coherent piece on Iowa? Go back to Des Moines, 'cause here's something Better. With only one masked hoodlum, Axl's posse launches into its prime; a bullseye melodic rocker custom-made to survive the treacherous altitudes of continuous airplay. This is the Costanzo-era band with all the vintage trimmings necessary to win the bulk of the Appetite crowd over on their side. While it doesn't sound either retro or trendy, it's the new Guns firing on all cylinders, on their own terms. Can't go wrong, can't get Better.
Unfortunately, things go a bit downhill as of now. Street of Dreams originally started out as The Blues, a heartfelt ballad with Axl's vocals stripped from any distraction imaginable, fueling him to provide some of the most disarmingly authentic live performances of his career. Back when CD was already a clunker, The Blues showed exquisite potential. This is Axl's turf - the man who wrote the quintessential power ballads November Rain and Estranged doesn't need to break much sweat while climbing onto the shoulders of Freddy Mercury and Elton John.
But somewhere down the line, Axl lost his rhyme and reason underneath the mixing board (which could arguably be said in the case the aforementioned triumphs as well). The Blues morphed into Street of Dreams and the air around the vocals was filled with kitchen-sink production antics. Perhaps most embarrassingly, the final version introduces a lasting trend for the albums more tender moments: the use of power chords as underlines to specific vocal parts, as if Axl'd wish to ensure everybody would get the moment where he digs deep into his heart. Hey man, we get it. We got it in 2001 already.
2. Cycle, 2. Verse: Sorry & IRS
The surly note begun in the second cycle's first verse refuses to tone down. In Sorry, Axl lays blame out in abundance and boasts himself as the superior half of the outcome, who's able to see both sides of the fallout and may therefore rest assured, while feeling the passing concern over what is to become of his former companion(s). This provocation is followed through in IRS, as Axl poses strict questions instead of begging forgiveness. Caution be damned, we're going down fast.
In Sorry, the death-metal riff and grinding vocals touted by Sebastian Bach are about as audible as his own vocal contributions. But that's Baz for you - he makes more noise on print anyway. All things considered, it's not necessarily a downer on any account, as Sorry is the ballad the Costanzo-era band was born to make. Well into the lines of Shackler, Scraped and Better, the band now showcases a firm identity, knowing exactly how to slow down the thunderous machine as Axl switches back and forth between his mellow and demonic voices with enviable ease.
Once again, Axl stresses that he hasn't missed a beat as one of the greatest modern-day songwriters. Sorry tells a story, an Axl story, as the band takes a backseat, providing a sufficiently rich (if not overbearing) tapestry to Braidie's vocals. Up until the chorus, that is. For whatever reason, Axl felt the need to blow the carefully crafted mood up to high heaven when Baz and friends join hands to express bittersweet empathy in a way that'd make the outro of November Rain blush.
Even so, Sorry's a good reminder that sometimes, Axl's voice is the sole instrument needed to have an orchestra.
While the second cycle has opened with two strong Costanzo tracks with Riad thrown in for good measure, we're once again faced with a track dating back to the original Sean Beavan sessions from '98-99. This is not to say that Beavan had proved to be a shorthanded producer, heavens no. His little-known background in psychiatry might've played an integral part in boosting Axl's confidence as far as the album work was concerned - if anything, he should be hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of the project.
The erstwhile Guns manager Merck Mercuriadis once said that there were 'at least ten tracks on the album better than IRS'. The song's definitely in my bottom four, so I'm inclined to agree. Much like the title track, IRS is not the finest hour of the Beavan/Rose partnership. The original '99 demo version without Buckethead's outing solo was a monotone rocker; his contribution, along with Axl's accompanying wail, proved to be the one redeeming element in an otherwise forgettable piece. The final studio version throws in some accomplished rhythm work and new, hardly discernible drum parts (again courtesy of Bumblefoot and Frank) to provide some desperately needed variety. Unfortunately, this doesn't change the fact that like with CD, Axl's simply trying to put balls on a mare.
While the lyrics have Axl wandering into a good old-fashion You Could Be Mine -territory (aside the ludicrous chorus), it's readily apparent that the lineup which originally wrote the song were still to find their way to come up with a half-decent rocker. With no strong songwriter to guide them through, they come out like a bunch of session musicians performing under the Guns N' Roses moniker, recording separately and patched together in Pro Tools. A surrogate Slash was direly needed (Axl DID find one, eventually), not to mention a lasting sense of chemistry (found, perhaps, in the final performance, but not in the structural flow). All the mending and care aside, IRS and CD both remain as dinosaurs, reminding of the kind of music Axl was dreaded to put out by representing Guns all by himself.
1. Cycle, 3. Verse: If The World & There Was A Time
Recalling (or retrieving?) the memory of love, If The World has Axl at the peak of his happiness, while the ever-present undercurrent of impending disaster is still going strong. All good things come to an end, and as the hot summer nights wind down and autumn sets in, he turns back and realizes the part he played was that of a fool. This pair comes in late to the cycle and is imperative in understanding the form by which this study has been construed. Love is fleeting, and has already left. This is heart of the pain, the pain of the heart.
For whatever reason, If The World is one of my personal favorites on the album. The pace is set by the single guitar sound, plonking away more than one false start. After that, the flamenco riff kicks in, marching to a beat which Jay-Z could've well nicked from an obscure 70's Isaac Hayes recording. If there was ever an original blueprint to the recording process, it had to be DJ Shadow's 1996 album Endtroducing, built from the ground up from samples. The main difference between Shadow and Mixmaster Rose is that Guns never sampled anyone else's music - they recorded their own back catalog of imaginary lost artists.
There's this sort of care-free, laid back feel throughout the song, which makes it an effortless, soothing tune. Axl and the band are chillin', and everybody's audibly enjoying themselves. If you're into compiling groovy mix discs for partying, driving, or whatever, be sure to include If The World for a smooth comedown from, for example, Can I Live.
There Was A Time (or TWAT) is A Night at the Opera, Gunner-style. While the song took a good while to gestate into a presentable form (the earliest demos teeter on the verge of incomprehensible due to the plethora of unmixed instruments alone), the years have been kind to one of Axl's most cherished babies. Unlike The Blues, TWAT was written into a big piece. The Queen-ish sound loses next to nothing with lavish production, as we're meant to have red curtains, hand programs and intermissions - hell, even binoculars would be nice, so I could look out for Bohemian Rhapsody midwife (and one-time CD producer) Roy Thomas Baker coughing it up in the podium.
Another thing TWAT plainfully addresses is the guitarist situation. For a good while, Buckethead was the missing ingredient, who was able to pull a supercharged Brian May/Slash -hybrid into the outro, providing the grande finale to Axl's most ambitious work since November Rain. However, another equally important man in the sidelines is Robin Finck. For the record, Robin's no guitar hero. He's no Brian May, Slash or Buckethead. He's Robin. What makes him significant in the Guns equation is that not only does he play straight from the gut (thereby exposing himself to endless ridicule when compared against technically more accomplished players), but, at best, his guitar somehow resonates the very same emotions Axl's trying to convey with his voice.
Musically, Axl and Robin are soul mates, and they see no need to justify that to anyone. At worst, they may sound like a couple of tomcats in heat. Never the pussies, though.
It takes a brilliant band to create brilliant music, and There Was A Time, a modern Guns classic, speaks for itself.
2. Cycle, 3. Verse: Madagascar & This I Love
As defiance subsides and makes way for a mature, albeit heartbroken man, Axl sets out for a quest of redemption for all those concerned. In Madagascar, the cock-sure attitude (familiar from both Appetite for Destruction as well as the beginning of the cycle) is passed up for sombre meditation of what'd went wrong and what conclusions could there be made to improve all their lives. This I Love goes even further; as all guises have been worn out, the Emperor appears in his true form. The one force manifesting throughout the album has been that of unrequited love, appearing through various forms and emotions. It has been too strong a feeling to bottle up, which is why it has slithered into every other shade of Axl's emotive spectrum.
Madagascar is another track suffering from 'The Blues -syndrome'. In January 2001, when Axl debuted the song to a colossal Brazilian crowd in Rock In Rio 3, his voice trembled, both during the introduction and the song. But that was not a bad thing - he obviously cared deeply for the song and what it meant to him. Axl's lone vocals, humming with emotion, infused the performance with intimacy rarely met at major festivals. After that, the song begun its downward spiral, becoming a muddy hall of mirrors of that special occasion.
This is a shame, really, as Madagascar governed great potential. The drum machine reminds of its second cousin, If The World, and the sample collage late into the song entwines intriguingly over Buckethead's guitar. Axl has a good crop of lyrics going for himself, even if he does go slightly overboard with his theatrics, channeling the high notes of a whiskey-burnt Johnny Cash. But there's just too much to deal with - too many guitars, all on top, too much orchestration. As with Street of Dreams, music is brought up to beef up the vocals - when no further emphasis is in fact needed. In the end, Madagascar's greatest flaw is that not once are we allowed just to sit back, close our eyes, and enjoy that hot January night in Rio all over again.
In a way, This I Love symbolizes the entire journey of Chinese Democracy. Originally written on the Use Your Illusion tour in 1993, it was tentatively set for the old lineups next studio album, to be released in 1996/7. Following that, it was to introduce the new band on a film soundtrack in 1998. After all the false starts, This I Love disappeared for a decade, and would eventually gain a reputation amongst the fans matched only by the album itself. Many a fan would relate their feelings towards This I Love to the album as a whole, which is why including it was a definite risk on Axls part. Would it be worth fifteen years?
Fortunately, This I Love is the strongest ballad on the album. It coins the stripped down, back to basics approach the 1996 lineup had apparently adopted during their brief stint in the recording studio, and the years gone by can only be heard during the guitar solo, as the pocket intended for Slash's bluesy sound is now vacated by Fincks equally recognizable 'weeping' tune. While the switch has aroused some of those anxiously waiting for the track, the fact is, it couldn't really be any other way. Whereas Buckethead could've offered his services to create a more accomplish number from a technical standpoint, This I Love is Axl's heart on a sleeve. Emotions can be moving, up to the point of arousing embarrassment, and Robin is more than ready to place himself under that same scrutiny.
As for Axl, he pulls all the stops and refuses to take the easy way out. Written at the peak of his fame, This I Love shows the notorious hellion abandoning the role of an immature, angry young man, and contemplating the losses in his life by means of a sage. With the grand piano as the only instrument constantly audible throughout the track, This I Love is Axl's game; to show off that little voice, which has oft been buried by orchestras and guitar walls, or deprived by insensitive lyrics and decidedly offensive tones - not to mention years of silence. No production beyond reason, merely that old familiar voice, finally giving up the ghost which'd haunt it for fifteen years.
1. Cycle, 4. Verse: Catcher in the Rye / 2. Cycle, 4. Verse: Prostitute
The closing notes of both cycles. First, Axl goes on a John Lennon tribute, but things may not be as simple as they appear. Should we consider Catcher as the opposite bookend to CD and the assurances for it really not mattering, we may observe the song as Axl's ode to his own would-be Mark David Chapmans. Could this have been an underlying reason to the long years spent in solitude and the desire to create an album great enough? Had Axl might've feared that after breaking the most successful band of the early 90's, people would come after him like they did with Lennon? If the young folks would ever change, he'd wish he'd had a gun - if not for nothing more than self-protection.
If Catcher is indeed Axl alarmed of breaking up the old band, this fortunately doesn't sound off in the song itself. Ever the band effort, Catcher now feels as strong and easygoing as it did on the '99 demo, then fueled by the temporary guitar solo by Brian May. The switch back from May to Finck actually makes the song a great victory for original producer Sean Beavan and long-time songwriter Paul Huge; while they failed to completely nail the rockers with Axl, they did manage to concote at least one fully serviceable, timeless Guns track on their own devices. Had the '99 lineup written the entire album around the absence of an epic lead guitar, Guns would've been ready to be reintroduced to the world much sooner, as a more equal group than ever before - or since.
The grande finale, Prostitute, can be attributed to Stephanie Seymour, Slash, or even the fans. 'Please be kind, I've done all I should'. The never-ending wait, which'd turned Axl into a nemesis in the eyes of the fans, the obsession and gloating over someone else's art and the vocal public demands over it, the love which was fed with perversion and pain. All quite poetically worded into the traditional form of a suicide note, a 'message for you', in which the narrator confesses his love, admits guilt towards the final solution and 'walks away'.
As the road comes to a close, all that is left is poured out in one determined flash. A typically soft-spoken ballad is infused with a ferocious chorus, resulting in one of the most effective meshes of the two typical Guns song formats. Prostitute reminds of the similar entries by the Illusion-era Guns, such as Breakdown, Locomotive and Coma, all of which wickedly talent, albeit excessively long. In comparison, Prostitute is humiliatingly concise, veering away from young mens self-indulgent musical acrobacy with even Axl leaving around the four-minute mark.
Like There Was A Time, Prostitute is another Big Gun, which, in Axls terms, equals big production to convey much of the impact. Again he manages to come out with a larger than life subject matter, all things to all people, slapping the lot of us decidedly in the face before leaving his faithful audience with awe and exhaustion, wondering whether in some parallel world the closing notes would've rung in our ears back in 1996 as the top-hatted ones last stand.
And with that, the long day closes. The most expensive album ever made is over.
Do the dollars show? In some songs they do. Tracks performed live throughout the initial shows in 2001-2 (CD, Madagascar, Street of Dreams) have been subjected to oft unnecessary production, which underlines the fact that money wasn't an object. Most other bands would've abandoned the tinkering at an earlier stage, if nothing for more than simply to avoid bulk of the advance to be poured into a few select tracks at the expense of the whole.
The other tracks from the Beavan sessions are an equally mixed bag. While IRS is another patchwork (and could've easily been replaced by, say, a re-worked Oh My God), Catcher, If The World, Rhiad, TWAT and Prostitute hold up well, even if they are all undeniably different songs than what they would've been in 1999. This I Love, the recurring ghost of the past, is treated with most respect towards Axl's original intentions - with a Slash solo, it'd form a seamless continuity from Use Your Illusion, towards a more modest approach, with all the more feeling.
As far the musical flow is concerned, the latest batch of songs (Better, Scraped, Shackler's Revenge and Sorry) come out as the most balanced and fluent of them all. The band had by then gelled well into a coherent unit and were all on the same page as far as songwriting was concerned. From that point of view, these four tracks are the strongest offerings of the album.
In short, some of the money was spent well when looking at the final album, some wasn't. There's a track or two that would've never deserved all the time and resources spent tweaking it, let alone to be included to the end result. Most tracks are good, a couple of them excellent, and at least one a classic in times to come. In retrospect, it's a good thing Axl insisted re-recording everything as the years passed, as the Costanzo-era Guns, represented on the bulk of the album as performers, are a top-notch outfit and we're lucky to get at least four completely new tracks from themselves. Skill-wise, they are without a doubt the most proficient lineup ever to write and record as Guns N' Roses.
At the end of the day, that's what makes Chinese Democracy a true GNR album. Appetite For Destruction had a good chunk of previously written material from Hollywood Rose et al, and that lineup still managed to make each song on the album their own. In that sense, 'Costanzo's GNR' can stand up straight, saying they went into the same situation, dove in and found the monkey, and wrote a good batch of completely new material in the process as well. Here's hoping that a possible follow-up album would include more songs from the penultimate lineup. Do us a favor and call it self-titled, for that's what it is. Guns N' Fuckin' Roses.
Before that happens, one final question remains - what'll now become of Mr. Rose?
Who are the lawmen of rock? Who set the rules by which artists rise and fall? When all is said and done, the fans are the marshals, the Pat Garretts who jail some into obscurity and witness others undergo glorious downfalls in hails of bullets. Could the Billy the Kid of hard rock now finally be laying down his guns, with one final expression of love towards a long-suffering audience? Axl, he might just be hoping that he's obliged to walk away.
Axl Rose has given up more than one prime opportunity to release the album and return to the stage as a conquering hero. While his original intent might've been to recapture some of that old glory, to re-erect the court of the Crimson-haired King, it does seem that all the years gone by have made him think. Would he truly submit to relinquish every inch of his privacy for mass consumption all over again, to wear his face out in the daily exposure of tabloid covers?
The reasoning is therefore that the album may no longer represent the return of the King, rather than the King's ransom. 'If I give you the album, will you let me go now?' There is nothing more anyone of us can demand from Axl Rose. Promises made as long as fifteen years ago have now been fulfilled and come hell or high water, he now has every right to walk away, down the long, echoing corridors of his Malibu estate, where the air is thick with dust whirling about memories of one-time splendor, as the dying light of the evening faintly illuminates the distancing form of a musical genius.
Chinese Whispers - A Language of the Little Birds
I'm hanging out at a friend's house at a loose end, recovering from a tumultuous year, which has left me washed up in many different ways. You Could Be Mine, a track I first encountered on the soundtrack of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is blazing on the background. I'm distracted, remembering how good Guns N' Roses, the band I once intensely followed and later forgot, actually was. Feeling nostalgic, I turn over to the friend.
"Hey man, what'd you think happened to GNR?"
"Haven't you heard? That Chinese Democracy was mauled by critics."
"You have it?"
"Umm, no. But I heard a few tracks live."
"So it was released? And what became of Slash and Duff?"
"I haven't been paying all that much attention, really."
While my interest is aroused, somewhere in California, Axl Rose must feel a bit concerned as the latest deadline for Chinese Democracy, set for 12/31/03, is slipping through his fingers.
February 2nd, 2004.
I start my internship at a local digital media company. Anyone working in the business has met with the downtime in between assignments, and I spend my dead hours surfing the web. Guns N' Roses come to mind, and I stumble upon the article archives of Here Today... Gone To Hell. The Peter Wilkinson report in Rolling Stone is a true eye-opener, as the nature of the album work is spread out right in front of me. Not only is Chinese Democracy still to be released, it's also a captivating story. As days go past, I learn more of the album's troubled history. And even though I'm new to this band, I have a bad feeling over their upcoming show in Rock in Rio-Lisboa.
While I'm experiencing an uneasy premonition, somewhere in California, Axl Rose receives a letter from Geffen Records, as the label announces it will withhold any further financial support for Chinese Democracy. Behind the scenes, the project is on the brink of falling apart.
As Oscar Wilde once said, there nothing worse in life than not getting your wish - other than getting it. I've realized this to be among the greatest truths ever spoken, as the stars will never align around one man, to cater his hopes to the hilt. Life has a strange way of providing us with hope, which, however, will never be realized from the stuff dreams are made of. Even so, if we choose to sought out that hope, good things will eventually come about to appease our troubled minds.
As for the good things...
As said, I found myself enchanted by the mythical journey of Chinese Democracy, which subsequently led me to make my entrée to the online community.
Eventually, after hopping from one board to another, I landed on a forum called Roses of Velvet. Having done my homework, I soon carved out a niche for myself on chasing the obscure quote of the assistant of a recording engineer. It was fun, it was addictive. Not only was it easier to form sound opinions and alternative views on the album as a whole, I also got a kick out of the overall nature of the debates. I also realized there was a story slowly unraveling in front of me... the secret history of a mythical album.
The black wind of destruction set in as I was already knee-deep in flooding threads with obsessive year-by-year accounts of the events as I saw them. Detailed, jumbled and near-impossible to read (let alone find in the middle of a discussion), those were the first attempts I'd ever taken to create an in-depth breakdown of the recording process. Time and daily matters be damned, I knew I was on the brink of something completely different. Little did I know to make backups, with the curtain of the Green Room waving ominously, a sickly sweet smell emanating from beyond.
Then, one day, Roses of Velvet was no more. Like every other patron, I was dumbfounded by what'd happened and as time passed, it became painfully apparent that what we'd had was now lost for good. While many of the others moved over to a temporary board (made available by the original moderating team), I was personally too worn out to attend. I knew the aftermath of the meltdown was something that'd take a good while to sort out, as well relocating to a lasting new webhost. I actually came close to leaving this thing for somebody else.
Eventually, a new forum found its wings with Downliner from Izzy Stradlin's support group stepping in with an available webhost and the dedication comparable to HTGTH's Jarmo himself. I knew Downliner by name and felt anyone actively associated to Izzy simply had to derive some influence from his aura of cool.
What the hell, I thought to myself. It was now GNR Evolution and I had a score to settle anyway.
By the time I showed up, Evolution was still at its infant stages, with the staff pretty stoked about it. The forum was steadily growing and a call was issued for new recruits into the mod squad. For whatever reason, yours truly was handed his stripes among a few others. Nothing like a promotion to get dedicated. I felt Evolution had a fighting chance, to challenge its big brothers as an intimate place, equal to both hardcore fans and newcomers.
While I've probably never really exercised my global moderating rights, I did my best to ensure I had at least one thread on the main GNR section going every week or so with a topic I was happy with, and I usually managed to spur a good conversation out of the pack. Lofton and I wrote the Evolution mantra and had deep talks over the future of the board. Downliner was busy rewriting the whole of the source code and was including all new sections, with mods assigned left and right to maintain them. One section was for articles. Who was to run it, then?
That's a pretty good example on how you can end up with good things. I'd been akin to do a traditional Frequently Asked Questions -list on the band history and now I was called out on it. I guess that would've been easier for me to do, but as the album was finally coming up and I was still to see one single comprehensive piece in whatever media to convey the full of the story as it had been passed on so far. While guys like Neemo and Aussie were laboring over the complete GNR discography (which really is bigger than you might think), I reckoned the only way to get on par was to compile the documented history of Chinese Democracy.
Which is almost as insane, by the way.
It took many moons and I was like a kid in a candy store, finally putting years of seemingly useless research and obsession into good use. Sometimes it was a genuine drag - the public conception of Slash's departure had too many holes to my liking, and it took some educated guessing to connect the dots to a satisfying degree. That's the deep end in this line of work - while any half-decent researcher should pull through all the material available, men are separated from boys when it comes down to weeding out the unverifiable parts. You shouldn't take sides, but you don't have to include the most nonsensical rumors either. The curate's egg is that you can never really know for sure.
2001, the year of Tom Zutaut, was another problem child. Scott Rowley of Classic Rock had just recently interviewed Zoot, and while I was excited to learn more of one of the great media blackout years, it almost proved a little bit too much to put into a coherent timeline. A lasting memory of original research was when I studied the dog poo incident, timing the birth of the cubs with a near-forgotten Brazilian interview with Beta Lebeis, and googling estimations on when they should be exposed to new people in the process of weening. That was the great dog-shit investigation, which still manages to bring a smile on my face.
Slowly, the ur-text came together. It still had a lot of gaping holes and unanswered questions, as some years were simply underexposed to have all that much going for them. Media attention to Chinese Democracy has come and gone in spurts; unfortunately, it can't be the talk of the town on a yearly basis. If any resourceful journalist out there ever wants to say something fresh about the recording process, I recommend digging into the events between December 5th, 2002 and November 23rd, 2008. I could use the additional material.
The new Evolution was launched, while my compilation, now christened Chinese Whispers (aside the obvious album reference, it also acknowledges that the information is often second-hand at best), was still in finishing stages, even while the body of the text was already humming nicely inside the new chassis Downliner'd laboriously installed. We started picking up signals of a street date for Chinese Democracy. That was it. Our precious time was up and it was past due to unveil the baby. I made a sticky topic to the main GNR section and sat back. The sonuvabitch was done.
A few days later, I got a message from Classic Rock. It wasn't about the dog-poo, though.
Following the Zutaut article, CR editor Scott Rowley was on a roll as the album approached and felt Chinese Whispers was right down their alley. Rowley wanted to publish an abridged version of my compilation as an additional booklet for the January 2009 issue. I felt poised to seize the opportunity and complete the circle in the most unexpected fashion. Years after I'd dove into all the magazine articles that'd made their way into the web, I'd be recounting them in printed form myself in an effort to illustrate the quest for Chinese Democracy.
Never pass up a good thing. That much I've learned.
Five years after inspiring me to dive in and find the monkey, the friend is leafing through the booklet.
"Would you have believed me if I'd told you about this five years ago?"
He looks at me and shakes his head. Not really believing it now.
As Chinese Democracy emanates from the background, my thoughts wander out to somewhere in California. How Axl Rose must now feel, I have no idea. Certainly, a part of him sighs in relief. Perhaps he even feels a slight touch of longing, as the long-gestated work now sits under his Christmas tree, instead of looming deep in the backups of his Pro Tools console, silently courting him to come down and lock the door behind him as soon as the season changes.
For years now, I've come to view Chinese Democracy as a symbol of hope, and the ever-present conflict which arises from the push that keeps us going; the imaginary reward for something better. And so we press on, searching from one year to the next, sliding from youth into maturity, the world around us revolving without pity.
We'll never know when to say goodbye.
#5 Re: Guns N' Roses » Parody of Better? » 527 weeks ago
#7 Re: Guns N' Roses » GNR go Gold » 528 weeks ago
The album has now sold approximately 1,6 million copies worldwide. As the combined US sales have been a half a million, 1/3 of the BestBuy stock has been shipped. As for Universal, the complete sales (with the BestBuy deal) currently stand at 2,7 million worldwide.
Pretty much fits the picture that Uni and Ax decided to just drop the album out in the open once Azoff'd made them a far better deal than they'd deserve after all these years. Just sit and wait for it to break even, see if there's a demand for CD out there anymore.
There's a reasonable market and CD seems to have temporarily stabilized a presence in the charts, a task usually aided by active promotion. The band name still carries a pretty significant trade value and that's the only thing keeping the album from dropping into obscurity. If they'd be planning on building it into a moderately successful sleeper, I'd say they'd better step on it.
#8 Re: The Sunset Strip » Comic Book Adaptations » 528 weeks ago
Alan Moore (author of From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V For Vendetta, Watchen - all of which have or will have movies made from them) says that he won't watch the Watchmen movie, and he didn't watch V for Vendetta, and he didn't like From Hell or League in movie form. Is he right in thinking they shouldn't be made or just a whiny author who doesn't like seeing any minor changes made to his work?
From Hell is a personal favorite among Moore's work and one of the finest literary works I've ever read. The graphic novel / comic book / what-have-you is painstakingly researched and tells the story of Jack the Ripper by connecting all the factual dots as we know them. Naturally, Moore is required to spruce his story with one of the well-known Ripper conspiracies in order to go beyond clinical true-crime listings. The end result is a harrowing tale of 19th century London, and a very clever guess-work of a truth which'll likely go forever undisclosed.
The film is in complete devoid of the historical accuracy Moore prided himself with, and gleefully mixed various elements and characters together in order to tell the whole story in two-or so hours. The end result is appropriately a dog, and ultimately has very little to do with distinctly Moore's take on The Ripper - not to mention it doesn't hold well against the numerous other adaptations. If you want the same conspiracy storyline in an entertaining cinematic form, I urge you to seek out Bob Clark's Murder By Decree, which stars Sherlock Holmes as the investigator set out to hunt down the mystery killer. Let it be said that he's far more convincing than Johnny Depp's version of Frederick Abberline.
What Moore most often says - and on which I agree with him - is that the curate's egg here is the fact that you're always taking something created within the parameters of a distinct artform and placing it into a totally different environment.
From Hell, for instance, comes in chapters, which each of them containing pages of notes, in which Moore details observations on which the scenes are constructed. In book form, you can get away with that. However, even a commentary track on a DVD would be too fleeting to discuss all those things minutely - not to mention it'd likely sound quite dull. With a book, you can read the notes you want, go back to the chapter in question, check out the reference and move on. Your call. (Comic) books are a very end-user controlled medium. Films, on the other hand, are extremely passivating. Best one can do is press 'play'.
Another thing is naturally the length. Two or three hours isn't exactly a lot to go about in a Moore universe. If any of his works should be adapted, the ideal form would be a 10 or so hour mini-series.
In general, comic book adaptations are often superfluous. Do you really need an all-around compromise of an existing work, particularly if the original is already executed to a notable standard?
(Of course, Swamp Thing has nothing to do with this conversation. )
#9 Re: Guns N' Roses » Where Do We Go Now? » 528 weeks ago
I wonder whether BestBuy will figure a similar sales booster as they recently did with their double feature DVD of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth & Two Moon Zero. When the rumors leaked that they were in fact stocking unrated versions with G-rated packaging, copies started flying off the shelves, both due to the demands of disgruntled parents as a well as excited collectors.
#10 Re: The Sunset Strip » Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 » 528 weeks ago
While I had my share of issues with Zombie's Halloween, a part of me was always sort of expecting to see a sequel. Perhaps even moreso as the hype factor kicked in, the script leaked (now how did that happen?) and the workprint surfaced. I always had a feeling that he'd be bound to fail no matter what he'd do - the Carpenter film was just a bona-fide classic in what is rightfully considered the golden age of American horror. It's like Mel Gibson doing a film about Jesus - what did you expect him to bring to the table which hadn't been beaten to death during the past two millennia anyway (pun intended).
Therefore, what might've been Zombies undoing in the preceding film, may in fact be turned into a benefit in the sequel. The giveaway is that on a hindsight, I wouldn't call it an earnest effort.
For starters, the opening sequence of Halloween 2 was the best damn thing in the whole film. The idea of Myers wandering around Haddonfield looking for shelter is an encaptivating one, as it certainly allows the story to be opened up from the close-quarters setting of the original. Unfortunately, we were soon cramped into a hospital without one specific lead character, as Laurie was caught in a coma and the hospital staff was pencilled for liquidation. The film never really pays off, it suffices to set all sorts of expectations and intriguing plot opportunities (don't get me started on Samhain) before inexblicably abadoning them.
What's probably the interesting point in the whole sequel/remake is that the aftermath is described to be seen 'through the eyes of Laurie'. Basically, it suggests Zombie & co would be dropping / downplaying the Michael aspect of the story and pushing him back to the sidelines. I wonder if anyone began to feel the character was overexposed in the preceding film. It certainly a sign of times and the presiding cultural climate if we feel the bad guy is the most interesting part of the story and willingly root for the psycho-killer as we witness his small-town rampage.
While the audiences are likely accustomed to the original slasher formula by now, the problem is that reversing the roles of the main players makes the would-be victims all the less sympathetic. The killer, Myers or whomever, can go along with less of a backstory, as the whole point essentially lies in his alienation. Less human, more mythological, Dracula before the sucker became a sex symbol. That leaves the human characters good to identify with, which also serves to amp up the creep factor. Otherwise, you'll just end up watching a meat rack churning through the motions, which may have some entertainment value as a black comedy, intentionally or not.
One of the main problems in the preceding film was that it started off as a very lurid film decipting the family dynamics of a pack of rednecks. After shit happens, we're expected to backpedal to a Sweet Valley High environment; all the more ridiculous with the daughters sex life as a common topic in the Strode family breakfast table. Of course, Zombie never managed to merge the two time-levels into a workable story - the black comedy aspect was mangled to a point at which the latter half of the film came across as a parody of the Carpenter original, with nobody really getting the joke.
If anything, I'd prefer H2 to be everything the preceding film wasn't, to go further in every way imaginable. Whether Zombie'll ever admit it or not, he was inherently given all sorts of do's and dont's under the pretext of the Halloween legacy, which unavoidably affected his intentions and sensibilites when crafting a remake. The original script, while definitely quite far out there, would've actually served as simply more grimly entertaining version of the movie we ended up with. What followed after a vitriolic fanboy response and the well-publicized 'rewrite', was that attention was given to rather non-sensical bits (partially dictated by the moral police, no doubt), as they were too far into the production to drastically change the concept approved.
As for the concept in question, it is my understanding that Zombie would've preferred to root Myers into the universe housed by the characters in The Devils Rejects and The House of 1000 Corpses, and I can't necessarily blame him for that. However, the problem in this case is that 70's films like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Exorcist never came from the grindhouse / midnight movie / exploitation environment; they all spawned a numerous copycats set out for a quick buck, and it's these films (a wonderful little sub-genre on its own right) that are currently inspiring the likes of Zombie and Tarantino - as well as the sycophantic Michael Bay, who was clever enough to mention his TCM remake 'won't be as gory'.
In that sense, Zombie was heading towards a decidedly false conclusion when marrying the Carpenter original with his penchant for 70's sleaze. While it's certainly a winning combination against 90% of American horror today even in the terms of general interest alone, the story is also loaded with window-dressing that doesn't end up serving that purpose. That Tarantino car flick (whatchamacallit?) had the same problem; when subjected to exploitation cinematics, the narrative is robbed from its natural room to breathe, as the filmmaker is kept busy with a need to invent more ways to top himself.
Try watching I Drink Your Blood, a masterful piece of B-movie making, reaching the levels both Zombie and Tarantino can only hope to achieve. Strange times indeed. Back in the 70's, filmmakers had the opportunity to walk into a studio and request a modest budget for a marginal project, which spawned the widest array of influential films in the history of cinema, and certainly marked as a coming to age moment for the medium. Now, the children of that era are given big budgets to desperately recreate the shoestring production decisions and carefree counterculture attitudes of the said the filmmakers.
Sorry guys. You can't buy innocence.
You can only sell it out.