The Curious Case of W. Axl Rose

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It’s been 4 1/2 years, seemingly the right time to revisit something you might have dismissed,  you know, 4 1/2 years ago.

I dismissed this Axl Rose character, thinking for some unspecified reason that he was no longer the powerfully-voiced fighting machine that blew all other rock vocalists off the stage in the late 80’s.

Maybe it was drugs, women, insanity, or some cool rockstar mix of all three that had derailed him, I told myself. After all, Slash is just so cool! All that hair and those beautiful guitars! He was somehow more responsible for the classic GNR in my head. This was bullshit of course, I realize now.

Why this reversal? I finally listened to Chinese Democracy.

Played the whole record, loudly, from top to bottom. Finally. This record’s story and the characters behind it annoyed me so much it took me over 4 years to simply listen to the damn thing.

UnknownI’m kind of ashamed, but I know I’m not alone.

Axl Rose in the 21st century often appears to be an annoying, trashy bastard who dresses like Fat Kid Rock, rolls with slimy characters, and could give a fuck what you think. I’ve never met the man so I don’t know if my description matches the real person. But this goes through our head and distracts us.

Plus there’s no music industry left to curate, promote, and force bands into our ears. The hype of the big album being released at midnight, and every fan nationwide having a copy by next pay day — is long gone. Those days will never return. GNR is an urban legend at this point…. Paradise City spandex nutt-huggers from ancient history.

But music continues and tramples fashion and time. So about Chinese Democracy? It’s very good. Like all around good, on levels that most bands don’t even play on anymore. Axl Rose is a master. All of these songs are good, most are very good, and some are truly great. The layers of parts, the majesty, the dynamics, the performances, his voices — this honestly could be the best rock album I’ve heard in a very long time.

GNRchinesedemocracyWOW. Muffin moment. The best hard rock album I’ve heard since Appetite For Destruction might be Chinese Democracy?

At first impression it’s better than the Use Your Illusions. I liked all kinds of records through the 90’s and 00’s, but none of them were good old fashioned dragon-slaying woman-banging rock music.

The criticisms I’ve heard of this new GNR by Axl’s design are regarding the new tones and the new sounds. True this does not sound like GNR in 1988. But GNR 1988 didn’t really sound like 1988 either, they were a throwback to the 70’s.

This is not a throwback record, tone-wise – it does sound like the early 2000’s when it was primarily tracked. Most of it sounds excellent, meaning not over-produced and fake to my ears. Songs this big require big production.

But I have nothing of value in hard rock / new rock / crap metal since about 1997 or so. I want to be offended by this new GNR sound. Once rap-rock took over I was out. Most hard rock bands in the last 15 years are tattooed posers with nothing even close to a good song. The drop-D, triple stacked power chord bouncy shit is not for me. Dime a dozen, those bands.

This is very good, however. Axl successfully mixed the classic rock swagger of Slash’s GNR with the techno metal of 90’s acts like NIN and Ministry. But the GNR material is so much better, if only more ambitious (even more optimistic) than the 90’s tech-metal. Part of Axl’s fascinating personality is that he believes himself to be a legendary great rocker, on par with Bowie, Gilmour, Elton and the other Gods. He’s not the sad loser miscast as rock god, he is a rock god.

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I scoffed at that idea until I finally just played Chinese Democracy. I expected so little and got so much. This is soaring, emotional material packaged into a crazy modern rock package that most of the world (myself included) ignored out.

No more. If you like grand rock power and feel like it’s been missing for decades I recommend you peep this record. I’m gonna buy myself a hi-res version soon. Until then here’s a low-res youtube link: