A four part dispatch from guest contributor CT Terry
Part One: Unnecessary Shredding
Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” took the better part of two decades to record and release. It’s a dense, bewildering album that can’t be judged as a whole because there is so much going on, a lot of which is brilliant, but plenty of which is schlock. In an effort to figure out what is going on in this record, and to decide if I like it, I went through it, cataloging and responding to every part of every song.
Guns ‘n’ Roses were my favorite band when I was ten. “Appetite for Destruction” rocked my socks, blew my mind, and had lyrics that introduced me to whole new corners of life (I learned what “porno” was because of “My Michelle”), while other lyrics (“Take the credit card to the liquor store”) were unintentionally quotidian to a suburbanite raised in the 1980s. Though I could never figure out why Slash had such a goofy expression on his face in the back cover photo, G’n’R inspired me to spend the next couple of years listening to popular hard rock and metal.
I had discovered the running man and the fact that girls thought I looked like Kid from Kid ‘n’ Play by the time the “Use Your Illusion” albums came out. I hardly listened to those albums, even though “Civil War” inspired my father to rent “Cool Hand Luke.” As the ‘90s progressed, Guns ‘n’ Roses became outdated, then inactive. I continued to bust out “Appetite for Destruction” on a semi-regular basis. From time to time, people alluded to a long-gestating G ‘n’ R album called “Chinese Democracy.”
Over the years, “Chinese Democracy” went from legend to derided symbol of a type of rock hubris that had become hopelessly outdated. It was no more than a punchline by the time it was actually released in 2008. Imagine my surprise when I kinda liked it, playing it almost every afternoon over a two-week stretch at the beginning of my first winter in Chicago…
Track 1: Chinese Democracy
0:01 – Jungle noises, plus a chorus of people conversing in a foreign language. You’d think that Axl wouldn’t tolerate such shenanigans from a bunch of foreigners, but maybe they’re Chinese, and talking about democracy, or making fun of that tee totaling simp Izzy Stradlin.
0:47 – Ominous, palm-muted guitars and booming drums.
1:01 – A choppy, over-distorted guitar riff. They could have just started the song here, but then I couldn’t have made that dig at Izzy Stradlin, whose guitar work I appreciate and respect, especially while listening to this.
1:24 – Axl screams.
1:30 – The full band kicks in.
1:34 – The first hint of what will be a lot of guitar shredding.
2:11 – Overdriven, headbanging chorus with shouted vocals.
2:29 – The verse, with more layers of guitar.
2:43 – The chorus again. He says something about “masturbation” and an “iron fist.”
2:58 – Shredding under the choady chorus.
3:09 – The shredding moves its way to the forefront. This is some serious Joe Satriani caliber fretwork. The only people who care about guitar playing like this have bald-spots, ponytails, bowling shirts and pay stubs from Guitar Center.
3:35 – The verse, with even more heavy guitars. It is building nicely.
3:53 – A bridge with grunge influenced vocals and a novel idea – some shredding in the background. Axl is really under-using his incredible singing voice on this song.
4:13 – The music ends with a bomb noise. No foreign voices follow it. Hmm.
Summary: This sounds like the industrial metal that was popular in the second half of the ‘90s (Filter, Marilyn Manson). There is no disputing that it rocks, but it is still cheesy and hopelessly dated. I picture it playing during a trailer for an action movie that is actually military propaganda.
Potential video scenario: Saturated, yellow-heavy footage of tanks blowing shit up in the desert.
Track 2: Shackler’s Revenge
0:01 – Another choppy nu-metal riff that has a squealing octave or pinch harmonic. It sounds like that “Let the bodies hit the flo’” song. In other words, yuck.
0:05 – Wah-wah.
0:11 – Chugging guitars and muttered vocals come in over the wah-wah part.
0:26 – Axl wails along in the background, quieter than the muttered vocals. It’s like the Axl that makes good songs is locked in the next room going, “Let me out, guys! I’ve got to sling some mud at Bob Guccione, Jr.!”
0:40 – The pre-chorus. A four-on-the-floor drumbeat and Axl singing in that weird, nasal “It’s So Easy” voice. I can just see the juggalos shaking their JNCOs around, dancing.
0:55 – A big, triumphant chorus. Awesome.
1:09 – The nu-metal riff is back, lest the song be salvaged.
1:13 – The song basically starts over, but with more layers of guitar. Sound familiar?
2:14 – Guitar break with lots of effects, even for this album, which sounds like it was recorded through a daisy chain of oddly colored Boss pedals.
2:18 – A felchy riff with percussive grunting noises and more shredding. I wonder if they just called in Buckethead one day and had him melt faces on the guitar over the whole album, then cut him in and out of the mix as needed.
2:47 – The disco beat is back, with screamed vocals.
3:00 – Opening riff.
3:02 – The chorus, peppered with shredding.
3:35 – Song ends with two seconds of the wah-wah part, just to make sure that we didn’t forget that had been thrown in there for no apparent reason in the first place.
Summary: I bet this would come across well in a live setting where it wouldn’t be bogged down by the schizophrenic production. The chorus is terrific, and the rest of the song is pretty good for nu-metal, which, of course, is like saying, “a cracked tibia isn’t the most painful, inconvenient broken bone.”
Potential video scenario:The band (Axl, plus hired stooges) dressed in gothish rock attire, playing in a warehouse nightclub to a crowd of feverishly moshing juggalos.
Track 3: Better
0:01 – Squealing guitars and canned drums.
0:10 – Axl in falsetto over vaguely funky music. It’s not pretty, people.
0:29 – Swaggering, blues-influenced hard rock with Axl singing like Axl should sing. This is the first Aerosmith-influenced bit on here, and the best part of the record so far. I’m smiling.
0:49 – A lil’ shredding in the background just to remind you that whoever’s helming the boards in the studio is capable of turning this into a complete shit-show at the drop of a hat.
1:09 – Pounding pre-chorus. I feel like I’m taking that last deep breath before diving into a quarry.
1:14 – Eww. The chorus is shouted vocals and nu-metal guitars.
1:24 – A moment of shredding to cleanse the palate before going into an amped-up version of the verse, which still sounds incredible.
1:45 – The vocals from the intro part done over the music to the verse. Nice. Cohesive.
2:05 – Pre-chorus, chorus, shred break.
2:22 – Snaky, chugging e-string riff that sounds like rap metal in this context, but could have been snuck into something on the “G” side of “Appetite for Destruction.” Oh yeah, and they top it off with some virtuosic shredding.
2:32 – A slower, bluesy riff that sounds like that Whitesnake song, “In the Still of the Night.” This is good cheez. It’s making me wish I was chugging canned beer and wearing a jean jacket.
2:51 – Axl wailing over the same guitar riff. His pipes are in fine form, but the part is cheap and angsty.
3:10 – An offbeat riff, which ruins the song’s momentum.
3:17 – A zooming, dying battery noise.
3:20 – Yet another guitar lick with no other musical accompaniment. Someone should edit every stupid guitar part out of this song to create a track that makes sense.
3:24 – Pre-chorus…with shredding.
3:39 – A tasteful hard rock guitar solo like Slash used to play.
3:58 – Some “nah-nah-nah”s.
4:19 – A verse, over the “nah”’s.
4:38 – Flangy vocals and guitars, like the intro, sans drums.
Summary: If they rethought the chorus and cut out three of the five different guitar bridges, they’d have an excellent Wings song.
Potential video scenario: Axl with a furrowed brow, playing the piano alone in a rented practice studio, shortly after a hired musician acrimoniously quit on him.
CT Terry was born in 1979. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, where he is getting an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia College. For more of his writing, go to gulliblezine.blogspot.com.