A four part dispatch from guest contributor CT Terry
Part Two: “Modern…but classy”
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.
Track 4: Street of Dreams
0:01 – Wistful piano and acoustic guitar without any unnecessary studio fuckery.
0:18 – Builds up with some tasteful, fuzzed-out power ballad guitars.
0:29 – Axl moaning then wailing over the piano. The vocals are a little over the top with the restrained music, but I still like this a lot.
0:51 – As the second part of the verse starts, Axl sings in a Dracula voice. It sounds like the vampire musical in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” If you haven’t seen that movie and don’t get my reference, don’t bother renting it on my account. Judd Apatow is conservative, overrated and in 2009, played out.
0:55 – Vocals back to normal. <Breathes sigh of relief>
1:12 – The drums come in. Axl could do his trademarked shimmy dance to this part. It moves nicely into the swelling refrain.
1:50 – Cut back to Axl, piano and strings. Build to the first non-rap metal chorus of the album.
2:16 – Bluesy guitar solo that gives way to Brian May-esque guitar heroics. Terrific.
3:00 – The chorus again. Axl’s voice sounds beautiful.
3:25 – A triumphant build. Freddie Mercury just lifted his face off of a coke mirror in heaven, wiped some cloud dust off the gigantic caterpillar on his upper lip, and went, “Hark!”
3:40 – Piano and guitar. This song sure does seem to start and stop a lot.
3:50 – The refrain, but bigger, with strings and no shredding. The song just kinda soars out of the room.
Summary: This power ballad is one of the best Queen songs I’ve ever heard. I think Axl and the remaining members of Queen should collaborate on a record. Fuck that guy from Bad Company. So far, this album is at its strongest on the songs that sound like the complicated ballads from the “Use Your Illusion” albums.
Potential video scenario: Axl walking on a sunny sidewalk, pausing to take a deep breath and look rejuvenated.
Track 5: If The World
0:01 – Stuttering acoustic guitars.
0:05 – Canned drums and flamenco-style guitar.
0:12 – Funky, high-register bass line.
0:16 – Tinkling piano.
0:20 – The compression comes off of the drums and strings come in, along with a wah-wah guitar. If you told me this was a Barry White record, I’d believe you.
0:33 – Axl singing a high-pitched, almost falsetto vocal part. The combination of boudoir soul and torchy vocals makes this sound like a James Bond theme. Here is where I suggest that the listener make peace with the fact that none of the songs on this album are going to sound like “Mr. Brownstone,” and enjoy this song for what it is (sex music for wealthy shut-ins).
0:57 – Bass lead over more canned drums, in lieu of doing something crazy like letting the song build natural momentum.
1:04 – Verse two, over a sparse version of the same music. Axl’s voice is getting grittier.
1:07 – Farty nu-metal rhythm guitar makes an appearance and I start to worry that the chorus is going to suck.
1:32 – Verse one, which may actually be the refrain, with the full band, plus a distorted guitar that sounds like Limp Bizkit jamming along with Barry White.
1:56 – Another compressed drum break.
2:01 – Some la-la-las with drums and flamenco guitars recorded through some affect that makes it sound like my headphones are half unplugged. If I wanted my music to sound like this, I just wouldn’t plug my headphones in the whole way. This is the sonic equivalent of that Bedhead hair gel.
2:14 – Another verse, with a piano and drums and assorted guitar divebombs.
2:43 – The refrain. Rinse, lather, repeat.
3:01 – Squealy guitar break.
3:05 – Spacey guitar lead.
3:20 – The shredding begins in earnest.
3:46 – Refrain, Mesa Boogie guitar distortion, noodling in background.
4:14 – Flamenco guitar shredding, because the electric shredding just wasn’t enough. This does sound really cool; I’m just burnt on the guitar pyrotechnics.
4:39 – Song ends on an electric guitar note.
Summary: The concept, Axl Rose playing cheesy fuck soul, looks ridiculous on paper, but comes across well. The problem is that there’s a maximum three minutes of good song here, and they stretched it out with ill-fitting guitar wanking.
Potential video scenario: A shot that pans in over a nighttime canyon, through the window of a mansion, to Axl in a hot tub in a palatial, candlelit bathroom.
Track 6: There Was A Time
0:01 – Choral vocals, synthesized booming noises.
0:11 – Axl must owe the canned drums company some money.
0:13 – Pianos, searing guitars, and narrative lyrics that may be about being an ascendant rock star a quarter of a century ago. These lyrics are particularly engaging and evocative because they’re among the first on the album that aren’t loaded with accusatory “yous.”
0:24 – Oops, nevermind. Here go a couple “yous.” But they heighten the narrative, which appear to be about a former associate. Maybe that wastrel Steven Adler, or my fellow substance-loving mulatto, Slash.
0:56 – Yet another dumbed down, distorted more than it needs to be, chorus. It’s interesting that Axl took a songwriting cue (the quiet-loud dynamic) from Nirvana. This one isn’t that offensive.
1:06 – Back to the verse, with more instruments, and a lyric about cocaine. I forgot to mention, this is another mid-tempo piano track. This one is a bit like prime Elton John, but not as showtuney.
1:49 – The chorus again. I’m starting to not mind this one so much.
2:01 – A nice segue into a bridge with strings.
2:32 – Piano break.
2:37 – A tasteful guitar solo over acoustic guitars and muted, compressed drums.
2:59 – The music picks up. This sounds a lot like the second half of “November Rain.” Don’t mind if I do.
3:20 – A vocal refrain with “you” in it.
3:42 – Soaring guitar lead.
3:54 – Soaring Axl voice. Holy shit, this guy can sing.
4:15 – The bassline from “The Humpty Dance.”
4:25 – Hendrix-esque guitar lead, without the character.
4:47 – I’m a sucker for when the guitar lead emulates the vocal melody.
5:47 – Fella has been soloing for over a minute. If Buckethead comes to your house, I bet he’s the guy who sequesters himself in the corner and starts wanking on your roommate’s old acoustic guitar that’s been gathering dust by the stereo and the halogen lamp for the last four months.
6:22 – Pianos and more of those stupid breakbeat drums. This album would be at least twenty-percent better if they had completely scrapped this drum affect.
6:34 – Female choral vocals like the beginning of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by The Rolling Stones. Though the Stones were an integral part of my youth, I sort of hate them.
Summary: This could have been on “Use Your Illusion II.” I know that sounds like a left-handed compliment, but I like these long ballads, and this is the least adorned, most straightforward one so far.
Potential video scenario: A flashback, shot in soft touch so that Axl looks like a man in his twenties, showing him having a shady dealing with a stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll drug dealer (black zip-up leather coat, greasy ponytail, dangly cross earring) in the quiet corner of a party.
Track 7: Catcher in the Rye
0:01 – Plaintive piano and guitar lead. Think Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home,” but, you know, with chops.
0:21 – Honest to goodness drums!
0:22 – The verse. A swaying back and forth rhythm. This sounds a lot like Queen. Lyrics about how old folks don’t know shit about the youth. I wonder where a man in the second half of his 40s falls on that continuum.
0:49 – Nah-nahs and a small guitar passage for a pre-chorus. Nice.
0:56 – The chorus. Pretty simple, but notably devoid of the fart guitars.
1:05 – The tempo slows.
1:17 – Kicks in with hard guitars, but done in a tasteful manner. “Tasteful” being a relative term when discussing a dinosaur rock monster ballad.
1:51 – “November Rain”-ish piano break because it wouldn’t be a song on “Chinese Democracy” if all but one of the instruments didn’t drop out at least once.
1:53 – Strings over glitchy, canned drums. I wonder if the expression, “Modern…but classy” was batted around a lot in the studio.
2:12 – Not even halfway through the song and there’s already a “nah-nah-nah” part. Maybe the radio edit fades out here. Like this will ever be played on the radio.
2:22 – Oh, shredding, where hath thou been?
2:40 – Yeah, the song should really fade out here. Most of this song sounds like the payoff at the end of a sentimental song. The only problem is, there’s only been one verse of (vague) lyrics so far, so the listener doesn’t know what to lift their drink about.
2:58 – The chorus.
3:12 – Repeat first verse, furthering my argument that this song shot its wad almost a minute ago.
3:45 – But there are a couple lines added onto this verse.
3:52 – Nah nah nah we didn’t write enough words nah nah nah…
4:13 – Shredding, ad-libbish vocals, more vague “someones” are mentioned.
5:00 – This part is still cascading along. It’s like rolling down a really long hill.
5:05 – The second gun mention. Consider yourself warned, Erin Everly.
5:33 – Fade to piano and a couple seconds of canned drums.
Summary: This song sounds good, but it’s a load of fluff.