Friday, November 28, 2008

It brings the LOL's

This is why Chuck get's the big bucks. Seriously, he's sexist and ego maniacal, but he's good at what he does, when he actually does it. This one's for the music crit geeks. Put your Lester lenses on.

By Chuck Klosterman
November 19th, 2008
Guest reviewer Chuck Klosterman is the author of five books, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural North Dakota and the new novel Downtown Owl. There is no one in the world more qualified to review the exhaustingly anticipated new Guns N' Roses album than he is.

Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.

Here are the simple things about Chinese Democracy: Three of the songs are astonishing. Four or five others are very good. The vocals are brilliantly recorded, and the guitar playing is (generally) more interesting than the guitar playing on the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl Rose made some curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project, but that works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience. So: Chinese Democracy is good. Under any halfway normal circumstance, I would give it an A.

But nothing about these circumstances is normal.

For one thing, Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album we'll ever contemplate in this context—it's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file. This is the end of that. But the more meaningful reason Chinese Democracy is abnormal is because of a) the motives of its maker, and b) how those motives embargoed what the definitive product eventually became. The explanation as to why Chinese Democracy took so long to complete is not simply because Axl Rose is an insecure perfectionist; it's because Axl Rose self-identifies as a serious, unnatural artist. He can't stop himself from anticipating every possible reaction and interpretation of his work. I suspect he cares less about the degree to which people like his music, and more about how it is taken, regardless of the listener's ultimate judgment. This is why he was so paralyzed by the construction of Chinese Democracy—he can't write or record anything without obsessing over how it will be received, both by a) the people who think he's an unadulterated genius, and b) the people who think he's little more than a richer, red-haired Stephen Pearcy. All of those disparate opinions have identical value to him. So I will take Chinese Democracy as seriously as Axl Rose would hope, and that makes it significantly less simple. At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough.

The weirdest (yet more predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself. The rest of the vocal material tends to suggest some kind of abstract regret over an undefined romantic relationship punctuated by betrayal, but that might just be the way all hard-rock songs seem when the singer plays a lot of piano and only uses pronouns. The craziest track, "Sorry," resembles spooky Pink Floyd and is probably directed toward former GNR drummer Steven Adler, although I suppose it might be about Slash or Stephanie Seymour or David Geffen. It could even be about Jon Pareles, for all I fucking know—Axl's enemy list is pretty Nixonian at this point. The most uplifting songs are "Street Of Dreams" (a leaked song previously titled "The Blues") and the exceptionally satisfying "Catcher In The Rye" (a softer, more sophisticated re-working of "Yesterdays" that occupies a conceptual self-awareness in the vein of Elton John or mid-period Queen). The fragile ballad "This I Love" is sad, melodramatic, and pleasurably traditional. There are many moments where it's impossible to tell who Axl is talking to, so it feels like he's talking to himself (and inevitably about himself). There's not much cogent storytelling, but it's linear and compelling. The best description of the overall literary quality of the lyrics would probably be "effectively narcissistic."

As for the music—well, that's actually much better than anticipated. It doesn't sound dated or faux-industrial, and the guitar shredding that made the final version (which I'm assuming is still predominantly Buckethead) is alien and perverse. A song like "Shackler's Revenge" is initially average, until you get to the solo—then it becomes the sonic equivalent of a Russian robot wrestling a reticulating python. Whenever people lament the dissolution of the original Guns N' Roses, the person they always focus on is Slash, and that makes sense. (His unrushed blues metal was the group's musical vortex.) But it's actually better that Slash is not on this album. What's cool about Chinese Democracy is that it truly does sound like a new enterprise, and I can't imagine that being the case if Slash were dictating the sonic feel of every riff. The GNR members Rose misses more are Izzy Stradlin (who effortlessly wrote or co-wrote many of the band's most memorable tunes) and Duff McKagan, the underappreciated bassist who made Appetite For Destruction so devastating. Because McKagan worked in numerous Seattle-based bands before joining Guns N' Roses, he became the de facto arranger for many of those pre-Appetite tracks, and his philosophy was always to take the path of least resistance. He pushed the songs in whatever direction felt most organic. But Rose is the complete opposite. He takes the path of most resistance. Sometimes it seems like Axl believes every single Guns N' Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N' Roses has the capacity to do—there needs to be a soft part, a hard part, a falsetto stretch, some piano plinking, some R&B bullshit, a little Judas Priest, subhuman sound effects, a few Robert Plant yowls, dolphin squeaks, wind, overt sentimentality, and a caustic modernization of the blues. When he's able to temporarily balance those qualities (which happens on the title track and on "I.R.S.," the album's two strongest rock cuts), it's sprawling and entertaining and profoundly impressive. The soaring vocals crush everything. But sometimes Chinese Democracy suffers from the same inescapable problem that paralyzed proto-epics like "Estranged" and "November Rain": It's as if Axl is desperately trying to get some unmakeable dream song from inside his skull onto the CD, and the result is an overstuffed maelstrom that makes all the punk dolts scoff. His ambition is noble, yet wildly unrealistic. It's like if Jeff Lynne tried to make Out Of The Blue sound more like Fun House, except with jazz drumming and a girl singer from Motown.

Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, "What was Axl doing here?" but "What did Axl think he was doing here?" The tune "If The World" sounds like it should be the theme to a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie, all the way down to the title. On "Scraped," there's a vocal bridge that sounds strikingly similar to a vocal bridge from the 1990 Extreme song "Get The Funk Out." On the aforementioned "Sorry," Rose suddenly sings an otherwise innocuous line ("But I don't want to do it") in some bizarre, quasi-Transylvanian accent, and I cannot begin to speculate as to why. I mean, one has to assume Axl thought about all of these individual choices a minimum of a thousand times over the past 15 years. Somewhere in Los Angles, there's gotta be 400 hours of DAT tape with nothing on it except multiple versions of the "Sorry" vocal. So why is this the one we finally hear? What finally made him decide, "You know, I've weighed all my options and all their potential consequences, and I'm going with the Mexican vampire accent. This is the vision I will embrace. But only on that one line! The rest of it will just be sung like a non-dead human." Often, I don't even care if his choices work or if they fail. I just want to know what Rose hoped they would do.

On "Madagascar," he samples MLK (possible restitution for "One In A Million"?) and (for the second time in his career) the movie Cool Hand Luke. Considering that the only people who will care about Rose's preoccupation with Cool Hand Luke are those already obsessed with his iconography, the doomed messianic message of that film must deeply (and predictably) resonate with his very being. But how does that contribute to "Madagascar," a meteorological metaphor about all those unnamed people who wanted to stop him from making Chinese Democracy in the insane manner he saw fit? Sometimes listening to this album feels like watching the final five minutes of the Sopranos finale. There's no acceptable answer to these types of hypotheticals.

Still, I find myself impressed by how close Chinese Democracy comes to fulfilling the absurdly impossible expectation it self-generated, and I not-so-secretly wish this had actually been a triple album. I've maintained a decent living by making easy jokes about Axl Rose for the past 10 years, but what's the final truth? The final truth is this: He makes the best songs. They sound the way I want songs to sound. A few of them seem idiotic at the beginning, but I love the way they end. Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yes, I'm going there

So, I guess this is what Axl Rose looks like today, if you were to be jogging in Malibu and run into the dreaded red head along the beach, or eating at Neptune's Net, where apparently he dines from time to time. I- am- somewhat unable to accept this, despite the freaky dreadlocks (old man rockstarstuff, it's all over Melrose, and hence it doesn't surprise me or disgust me as it seems to bother others who have recoiled at his, well, coils- it just shows he's out of touch and 46, it's all 'meh', to me) normal and human looking man as the Axl of my youth. This wild and angry effigy that we have here.

So, in a final act of fate or destiny or whatever you want to call it, I finished my essay the day Chinese Democracy was released. I closed the computer on my edits before I ship them off to the hack farm (actually, the very capable hands of Heidi Julavitz who I should be so lucky to have edit my work) And headed over to the Best Buy to grab my copy of Chinese Democracy. An album that's been in the works since I was in elementary school, I am now a graduate student and took four years off in college.
I was prepared to hate it, I wanted to throw it under my tire and roll over it a thousand times, cursing Axl's name, mourning the loss of Slash, Izzy, Duff and even poor, sad, pathetic Steven, languishing away at the Pasadena Recovery Center and being forced to cavort with Dr. Drew and other plastic celebrities.
To my surprise and delight, Chinese Democracy might be the most complex, rich, steeped in historical backmud album I'll ever have the opportunity to review in my time as a music journalist. In a way, it is a bit like being an American and experiencing Barack Obama's historic win, not that Chinese Democracy is in any way as monumental or important as Obama's victory, but in scope of rarity. When again will an album be allowed to simmer in it's creative juices for 17 years? Not again, that is for sure. This is the last dying gasp of classic rock, an era when your mom and dad bought albums, when the word 'concept' was used to describe records. Some might argue that Thom Yorke might attempt such rock star tom foolery, but mark my words, he will not have the backing of an entire record company behind him, if there are any record companies left in 17 years. It will be self released and on the Internet. This is the last piece of physical graffiti you and I will ever get to hold in our hands. Axl Rose is a dying concept himself. The last real balls out rockstar, who got to throw mammoth themed parties after every performance, who went on the road for three years to support one album and sold out every show. Axl Rose is a dinosaur, and part of me believes he released Chinese Democracy now because he sensed the tar was rising and the meteor was zooming in. He wanted to show all of us how great and powerful those lumbering and ferocious beasts could be. So we could look back on rock n roll and say, 'hey, remember Axl Rose?'. Remember rock n roll?
The album, is, transcendent. It is his swan song, it is his life's work. It is what he has been hearing in his head sense he ran out of Indiana, determined never to return. In heaven, Axl Rose and Brian Wilson will form a band, and it will only play the great hits, the ones only the truly insane can appreciate.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Just Sayin

Please read.
Cut n paste, I don't know how to work this stoopid thing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Its only seed

So I'm posting this for no particular reason except that i heard it playing in the Rite Aid earlier and I got all tingly and misty. This movie seriously is like, one of the most amazing musicals, rock docs, divine miss m performances and odes to janis joplin EVER. There are so many things about this movie that make it near perfect, most of which is this song- pure restrained, controlled, difficult to sing, musical theater genius. this song is insanely difficult to sing. I hear this song and wish i hadn't stopped singing or started smoking, or even turned into a fucktard, i used to be able to sing this fairly decent.
This movie makes me think of hee haw, we watched it the first year we lived together once we finally got a tv and dvd player. on the couch, under a quilt, snuggled away from the harsh snow, and we didn't look at each other or talk, and let each other wipe our tears in private. when it was over we went to our rooms and never spoke of it again.

One more thing!
Lisa, one of my best friends and arguably my most successful friend (it really depends on your definition of success)Made this most adorable little stop motion film as a promo for her 08 lines.
Since I'm all nostalgic for NY I went trolling the internet for her stuff, trying to see how much more expensive her clothes are then my entire years worth of rent. When I first moved to NY Lisa let me stay with her for three weeks while i got adjusted. I slept in her bed and on the couch while her and Sofie furiously worked day in and day out putting together Vena Cava's first and debut fashion show ever. I think about it now and we all just so insane. I am forever indebted to the kindness of Lisa.

Here's a photo of us back in the day, both of us on the brink, me of turning into before mentioned fucktard, and her, a multi millionaire.
Ah, dreams, they take us so far.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

we are spirits in the material world

Athena came to visit for a long weekend and let me tell you, wow, what an amazing time we had. since I've left NY Ive had a hard time trying to reconcile my experiences there. now that I'm back in la, those five years seem like a dream, a dejevu to a place i might have been. a commercial on the superhighway of my life.
but as soon as i saw Athena's face at the airport it came rushing back in a thunderous wave, i realized that the city itself is not what had left an impression, it was the faces, the friendships and people that i made and met. Chinatown and its pungent smell, chasing footsteps down the tiny sidewalks, hot, sweaty, under the moonlight, drunk, shouting and laughing, calling for heather and reaching for laura's hand in a crowded bar, dancing on tables on Halloween, sitting on the jennifer leather couch with the harrigans, yelling at the tv screeen, ducking into yolas with buddy and alice to get burritos, every little thing you do is magic. i miss my friends, i miss ny. when i woke up on monday, the morning after taking athena back to the airport i half hoped that when i opened my eyes id be in my small room at 113 maujer, wrapped inside a sheet burrito, freezing cold because we cant afford the heat in winter, leon at the foot of my bed, warming my legs, heathers voice dancing in the hallway, her boots clanging the wooden floors, the door slamming at the bottom of the stairs, her cell phone conversation trailing down the street and bouncing into crisp air, where it stays, frozen like a memory. i really wanted ny today. i think it just hit me, im not going home, im not on vacation, i live in los angeles. i felt very homesick today. i felt very far from my life.
BUT the past weekend was awesome, we went to the machine project thing at LACMA which was amazing and I was introduced to the magic that is lasagna cat, which, if you dont know what it is, please do yourself a favor and check it out, we went on the ferris wheel at on the santa monica pier and walked along the sand, we also saw a truly pornographic, not right for kids to watch trapeze artist, whose package was on display in a see through white sock. he also looked like a total tucker max, frat boy douche bag, the whole thing was very bizarre. we drove through hollywierd, visiting graumans chinese theatre and the wax museum. and then we went to the prop 8 protest, which was emotional and huge. and too much food to mention. it was a time indeed. and finally after she left i took a photo of my office at sunset, in all my writerly life, all ive ever wanted was an office with a window, thank you los angeles, everything happens for a reason at the right time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Noah Purifoy's journals

It was electric.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

more geological digging

this is the first shit i was ever addicted to, seriously, like i remember dry heaving in the car because we were stuck in traffic and i was going to miss this shit. literally, nose pressed against the passenger seat window fogging up the glass with panic.
watching it now i got a little tingle in my down there parts for joey. woah! before High Life, before Boones, before beadies, weed and led zepplein, even before the doors, there was this amazing jazzy little thing that filled 45 seconds of each week with delirious happy psychosis.
when i finish writing this essay, i will never ever breath the name axl rose again, at least for five years.

And while were at it, here it is, the source of all my youthful affection, i wallpapered my room with his posters. I guess not alot has changed, im still a sucker for curly brown locks and big brown eyes, in fact i never realized it till right now, but a couple of my x boyfriends look like joey russo (ive had the good fortune of dating some exquisite looking men- on a side note, because of this, i only date like, once every three years). actually this song is not as bad i was expecting my older musical listen to be, its sort of better than most of the pop on the radio today. im not sure if that depresses me.
i think i still dance like this.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Horse With No Name

I spent the weekend in Joshua Tree at High Desert Test Sites, then Paul and Daniel and I decided to splinter off on our own and explore the desert. To call it intense is an understatement, The Salton Sea, Salvation Mountain and Slab City- we felt a million miles away from the artists and Marnie Webber Bienial crowd we had left the night before. Don't fuck with the desert, the desert forgets nothing and turns everything to rust.
Seriously, it was like breathing ghosts in and pushing their spirits down into your soul, their lives get caught in your throat, abandoned honeymoon suites, sea side bars, and 1950's vacation motels, rusted air line steamer campers with pink stoves and vintage tins of folgers coffee, blowing and clattering inside their bullet shaped tombs, meanwhile all the poverty and decay that's sprung up in its forgotten cracks stares wide-eyed as you peer through dusted windows and crawl under boarded off doorways. Dead fish, dying pelicans and salt, meth addicts and ford pickups that never get traded in but just get repaired.
We also hit Noah Purifoys sculpture garden in the desert and that was breathtaking and surreal.