Your occasional source for heavy metal, progressive rock and hard rock coverage. Whenever I feel like it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Album Review: Guns N' Roses--Chinese Democracy

So last night, I cued up "Chinese Democracy", "Shackler's Revenge" and "Better" and would not tell my girlfriend what record it was, or what band it was. She realized it was Axl in the middle of "Better."

Her reaction: "That's Axl! Is this Chinese Democracy?"

I grinned and nodded.

"It doesn't suck!"

From Axl's entry on the title track, a high electronic buzzing whine that spirals down into the mix and blossoms into his trademark yowl, special effects and studio tricks are the cornerstones of this long-awaited album. "Shackler's Revenge" really establishes this album's sound, a searing blend of electronic effects, chugging vocals and searing guitar solos over a fast groove that recalls the punky songs on Use Your Illusion I. Only Axl could tell you which of the five guitarists (Robin Finck, Buckethead, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, Richard Fortus, and Paul "Huge" Tobias) plays what, and he ain't talking.

"Street of Dreams" (leaked as "The Blues") recalls Axl's bad obsession with Elton John, right down to the "Tiny Dancer" string samples. "If The World" opens with an astounding flamenco part (gotta be Buckethead) and one of Axl's best vocal performances. "There Was a Time" is a strong, nostalgic ballad. "Catcher in the Rye" echoes "Yesterdays" and "Breakdown" on Use Your Illusion II. Axl works out his anger issues (again) on "Scraped", which has a great headbanging groove. Then into bluesy territory with "I.R.S." the best song on the record. "Madagascar" is the epic among all these other epics, a climactic track which finds Axl mining Cool Hand Luke in the spirit of "Civil War." In fact, Democracy constantly references the Illusion records the same way those albums borrowed from Appetite.

The biggest flaw with Chinese Democracy is its "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to songwriting, which makes one yearn for the simpler days of "Mr. Brownstone." Each note, chord, and snare crack was carefully assembled, digitally processed and placed exactly where Axl wanted it. It's the same kind of total environment control that led James Cameron to create Avatar. Songs start, riff, groove, turn left, another riff, a sample, electronic drums, solo, yowl, etc. This process of digitally building an album is nothing new--but this is the first time that these techniques have been applied on such an enormous scale.

It all gets a little exhausting, especially after 14 songs.
But no, it doesn't suck.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Defense of Extreme

Extreme in 1992: (l.-r.) Paul Geary, Pat Badger, 
Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt

Yes, you read that right. Extreme.

Inspired by the VH1 Classic series The Music Video Exposed's segment on the video for the song "Get the Funk Out", I've been listening to a lot of Extreme lately. A high school bud turned me onto this band early, and I bought Extreme II: Pornograffiti the day it came out. It was my favorite album of 1990, with its funky cross-rhythms, guitar-hero antics and concept about men, women, and the dark side of porn, exploitation, and relationships. And guitar geeks like me plotzed over Nuno Bettencourt's metronome tour de force, "The Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee!"

And yes, that's the same album that has "More Than Words" on it--a song that hit number one but also destroyed Extreme's career. Their record label wanted more acoustic balladry, and people who play this song at their weddings miss the bitterness and cynicism in the lyrics:

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It's not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
Cos I'd already know

Some love song, huh.

Personally, I thought Extreme's finest hour was their over-the-top third album, Extreme III Sides To Every Story. This three-sided concept record ("Yours", "Mine" and "The Truth") had a track removed from the CD for space considerations. From Side II, the epic ballad "Don't Leave Me Alone." (later released as a b-side to the "Tragic Comic" single) was a key bridge between the "Mine" side and the tremendous twenty-minute suite with full orchestra (ambitiously titled "Everything Under the Sun") that closed the record.

I only saw Extreme once, at an amazing show at the Beacon Theater. Here's some footage from Youtube of the band bringing down the house with a blazing ten-minute "Cupid's Dead." Watch it, listen to it, and remember that this band was more than two pretty dudes with long hair and acoustic guitars.

Extreme reunited in 2008, releasing a new record, Saudades de Rock. And it's pretty good. The band will release a new live DVD, Take Us Alive, comes out on May 4. For more information, check out their official site,

Marillion come to "Rock Band 2"

Marillion's single "Whatever is Wrong With You" (originally released on the band's 2008 double-disc Happiness is the Road) is the first track by this seminal British progressive rock band to be released for Rock Band 2. Now will someone enable us to do a full Misplaced Childhood?

Xbox 360 Rock Band 2 Special Edition

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Asia Release New Album Cover; Track Names

Progressive rock supergroup Asia have announced song titles and released the CD art for their new album. This is the second release by the classic lineup of Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer, and Geoff Downes. Omega is the group's followup to their 2008 reunion album Phoenix.

The new Asia album, Omega, comes out April 23, with a May 4 release here in the U.S. Here's the track list:

Finger on the Trigger
Through My Veins
Holy War
Ever Yours
Listen Children
End of the World
Light the Way
Emily (bonus track on early CD pressings)
Still the Same
There Was A Time
I Believe
Don't Wanna Lose You Now

Asia have announced a European tour with U.S. dates to follow.