Monday, November 24, 2008

Someone Tell Kevin Shields He's Officially Past Due

...or Mrs. Rose's Lil' Fussbudget Wastes 13 Million Dollars

So it's finally here. No, not Prisonshake's awesome, 15-years-in-the-making, follow-up to The Roaring Third. That came out a few months ago. I'm talking about Chinese Democracy.

I loved Guns N Roses as a kid. Appetite for Destruction absolutely floored me at the age of 10. (Though that will happen when you're a pre-adolescent and someone is saying "fuck" constantly.) GnR were probably the first rock band I ever really cared about. However, I'm not one to wallow in nostalgia. Like most things I enjoyed as a child, I have quite a different opinion as an adult. I'm not going to pretend that Guns N Roses were more than they actually were anymore than I'd say that He-Man and the Masters of the Universe featured some really sharp dialogue.

Appetite for Destruction was and remains a good to great slice of hard rock. As much as some its songs have been played out over the past 20 years, it's hard to deny the power of songs like "It's So Easy" or "Nightrain" or even "Sweet Child O' Mine." It's no wonder that GnR stood head and shoulders above the rest of the party hardy LA glam metal pack. Their sound was grimy and raw, not processed and inviting. And while their lyrics depicted the same Dionysian lifestyle as their peers, they did so in a less frivolous, more realistic manner, acknowledging that actions had consequences. Nothing about Guns N Roses felt sugarcoated.

Still, being better than Poison or Mötley Crüe is no great accomplishment. Standing next to dwarfs will make anyone look tall. Guns N Roses got a lot of credit for simply not being awful. They may have been the best thing the LA glam scene barfed up but if you hold them up to their influences (I'm thinking Alice Cooper, Stones, Aerosmith, Rose Tattoo or AC/DC) GnR were just passable: a solid hard-boogie band with punkish leanings featuring a handful of exceptional songs and a weirdly charismatic frontman.

Which brings us to Axl. Axl, oh Axl. I'll acknowledge the substantial role he played in Appetite's commercial and artistic success but it seemed as though subsequent releases succeeded in spite of Axl rather than because of him. It might seem like nothing in comparison to the wait for Chinese Democracy but do you remember the constant delay for the Use Your Illusion albums? The band even went on a summer tour in '91 before the albums were released because they just weren't ready in Axl's mind. And when they finally were released, how much of them felt over produced and fussed with? Unnecessary and distracting overdubs abounded. And let's not forget Axl's unfortunate Elton John/Queen fixation coming to fruition.

Skip ahead 17 years. Add in a hell of a lot more time and money to needlessly mess around in the studio. Now subtract any of the other elements besides Axl that made Guns N Roses interesting in the first place (namely the contributions of the other members of the band). Given that equation, how good could anyone expect Chinese Democracy to be?

So let's get to it:

1. Chinese Democracy
I first heard the title track/first single a couple of weeks ago when a friend played it for me at his place. My first impression was that it was better than I thought it would be. It actually sounds like a rock song. A bloated, overproduced rock song but a rock song nonetheless. The public won't reject it out of hand as I thought they would and the album will probably move a few units. Not enough to recoup the 13 million dollars spent on it but it's only money, right?

2. Shakler's Revenge
Starts with a noisy intro that would do early SPK proud. After those brief seconds of pleasure, the song pretty much sucks out the rest of the way, the highlight/low point being a guitar solo that sounds like warmed over Vernon Reid or Reeves Gabrels.

3. Better
This isn't too bad. You can certainly hear where all that money went at the very least. It makes sense that this is the second single. If Axl's goal is to be "Better" than his competition on rock radio right now, which is like Nickelback and Linkin Park I guess, much in the same way he outshined Warrent then mission accomplished.

4. Street of Dreams
Uh oh. Piano intro. Are we going to be subjected to Axl's Elton John fixation again? Yes, we are. Never my favorite aspect of GnR it at least provides a nice breather from the pseudo-industrial obnoxiousness of the first three tracks. Over production is still full effect though, with a string section that would embarrass Billy Corgan.

5. If the World
What the hell is this? Flamingo disco? But don't worry rock fans. The processed guitars come in soon enough. As I mentioned earlier, in revisiting the Use Your Illusion albums, it occurred to me how many of the songs were ruined by Axl's fussiness and perhaps OCD-related need for "perfection." Just off the top of my head, check out "Double Talkin' Jive" or"Pretty Tied Up" for an evidence. Chinese Democracy thus far is nothing but Axl's fussiness with no raunchy blues-based songcraft (usually courtesy of Izzy Stradlin') to provide relief.

6. There Was a Time
I'm really getting sick of these synthesized strings. Dizzy Reed is really trying to make himself essential isn't he? This song is dreck. Pretty exemplar of what I was fearful this album would be. Six and a half minutes long too. This is getting painful.

7. Catcher in the Rye
More piano. Sort of sounds like the Faces being covered by, I don't know, Filter or somebody. That's not a compliment. And "Catcher in the Rye?" Does anyone beyond the age of 16 still consider that book profound? I mean if you're not stalking a celebrity. This song is approaching the 6 minute mark as well. Fuck, I'm only halfway through the album. This is turning into some kind of endurance test. David Blaine's got nothing on me.

8. Scrapped
Axl harmonizes with himself a cappella in the intro, like some kind of clueless, white-trash Beach Boys. Another rock song which, thankfully, only goes to three and minutes. Still about three and half minutes too long. 17 years and this was the best you can do, Axl? The chorus of "Don't you try and stop us now" is kind of hilarious in this context. No one has been trying to stop you, Axl. And we've got free Dr Pepper to prove it.

9. Sorry
Shit. Another 6 minute plus reflective song. Why does Axl think that deep emotions can only evoked though turgid and plodding arrangement? I curse anyone who told him that "November Rain" was a great song.You know how sometimes the authorities will blast hard rock at high volume during stand off situations to try and break the opposition? I totally understand that now.

10. Riad N' The Bedouins
I guess the "n" apostrophe means it's supposed to be a kick ass rocker. It's not half as good as "Dust N" Bones" though. The pace is lively and the chorus melodic enough to make it the most tolerable song since the third track. Who are Riad and the Bedouins anyway? Are they some historical or literary figures? Remind me to Wikipedia later.

11. I.R.S.
It's definitely a bad sign when a song begins and I'm checking the track length to see how long I'm going to have to sit through it. I can't believe Chuck Klosterman gave this a good review in the Onion AV Club. Oh wait. Yes I can.

12. Madagascar
Myspace has interrupted the album for a second time to tell me that Meiko's album is available for download for only $1.99. "As heard on last night's Grey's Anatomy." Welcome to the media of the new millennium. Though like the media of the old millennium, she's easy on eyes with negligible musical talent. Anyway, back to Chinese Democracy. Horns and strings intro then more mid tempo tedium. The horns and strings don't even sound real. You would think that Axl spend some of the 17 years and millions of dollars to hire actual string and horn ensembles. Or maybe he did and just processed the hell out of them to sound like shitty synths. Whoa, sharp left turn here. Instead of a guitar solo there's a trip-hop breakdown and a Martin Luther King sample. What does that have to do with anything? Only Mr. Rose knows.

13. This I Love
This ought to please fans of "Estranged" if any of those exist. Just one more song after this. I can do this. Just a little further to go. I usually try to listen to records at least three or four times before I write about them. That isn't going to happen here.

14. Prostitute
Actually kind of pretty especially considering the ugly song title. The Scrotum Poles' "Pick the Cat's Eyes Out" still takes the title for widest ratio between ugliness of band name and song title to loveliness of the tune. I'm waiting for the hard crunch of guitars to arrive though. There we go. Thankfully they don't continue for the duration of the song. Lyric sample: "What would you say if I told him that I'm to blame?" I would say that within six months you'll be on the phone with Slash and Duff to see if Velvet Revolver is still an ongoing concern now that Scott Weiland is out of the band. I wonder what his solo album is like. It wouldn't surprise me if it's even worse than this but at least it didn't cost the gross national product of a third world nation to make.

Chinese Democracy will be probably be a moderate success. I fully expect it to debut at number one on the charts. There's enough mystique around Guns N Roses and the album itself to guarantee that. Whether or not the fans will be satisfied remains to be seen. I am pretty surprised that the album seems to be getting generally positive reviews from major critics. Is the bar really that low nowadays? It seems to me that the only way to really enjoy Chinese Democracy is to actually be Axl Rose.

Axl, if you're reading this and want to mention me in an updated version of "Get in The Ring," please do. I could really use the exposure.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hüsker Dü: Hardcore '81

Or Hüsker Dü, headband-era, if you prefer.

About a year ago I wondered aloud if I needed a good reason to post a live clip of Hüsker Dü. (Answer: no.) Now, I actually have a reason. Some enterprising chap who goes by the handle of HUSKERchout has a ton of rare Dü footage on his YouTube channel, including an entire show from September of 1981.

The common story with Hüsker Dü is that they were a hardcore band who later transcended the limits of the genre via experimentation and increased songwriting prowess. That's about half true. Two points that poke some holes in that theory:

1. Hüsker Dü was an awesome hardcore band. They were not some generic, barely competent learn-two-chords-and-bash-away outfit ala SOA or DYS or whatever three letter acronym you can think of. Hüsker's hardcore was taut and powerful, holding it's own against Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Negative Approach and any other titans of the genre. Bob Mould's signature dexterous guitar sound was in place very early though between the blinding velocity and the fact that the band's debut LP, Land Speed Record, was recorded live and lo-fi it was sometimes hard to tell. Just check the evidence below:

Had Land Speed Record been recorded in a studio with any degree of fidelity, there's little doubt in my mind it would be as highly regarded as, say, SSD's Get It Away, whatever that's worth.

2. Hüsker Dü played more than hardcore from the beginning. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's heard their debut 7", "Statues/Amusement." After feeling they may have went too far in the direction of college radio accessibility for their first single, the band overcompensated by going too far in the other direction for their first album. Subsequent releases like the In a Free Land EP and the Everything Falls Apart album got the balance just about right but early non-hardcore Dü songs like those below were never officially released or even recorded in the studio. Tis a pity:

I'm hoping somebody someday will assemble a definitive set of early Hüsker Dü material for official release. (The Everything Falls Apart and More CD was very good but there's more work to be done.) Come to think of it, the entirety of Hüsker Dü's SST back catalog could use the deluxe treatment. The 25th anniversary of Zen Arcade is next year. Some one get on that, please.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

That's When I Reach For My Controller

(Above: Presumably not Martin Swope's set up.)
Three songs each from US punk-era legends Mission of Burma and the Dead Kennedys are now available for download for use in the very popular Rock Band 2 video game. Each song will cost you 160 Mircosoft points or one Libram relic. (Wait. I might be thinking of the wrong thing.) No word on the development of the Pere Ubu MMORPG. Apparently, players were annoyed with the interruption of rocking out to go knock on strangers' doors to try and change their religion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Out of Print Digital Relics: 100 Flowers Discography

100 Flowers 100 Years of Pulchritude
For those who don't know, Los Angeles' 100 Flowers were originally known as the Urinals. As the Urinals they released three 7 inches on their own Happy Squid label, all of which are justifiably revered by punk record collectors. For a complete rundown of Urinals' activities do check out the still-in-print-for-now Negative Capability collection. Deciding to ditch the silly/risqué name and get serious they became 100 Flowers (who, for the record, featured the exact same lineup as the Urinals.) Under this moniker the band released their first and only full-length album as well as a single and EP. They were sometimes called an American counterpart to Wire, who took a similar path from minimalist bashing to angular cool. They have also been cited as an influence on the Minutemen, who covered the Urinals' classic "Ack Ack Ack Ack." On the DVD of the Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, one can even see footage on of D.Boon giddily pogoing during 100 Flowers' final performance and carrying one of their members through the crowd after the show, as if celebrating a championship win. These references are helpful but as is often the case with a band this unique, they don't really tell the whole story. Simply put, 100 Flowers' recorded output is among the finest examples of American post-punk, holding their own against not only the Minutemen, but also Mission of Burma, the Feelies, the Embarrassment, Pylon, etc.

Nearly all of 100 Flowers discography was collected on the now out-of-print 100 Years of Pulchritude CD: the self-titled album, the Drawing Fire EP, the "Presence of Mind" 7" and a handful of compilation and unreleased cuts. Happy Squid's website stated that this collection was due come back in print in early 2008 but since it's yet to materialize, here it is for your listening pleasure. I also recommend you take a look at this post on the quite excellent Detailed Twang blog, which not only offers better written biography and exegeses but also a pair of 100 Flowers songs that were not included on this compilation. And don't forget the Urinals collection, Negative Capability, well worth your time and money.

Download 100 Flowers 100 Years of Pulchritude

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

How to Advertise Creative Bankruptcy

It's simple, really. Just give your band a terrible name.

I was looking through the very popular and useful Pop Tarts Suck Toasted blog yesterday and noticed how many bands nowadays have awful, awful names. Not that a bad name automatically means bad music. (I am a fan of the Bassholes, after all.) But the old "judging a book by its cover" axiom isn't exactly true either. If one is going to show the poor taste and judgment of giving his or her band a shitty name doesn't it stand to reason that the same taste and judgment is not going to produce worthwhile music? Nine times out of ten, it's probably the case. Unfortunately, there are only seven examples below (all culled from MP3s provided by PTST, click on over there if you want to give them a listen) so that tenth time looks to be beyond our grasp. I was sincerely hoping that at least one of these acts would transcend their moniker but...

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart "Everything With You"
Fey, kissyface pop with a heavy Smiths influence. Actually, "pop" might be too strong a word as most pop music has hooks. Pleasant enough though the group doesn't really transcend their (obvious) influences. Coming soon to the soundtrack of a Juno ripoff.

Iran "Buddy"
Michener rock! Speaking of bad names, this is apparently TV on the Radio-related. I'm not a fan of TVotR but nothing I've heard of theirs is anywhere as dull as this. Honestly, this is barely a song and the lackadaisical Malkmus-derived vocals aren't helping matters.

Fake Male Voice "OMG!!!FMV!!!"
Also TV on the Radio-related! Could pass for a Prince deep cut though the purple one does have some rather, um, idiosyncratic ideas regarding quality control. Sexy enough to get you laid under the influence of the right drugs (I'm thinking paint thinner) though the apple chewing during the coda kind of ruins the mood.

Fight Bite "Swissex Lover"
Intro recalls one of the "songs" one could make a on and old Casio by letting it play in bossa nova or waltz mode and changing keys every so often. Then the vocals kick in. Did I say "kick?" I meant "prance." Rivals above Iran track for dubious claims to songhood. And it's like twice as long! Or just seems that way.

Dream Bitches "Bad Luck Bill"
New wave-y garage pop with female vox similar to that dog. Aggressively catchy but gets repetitive and wears out its welcome before the second verse. Cute quickly devolves into annoying sort of like Raven-Symoné during her Cosby years.

Blitzen Trapper "Gold for Bread"
Imagine Tom Petty was less interested in writing songs than making in weird noises. Then imagine his talent was sucked out through his eye socket by Jeff Lynne. Points added or deducted for "Mississippi Queen"-esque guitar tone.

Dent May & his Magnificent Ukulele! "Meet Me in the Garden"
Sample lyric: "The softest boy in Mississippi/Would like to know/Why you're so pretty/Whoa whoa." Yes, he rhymed "know" with "whoa." No, I'm not fucking kidding. Definite Brian Wilson (and possible Bacharach) fixation but doesn't have the skills or the pipes to pull off anything more than a pale imitation. If there's anything worse than dumb guys who think they're smart it's guys who try and sing even though they can't. I bet he gets all kinds of action from the ladies though.

Okay, I'll admit the above is sort of mean and probably proves the Staten Island Advance correct in calling me a jerk. (Though a winning jerk.) These are all fairly small bands trying to get a little recognition. They're the little guys, the Joe the Plumbers of the indie world, and here I am maligning them for no good reason. That is, of course, unless you consider trying to prevent my readership from stumbling into bad music a good reason.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Congratulations on Voting! You deserve some VOM

Don't these videos make you proud to live in the land of the free?

There was a time when I would invite new friends over my place, put on the Angry Samoans True Documentary VHS and fast forward to the VOM videos just to see their reaction. If they laughed hysterically, I knew I was in the presence of a kindred spirit. If they were bemused and a flabbergasted, I knew they'd probably never make it to my top friends on myspace (if such a thing had existed at the time.)

Incidentally, I know I usually post YouTube clips when I'm too busy and/or lazy to post anything else. This time is no exception. Actual blog content probably back next week! Sit tight until then, proud Americans!