3 stars out of 5
Bet you’ve heard, GnR is back with a new album! Before you go off on me about “It’s not Guns N’ Roses!,” um, I know that quite well. But it is Axl Rose, and last I heard, the dude could still wail and write. So I figured at least I should give the album a try.
Democracy starts strong with the title song, then two of the better and harder songs on the CD, “Shackler's Revenge” and “Better.” Buckethead plays the guitar on these tunes and much of the rest of the album, so props to Axl for getting someone with mad guitar skills to replace Slash. However, while Buckethead can play a mean solo, he just can’t contribute to the whole song like Slash could. He can’t contribute to the writing or sweeping riffs that haunt GnR’s best old stuff. You can’t replace a huge piece of the original GnR like Slash just by getting a guitar player that might be able to rip off a solo that Slash might have trouble countering technically.
Unfortunately the album goes downhill after the first few tracks. One problem is that Democracy is chalked full of boring ballads. GnR had what, 6 ballads on all their albums? Democracy has 5 all to itself, and not one is very good. I don’t count the slow but interesting “If the World” as a ballad, one of the album’s best songs. Axl weaves a beautiful and a slightly heavy melody which sounds a lot like other Axl classics.
Even some of the harder stuff is missing an edge, both the music and the lyrics. In “Scraped,” Axl repeats over and over: “Don’t you try to stop us now/I just refuse/Don’t you try to stop us now/Cause I just won’t let you.” Wow, Axl, what mind-blowingly creative lyrics. Unfortunately, a lot of the originality of GnR has been lost, either because Axl is burnt out or, more likely, because he’s missing the creative input of Izzy, Slash and Duff.
I was about to give up on the last half of the album until this little diddy called “I.R.S” came up. Whoa. The volume started at a normal level but had to be increased more and more as the jam ran on, culminating in the hardest 60 seconds of the album. No one, and I mean no one, can scream like Axl. The vocals on this song are downright sick, and the lyrics are good ole broken hearted, pissed-off misogynous Axl Rose rantings. He belts:
Gonna call the president
Gonna need myself a private eye
Ooh, gonna need the IRS
Gonna get the FBI
Gonna make it a federal case
Gonna wave it right down in your face
Read it baby with your morning news
With a sweet hangover and the headlines too
This song would fit right in place on Use Your Illusion, and if the whole album kicked as much as ass as “I.R.S,” it would warrant at least 4 stars. They still miss Slash in a song like this, but it’s almost good enough to forget for a few minutes. Steering away form the obvious that this isn’t as good as the original GnR, Chinese Democracy lacks the creativity and punch to be a great album. Axl can definitely still sing, and although his songwriting isn’t quite on par with when he was with GnR, he’s still good for a few kick ass tunes. I’d recommend downloading the 5 or so good songs on this album and save yourself the $15.
The Gourds: Haymaker
4 stars out of 5
First of all, I’m glad this album is a significant step up from the disappointing Noble Creatures. Nearly every song is solid. I’ve always been more of a fan of Kev’s songs, and every one of his contributions is strong. Jimmy’s “New Dues” and “Bridget” are great, and might be his best contributions since “Decline-O-Meter,” “Illegal Oyster,” and “Spanky.” The rest of his songs are par for the last few albums, which is to say they're not very good.
I’ll take back my wish for Max to write more songs. “Valentine,” with maybe the exception of “Wired Ole Gal,” is the worst Gourds song to ever make an album. I gave it three tries, but it got worse the more I listened to it. Unfortunately, “Tighter” isn’t much better; neither song is even as good as “On Time” and nothing is even close to “Blankets” or “Omaha.”
The problem I have with this album is, although there are many good songs, there aren’t any stand-out excellent songs. No “Burn the Honeysuckle,” “Pill Bug Blues,” or “Cracklins.” I’d have to say “Country Love” is the best song on the album, with “Shreveport” and “Tex-Mex Mile” coming in second and third.
Unfortunately, this album reinforces my theory that The Gourds hit their peak at “Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig,” and they just haven't been able to muster another truly great album since. I’d rate all 10 Gourds albums as follows:
5 Star Albums:
Dems Good Beeble
Cow, Fish, Fowl or Pig
Ghosts of Hallelujah
4 Star Albums:
Blood of the Ram
Bolsa de Agua
3 Star Album:
Metallica: Death Magnetic
5 Stars out of 5
I don’t even keep track of when Metallica puts out an album anymore. I’d given up on them completely after Black Album. I’m one of those Metallica fans that think the Black Album was still a great effort, regardless of what anyone seethes about “selling out.” It bothers me that a band can’t evolve or put out something different without someone labeling them as sellouts. As for “St. Anger” and “Load” and “Reload” and all their other CDs they’ve put out since 1991, I think a better adjective would be “shitty.” There was no edge, no effort, and nothing that I wanted to listen to more than once.
So I heard about “Death Magnetic” from a friend who said something to the effect of “Holy shit, listen to the first song, it sounds like it’s straight off of ‘And Justice for All.’” Well, that’s definitely worth a listen. Turns out he was right. “That Was Just Your Life” is fast and good. Fortunately, it’s not even one of the best tracks on this treat. The CD only has 10 tracks, but nearly every one is quality. The hard-hitting jam “Broken, Beat And Scarred” is better than anything Metallica has put out in the last decade. The gold medal track goes to “All Nightmare Long,” a crushing 8 minute ensemble of ear bleeding metal. This tune has Metallica signature killer overlying guitar riffs and Kirk’s at his best in several solos on this tune.
The album is not all fast, but it is all hard. The slower tempo but killer bass grooved “Cyanide” is every bit as good as the faster tracks. Often going sober leads to a bad getting more boring and less edgy, but death, destruction and mayhem are back on James Hetfield’s mind, so I’ll call Death Magnetic an exception to that rule. On “Cyanide” he sings:
Empty they say
Death, won’t you let me stay
Empty they say
Death, hear me call your name
Suicide, I’ve already died
You’re just the funeral I’ve been waiting for
Cyanide, living dead inside
Break this empty shell forever more.
The slow but fascinating “Unforgiven III” is also an amazing track, possibly as good as the original Unforgiven. Gritty, dark and solemn, it also reminds us that James can actually sing okay for an old metal dude. These guys can still write, so what the hell have you been doing the last 15 years trying to pass off shit as Metallica?
I still listen to this album almost daily. I literally can’t get enough of it. If there’s a better album in 2008, I haven’t heard it. Ah, Metallica, how I did miss thee. Where in the hell were you? Keep up the good work and I might actually buy one of your albums instead of pirating it (just kidding, Lars. Don’t send the cops after me. LOL).