Axl Rose, You Are My Hero! (I Know I Have Said it Before and I’m Saying it Again)

So called 17 years in the making, 15 years I have waited for another Guns N’ Roses fix, hell yes I have enormous expectation on “Chinese Democracy”.  And the good news is, I am so delighted that this most expensive album never made has finally see the daylight.  To the naysayers who toss a few stars lesser than what “Chinese Democracy” deserves, do you even love Rose’s music in the first place?

Axl Rose is my hero, my inspiration.  Sure, he heck cares about his fans and if not for the lyrics of the last song “Prostitute”, I wouldn’t even have a glimpse on what the heck Axl Rose has been fighting for, for 15 or 17 years (depending if you are counting from his band’s last studio album or cover album).  If his music has been in your head for the last 2 decades, you should have no problem relating to the music and the lyrics of “Chinese Democracy”.

First, let me clear the air here for those who say G N’ R is no longer G N’ R.  I own both albums by Velvet Revolver (formed mostly by the ex-band members of Guns ‘N Roses).  Guns N’ Roses without Axl Rose (read: Velvet Revolver) sounds nothing like Guns N’ Roses.  Even with one original member left, “Chinese Democracy” still sounds very much like a G N’ R production.

I think most exceptional artists are kind of eccentric.  Axl Rose is no exception.  What Guns N’ Roses has done with “Use Your Illusion I & II” is exceptional, unheard of.  A simultaneous release of two mega rock albums?  In recent years, Red Hot Chili Peppers released a double album “Stadium Arcadium”.  That is the only production that remotely reminds me of “Use Your Illusion (1991)”.  Still, songs like “November Rain”, “Don’t Cry”, “Civil War”, and “14 Years” have such a deep impression that till today, I still listen to.  Rewind to “Appetite for Destruction (1987)”, which electric guitarist wouldn’t be tempted to learn playing “Sweet Child o’ Mine”?  I have.  At least the beginning bit.

In fact, one of the first few songs I learned after I picked up guitar as my new hobby in my UK days was “Patience” from the “G N’ R Lies (1988)” album.  Lovely acoustic piece.  And strange to say, I do like the cover album “The Spaghetti Incident? (1993)” a lot.  Not their commercial success, I suppose.  But it is a rare gem.  Being able to execute so flawlessly in one cohesive album, only G N’ R can do it.

14 songs in “Chinese Democracy” total up to over 70 minutes of solid music.  The reassembled G N’ R has been touring for decades, without an album.  Hence, there is no surprise that the songs from this album sound so tight.  Pay attention to how the pieces of instruments weave together, pay attention to how well each piece balances with one another, no band these days make albums like this anymore – both from the music and recording perspectives.  To demonstrate my point on sound engineering, pick up an old rock CD (like one or two decades old) and play on your audio system.  Now, pick a recent rock CD and play.  Don’t you think that music these days are loud and in-your-face?  From the sound engineering’s standpoint, “Chinese Democracy” sounds just like a good old rock album.  Very well balanced.  Good stuff.

From the music standpoint, “Chinese Democracy” certainly contains more variety probably due to the countless number of band members coming and going and returning over such a long period in time.  One number starts with a Spanish guitar; all the songs come with solid memorable guitar solos; some I enjoy listening to the keyboard and piano tracks a lot.  The slower measures such as “If The World”, “There Was A Time”, and “Madagascar” are great tracks.  When Axl Rose sings the lines “It was a long time for you, it was a long time for me”, I can’t help but to smile at this subtle sad irony though the song appears to refer to something else.  And in the song “Sorry”, listening to the lines of “I’m sorry for you, not sorry for me.  You don’t know who in the hell to or not to believe”, I can’t help but to imagine this subtle message from him to his ex-band members.

When I first read the song title “Prostitute” (last song), I took the song at face value.  So it did seem that the song is about a prostitute.  Then the following line hits me: Ask yourself why I would choose to prostitute myself to live with fortune and shame.  That just occurs to me why Axl Rose may have been fighting with his record company or the system for so many years.

No doubt Axl Rose’s recorded vocal track sounds better than all that I have previously heard of.  The signature high notes are everywhere, overloaded with the signature pitch bending.  There is a nice tender side that shines, and the harshness that adds texture to his vocal track.  I can feel the emotion when he sings, as though he means everything he sings.  Awesome.

Today I am a happy man.  15 years of waiting is over.  Isn’t life simply awesome?

External Link: G N’ R Official Site

Metallica – Death Magnetic – The Gigantic Metallic Beast Is Awakened

If someone was to tell me a few years ago that Kirk Hammett would once again pick up his guitar and be the legendary guitar hero he once was, I would chuckle in disbelief.  If someone was to tell me that the new Metallica album would sound like this, com’on!  Are you for real?

Blasting Death Magnetic on our way home, Cynthia and I were screaming out loud punching fists in the air.  At first listen!  I only managed to get into St. Anger after 250 times of album repeat (no kidding, I used to have a count in my computer and it is hard to decipher the seemingly random patterns).  Gosh!  Are we living in an alternative reality or what?!  Kirk Hammett has finally come to his senses and hammers out some real cool and original guitar solo tracks.  Check out the signature snare smashing double bass by Lars Ulrich.  Not just double-time, or quadruple-time, but octuple-time double bass.  You wouldn’t have thought someone in the mid-forties, hospitalized in 2004 having to miss the tour, still able to pull this sort of act off.  The new bassist Robert Trujillo who was recruited into the band during the St. Anger era (that scene of one million cash proposal on the table together with an equal share as seen in the video Some Kind of Monster is hard to forget) plays brilliantly in this album.  Certainly my favorite Metallica bassist of all time.  Hopefully, Metallica Inc. is going to keep this one.  James Hetfield’s voice is in top form, sounds confident (consider how far gone he was with the alcoholism and rehabilitation), and his lyrics reflect just that, “You rise, you fall, you’re down then you rise again.  What don’t kill ya make ya more strong”.  Isn’t it more positive than “Shoot me again I ain’t dead yet”?  Not to forget to mention the mad guitar riffing of the opening track, these two guitarists have rescaled the difficulty spectrum of thrash metal up a few notches.

Approach any Metallica fan and we all have our favorite eras.  Rarely you find someone (like me) who loves everything from Kill ‘Em All (1983) to St. Anger (2003) including that S&M live with the San Francisco Symphony.  Purists would love the pre-Black Album era of songs like “The Four Horseman”, “Ride The Lightning”, “Master of Puppets”, and “… And Justice For All”.  These are great tracks, no doubt.  I still remember learning the riffs of songs from that era.  Then came the 15 times platinum selling Black Album that most fans would acknowledge its significance.  Some say the Load and ReLoad eras are sell-out, way too commercialized to the hardcore fans’ liking.  Well, I happen to enjoy being indulged in those amid slower, but somewhat memorable melodies.  And as a defender of St. Anger, I find myself having to explain to people my philosophy of why St. Anger – despite lacking in Kirk’s solo – was ahead of its time.  If you listen to Death Magnetic closely, you may be able to recognize the bits and pieces originating from the chaos within St. Anger (read: If there was no St. Anger, there wouldn’t have been a Death Magnetic).

What the new producer Rick Rubin has done is amazing.  There is an overarching structure yet there are elements of jamming within; there are familiar melodic phrases yet the singing of “Sad But True” and the earlier work keeps ringing in my head; there are modern guitar effects yet the pure metal essence of the “Master of Puppets” lives inside Death Magnetic; there is even an instrumental track “Suicide & Redemption” that rivals “Orion”.  Death Magnetic is a consolidation of all that Metallica has offered in the last 25 years.  It is a unifying platform for all the Metallica fans out there to rejoice.

Related Site: Metallica TV on YouTube

A Def Leppard Marathon – From Hysteria to Songs from the Sparkle Lounge

I have yet to figure out if each tragedy the band Def Leppard encountered leads to a success or each success curses them with a tragedy.

In year 1983, the UK rock band Def Leppard became famous after their third album “Pyromania” reached 10 times platinum in US alone.  In the following year, the drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash.  I remember reading an article from a magazine while I was in UK.  A dramatic article on the return of the one arm drummer a few years after the accident.

After the car crash due to speeding, Rick Allen lost an arm.  You can imagine how disappointed the rest of the band felt.  First, the breakthrough, then the uncertainty.  But what about the young drummer?  Legend has it that he did not wish to give up but instead, he was determined to return to his career with three limbs and the help of electronic drum paddles.  In one dramatic evening, while the rest of the band members were having a drink at a lounge – their usual drinking place – without him, Rick Allen walked into the room.  I suppose some band members might notice his entrance but I would imagine that they were still mad at Rick and his recklessness.  So, no one was paying attention to Rick Allen.

Rick continued to walk to a drum-set set at the center of the room, and he started to play the drums.  At that very moment, vocalist and I suppose leader of the band Joe Elliott closed his eyes.  The sound of the drums filled his head, squeezed out all the resentment he has, and took him back in time.  A time when Rick still had his two good arms.  According to what I read, Joe Elliot couldn’t tell the difference.

So, there was life after “Pyromania” after all.  And a happy ending.  “Hysteria” hit twelve times platinum in US and perhaps, that fourth album is the peak of their career.

In year 1991, their legendary guitarist Steve Clark died due to alcoholism.  The following year, “Adrenalize” was released with a moderate success – three times platinum.   After “Adrenalize”, Def Leppard repackaged their b-side and unreleased tracks during the era of “Hysteria” and “Adrenalize” and named the album “Retro Active”.  Since I in particularly love that era, these three albums hold a dear place in my heart.

After that, their long time producer, Robert John “Mutt” Lange (once married to famous country singer Shania Twain) called it quit.  “Sling” is meant to be an album that expresses the true image of Def Leppard without Mutt Lange.  I personally like the uniqueness and freshness of that album but the mass media said otherwise.  “Euphoria” is forgettable and “X” is a joke.  I vowed not to buy any Def Leppard album, ever.

Then I bought “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge”.

Despite the lingering feeling of years of betrayal, I gave their 10th studio album a try.  The first song “Go” gripped me.  No way this is Def Leppard!  It sounds more like Korn.  I love the guitar solo too!  The next song “Nine Lives” is the album’s first single featuring country singer Tim McGraw.  OK, it is kind of old school rock and I didn’t love it at first listen.  Why choose “Nine Lives” as a single?  After a few listens, it does grow onto me.  And I agree, “Nine Lives” is probably one that has a better chance to stand the test of time.

It was the slow killer ballad “Love” that sealed the deal.  I do not have any of their albums prior to “Hysteria” and in the last week or so, I had a Def Leppard marathon listening to all their albums from “Hysteria” onwards.  I don’t think they have made anything like “Love” before.  That song is totally old school.  Cynthia thought that it sounds like a song from Queen.

Lyrically, some songs still remind me of the same old trivial stuffs such as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Make Love Like a Man”. But check out the extract of the song “Cruise Control”.

I hear my god he calls my name
I must atone all men can change
and for my god I ring the bell
I will condemn the infidel

Mostly up tempo and mostly rock, I am happy that “Songs from the Sparkle Lounge” has revealed yet another side of the band.  It may not be as great as the “Hysteria” era but it is way better than any of their recent releases – if that means anything to you.

So tell me, how much do you love the old school rock music?

Velvet Revolver’s Libertad – A Sleek Rock Album By The Ex-Members Of Guns ‘N Roses and STP

In case if you wonder what on earth is Velvet Revolver (VR), it is a super-group formed by the ex-gunners Slash (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), and Matt Sorum (drummer), the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots (Scott Weiland), and Dave Kushner (guitar) of the 80s punk band Wasted Youth. At first listen, “Libertad” can be a little bit too “fibrous” – a borrowed term from Cynthia for albums that take a long time to digest – but I would say, “Libertad” has outdone VR’s debut “Contraband”. It is lean and it is a mean rock album. The patterns within each song are memorable and each instrument takes turn to shine in various parts of the song. There is no one member who dominates the album.

When VR first released “Contraband”, I could not help but to compare VR to the good old Guns ‘N Roses albums. After all, it is in essence Guns ‘N Roses minus Axl Rose. Time after time I would jump out of my seat and imagine how the song would sound with Axl instead. It is hauntingly scary I am telling you and it is frustrating.

Though it is hard to accept, VR is indeed a new band. A band that has moved forward with time and to be frank, the sound of VR is relevant to today’s rock scene without sounding too much of an old school. In their second album, VR has brought in Brendan O’Brien – a music producer who has worked with many renown bands including Stone Temple Pilots (STP) – and the result speaks loud and clear: “Libertad” convinced me to listen to VR as a new entity, and not just ghosts of Guns ‘N Roses nor STP.

If you like rock music, do give “Libertad” a try. The CD does suppose to contain videos of the making of the album. Unfortunately the media content cannot be played in my computer (duh!). Good thing though, it links me to the Sony BMG Musicbox. Do check out that site. It is like a mini YouTube with legal music videos in wide screen format. My only complain is the streaming speed. YouTube is much better.

PS. Is it just me to think that the name “Velvet Revolver” has a strong association to “Guns ‘N Roses”?

PS2. Oh I forgot to mention. I love the bonus track a lot. VR did a country music and when the singer kept going on and on towards the end, one of the members (Slash I suppose) said: whatever. And the song ends. Man, I am a sucker for all these extras.

Untitled – Is This The End Of Korn?

Many see Korn as the “Father of Nu-Metal”, a band that has created and popularized the nu-metal genre since 1994. What is nu-metal you may ask? Linkin Park has enjoyed a commercial success with music of this genre and I am sure many of you have heard a track or two from them occasionally on the radio. There are many reasons to love Korn. For me, I enjoy the guitar riffs that form the foundation of this “Korn sound”. I enjoy the lyrics that are abstractly dark – something I can certainly relate and in some ways, it is similar to my own lyrics writing style. Korn’s front-man Jonathan Davis has an unique voice and the bassist Fieldy adds much power and energy to the music. Korn likes to at times involve fans in designing their album art as well as giving free and unscheduled concerts to please them. I appreciate the effort of Korn reaching out to the fans.

After the departure of Head – one of the two guitarists of the band – Korn is never the same. The combo of the guitarists Head and Munky is what defines this “Korn sound”. In their last studio album, the looped in the famous production team “The Matrix” (who produced albums for Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair, Shakira, Hilary Duff, and etc … the combination of Korn and “The Matrix” is nothing but weird) to make some of their tracks more radio friendly. They did the same for this “Untitled” album.

I like to listen to an album with a context – a path of discovery. By reading the fine prints in the album sleeve (yes, please buy original!) and reading what the Internet has to say about Korn’s “Untitled”, I learned that in making this new album, they have to do without their original drummer David Silveria as he was on hiatus from the band. Instead, there were three drummers involved in recording “Untitled”. It is kind of sad for the fans. First it was Head’s departure, then David’s hiatus. From first listen, “Untitled” is nothing like the classic Korn sound. It was frustrating to me. Then on second listen, I began to appreciate the new Korn sound – the nu-metal sound with the atmospheres. Not only that, I have started to to pay attention to the different drummer’s style and influence to the music. How often do you find an album that has three distinctive drummers on different tracks?

Initially, Terry Bozzio was announced to replace David Silveria for the recording of one studio album. Terry is a good drummer no doubt (check out the last track). But to me, he has somewhat changed what Korn sounds like. After recording of 7 songs, Terry left due to disagreement of terms leaving another drummer Brooks Wackerman and the front-man Jonathan Davis to finish the job (Jonathan Davis can drum?! Wow). Personally I prefer Brooks Wackerman’s style – a more faithful continuation of what Korn supposes to sound like. My favorite tracks of the album are “Hold On”, “Bitch We Got A Problem”, and “Evolution”. Hearing Jonathan Davis sings and drums “Bitch We Got A Problem” with the hook of “Which one, which one of you is into me? Which one, which one of me is into you?” is as though hearing Jonathan talking straight to me. Strange.

Is “Untitled” the end of Korn? I surely hope not. Fans will follow Korn to the end and I am one of them.

Below is the music video of the song “Evolution”. I think it is a pretty funny video on the decline of mankind. Enjoy.