Democracy now! Or, ancient Chinese secret, huh?

Jeff Vrabel
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

First things first: Of course "Chinese Democracy" isn't worth it. Second things second: Unless you spend a lot of time in the company of William Shatner, this may be one of the most ridiculous audio recordings you ever absorb in your life.

This should be no surprise. If it arrives as threatened on Sunday, "Chinese Democracy," the uproariously long-in-coming Guns N' Roses disc that has been rattling around the parts of Axl Rose's brain that didn't contain dolphins or kilts for almost 20 years, will be the first new GNR music since 19-tapdancing-91.

You remember '91: The Not-Appalling President Bush was in office, "The Simpsons" had been on for about two years and Miley Cyrus did not yet exist. And some of us were preternaturally doofusy high school stick figures, basically 120 lbs. of braces and nose, who shuffled down to Camelot Music to pick up "Use Your Illusion I" and "II," the only things we'd listen to for the subsequent 18 months. That was followed by "The Spaghetti Incident?", the kind of inessential tossoff of punk covers (and one destructive run through "Hair of the Dog") you release to buy some time to write the next record; little did I know that by the time the next quote-fingers "official" GNR arrived, I'd absorb it sitting at a fluorescent-lit desk at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday through trebly iPod headphones while playing catch-up at work because I dropped my kid off late at pre-K.

So now here comes "Democracy," about which the only really positive buzz seems to be regarding the free Dr. Peppers we're all getting. Over the past six or seven years, all but a handful of its 14 tracks have leaked out in some form or another, either via the usual means (some dude who is currently losing his pants to GNR lawyers put nine songs online this year) or some bizarro-world farce that you have to preface by swearing you're not drunk (the track "I.R.S." was accidentally leaked to a NYC DJ by Mike Piazza). Also, like the cast of "ER," the Kansas City Royals and the Senate, no one has any idea who's even in the band at this point. (Rose fired Buckethead a few years back by claiming the zany guitarist was "unreliable." Axl Rose calling someone unreliable is like when Appalling President Bush said we were all addicted to fossil fuels, but whatever.)

And the songs themselves are just-south-of-unbearably wacky messes, chopped and scattered and super-produced to within an inch of their lives; if there are 14 tracks here (it sounds like there are pieces of about 400). Sure, there are some hair-raising moments: The title track is a frothy stomper that features the riff from "Rock You Like A Hurricane" and about 24 vocal tracks, but it works up a solid lather, while "Shackler's Revenge," the track coming out on "Rock Band 2," is fierce electro-tinged banger.

But "Chinese Democracy," aside from bearing almost zero resemblance to anything you remember GNR for (except when they steal Elton John's piano), contains some of the most mind-blowingly indulgent ridiculousness you will ever hear - distracting electronic sound effects; Axl's ever-changing vocals, which at one point resemble that of Borat; an MLK speech sample; whatever "Riad N' The Bedouins" (no, really) is supposed to be - and unpleasant rockers that give the uncomfortable feeling that the guy once responsible for "Welcome to the Jungle" is playing catch-up to Linkin Park.

Which brings me to a plea to Axl: You still have two days - please, do not put this record out. As an unreleased album it's a legend, a myth that the New York Times estimated in 2005 had already cost $13 million to not release. It's Brian Wilson's "Smile," or Prince's dirty "Black Album" - both of which, when they did see the light of day, lost their well-marinated bootleg mojo. You can still leave it, hidden and mysterious, so it's not subjected to being picked apart or, worse yet, forgotten, like the most recent discs by the Who, the fake Queen or the Rolling Stones.

The best thing you have is the myth, and the worst thing you can do is write an ending to it - ask George Lucas. I say this because I care, and I don't want to worry about you, because worryin's a waste of my time.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.