gnr going nowhere really

As I write this, Guns N’ Roses (well, really Axl Rose and his hired guns) are filling my headphones with music from the album, Chinese…

As I write this, Guns N’ Roses (well, really Axl Rose and his hired guns) are filling my headphones with music from the album, Chinese Democracy.

And, no, folks, I am not rocking out.

I was 40 — so already too old to rock out — when the first tracks for this 14-year-in-the making album were laid down.

And, frankly, even if I was young enough to be of the GNR generation, there is precious little on this monomaniacal, overstuffed, outdated album that would rock me out.

That said, I should also make it clear that it is not my purpose to be a music critic in this space.

For me, what is interesting is not so much the Chinese Democracy CD itself as what it reveals about how much the technology and business of music-making has changed since Guns and Roses were last heard from in 1993.

This is a band that began in the vinyl record and cassette tape era, and has ended up in the era of the MP3.

This is a band that marked the apotheosis of the super-group, and the of the big, powerful record label, and has ended up as a kind of super-anachronism in the era of failing record companies.

When they were at their height, with the simultaneous release of Use Your Illusion and Use Your Illusion II in 1991, they were the new, young hotshots of the rock ‘n’ roll world.

In typical rocker fashion, though, they quickly followed the road of excess and egotistical squabbling to collapse and obscurity.

That collapse began in the early stages of the recording of Chinese Democracy, a project that, for the same reasons of excess and egotism, would be completed only 14 years later, with only Axl Rose still a member of the group.

That the CD is selling as well as it is (it is currently the top selling CD in Canada) is in itself remarkable.

It is like Doris Day releasing her 1953 By the Light of the Silvery Moon album in 1967 and still managing to chart with it.

As well as it is doing, though, there is a noticeable “out of touch” feel to the music, and to the packaging and the promotion.

This is old-style rock ‘n’ roll, presented in the old-style way, and promoted with old-style methods.

Even the album title is symptomatic of this “out of touchness.”

In the early ‘90s, China was still very much a monolithic, communist state at the periphery of the Western world’s attention.

A title like Chinese Democracy had a whimsical tone to it then that it does not have today.

In fact, the Chinese government has banned the album, professing to be surprised and hurt by the title.

(This perhaps tells us something about the Chinese government’s espionage capability, since both the album and its title have been notorious non-secrets for 17 years or more.)

The CD packaging also speaks volumes about how badly Axl Rose’s enormous ego and manic ambitions scale to the modest size and capabilities of the CD box.

The 24-page booklet that comes as the CD box cover is crowded with gaudy graphic designs, and tiny-print, almost unreadable lyrics (which are actually not really interesting enough to be worth the effort of printing, anyway).

Two pages give the full player-list for each of the 14 songs — probably more than a hundred names, and, again, pretty much unreadable.

There are three pages dedicated to album credits and thank you’s, once again running into the many hundreds of names, and all once again almost unreadable.

(There are so many thank you’s, you start to wonder if anyone has so much as made Axl a chicken sandwich without earning a place in this list.)

The ambition is to be like one of those all-dressed, double-fold vinyl record covers of the ‘70s and ‘80s; the effect is like that of the music — overstuffed, ugly and confused.

Similarly, the marketing method for Chinese Democracy, at least in the US, hearkens back to Geffen Record’s glory days with the Use Your Illusion twosome.

Though it is selling in the normal markets in the normal ways in Canada, the US album was released through and exclusive arrangement with the Best Buy store, to go on sale at Midnight on Sunday, November 23.

The idea, I suppose, was to generate some of the consumer feeding frenzy that happened with the Use Your Illusion albums, when fans camped out over night at record stores to get a chance to buy them.

A cruise of the news sites would indicate, though, that no such consumer frenzy occurred this time, which is hardly surprising.

The people who were in their early 20s in 1991 — the kind of people who are likely to be at all interested in what this long-defunct band might be up to — are now in their late ‘30s.

They not likely to spend the night away from the house and kids for a chance to buy an album they can probably download from iTunes later.

This is not a record that is going to change the fortunes of the big record companies or their ludicrous old distribution practices.

Word has it that Axl Rose is planning to make Chinese Democracy the first installment of a trilogy of albums — which should keep him busy for another 28 years or so.

If I could make bold to offer him a little advice, it would be two things.

First, a man in his late 40s wailing and howling about his passionate and defiant heart tends to look more foolish than cool. Learn how to age gracefully.

Second, if you are going to make music that anybody wants to listen to, take a page from an artist like Bob Dylan and re-invent yourself. Pimped-up ‘90s metal rock is not going to do it for you.

Like, get with the times, man.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.