By Martin Cizmar
I very well may be the last man in American to hear Chinese Democracy. Almost certainly, I was the last music critic, and among last Guns n' Roses fans. Honestly, though, as bad as I wanted to hear it, I couldn't bring myself to log on to MySpace to hear the record I've been waiting for since seventh grade.
So this morning, I did it right: I got up at 9:30 a.m. after a long night of drinking, put on my Appetite for Destruction shirt and went to my neighborhood Best Buy where I was, not surprisingly, the only person there picking up the record. And now I'm listening to it. Finally.
Call me old fashioned, but I was really looking forward to the experience of hearing the complete record the traditional way. I remember when the releases of landmark albums were real happenings. The midnight sale with screaming fans, cutting the plastic off the jewel case with your keys, blaring the record on the drive home. That's what I wanted. To stand outside a record store with a bunch of other dudes, drinking free Dr Pepper, ready to hear the record. This, I hoped, would be that experience.
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Of course it wasn't. The record leaked last week, deflating a lot of the excitement. When I called Best Buy (the exclusive retailer) to ask if they were doing a midnight sale the clerk seemed confused. I could almost hear her inner monologue: Doesn't this creepy old guy know you can, like, download it for free? Why does he want to come out here at midnight when I am supposed to be drinking tequila with my boyfriend? God, I hope my manager does not get any ideas from this creeper! So I was the only one standing in an eerily silent Mesa Fiesta plaza parking lot, waiting for the doors to open, then searching for the Chinese Democracy display among piles of videogames and peripherals.
(Side note: I just got to "Street of Dreams," which is, it turns out, "The Blues." Awesome. As I wrote back when the release date was announced, that was my favorite track leaked years ago, and I would have been disappointed to not hear it. I like this version better, too, though the strings are a bit cloying in the last minute.)
In his review - and I only skimmed the first part of it, as I wanted my opinion to be unbiased - Chuck Klosterman, who I consider the definitive commentator on this or any other relevant record by an 80s metal band, called Chinese Democracy "the last Old Media album."
"It's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file."
I think ol' Chuck's right. Or at least I wanted him to be right. To me, this album mattered as a physical object and as an experience. If it was worth waiting to hear, it was worth waiting to hear right with decent sound quality and liner notes. I wanted to instantly review it with friends crammed in to a car, not read what some douchenozzle online was writing about it in Internetese: "Color me not impressed thus-far through 5 songs." Ugh.
(Side note: "If The World," shows Axl still has the pipes, but I was happier having never heard a guitar solo that weird on a Guns N' Roses song, though, in principle, I think Buckethead is probably the only metal guitarist besides Slash with enough solo star power to keep Axl in line. Too bad that did not work out.)
So, having finally heard most of the record, I'm more excited about the future than this effort. The songs leaked or played live long ago, are the best. (Side note: the more aggressive live version of "I.R.S." was much better than this one.) The epic "Madagascar" and "This I Love," Axl's first full-on piano ballad show that he's actually doing something new and different here. I've long held the theory that as soon as Democracy comes out, Axl will be free to release the storehouse of material he's undoubtedly accumulating over the last 15 years, and maybe finally reunite the boys, having successfully finished his vanity project. Sebastian Bach, Axl's good friend, basically said as much in an interview a few years back. It's a trilogy, Sebastian says, and Axl wanted everything done before he put any of it out. Maybe I'm naive, but I believe it.
Then again, I'm the only guy in America who lined up outside Best Buy on a Sunday morning to buy something I could've heard on MySpace last week.