Taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

Taking a listen

Guns N’ Roses — Chinese Democracy Seeing Chinese Democracy on the shelves is a lot like seeing Bigfoot at Starbucks every morning. It was much cooler to imagine it as a thing of myth. Axl Rose’s long, long, long-awaited album under the banner of Guns N’ Roses ( is finally here, and for an album with more than a decade in the making, it’s a bit of a disappointment. Sure, it’s decent by the basement standards we’ve come to relate to mainstream rock nowadays, but its real significance springs from the years of impossible hype that have built it up into a thing of legend. While the musicianship on the album is spectacular — the always impeccable Buckethead and Bryan Mantia especially — the faults lie squarely in Rose’s songwriting and arrangements. It still possesses the crunchy metal characteristics of classic GNR, but much of the great playing is lost in a whirlwind of overproduction. Lyrically, it falls well short of the memorable balladry of Use Your Illusion I & II and lacks a single track worthy of inclusion into the GNR pantheon of greats like “November Rain,” “Patience” or even “Estranged.” Many have argued that listeners, writers especially, would be predisposed to hate it because of the immense build-up. I believe the exact opposite to be true. Since it went into production, the narrative course resembles the three acts of dramatic theater with Axl Rose a kind of anti-hero. He’s a villain who drove apart the original band with delusions of grandeur; he’s the insecure recluse hell-bent on perfection; and finally, he’s the genius unshakable in his ideals. He’s provided writers with a decade of consistent storylines and over time, he’s managed to endear himself with his eccentricities. But it’s those same eccentricities and that quest for perfection that ultimately prove to be the downfall of Chinese Democracy.

Ken Mickey — Stand For a debut album, Ken Mickey’s ( Stand sure carries the kind of weight that one might expect from a much more experienced musician. He strings together the kind of classic country melodies that one would expect from singers such as Wayne Hancock or Joe Ely along with enough pop sensibilities to attract a crossover audience. The heartfelt songwriting is straightforward and simple, but communicates ideas that are greater than the sum of its parts. Much of the depth of his work lies in a sort of implied, or even imagined, history behind most every thought. Lines like “her dad swore he’d kill me/if I ever stepped foot in Wayne County” in “Rose Hill” and “I’m a lonesome fool/never learned how to be cool” in “Just Wanna Be” provide a clear window into the personal experiences that seem to provide the inspiration for this album. But there are times on Stand when those same ideas come across as awkward and forced, such as on “Sickening” and “Road to Ruin.” Coincidentally, those are two of the more affecting pieces on the album, so it’s possible that the dreary, monotonous delivery and verbiage is an artistic device designed to enhance the melodrama. Mickey’s vocals timbre isn’t his strength, so both tracks come across as a bit tedious. Still, the album does possess an earnest quality that will certainly endear itself to anyone that might have walked a mile in Mickey’s shoes.

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