Classic Rock Canon - Guns 'N' Roses

In my opinion, Guns 'N' Roses, along with latter-day U2, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Depeche Mode, represent the changing of the guard from classic to modern rock. U2 helped pave the way for heavily political and emotional music (twee), Madonna codified dance music, Michael Jackson helped popularize and transform R&B into contemporary R&B (a depressing legacy to be sure), and Depeche Mode proved that emotion and rock instrumentation is not necessary for success, giving alternative, trip hop, and (partially) house a pop blueprint.

Guns 'N' Roses is similarly connected to alternative, not necessarily in terms of inspiration, but in terms of popularization. It's a tricky distinction, that I'm going to do my best to justify. Basically, the public was primed for alternative's distorted guitar and huge percussion by Guns 'N' Roses and other bands like them (metal, basically). I've mentioned before the straight line between first-wave metal (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath) and certain alternative bands (namely, Soundgarden) so this shouldn't come as a surprise.

The similarities are clearly apparent in terms of the sound/volume. All the bands I mentioned in the last paragraph are characterized by being fucking loud. Turned up to 11 loud. There was variety in their music (acoustic numbers, power ballads, etc) but the loud bits tended to get noticed more, and became a part of all the groups' popular identity. Remember, the obvious/frequent bits are the ones people remember.

Guns 'N' Roses serve as a good example for a turning point mainly due to their place on the musical history timeline ('87, right before Surfer Rosa and Daydream Nation (both from '88)) and their time capsule-esque status. No one really cares about Guns 'N' Roses outside of their first album, Appetite For Destruction, and even if they do it's mainly for certain singles ("Civil War", from Use Your Illusion for example). This is partially because following up on Appetite in a satisfactory manner was virtually impossible (the thing was positively massive, remember) but also because the band began imploding almost instantly. They were working with Axl Rose, one of the biggest assholes in the history of music, whose pride was based on... his... great voice? His lyrics? No, just his image.

That's another bit that directly inspired alternative music. Like Led Zeppelin before them, the sheer excess and grandiosity of Guns 'N' Roses and other, similar bands helped create the cultural context for the stripped down, bare bones approach of grunge and alternative rock. More specifically, it helped create an appetite for such stripped down music (an appetite for destruction you might say. I apologize, that was terrible).

This is not unusual. One can trace musical history as a repeating process of building up and then stripping down. We went from baroque pop to singer-songwriter and folk music. From early metal to punk. From hair metal and R&B to grunge and alternative. Even hip-hop shows this ebb and flow; compare the relatively early major hip-hop albums like Illmatic, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and Reasonable Doubt to recent albums like Speakerboxx/The Love Below, The E.N.D. (FUUUUUUCKING shit), and especially My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. From classy skeleton to dressed up in a puffy coat and venetian shades. Which you prefer is a matter of taste. I personally prefer the stripped down stuff, but I still love some of the more bombastic pop music out there (Motown, for example). Either one can be done brilliantly (Leonard Cohen vs Queen, for example) or terribly (Jason Mraz vs Rihanna, for example). Neither is inherently better than the other, though later examples of bands/albums in either period tend to look a little worse for wear. Pop music can't stay the same forever, and I'd put my money on a retreat from bombast in the next ten years or so. Especially now that Kanye's topped us off.


Critical Hype - Christmas Time Is Here

Well, not really, but the corporate world certainly seems to believe so. We have entered into that disquieting period of late-November where we become inundated with holiday images and fair wishes. I know for a fact (thank you so much office work) that certain radio stations have begun playing Christmas music. In November.

This is not a cynical rant on how the "holidays have become too commercial" because there's no way to do that without sounding like a tremendous prick. I'm more directly concerned with something that I didn't even know was possible until recently; people actually enjoy Christmas music. There are people who choose to listen to the musical equivalent of stuffing Wonder Bread down your ears. There are people (I'm sitting in the same room as them) who whistle along to this beige-colored noise.

It's not that it's offensive to me, it's just completely beyond belief. I do not understand it. I was raised in a family of capitalism rather than Christianity, so maybe I just lack the cultural context for this kind of thing. Not that Christmas music is very religious. Most of it sounds like national anthems or high school pep songs; descriptions of the idea of something instead of the actual subject. I'm willing to bet that'd you find the word 'snow' in Christmas music lyrics more than the actual word 'Christmas'. And I'd put my life savings behind it if you replace 'snow' with 'Santa'.

The imagery of Christmas gets a lot more attention than the holiday itself because there's really nothing there. Holidays aren't real, they're just days. What would a song about Monday sound like? I'm willing to bet it would mostly be about bemoaning a wasted weekend and how horrible office buildings appear when you're walking through their doors. You sing about "Christmas-time", not "Christmas".

I don't know why this is so fascinating to me. Chock it up to my fascination with social psychology and how certain things get stuck in peoples heads, becoming part of their identity. I'm a "bah, humbug"/Scrooge/Grinch type myself (gee, I bet you're shocked) but I don't hate Christmas itself. I fucking love Christmas and most other holidays (except Arbor Day; fuck Arbor Day), but I hate the culture surrounding it. And I hate the fact that people are expected to adore the culture even more. When I tell someone to turn down their favorite music I usually get a brief, albeit slightly hostile conversation out of it, but telling a Christmas lover to turn down "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" seems akin to digging up their mother's grave and dancing with her skeleton. It seems unthinkable to most people, my bizarre hatred of Christmas artifacts and ideology.

So why do I hate it? Because it never changes. Because there's no variety; it's all the same shit, repeated every fucking year. The same songs, the same colors, the same trees, the same jokes and phrases. The British monarchy has seen more change than the Christmas tradition!  And the fact that people can listen to this year after year puts a serious dent in my love of the human race. It terrifies me. Pep rallies in high school filled me with similar existential dread, but at least I could transpose that pride onto my classmates rather a brick building. What am I supposed to do to mitigate my Christmas dread? Worship Santa?

It's not a capitalist thing either. I know because I understand capitalism and its trappings, I understand how people get whipped up into a frenzy over the Stock Market or taxes; because it's money! Wonderful, precious money. Most of the Christmas culture seems to revolve around nostalgia for your grandmother's house in the woods or something. Like I said, I just don't get it. Holidays are always more of a backdrop for the alcohol and food in my family (thank god) so I never got this whole idolization at our gatherings. When it did come up it was as more of a joke than anything.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just an asshole. Maybe I'm just a city boy working with country bumpkins. Who can say?


Classic Rock Canon - "The Joshua Tree"

This is a bit of a special case; rather than review the entire career of a band I will, in moments of intense laziness, choose to occasionally focus on a single album, one that has become enshrined as a defining moment in rock history. Note that I will only do this for Classic Rock Canon installments, as posting Apocrypha entries for albums would be a bit too subjective, even for me. Canonical albums are much easier to clearly define.

Case in point, The Joshua Tree, a U2 album so embedded in every rock journalists pleasure center (except for Christgau, god bless his black joyless heart) that I've heard it trumpeted from every corner as a landmark/brilliant/effervescent piece of music. You'd think it could cure cancer, this.

Now, I've never actually head this album. I've heard the major singles off of it ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With Or Without You") and enjoyed other U2 albums (Zooropa is a particular favorite of mine) but I've only heard the hype around The Joshua Tree. Until now! I was inspired to write this review mainly by listening to the first track, "Where The Streets Have No Name", and fucking hating it. So let's get into the muck of things.

1. "Where The Streets Have No Name" - Fucking awful. Bland and uninteresting, mistaking "faffing about with a few chords" for "atmospheric". And, surprise surprise, Bono's lyrics are still one step beyond hackneyed.

2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" - It's fine. The title is a bit on the long/pretentious side (like U2's career, BURN) but the song itself is at least inoffensive.

3. "With Or Without You" - This song actually gets worse by the minute; the two minute mark introduces the Edge's trademark guitar tone, which does not fit in with this song at fucking all. The three minute mark sees Bono get all emotional, by which I mean he starts yelling and going "WHOAH-OH-OH" which is just fucking irritating. The four minute mark sees things dissolve into a thin gruel of "atmosphere".

4. "Bullet The Blue Sky" - Bono's growling is irritating, laughable, and slightly offensive. The lyrics are nonsensical garbage. The phrase "rattle and hum" also pops up, which should clue you in to how bad this song is. Great fucking work by the rhythm section though; I wish these guys would get a better band. Oh and look Bono's talking about fucking nothing. "All the colors of a royal flush"? "As a man breathes into a saxophone"? BRILLIANT. Oddly enough it works a lot better on paper. Hearing Bono talk is just irritating.

5. "Running To Stand Still" - U2's love of blues/Americana music crops through with the guitar intro, which is classic slide/vibrato. Bono's voice is less irritating now that he's in his usual range instead of the gutteral nonsense from the last song. The whole "x without x-ing" bit is a bit irritating, as is the "lala deday" chorus but it's nothing that bad. The moaning at ~2:45 grates on my nerves, though. Oh wait, here comes the fucking HARMONICA. Fucking hell Bono, McCartney wouldn't be able to pull this shit off.

6. "Red Hill Mining Town" - Halfway through! I'm already bored, which isn't a good sign. I was going to say something about this but I got distracted by a webcomic, which really says something, doesn't it? About the song, not my attention span. Great drumming though.

7. "In God's Country" - Guitar driven song, which means it's as boring as the Edge's skullcap. It's a shame he discovered that guitar tone, as he used to a lot more interesting and capable. Go listen to War sometime; solid stuff.

8. "Trip Through Your Wires" - A harmonica intro? That doesn't bode well, does it? These harmonies sound exactly like another song but I can't quite place it for some reason. This is another guitar-heavy track, which means my eyes are losing focus and I'm trying to find something to occupy my attention. Again, great drumming when the song features it.

9. "One Tree Hill" - One Tree Hill? I hate that show! I hate this song! I'm getting fucking sick of this album! La la la! The fuck is this outro? Is that a fucking choir!? This doesn't even fit in with the song, WHY IS IT HERE!?!?

10. "Exit" - I think the cricket noises are Brian Eno's way of telling us this album is boring and he doesn't even care. Oddly enough, this song's actually pretty solid once it picks up a bit. Why? Because the rhythm section is getting the focus. Noticing a trend? Actually, never mind. It falls in on itself after the second verse. Also, I think Eno knicked that keyboard bass sound from Low. Can't remember what song right now.

11. "Mothers Of The Disappeared" - Great title, blowhard. I think I'd like Bono a lot now if he wasn't so convinced that he was the modern messiah. This is also just a shitty ballad. And it's over five minutes long? Fuck you.

Right, it's finally over.I officially do not understand the fervent praise this thing gets. I really don't. The peak moments on the record are the ones where the music is mediocre instead of outright turgid. I feel like Jay Sherman; all I can think is IT STINKS, IT STINKS, I STINKS.

Jesus, I need a nap.