NEWS: New releases – 01/12/2008

The first week of December is typically sparse on new releases but is a big one for reissues ahead of Christmas, so this week there are re-releases of the entire back catalogues of Bon JoviGuns N’ Roses, Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.

CDs

Warrel Dane/Jeff Loomis: Praises to the War Machine/Zero Order Phase Century Media
Here’s a Christmas present for the headbanger in your life. Specially packaged gift set of solo albums by Nevermore’s Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis (who is a very Jason Becker-inspired guitarist with his own signature Schecter 7-string). Check out that skull-and-Flying-V ribbon on the packaging. There are various other 2-CD sets in this Century Media series, including Strapping Young Lad’s City and Heavy As A Real Heavy thing

Kings of Leon: Only by the Night (2008 UK Tour Edition) (Incl. Bonus DVD) Sony BMG
One of the surprise hits of the year (at least to me: when I saw them live there was only a small crowd, then five years later, BOOM!), this special UK-only two disc (CD + PAL/Region 0 DVD) tour edition of their 2008 album includes a bonus five track live DVD that features Use Somebody, On Call, Sex On Fire, Crawl and Manhattan. The version also includes the original UK only artwork.

Best Of Chess: Original Versions Of Songs in Cadillac Records Chess
The 2008 movie ‘Cadillac Records’ is the story of Chess Records. The soundtrack album includes covers of songs by Etta James (played by Beyonce Knowles), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker) and more. This album, though, features the original classics.

DVDs

Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same [Blu-ray] Warner Home Video
Blu-Ray version of this classic live concert film, complete with freaky fantasy sequences, Jimmy Page’s heroic double-neck Gibson-wrangling, and the understated genius of John Paul Jones. The playing and cinematography are notoriously flawed, and Zep sure could go on and on in concert, but this is an important concert film if only because it’s the only full show the mighty Zep ever released.

Kiss: Kissology Volume II 1978-1991 VH1 Classics
This 6 disc set covers KISS’s simultaneous solo albums, several full concerts including a 1980 show from Sydney, Australia, a 1990 show from Detroit, Michigan, the Vinnie Vincent years, the abandonment of make-up, and, oh my god, the made-for-TV movie ‘Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park’ in its entirety. Check out the other volumes in the series too.

Metal – A Headbanger’s Journey Warner Home Video
This brilliant documentary by a metal-loving anthropologist will be of immense interest to metal fans but is also entertaining enough for non-headbangers, as it traces the development of metal as a parallel to social, geographic and economic factors.

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

Before you can take an honest look at ‘Chinese Democracy,’ you have to address and then dismiss a few key facts: Yes, the only original member left is Axl Rose; yes, it’s 17years since ‘Use Your Illusion 1 & 2’; no, it’s probably not going to live up to the expectations created by that 17 year wait; and no, you can’t get your free Dr. Pepper unless you’re an American resident. It’s impossible to listen to this album without being aware of its history – starts, stops, hirings, firings, postponement after postponement. But ultimately this context has to be put aside if you have any chance of listening to the album for what it is: 14 songs by the guy who sang ‘Welcome To The Jungle.’

Opening with an atmospheric, chattering soundscape (courtesy of Eric Cardieaux, who has done a lot of work with Joe Satriani), followed by a heavily processed but very much rock-approved guitar riff, Axl suddenly breaks through the din with that famous scream, and the preceding 17 years are all but forgotten. The high notes are still there, and so is the attitude, and sure, the vocals could have been pieced together from studio sessions dating back to 2005, but Axl sounds happy to just be singing again. The sound is updated, semi-industrial, and very, very polished. It sounds like every dollar of the rumoured $14 million or so was used on the recording process rather than private jets and bike shorts.

Track 2, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ continues, and in fact enhances, the industrial vibe with a pre-chorus straight out of the NIN songbook and a riff which would be at home on Max Cavalera’s Nailbomb side project. Track 3, ‘Better,’ is my frontrunner for song of the year. I can’t get this freaking thing out of my head, and that’s okay with me. Processed guitars and falsetto vocals set up the mood, and some on-the-off-beat guitar rhythms give the verses a sense of propulsion. Wild sweep-picked licks cap off the choruses, and Buckethead throws in a typically unpredictable ear-candy solo. Then NIN guitarist Robin Finck kicks in with a soulful, lyrical solo which reminds me of Ritchie Kotzen’s Telecaster tones and clean phrasing. Compared to the virtuosity of Buckethead and Ron ‘Thal’ Bumblefoot, Finck’s solo is reminiscent of the bluesier spirit Slash brought to the band.

Bumblefoot has a few cool guitar moments scattered throughout the album, as does Buckethead, and Finck can be relied upon for more tasty blues phrasing before the album is through, but for an act that’s so much a part of hard rock history (and with 6 guitarists listed in the credits if you count Axl), there’s less guitar here than you might expect. Around the middle of the album, things get very ‘November Rain.’ There are 4 midtempo piano songs in a row, coloured with varying degrees of drum loops and synth pads, at times sounding like the Bowie-and-electronica-influenced solo album of Queensryche’s Geoff Tate, and at other times recalling the ‘right up-to-date when it was released’ sounds of Sting’s ‘Brand New Day’ album – which would have been great news if Chinese Democracy was released in 2000, but which makes it sound a little dated today. The melodies are carefully crafted and the mood ranges from intimate to epic, and the overall pacing has a bit of a concert vibe (albeit compressed into just over an hour).

Piano time draws to a close and leads to the Zep-ish ‘Riad & The Bedouins,’ which has an almost prog vibe and some crushing guitar riffs, topped off with some classic 70s glam. The proggy vibe continues with ‘Sorry,’ which has a kind of 90s Black Sabbath vibe. Then ‘IRS’ brings in a bit of classic G’n’R rock mixed with more of that Tate-ish vibe. ‘Madagascar’ is another big epic, and one of a bunch of Chinese Democracy songs played on tour over the last few years. ‘This I Love’ is almost contemporary musical theatre with yet more piano and overblown arrangement, and finally ‘Prostitute’ caps off the album with some uptempo drums, soaring vocal melodies, and finally a quiet, peaceful orchestral finish.

‘Chinese Democracy’ may not be the greatest album of all time, but it’s surprisingly coherent despite its eclecticism, and while it comes close to collapsing under the weight of not only public anticipation but also its own overdubbed bloat, it seems to remain on track and provide a compelling listening experience. Sure, it’s not the album G’n’R would have made if Slash, Duff, Izzy, Gilby, Matt, or even Steven Alder were around, and it has its flaws, but if you treat it as an Axl solo album, you may be very pleasantly surprised. Just don’t expect a hard rock album.

CLICK HERE for my interview with Bumblefoot
CLICK HERE to buy Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy from CDJapan.co.jp
CLICK HERE to buy the limited edition SHM-CD version from CDJapan.co.jp

NEWS: New releases 24/11/2008

This week is likely to be dominated by Chinese Democracy. At the moment it’s not available to buy on Amazon, but CDJapan.co.jp is selling two versions. I’ve included a Benny Goodman/Charlie Christian album on the list here – I’m trying to include more diverse types of music on the site, so lemmie know if there are any particular jazz artists you’d like to see covered, and I’ll do my best.

Click on any title to buy the CD.

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy Geffen
Some great songs, killer production and monster guitar playing (including solos by Buckethead, Bumblefoot and Robin Finck). Something here for casual G’n’R fans, diehard Axl fans and massive guitar geeks like myself, but if you’re part of the ‘Man, it’ll never be the same without Slash’ club, just try to ignore the use of the band name and enjoy it for what it is, not what it isn’t. CLICK HERE to buy the limited edition SHM-CD version.

Benny Goodman Sextet (featuring Charlie Christian) – Solo Flight Definitive Spain
This release contains some of the best live recordings by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian. Taken from rare radio broadcasts, they present the magic of Christian’s guitar during his short-lived three year music career. This release also includes the complete 1939 jam session by the Jerry Jerome Quartet, showcasing extended solos by Christian.

Metallica – Metallica [Deluxe 4 LP Vinyl] Warner Brothers
Metallica’s classic ‘black album’ reissued on vinyl, in a deluxe 4-LP set. You know the songs, you know the history, you know this is the best way to hear it. The album was originally released back when everything still came out on vinyl, although back then it was a single disc, so this isn’t exactly a reissue. If they really wanted to be faithful to the original release, I’m sure they’d release it on a poorly-dubbed TDK cassette with ‘METTALLICCA – BLACK ALBUM’ written in pen. Also available in a 2-LP version.

Bryan Beller – Thanks in Advance Onion Boy Records
Already available from Beller’s website, this fantastic album gets a wider release this week. Featuring guest appearances by Mike Keneally, Rick Musallem, Marco Minnemann and more, expect complex orchestration and amazing musicianship in addition to Beller’s killer bass playing. Check out my review here and my interview with Bryan here.

Living Colour – The Paris Concert Inakustic Gmbh
Yet another new Living Colour live recording. It’s great to see them back kicking ass, and I hope they release a new studio album soon. In the meantime, this July 2007 set includes classics like ‘Type,’ ‘Ignorance Is Bliss,’ ‘Go Away,’ Jimi’s ‘Crosstown Traffic,’ and more recent songs including ‘Flying’ and ‘Sacred Ground.’ CLICK HERE to see a preview of ‘Go Away.’

NEWS: Chinese Democracy hits the streets early

Just got back from JB Hi Fi on Melbourne’s Bourke Street, where I picked up a copy of Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy for a mere $18.99. The official release date is listed as November 24. I won’t get a chance to give the album a spin until later tonight, but I’ll give it a good flogging and post a review tomorrow, specially geared towards guitarists, since there are probably a lot of reviews out there already.

In the meantime, check out my interview with Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot here.

INTERVIEW: Bumblefoot

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot, or more formally Ron Thal, is known in guitar circles for his dizzyingly original compositions sense and his near impossible command of the axe, and in the new incarnation of the mighty Gunners he gets to flex his musical muscles over classic material as well as soon-to-be-classics from the forthcoming album, Chinese Democracy.

A succession of legendary axemen have occupied the guitar chair in Guns N’ Roses over the years, including not only Slash but, briefly and unofficially, Ozzy and Black Label Society shredder Zakk Wylde too. Freak-in-residence Buckethead held the coveted role for a few years before Bumblefoot picked up the baton. “It was through a recommendation – we started chatting in 2004, and it all came together by 2006,” he says. “It’s been a good year…”

Bumblefoot can’t be drawn on a single favourite Gunners track to play live, instead settling on “Every f**king one of them. I can never pick a favourite – each song has something about it, a cool riff, melody, groove, the energy and attitude, they all have something special about them, ya know? The new songs get pretty deep, really dig ’em. So yeah, all of them.” And how did Bumblefoot feel playing on stage with G n’ R for the first time? “A little hungry.”

Guitar-wise, Bumblefoot keeps his Gunners gear minimal. “I keep it as simple as I can – Gibson Flying V for most of the show, a Parkwood acoustic and Vigier fretless guitar. Plug into a Line6 Vetta2 head and 4×12 cabs, and that’s it. Plug ‘n play, real simple.”

Amongst many other feats of technical and musical daring, Bumblefoot is known for playing fretless guitar. How did he discover fretless guitar? “Vigier Guitars has been making a fretless for 25 years, but none of their artists really jumped on it. I figured I’d give it a shot, and see what comes of it. Definitely a different approach – no bending strings, vibrato more like a cello – takes a minute to adjust, but after that it feels natural.”

I once saw a DVD of Bumblefoot demonstrating some freakishly original two-handed tapping, a style often associated with dodgy 80s Van Halen ripoffs, but devastatingly awesome in the right hands. “I don’t think I’m doing anything physically different from other players, maybe just the choice of notes and phrasing. Maybe the only difference is the metal cap or thimble on one of the fingertips so I can tap above the fretboard and still get sustained notes off the string. You can hear that in the song “Guitars SUCK”, the real high notes, that’s all tapping with the thimble.”

Finally, Bumblefoot has advice for other guitarists who wish to inject more personality and uniqueness into their playing. “Just be yourself, don’t be concerned with popularity or trends or what other people think. Express yourself the way that feels right to you. Live life to the fullest so you have a lot of experiences to draw from, when you play. Enjoy yourself.”

Bumblefoot’s new album, ‘Abnormal,’ is available from Bald Freak Music.
Photo by Jarmo Luukkonen

NEWS: Hell freezes over

The ridiculously long-awaited Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy, is finally slated for release on November 23 in North America and November 22 in Australia. In the US it will be carried by Best Buy stores. In Australia it will be released through Universal Music on CD and via digital download. In honour of this momentous event, check back tomorrow for an interview with G’n’R guitarist and solo genius Bumblefoot. Check out Undercover for more info on Chinese Democracy.

CLICK HERE to be advised when Chinese Democracy preoders begin.

UPDATE! CHINESE DEMOCRACY ALBUM COVER. Courtesty of Best Buy, here is one of the two covers shoppers will be able to choose from for Chinese Democracy. The album will also be available on vinyl on the release date.
And here’s the tracklisting: 

1. Chinese Democracy
2. Scraped
3. Shackler’s Revenge
4. Street Of Dreams
5. If The World
6. Better
7. This I Love
8. There Was A Time
9. Riad N’ The Bedovins
10. Sorry
11. I.R.S.
12. Catcher
13. Madagascar
14. Prostitute

REVIEW: Q BALL – This Is Serious Business

Q*Ball is an eclectic artist who combines electronica, rock, and pop melodies with a sense of sonic experimentation and musical colour evocative of Berlin era Bowie. His third album, This Is Serious Business, adds live drums, acoustic guitars and grand pianos, and welcomes back the guitar and co-production talents of Bumblefoot, guitarist for Guns N Roses but also an extraordinarily talented solo artist in his own right.
Unlike some electronica, the songwriting of This Is Serious Business is strong enough to stand up to any treatment – these are songs that would sound great strummed around the proverbial campfire or raging out of a rock band. The instrumentation adds a sophistication and groove that make the album feel high-tech yet timeless, and the clean, strong vocals show a calm sense of restraint which keeps the delivery from pinning the album to a specific time in musical history – this doesn’t sound like a naughties or nineties or eighties album.
My favourite track is ‘She Drives Me Crazy,’ a power pop track with powerful drums and an almost Lloyd Cole vocal delivery. It’s the closest thing on the album to an arena anthem yet would also sound great being blasted out in an indie club.
‘Pez Dispenser’ has an almost Nine Inch Nails feel, and ‘Baked On The Freeway’ reminds me of Butthole Surfers meets Earthling-era-Bowie.
This Is Serious Business is a very engaging album and the Bumblefoot contributions will be of special interest to us guitar geeks.