Well, as we all know, Guns N Roses new album finally was released last week. Brings back memories. The last time GNR released an album of new songs, I (and probably Kanye West) had just started high school, and George HW Bush was president. Bouncing around wikipedia, this album looks like a total mess. Each song has four guitarists, two bass players, two drummers and a keyboardist or two. It is the epitome of prima donna rock star, lead singer excess that may never be surpassed.
Imagine if the Beatles broke up in 1965 and Paul McCartney put out an album in 1982 under the Beatles moniker…kind of hard to picture.
If Axl could still sing, the dadgum thing may still be worth it. Seventeen years of intermittent touring to pay the bills will take it’s toll on the voice. Since Axl can hardly play anything else, that’s all he’s really got. Listening to Appetite for Destruction, it’s easy to see why there is so much hype around these guys. There isn’t a single album put out by the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith or any of the other goofy long haired 80s bands that holds a candle to Appetite for Destruction. And Use Your Illusion was really, really good, too.
Slash, Duff McKagen, and Izzy Stradlin all put out solo albums and half-assed get together albums since the breakup. I owned Slash’s Snakepit for a while and vaguely remember enjoying “Be the Ball”, but a no-name singer wasn’t what the doctor ordered for Slash. “Velvet Revolver” is such a cheap knockoff of “Guns and Roses”, if they couldn’t even think of an original band name, how good can the songs be? So, I have to shake my head at the inability of these guys to put their egos aside and put together some good music. At this point it’s way too late, and it’s a shame we had to listen to seventeen years of Blink 182, Nickelback, and all those other goofy bands that couldn’t string together a singable chorus, a guitar solo, or even a listenable riff throughout their career.
Speaking of guitar solos, it is quite sad that solos have become quite a thing of the past in music. The wall of sound that fills todays music leaves no room for any degree of clarity. If you like good guitar solos, you have to pick up some old geezer rock record, like the new GNR album. Even better, though, is the new live double album from David Gilmour, Live in Gdansk. I wandered into a record shop (remember those) and was thinking, man it would be great if there were another live Pink Floyd album besides Ummagumma (No I didn’t want to buy Pulse). So it was a pleasant surprise to find this one. Of course the store owner practically begged me to buy the two CD two DVD set for $45, it was actually a little sad to see how desperate he was (we were the only ones in the store).
I was even more pleasantly surprised to listen to the album. Since Roger Waters left the band the David Gilmour version of Pink Floyd has been pretty awful. Seven years after “The Wall”, Gilmour’s album “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”, was exactly that for many purchasers like myself: “Learning to Fly” was the only listenable song on the album. I was too jaded to buy the next Pink Floyd send up in the mid-90s, which was a momentary return to reason on my part. But, thinking about poor Rick Wright who passed just recently, I thought I’d take a chance on Gilmour, now 62. One disc contained old favorites like Echoes, Comfortably Numb, and Shine on you Crazy Diamond, so I knew even if the new material sucked I’d be ok. Turns out the new material is pretty darn good and I have listened to it over and over. Breaking up Pink Floyd liberated Gilmour to do what he does best, focus on guitar solos. Lyrics are always a tough job for him and even his good songs, like Smile and The Blue, he seems struggling to find his voice. Amazing to think how easily he sings lyrics written by Roger Waters, which can be demonstrated by watching “Wot’s the Deal” on the site linked above. Gilmour sings Waters lyrics effortlessly. On his own songs (co-written by his wife), which seem to be mostly about lying around on an island he probably owns, or self-flagellating over the dying earth, he sounds strained. The best effort on the lyrics is “Smile”, which reminds me of Neil Young during his “Harvest Moon” period, complete with broom.
Gladly, Gilmour sticks a lot to what he does best, play guitar solos. The best song on the album is, “Then I close my Eyes” is a roundtable of solos by Gilmour and crew. There is a Theme, then low end solo (playing lower notes), sax solo, keyboard solo, piano solo, distorted solo back to higher pitched version of the theme, all around the same chord progression. It is actually pretty freakin’ cool. I always like when everyone in the band (but not necessarily the drummer) solos in one song. Gilmour even picks up a saxaphone and plays a three minute solo…who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. He sold more records and is older than Axl, and he can still pick up a new, very difficult instrument.
So, it’s not perfect (some of his old horrible songs from the nineties landed on the second CD, and Wots the Deal is obviously a missing gem for which you need to pay an extra $25), but since solos are an old mans game (apologies to Jack White, who kind of plays solos from time to time) these days this is the best you can find.