We're still waiting for Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose's - er, Guns N' Roses's - long-delayed, massively hyped and hopelessly overbudget album. But now, finally, we have at least something, a song, Shackler's Revenge, attributed to the band, or Axl, whatever the case may be, thanks to Rock Band 2.
Which brings up a very simple question with no easy answer: So how is it?
Hard to say - and the reason for that is because of the sheer weight of anticipation for Chinese Democracy, one which Axl should have diffused a decade ago, at least. It's become something of an industry-blogosphere joke, and a tired, too-often-told one at that.
Should Axl ever surprise us all and release the album (November was bantered about for a while over the summer but that looks highly unlikely), the whole thing will be mired in so much squabbling, so many comparisons to the band of old and debate about why it all took so long that it will be nearly impossible to assess the record on its actual merits. And even if the album turns out to be great, how will we even know - could it ever be great enough?
At this point, Chinese Democracy is Axl Rose's musical equivalent of Heaven's Gate, director Michael Cimino's 1980 bloated, obnoxiously overhyped western that set a new benchmark for an auteur run amuck. But even if Heaven's Gate served mainly as a monument to Mr. Cimino's hubris and excess, at least it only took him two years to put the film out. That it promptly sunk United Artists and destroyed his career is besides the point; his ego fueled his need to thrust his botched creation into the world, whereas Rose's ego renders him incapable of letting go.
NIN + Nu Metal doesn't = GN'R
Given all that, Shackler's Revenge in 2008 sounds like it probably should have been released by somebody - certainly not Guns N' Roses, or Axl Rose, or even Izzy - back in 1994. The meat of the track is something of a Pro Tools-ed amalgam of Nine Inch Nails meets early Nu Metal rumblings. It might have made for a decent Marilyn Manson album cut back in the day, but as the first "new" music from the GN'R brand in umpteen years, what are we to say? "Gee, thanks"?
As the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold, and that's the problem here. Axl has removed the human elements from the music. He even went industrial on his voice. On classic Guns N' Roses numbers, his raspy growl - by turns haunting, vulnerable and utterly distinctive - conveyed desperate rage in a way that was practically feral. On Shackler's Revenge, however, he's reinvented himself as a singing cyborg, and his gutteral vocals are buried deep in a thicket of clanks, squeals and other such audio filigree.
Where'd the guitar go?
Whether Buckethead or any of the other 100 or so guitarists who have past through the Guns N' Roses revolving doors in recent years is playing is anyone's guess, but the brief solo is mere window dressing. Paging Mr. Slash! Paging Mr. Slash! You're needed in Studio A - STAT!
Ultimately, Shackler's Revenge finds Axl Rose trapped in a cul-de-sac of his own design. The one-time brash confrontationalist now holes himself up in his Hollywood Xanadu, on his own with no direction home. It all seemed so much easier when he was just a starry-eyed ruffian, part of a like-minded gang looking to get off the streets. That band was hungry, and they created art that positively ached.
You know, there's a little band called Velvet Revolver, they seem pretty hungry to keep going. And they're looking for a singer...Nah! Silly idea.
What do you think? Check out Shackler's Revenge here and let us know.